Dean Karnazes - A Runner's High

Dean Karnazes
June 22, 2021

Dean Karnazes

Globally renowned ultramarathoner, one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, recipient of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition Lifetime Achievement Award, winner of the World’s Toughest Footrace.
Athlete Athletes Athletes & Sports Community Overcoming Adversity Personal Growth Personal Development Marketing

Introduction:

Welcome to Beyond Speaking with Brian Lord, a podcast featuring deeper conversations with the world's top speakers.

Brian Lord:

Hi, I'm Brian Lord, your host of the Beyond Speaking Podcast, and today we have on Dean Karnazes, who is one of the more remarkable people you'll ever meet. He's best known as the ultramarathon man- he actually did run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, which is incredible. I've known that forever. I still can't say it the right way. Time magazine called Dean one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Men's Fitness called him the fittest man on earth and I call him somebody who's just done a fantastic job of speaking for our clients and events just has amazing stories, Dean, thank you so much for joining us.

Dean Karnazes:

Thanks for having me run by.

Brian Lord:

So you've got one thing I would do want to point out to people you'd have your new book, A Runner's High, which I've started. You can tell I'm I'm about a third of the way into it, and I'm always amazed. Like you keep running, you keep doing these things. How is it that you have chosen to live a life that has so many great stories in it?

Dean Karnazes:

You know, I just, follow my wanderlust. I've always loved to travel and I've combined traveling with them, these endurance races. And I think the best way to see a place is at six miles an hour. So, you know, I've been on all seven continents twice now. And you know, when you run across the ancient Silk Road, for instance, it's very intimate. It's very different than if you're in a tour bus or something like that. So, uh, you know, running has been my, my, the way I relate to the world and it's just been a fantastic journey.

Brian Lord:

I've done like a marathon here at home, but I can't imagine doing running the Silk Road. So you ran through three countries of the former Soviet Union. Uh, so it was Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and...

Dean Karnazes:

Tajikistan, yeah.

Brian Lord:

And so, what, what was that like? And because were you running with anyone else or, or what, what is that like? Cause that's pretty wild country and a lot of those places.

Dean Karnazes:

Yeah, it very much is. So, I was a US Athlete Ambassador and I was on a sports diplomacy Envoy to celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations between those three former Soviet bloc countries. And what was it like running through those countries? It was about as exotic as you can imagine. So imagine going to a land where I didn't hear any English for the entire trip, I didn't see any McDonald's, no Starbucks. You know, some of the cities were beautiful and the construction was kind of a, an interesting hybrid of kind of Western and each Eastern architecture. So the people were very warmhearted, uh, very spirited. There were, you know, some like trained professional runners that came out. But most of the people that ran with me were just, you know, some of them were village people, some were, were recreational runners, and it was a very interesting, um, uh, cross-section of both that sophisticated runners and people that, you know, just wanted to come out and show their support.

Brian Lord:

What was the scariest moment of that? Because I know you said when you started off you, you kind of have this motorcade of, you know, people like official ambassador type people in black SUV's and then they leave what happens at that point? What's going through your mind there?

Dean Karnazes:

I, you know, I'm, I'm running by myself in Uzbekistan, you know, and I've got a hydration pack. That's kind of running low on water and I've got a passport and I'm told to run to the border and you know, if you've ever been to a border crossing, you know how hectic they are. So I run up to this border crossing and there are thousands of people and their officials and, you know, I don't speak a word of Uzbek nor do I speak very good Russian. So I'm trying to figure out how do I get through this border on foot> Thankfully the State Department rescued me.

Brian Lord:

Oh, wow. That's amazing. So how did that story end up?

Dean Karnazes:

You gotta, you gotta read the book right. There we go.

Brian Lord:

That's what we call a tease, ladies, and gentlemen. Alright. So, so next question.

Dean Karnazes:

It actually ended up being one of their most successful sports on my Envoy programs ever. And it was a great success. Yeah. It was kind of a spoiler, but a really good event. Yeah.

Brian Lord:

Well, thanks for doing that for our country and for the world as well. So, um, so, so speaking of a world-traveling and everything else that you've done, um, I love history. I know you, you love it. You're you've got this amazing Greek heritage. Tell us about the Road to Sparta. What kind of spurred that to you- not just to write the book, but also to run the actual whatever it is, 24, 2500-year-old course.

