Dean Karnazes: Living on the edge - Running for a cause! Κύριο

copyright: Vladimir Rys copyright: Vladimir Rys

It’s not easy to briefly describe the history and career highlights of a man that TIME magazine nominated as one of the "Top 100 Most Influential People in the World." Dean Karnazes life was – and still is – full of amazing athletic achievements, publishing successes, significant media appearances, and most important of all, projects aiming to improve the lives of other people, like raising money for organ donation and transplants, awareness of childhood obesity etc.

His racing career highlights includes great performances in very difficult and historic races, like winning in 2004 the cruel Badwater Ultramarathon (finishing the race 9 times from 1996-2013, five top-10 finishes from 2000-2008), winning the Vermont Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run in 2006, the 4 Deserts Race Series in 2008, finishing the Western States 100 miler under 24 hours 11 times (with best finishing time 17:43:54 in 2003) and finishing second in the Canadian Death Race with 16:12:56 in 2009.

Racing is only a part of Karnazes athletic efforts. He also managed to achieve some amazing endurance and adventure projects, like running in the freezing temperatures of South Pole, running 50 marathons in 50 consecutive days started from the Clark Marathon in St. Louis on September 17, 2006, and finished with the New York City Marathon on November 5. He ran 560 km in 80 hours and 44 minutes without sleeping, 238 km in 24 hours on a treadmill, 4.800 km across the United States from Disneyland to New York City in 75 days. He also ran the Atacama Desert, the Gobi Desert, the Sahara Desert and Antarctica all in one calendar year.



Dean Karnazes is not only a very popular endurance athlete, but also a very successful author and businessman. His book “Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner in 2006” was a major success, inspiring thousands of people to pursuit a more active and healthy lifestyle. He also wrote “50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days, in 2009” and “Run: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss in 2011”. In 1995, Karnazes founded “Energy Well Natural Foods” in San Francisco and he remains president of the company, now called Good Health Natural Foods. He is also running a Frozen-Yogurt store at Redding California, with the name U-Top It. Finally, he is the founder of Karno Kids, an inportant organization that raises money in order to reverse the significant childhood obesity worldwide problem.

In a few days Dean will take part in Navarino Challenge. Just a week after Navarino he will run Spartathlon - one of the most historical and brutal ultra races of the world - for the first time in his career as an ultra-runner. In his interview Dean talks about Navarino Challenge and the problem of child obesity, his thoughts and personal goals for the Spartathlon, he gives us some great insights in his amazing endurance achievements and life and finally presents his incredible future plans!

[Advendure]: This is the second year of Navarino Challenge, an initiative that aims to raise awareness of childhood obesity and the benefits of the famous Mediterranean diet. It’s also the second year that you support actively this event as the ambassador of Navarino Challenge. Tell us a few things about your role and what are your impressions from the first year. Does is leave a really strong “footprint” to the local community and especially children?

[Dean Karnazes]: It is a great honour to be returning to the Navarino Challenge as the official ambassador of this world-class event and festival of health & fitness. I felt a strong sense of obligation to do whatever possible to help my fellow Greek countrymen and to combat the scourges of childhood obesity and inactivity sweeping this great nation. Though I am only one man. Making this event possible is the hard work and dedication of the event organizers. The credit belongs to them and to the many runners that come out and support the Navarino Challenge. For that, I remain forever grateful.

[Advendure]: Our impression is that in Navarino Challenge we are not talking about a competitive bouquet of races, but for races that aim to gather runners of all ages and capabilities in order to support the general cause of the event. Why should someone come to run Navarino Challenge?

[Dean Karnazes]: The Navarino Challenge is a challenge to each individual to be the very best that they can be. For the elite athletes, that means racing very fast and furious. For newer athletes the challenges is to push their bodies to the best of their abilities. The beauty of the Navarino Challenge is that it brings together athletes of all ages and abilities. The Navarino Challenge is unique in this regard and everyone benefits.


[Advendure]: Karno Kids is a very important foundation that you have established, raising money and trying to reverse the significant childhood obesity worldwide problem. Tell us a few things about the foundation, what do you do and what actions do you support.

[Dean Karnazes]: The mission of my foundation is to motivate, energize and inspire kids to get outside and get active. Kids naturally love to run and play, but they are not always given the opportunity and encouragement to do so. I have met with Michelle Obama and brought a group of kids running with me to the White House. She endorsed my activities and wished me continued strength and success, and I pledged never to give up this fight.

[Advendure]: What are your impressions about the area and landscapes of Messinia and Costa Navarino that hosts Navarino Challenge? Does it “fit” well to the Mediterranean aspect of the event?

