Book Review: Ultra Marathon Man

Dean Karnazes is an amazing human being. Generally Ultra Runners have “something” inside them that lets them deal with the hardships of training for and running long distances, but Dean takes that to another level. It is almost as though his body lacks the mechanism by which most of us recognize and react to the pain of extreme endurance sports. His digestive system enables him to eat rather large meals while running.

I’d also read disparaging accounts of how he has used his Ultra running success for personal gain, fame, etc. Also, for me part of reading books about running is getting inspired. Maybe I could do that someday? But if someone is quite literally not the same as me physically, can do things that I cannot ever hope to, it is tougher. So when I picked up his book, Ultra Marathon Man (quite the title too eh?) I was prepared, perhaps, for disappointment.

What I got instead was a very interesting perspective on a sport I have a lot of interest in, from a man who is at once complicated and simple. In some ways Dean is a Zen kōan. He is at once larger than life, a personality unleashed. I could see where some quieter, more humble Ultra runners like Jurek might get a bit off-put by Dean’s somewhat overwhelming energy. Honestly I find my own somewhat exuberant personality much closer to Dean’s than to Scott’s.

This is a man who was deeply emotionally changed by the death of his sister, someone who seeks meaning in life, meaning for his addiction to running. Although he seems impervious to the pain and struggle of training and running, it is merely at another level. He has limits, and although they are high, he is not a God, merely a very talented and strong human being.

One of my favorite parts of the book was his blow by blow account of running the Western States 100 miler. I’ve read other people’s stories, but his was detailed and very intense. I think there’s a “post race filter” a lot of people run their experiences through that puts a shine on the race. Dean’s account didn’t have that, it is gritty. He probably ran it much earlier in his career than most Ultra runners. His pain tolerance probably has something to do with the clarity of his descriptions, many people go numb halfway in. He struggled, but also got a silver buckle his first run through. Most normal humans, even great trail runners, consider just making it under the cut-off for a bronze buckle a great accomplishment. 99.99% of all humans probably cannot finish within the cutoff time. This is an elite race, and Dean stepped into it trained but unprepared and rocked it. That doesn’t happen very often, if ever.

If you’re looking for an entertaining look into the mind of a runner who can order a pizza in the middle of a 180 mile run, look no further than Ultra Marathon man. Just remember, this guy doesn’t fit the mold of your standard homo-sapien. He’s a bit nuts, a bit invulnerable, but still very entertaining. He’s found his niche in the world. I think we can all relate to that.

Cost: $11.99

Score: 9/10 RAWRS (Entertaining, if a bit crazy, book about some great running . / a good, solid re-read / definitely buy it, you’ll enjoy the tales )

High: Dean is fun, larger than life and an amazing runner.
Low: Few of us can do what Dean does with the ease he does it with. Get inspired by his purpose, his drive, his accomplishments, but sorry… you’re not getting a silver buckle your first run through WS100 (well, unlikely anyhow)

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