Dean Karnazes:

Yeah. Well, I'm a hundred percent Greek and, you know, running is in my blood. We all, a lot of marathoners know the story of the original Greek foot messenger, Pheidippides, who is told through a friend from the Battle of Marathon- after the Battle of Marathon to the Acropolis to announce, you know, the Athenians victory over the Persians. And he proclaimed, you know, "Nike, Nike," or "Nike, Nike," which means "victory, victory, we are victorious" and then he notoriously dies. So I thought there's gotta be more to this story and I need to learn, you know, actually what happened. So I started working with, uh, Dr. Paul Cartlidge from Cambridge University. He was one of the most foremost authorities on Ancient Greek culture. And we started diving into the record to learn more about, you know, what did transpire 2,500 years ago. And the story ended up being fascinating in that the this marathon or Pheidippides actually ran an ultra marathon. He ran from Athens to Sparta before running the final marathon. And that was like 140 miles. So I thought let's, let's dive in deeper. Let's try to do this on your own. And let's use the same foods he had available, you know, 2,500 years ago, which are figs and olives, cured meat, and just water. So no sports beverages and try to take on this feat that, that he did. I'm a trained modern ultra-marathoner. That's professionally trained, you know, I've got modern footwear. Uh, I've got, you know, all of the sort of training tools and techniques, uh, that are available nowadays, but he didn't have any of those things. So I, I recreated his journey. And what I learned is that it was almost impossible for me to do it. I can't imagine a guy running barefoot twenty-five hundred years ago, self-navigating, and there's no GPS back then, uh, doing what he did.

Brian Lord:

Yeah. That's just fantastic. I mean, I love reading it. And then also there's the culture of the people you meet along the way, um, you know, the little, you know, uh, museums and those sorts of things that are there. It's just fascinating, uh, to do that. So, um, I do, I did get a lot of questions. So that's the thing is if you, if you, uh, post anything, you know, what should I ask Dean, you'll get a ton of answers, uh, or, you know, questions to ask. So, um, the first one is from, uh, Darian Reed, uh, what is most important, uh, mental or physical endurance.

Dean Karnazes:

Okay. Yeah, there's a famous race I do called the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, and they say of that race, you run the first 50 miles with your legs and the next 50 miles with your mind. But I think it's about it's about equal.

Brian Lord:

Hmm, alright. And then, uh, next one here, uh, from Janette Adair, uh, how do you keep going when you feel too discouraged to continue?

Dean Karnazes:

You know, what I do is I don't focus on the finish line. I don't reflect on the past. I just focus on taking my next step to the best of my ability. So I try to be in the present moment of time, the here and now, and just take my next step to the best of my ability and my next step to the best of my ability. I don't pay attention to anything except my next step. And if you can put your mind there, it's almost like a Zen-like state you're in the zone, so to speak, and you can get through some really low points by just being in the here and now, and the present moment of time.

Brian Lord:

What's one of the lowest points you can think of from your running past?

Dean Karnazes:

I did a race called the Badwater Ultra Marathon, which is considered the world's toughest, foot race. It's 135 mile continuous run from the lowest point in the Western hemisphere, which is Badwater to the highest point and the Contiguous U.S., Which is Mount Whitney and Badwater is smack dab in the middle of Death Valley. And they hold this race in the middle of summer, so it's pretty warm out in Death Valley. Yeah. In fact, the year I did it the first year I did it, the temperature was 127 degrees in the middle of the day. And I'll never forget at the low temperature. That night was 114, but it's a, it's a dry heat right? Not like Nashville. Yeah.

Brian Lord:

We're really suffering here compared to that.

Dean Karnazes:

I remember just being completely dehydrated and having thrown all my electrolytes out of balance. And I was running, it was the middle of the night. I was out on this, you know, on this two-lane highway through the desert with no one on the road. And the next thing I know I was in a hotel room and I couldn't figure out what happened. And my crew said, you know, we were driving around all night looking for you. And we found, you passed out on the side of the road and we put you in the car and we drove you two hours to this hotel. And you've been asleep for six hours with the air conditioning on. So that, that race didn't end too well.

Brian Lord:

Yeah. That's amazing. That's, that's never happened to me, but you never know. This next question from Toni Peck, uh, she asked what's the secret to pushing through apathy?

Dean Karnazes:

You know, I have a saying, um, you know, I tell my kids this all the time motivation is, is, is tough, especially if you're not motivated. So sometimes it's, it's just discipline. It's just sheer grunt work. And, you know, people think that I'm so self-motivated and you know, that I, every day I want to get up and go running. That's just not the truth at all. You know, I love it when people say, you know, do listen to your body. And I, you know, I say, if I listened to my body, I'd be sitting on the, on the couch all day, eating pizza and drinking beer, you know, that's what everyone's body wants to do. But sometimes it's just a matter of lacing up your shoes and getting out the door, just forcing yourself to do it, but I'll tell you what that's often the most difficult challenge is just getting out the door, because once you get out the door, the momentum builds on itself. And inevitably, you know, you're, you're so much more satisfied when you walk back through the door, then, you know, when you took off.

