A Runner’s High: My Life in Motion
By Dean Karnazes Harper One
Dean Karnazes’s first book, Ultramarathon Man, inspired a lot of people to take up running, or to move up from the marathon to ultras. That book is now more than 15 years old, and Karnazes, 58, is still running ultras (at least eight of them in 2019), though he is now staring down time’s toll on his body and, he worries, his relevance to the sport he loves. His new book, a memoir, is a series of ref lections on these things while he navigates the 2018 racing season.
Karnazes often gets asked for selfies with people who recognize him at aid stations, and he claims to be embarrassed by the attention, since he was rarely a top competitor, despite being a full-time professional runner for many years. He was valuable to the dozens of brands he has worked with as much (or more) for his media-friendly charm as for his performances. (He was always motivated to finish in the top 10 at Western States only to be guaranteed entry again the following year, such is his ongoing love affair with the oldest and most famous ultra in North America.)
His embarrassment turns to pride near the finish of the 2018 race, when another runner tells him they had once met at a book signing in London, and Karnazes had prophetically autographed his book with “See you at Western States.” (When they do see each other, it’s Karnazes’ first appearance there in nine years, and the other runner’s very first – he has been trying for five years.) At times like that, Karnazes gushes at having been someone’s inspiration to “put on a pair of runners and hit the trail.”
The athlete’s chiseled jawline and physique (frequently shirtless) are all over the covers of his books, so it’s tempting to dismiss his professed ambivalence at being recognized as false modesty. But his stories are so entertainingly written, and his love of ultrarunning so genuine, that readers will forgive the occasional lapses into selfindulgence. And Karnazes’s record, which includes 10 sub-2 4-hour finishes at Western States and 10 Badwater 135 finishes (including two wins), is seriously impressive.
Ultrarunning is synonymous with suffering, and the selfdiscovery resulting from running well past the supposed limits of human endurance is what fuels Karnazes’s passion for the sport. It’s that passion, combined with his breezy style, that makes his books so entertaining, and (despite his fears about getting older), timeless.— AF