[Dean Karnazes]: The region of Messinia and the grounds of Costa Navarino offer an ideal setting for the Navarino Challenge. The natural and unspoiled beauty of the area encourages vitality and health. The air is clean and the water is spectacular. Having travelled around the globe, there are few places like it on earth.

copyright: Vladimir Rys

[Advendure]: I remember the discussion that we had inside the new Acropolis Museum during your last visit in Greece, regarding Spartathlon. You had passion in your eyes and high respect about this historical and very difficult race, and you told us that one of your major future goals is to come and run from Athens to Sparta. So, the dream came true and you will run in a few days the race that follows the footsteps of Pheidippides. What are your feelings and emotions now that you are “one step” away from the race, but many steps away from Leonidas statue in Sparta?

[Dean Karnazes]: As you can imagine, there is a mixture of emotions, from fear and anxiety to anticipation and delight. Much as changed in the 2,500 years since Pheidippides accomplished this incredible feat, though the spirit remains the same even today. I am not sure what to expect, but I look forward to the journey ahead with great pride.

[Advendure]: What are your goals in Spartathlon? Trying to win the race or live the experience and emotions of another significant and very hard ultra-race around the world?

[Dean Karnazes]: This will be a very special challenge for me in that my intentions are to rely only upon those foods that Pheidippides would have had access to, which is basically, a paste made from crushed sesame seeds and honey, figs and other dried fruit, nuts and cured meat. I’m also restricting my fluid intake to water alone as there was no such thing as sports beverage in 490 BCE.

Essentially I will be recreating the original run as best as possible. The reason being is that my forthcoming book is a historical account of the Battle of Marathon and Pheidippides historic run. This book will shine a bright light on Greece and help buoy the economy, so I am dedicated to trying. Even though it may prevent my performance from being its strongest, I feel it is what I must do. Ο τολμών νικά!

copyright: Vladimir Rys

[Advendure]: Spartathlon is characterized by the ultra community as one of the toughest races around the globe. How do you prepare yourself for such a race, both physically and mentally? How do you manage to keep your mental focus after running so many hours, an element very important in ultra-running.

[Dean Karnazes]: This is the challenge of the ultramarathoner. Not only must you dedicate your life to training and the pursuit of physical excellence, you must also be the master of your mind. I have participated in some of the most daunting and extreme physical contests on earth—including running 4,800 km across America—and these lessons form the foundation of my experience for each new endeavour and each new challenge, such as the Spartathlon. I love pushing my mind, body and spirit to the limit and the Spartathlon will test me in new and different ways. This is the way of the ancient Greek hemerodromos (“all-day runner”) and the way of the modern ultramarathoner.

[Advendure]:  Are you aware of the critical points and difficulties of Spartathlon and if so how do you manage to overcome them? Are you planning to have a support team during the race?

[Dean Karnazes]: Many friends and acquaintances have explained the difficulties to me, so I am aware of the unique challenges of the Sparthathlon. My intention, as with all contests, is to do the very best that I can do, to try my hardest and never give up. We Greeks have always been fighters. Winston Churchill said, “It is not the Greeks that fight like heroes, it is the heroes that fight like Greeks.” I will fight to the very end.

The role of my support team will mostly be for my safety. I want to experience some of those same feelings of desperation and struggle that Pheidippides must have felt during his historic conquest. Only then will I be able to capture those same emotions and feelings that our great hero must have encountered during his historic feat.

[Advendure]: You run several ultra-races and huge running-projects every year. In the same time, you travel a lot around the world for supporting speaking engagements and sponsor commitments. How do you manage to recover so quickly between all these activities, both mentally and physically?

[Dean Karnazes]: I have not chosen an easy life. It would be much easier only to focus on sport alone and not accept all of the other activities I undertake each year. But I believe the true measure of a champion is not what they get, but what they give. I have enough medals and trophies to be satisfied. Now my commitment is to do all that I can to help others achieve their dreams. That passion and conviction drives me forward, even when I am completely exhausted and feel like slowing down.

Physically, I do all that I can to ensure that I am the best animal possible. This requires a holistic, 360-degree approach to athletics and life. Beyond running, I also do a considerable amount of cross-training to strengthen my overall body and condition my musculature for the rigors of ultramarathoning. My diet is a very pure and simple traditional Mediterranean diet. I do not eat manufactured and processes foods. Being a complete athlete also involves a commitment to family and spirit. None of us are alone on this planet and we must honour our fellow brothers and sisters. In these ways I equip myself as best as possible to maintain my busy and intense schedule during my travels throughout the world.