Brian Lord:

How do you set yourself up for success every day?

Dean Karnazes:

You know, to me, it's, it's your habits. You know, you're a sum total of all your habits. So the first thing I do every morning without exception is I do 25 burpees. And I don't know if you know what a burpee is. They're horrible. Everybody hates burpees, myself included, but you know, I read it about making your bed every morning. And I started making my bed every morning. I thought that's just, that doesn't scare me. That's just not, I don't feel that rewarded by just making my bed. So now I get out of bed and I do 25 burpees, and it's almost impossible to have a bad day after starting it that way.

Brian Lord:

It's all uphill from that.

Dean Karnazes:

Yeah, can't get any worse from that.

Brian Lord:

Uh, so next one from Amy Doitch: what advice would you give to someone who wants to get mentally tougher?

Dean Karnazes:

Learn to fail? So bite off more than you can chew, uh, throw yourself at an event. I always suggest a running event because running is very quantifiable and you know, success is, is easily measured. You know, if you cross the line, you succeed, if you don't, you fail. So sign up for a race and set a time that's unrealistic and fail, still get to the finish line, but then go back and try to improve upon, uh, that first, uh, performance. And it doesn't have to be a race. It can just be, you know, maybe a, a 5k around your neighborhood and by failing repeatedly failing, you learn how to get better. And it's a process.

Brian Lord:

What was the first race that you ever did?

Dean Karnazes:

You know, I, uh, I did, uh, I'll never forget. I did a fundraiser when I was in high school, uh, to raise money for the library and my mom was a librarian. So we would, uh, we'd get pledges. And typically a pledge would say, I'll, you know, I'll give you a mile per lap. You know, most kids did, you know, 10 laps around the high school track. Well, I did 105, which equated to a marathon because I wanted to see if I could run a marathon. And I was 14 years old, you know? And I, I'll never forget, like going to people's houses where they thought, you know, I'm going to, I'm going to give this kid, I'll play it to 10 bucks for this kid. You know, I said, you owe me $105. I just had my money- in my pockets filled with money collecting, you know, from all these people.

Brian Lord:

That's great. Now I just realized that. So tell me the story of your son's first marathon.

Dean Karnazes:

Yeah. He kind of wanted to follow in dad's footsteps. So he told me that when he turned 14, he wanted to run a marathon. And I said to him, Nicholas, you don't just run a marathon. Like he there's this thing called training Nicholas, like you have to train. And I saw a different side of him. He really, he paid his dues. He trained, he prepared and we ran the marathon and it was a real difficult, very hilly marathon. And he finished in under five hours, which I thought was admirable. And afterwards I said to him, Nicholas, let's sign up for the Chicago Marathon next, because it's just dead pan flat. I mean, you could run with a blindfold on there's no hills, you know, nothing that no roots or rocks to watch out for. And he's like, nah, dad, I checked that marathoning thing off my bucket list. I'm done with that. I laughed just like, yeah. I said, Nicholas, what 14 year old has a bucket list. First of all. And you know, you're just 14, you got a long life ahead of you, but, uh, he finished the marathon and that was it. He doesn't run anymore.

Brian Lord:

That's, that's so- But then, you know, when he turns 25, he's going to get to do like twenty-five marathons for his 25th birthday. Nothing very much like his dad, but that's impressive. I didn't know that about your mom was a librarian. That explains a lot. So were you a voracious reader as a kid?

Dean Karnazes:

Yeah, I used to love to run and read when I was a kid- read and run when I was a kid. But yeah, I used to love books.

Brian Lord:

Well, you can tell because the vocabulary that you have is, is atypical. Uh, you know, it's a, you know, obviously just these amazing descriptions of where you are, you feel like you're really there. Um, and I guess that brings me maybe to the next question here. And this one was from, um, Mayor Novak. Um, when did you realize you can turn endurance running into a business and do you spend more time running or working? And I'd include in that writing because obviously, you're a pretty prolific writer. Um, you know, you've written several books. So when did you realize that you could turn this into a business and then how much time do you spend working sort of the business side of things?

