The upbeat agony of the long-distance runner

2011-03-17 00:00

WHILE pursuing his passion, ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes has been run off the road, trapped in a flood, struck by lightning and bitten by a rattlesnake. But then he says he’s never more alive than when he is in great pain.

“Hardship? Suffering? Bring it on!” Karnazes says in his new book Run! 26,2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss, which chronicles his adventures and misadventures while endurance running through some of the most inhospitable places on Earth.

“There’s magic in misery,” Karnazes contends, and a man whose mega-endeavours include completing 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days should know.

Karnazes, aka the Ultramarathon Man, has tackled the Australian outback, Antarctica and the Sahara. In California’s Death Valley he sweated through a 217-kilometre) marathon in 49-degree Celsius temperatures.

Now he’s on the road again, in the heat of a 75-day coast-to-coast challenge designed to raise awareness of childhood obesity and rouse Americans off the coach and onto the trail.

“We have every comfort available to us,” said Karnazes from the Arizona desert on day 13 of the run that will end in New York City.

He runs an average of 64 to 80 kilometres — the equivalent of two marathons — per day.

Along the way he invites local runners to 5K “Run with Dean” events that benefit Action for Healthy Kids, a non-profit volunteer network that fights childhood obesity, and drops in on local schools, where he’s greeted like a rock star.

“I’m very encouraged. It’s not about one guy running across the country. It’s about bringing the word that physical activity can be fun and the outdoors a wonderful place,” said Karnazes, whose own love of running began with racing home from preschool.

“I loved to get out of that classroom and move,” Karnazes said. “It was how I experienced life. It was hard to sit and listen to a teacher all day.”

He still prefers books on tape to a stationary read. He said Run!, which draws inspiration from sources as diverse as the artist Leonardo da Vinci and the fictional character Forrest Gump, was mostly dictated into a recorder while he pounded the trails.

To prepare for his latest feat, Karnazes said he ran 129 to 193 kilometres a week.

“I tried to do a lot of back-to-back running to simulate what I’d be doing under real conditions,” he explained.

He consumes an astounding 7 000 to 10 000 calories a day.

“I eat as I’m walking. It’s all about relentless forward motion,” said Karnazes, who admits a life of perpetual motion isn’t for everyone.

“It takes a tremendous level of commitment and dedication and focus,” but he says many high-achieving athletes share his love of struggle.

“We take our air-conditioned cars to our elevators, and we sit at our desks all day,” he said. “We thought that a total lack of pain would bring us happiness, but we’ve become so comfortable we’re miserable.”

After barrelling through Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Washington, D. C., Maryland and Pennsylvania, Karnazes is due to end his race in New York City in mid-May.

“That’s the plan, of course, but it’s been tough. The heat of the desert has been unexpected. It’s put a strain on me physically,” Karnazes said. “I could collapse tomorrow.” — Reuters.

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