[Advendure]: You have run in the freezing temperatures of South Pole and also several times in the brutal heat of Death Valley in Badwater 135 mile race. You also have run 50 marathons in 50 days, 560 km in 80 hours and 44 minutes without sleeping, 238 km in 24 hours on a treadmill, 4.800 km across the United States from Disneyland to New York City in 75 days, and other amazing projects. What is your motivation behind these efforts? Is more the emotional part of such an effort or the size of the challenge that someone has to deal with?

[Dean Karnazes]: One of my closest partner organizations, a company called The North Face, has a wonderful motto: “Never Stop Exploring” It’s this spirit of exploration and adventure, both physically and mentally, that keeps me going. I like trying new and different things and placing myself in uncharted territory. It is only when we leave our comfort zone and venture into the unknown that we truly learn. The Oracle of Delphi states: Know Thyself. Adversity introduces a man, to himself. There is something very Greek about what every ultramarathon teaches us.


[Advendure]: What were the toughest experience and the most emotional moment during all those years of running?

[Dean Karnazes]: While I have had many difficult races, including running across the Atacama Desert, the Gobi Desert, the Sahara Desert and Antarctica all in one calendar year, the most difficult emotions that I experience is time away from my family. I am a dedicated and devoted husband and father and it creates tremendous internal unrest when I leave my family for long periods of time. We only live once, and time away from my precious and beloved family can never be replaced. That is what hurts me most.

[Advendure]: You’re running most of your “many-miles” events for a cause. Raising money for organ donation and transplants, awareness of childhood obesity etc. In 2000, you dedicated a 199-mile effort to raising money and support for the family of a dying girl in need of a liver transplant. This kind of running is not popular in Greece, so tell us a few things about your feelings and emotions during such events. Is it the cause of such an effort the highest of motivations?

[Dean Karnazes]: I have dedicated myself to a higher cause. Using my gift to help benefit others brings a deeper meaning to what I do. Let’s be honest, running can be a very self-absorbing and selfish act. Using running to improve the lives of others gives a richer and more gratifying purpose to an otherwise solitary activity. While this kind of running is not yet popular in Greece, the Greek people understand the act of unselfish dedication to helping others that is captured in the word “Philotimo.” Philotimo is what I strive for in my running.

[Advendure]: Looking back at your major career, there are thousands of people that changed their life inspired by your books (especially the “Ultramarathon Man”) and running accomplishments. What are your feelings when someone sends you an e-mail writing “You changed my life, I’m healthier now than ever…”? Is that you real lifetime accomplishment, above all races and running performances? Is that what you were trying to achieve during all those years?

[Dean Karnazes]: This may seem strange to some people, but I am much more gratified when I hear from someone that I have influence their life than I am when winning races. To me, helping others is the highest calling. There is no greater sense of purpose for me, no higher aspiration.

[Advendure]: Is it for real that one of your next big projects is to run a marathon in all 204 countries around the world in a year? I’m wondering how you are going to manage not only the physical aspect, but also the logistics (permissions, travel etc…) of such a huge accomplishment! Is there any special purpose behind this project?

[Dean Karnazes]: Managing this project is by far the most difficult endeavour I have ever attempted. I am working with a logistics expert to help with the planning, permits, visa and passports. Even still, there are many obstacles to overcome. I remain determined to turn this dream into a reality and think that this project will help create greater harmony in the world. I am inviting local countrymen and women to run with me when visiting their nation. Running is something that unities people and brings us together. There are so many things in this world that divide us—be that the colour of our skin, the God we worship, our socioeconomic level, etc…—but running is something that we all share together regardless of these divisive factors. It is a commonality that joins and unifies people of all ages, races and religions. I think the world could use more of this right now.

Dimitris Troupis
Photo ©: Vladimir Rys,

Δημήτρης Τρουπής

Κατάγεται από το Ξυλόκαστρο Κορινθίας και ζει μόνιμα στην Πάτρα. Συμμετείχε στην συντακτική ομάδα του Adventure Zone από το 2009, ενώ μαζί με τον Τάκη Τσογκαράκη ίδρυσαν και "τρέχουν" το Advendure.  Το τρέξιμο στα μονοπάτια των βουνών και η μεταφορά εικόνων και συναισθημάτων μέσα από τα άρθρα του αποτελεί αναπόσπαστο κομμάτι της ζωής του. Παθιάζεται με τους αγώνες ορεινού τρεξίματος, υπεραντοχής και  περιπέτειας. Έχει πολλές συμμετοχές και διακρίσεις σε αγώνες ορεινού τρεξίματος όλων των αποστάσεων, με έμφαση στους αγώνες ultra trail.  Θεωρεί ότι το τρέξιμο και η πεζοπορία στη φύση είναι μια εσωτερική ανάγκη του ανθρώπου, μας φέρνει πιο κοντά σε αυτήν και μας κάνει να αγαπήσουμε περισσότερο το περιβάλλον.