Dean Karnazes:

That's a really good question. I mean, we hear a lot about athletes talking about the, um, the lessons from athletics that translate the business, but I was also a business guy, so I have an MBA. And I would say that the lessons from business also translate to athletics. I knew that these ultra marathons that are participating in, you know, the, the prize for finishing is a belt buckle. There's typically no purse, so there's no money in it. And I thought, how am I going to keep the lights on? You know, if I can't make money, you know, winning races. So I, you know, I started, um, partnering with different sponsors. I started doing some investing in early stage companies that I thought were promising within the running, you know, universe. Uh, I started writing books and, you know, writing books is kind of 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. It doesn't pay well. But, um, you know, if you look at the hourly wage, you get to writing a book, it's, you know, it's probably pennies, but, um, five books later, I've been able to, you know, keep up a kind of a stream of royalties. I also do corporate keynote speaking, which is one of the reasons I'm, I'm on your podcast. And I figured out a way to make it work. You know, I'm very, um, time affluent and I probably could be doing much better if I was just stuck to being just a business guy. Uh, I'd probably be much more, uh, wealthy, materially wealthy, but I don't think it'd be nearly as happy.

Brian Lord:

What have you learned from your MBA that applies to, to running?

Dean Karnazes:

Marketing. I think so much of, uh, you know, so much of sharing your story is about being able to market because it doesn't matter what you're doing, if you're just, you know, in a vacuum and no one knows about it. So you've got to spread the word in an authentic and genuine way that draws people in. So there's a lot of lessons from marketing I've learned that apply to, uh, to athletics and as well as to, you know, to the bookselling. It's funny, the way the publishing world has changed, you know, you come to a publisher with a book proposal and they kind of look at you and say, "Okay, we'll, we'll do it. How are you going to sell your book?" They no longer say we'll take it and run with it. They just say to you, you know, what, what kind of marketing channels can you bring to sell this book?

Brian Lord:

So I guess we'll switch this out from Dean the, the ultra runner to a Dean, the marketer, what are, what do you feel like is the best way? I know you just mentioned being authentic, but what are the best ways if someone's trying to market themselves, either from like a personal brand or from another brand, what are the best ways do that?

Dean Karnazes:

Look at what you stand for. So what is personally important to you and what are you passionate about? Because you're going to do much better if it's, if it's coming from a place of genuine authenticity from your heart. So I would start at that place. And if that's basket weaving, then tell the world about basket weaving, you know, be the best darn basket Weaver there is, and you'll develop an audience, but don't try to be everything to everyone. Try to be something to someone. And that's something should be what you stand for.

Brian Lord:

I know, obviously running, your family, what, but what's kind of your, your favorite all-time story that you love to tell.

Dean Karnazes:

I'll never live this story down, but, um, you know, I, I, one time was running a 200 mile 12 person relay race, uh, as a, as a team of one. [Inaudible] Yeah. All 200 miles. And, uh, I'll, I'll never forget. I was out in the middle of nowhere, this backcountry road, and it was late at night and I'd run out of food and I was just absolutely starving and there was nothing out there, but I had a cell phone and a credit card. So I just did what I thought was logical. I ordered a pizza and I, and I had them deliver it to me, uh, on roadside. And when I ordered it, I told him, you don't slice the pizza. I make it with a real thin crust. And then when they delivered it to me, I took it out of the box. I rolled it into the big Italian burrito and I just mowed it as I ran. So messy. It got all over me, but it was so good. And I know a lot of people are thinking, you know, H how do you eat a pizza when you're running? You gotta remember, I ran for 46 hours nonstop. So it wasn't like I was, you know, sprinting around the block. I just got really hungry running for that long.

Brian Lord:

Awesome. I'm going to try that sometime. I can just probably just do like a slice, uh, but that's, that's amazing. Um, what made you decide to run all night for the first time? So you're famous for running what's the, is it the longest you've ever run is like, is, is how long without stopping?

Dean Karnazes:

Yeah, I've run 350 miles. And, uh, it was 80, basically 81 hours, 80, 80 hours, and 44 minutes of nonstop running.

Brian Lord:

Was the first time that you ran all night and, and what made you do it?

Dean Karnazes:

Yeah, I, I got into a race called the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. And you know, when, when you're running a hundred miles, you, sometimes you, you know, you, you can't finish before, before midnight. So that was the first occasion because I ran, you know, straight through the night into the next morning. And not only was I running straight through the night, I was out on a wilderness trail, you know, through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. So I was running with a headlamp on and carrying all my supplies and I found experience to be really magical, you know, rarely do we spend all day outside as, as you know, modern humans. We came from a place where that's all we did is spend all day outside and now we've evolved to a point where we spend most of our time indoors. And I think being outdoors all day for 24 hours is really life-affirming, it's, it's really, um, there's something about it that just it's spiritual almost.

Brian Lord:

Well, I love it. So from my own little personal testimony, I was reading one of your books. We adopted twins and of course, you know, they're three days old, so I was getting no sleep. And, uh, and sometimes the only time I could run is like switching off of my wife. And so that's when I started running, be like 4:00 AM and it's pitch dark out and it's December. And it actually is just an amazing time to go running because you have a whole world to yourself. So thanks for that. I know you get a lot of people coming up to you and saying, Hey, you, I have not run like an ultra, but I have run in the middle of the night thanks to you. So I appreciate it. Uh, so, um, so the question from this next question is from Jake Ross, do you follow, follow other alternate alternators athletes like the Iron Cowboy? And do you think it's good that people are doing these extreme, extreme events?

Dean Karnazes:

Yeah. I follow a lot of, uh, other, uh, ultra and distance athletes. I know that are Iron Carbide pretty well. And, you know, I think that when, you know, someone does an event, like what he just did, it, it kind of breaks through, and it touches people. I mean, you might not want to ever run, you know, a hundred or complete a hundred triathlons, but it might inspire you to try one. So I think these kind of visible endurance endeavors are a good thing, as long as they don't get into that realm of being gimmicky. I think it's all good.

Brian Lord:

Sorry. The next one is Sean Shaughnessy. And then have you, uh, uh, how do you overcome boredom on your runs?

Dean Karnazes:

You know, I welcome boredom. Uh, I don't know about you, Sean, but my life is pretty overwhelming these days. Um, especially with the advent of social media, uh, we're constantly bombarded with noise and to me to go running for an hour without such noise, it's, it's, you know, it's rejuvenating, it, it feels like a rebirth. So I welcome the boredom. Uh, you know, sometimes I listen to audio books. I have over 500 audio books on my playlist. But a lot of times I just unplug from everything and just run.

Brian Lord:

So next is from Ruth Ann-Annan. Uh, how has getting, uh, how has been getting older, affecting your training and racing, and what's been your best adaptation.

Dean Karnazes:

I'm getting slower. You know, I have to work twice as hard now just to keep the same pace as, you know, what once came easy to me, but I think the best adaptation, if there's just one, I would say, you know, I went to a standing desk about 10 years ago. So you can tell Brian, even right now, I'm standing up. Yeah. I never sit down. I do all of my book writing, standing up. Uh, I do all my, you know, emails, most of my interviews standing. So throughout the course of the day, I never sit down. And I think that's the one thing, if that just had to be one thing, it would, that would be it.

Brian Lord:

Uh, so you've, you've mentioned that your dad has been a big influence on you. He's a, he's a big part of a lot of your books in your writing. What are the best things that you've learned from your dad about life and running?

Dean Karnazes:

You know, my dad once said to me, it doesn't matter how many times you get knocked down. What matters is how many times you get back up. And I think that's a really poignant message, especially as you get older, because you get knocked down a lot, but you just accumulate a lifetime of being knocked down and getting up. Sometimes it's tougher and tougher, but you know, the other person has really influenced me. And this might sound funny is my daughter. So I have a 25-year-old daughter. And, you know, she always says to me, her motto is to leave it better than what you found it. So, you know, I always try to leave it better than when I found it. And I think that's a good way to live your life.

Brian Lord:

Well, Dean, thank you so much for joining us here on the Beyond Speaking Podcasts. For those of your listening, you can definitely check out Dean at premierespeakers.com and, uh, for everyone listening, uh, make sure to subscribe, rate and review the Beyond Speaking Podcast and on behalf of Premiere Speakers Bureau and National Speakers Bureau, thanks for listening.


To book Dean Karnazes, visit his profile.

Beyond Speaking is hosted by Brian Lord and produced by Eric Woodie

Dean Karnazes

Want Dean Karnazes for your next event?

Find out more information, including fees and availability.
Find Out More
Keep Reading
Dean Karnazes - A Runner's High
Dean Karnazes
Dean Karnazes
June 22, 2021
Introduction: Welcome to Beyond Speaking with Brian Lord, a podcast featuring deeper conversations with the ...
Dean Karnazes - A Runner's High
Introduction: Welcome to Beyond Speaking with Brian Lord, a podcast featuring deeper conversations with the world's top speakers. Brian Lord: Hi, I'm Brian Lord, your host of the Beyond Speaking Podcast, and today we have on Dean Karnazes, who is one of the more remarkable people you'll ever meet. He's best known as the ultramaratho...
Read More