My Interview with Dean Karnazes

Dick's Sporting Goods National Runners Month 2011The people behind Dick’s Sporting Goods National Runners’ Month arranged it so I could chat with Dean Karnazes, one of their National Runners’ Month ambassadors.  This is the second year for this campaign, in which everyone is encouraged to get out for a run during the month of May.  Part of the campaign involves raising money for Action for Healthy Kids, an organization that is devoted to seeing that kids get proper nutrition and physical activity.

For those who aren’t familiar with Dean Karnazes, he is commonly known as Ultramarathon Man.  His endurance is pretty extraordinary, he seems to be super-human in his ability to run for hours on end.  He’s won several ultra-endurance events, but he also is known for doing big running “stunts” like when he ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days.  He is also an author, having 3 books under his belt (and I’m sure there will be more to come!)

Dean recently finished his Run Across America in conjunction with Live! with Regis and Kelly where he raised well over $150,000 for Action for Healthy Kids while running about 3000 miles across our country in 75 days.

Dean Karnazes - Ultramarathon Man
Jill: Dick’s Sporting Goods National Runners’ Month and your Run Across America both support Action for Healthy Kids. What is it that draws you to this cause?

Dean: Having two kids of my own is one of the major draws. Being a father and realizing the challenges parents face these days firsthand with getting kids active, so that’s one of my major drivers; and it’s just a passion of mine to get these kids of our country back outside and moving and this has been a tremendous partner in helping that cause.

Jill: That was part of your 50/50/50 quest, right?

Dean: It certainly was, yep.

Jill: How do you find time to be involved in your children’s activities, support your wife, spend time with your parents AND still train to be an ultra-endurance athlete?

Dean: ( Laughs ) You know, I make sacrifices. I get up at 3 or 4 in the morning many days and train before the kids get up, I do a lot of all night runs and night running while they sleep. So, you know, you make sacrifices and you prioritize. I’ll admit I have zero social life, none, and something’s gotta go, right? I don’t miss it, I like my life the way it is. You just do what you need to do and it all seems to work.

Jill: So, do you need very little sleep to survive?

Dean: Yeah, I sleep about four to five hours a night, last night it was a little less. But yeah, typically 4 to 5 hours.

Jill: Wow, see, that’s very different from a lot of people! I’ve heard you are a big proponent for cross-training in order to be a healthy runner. What are your favorite forms of cross-training?

Dean: I’ve got this thing called an Elliptigo, I don’t know if you’ve seen one, it’s almost like an elliptical machine at the gym, but it’s on wheels.

Jill: Yeah, I tried one a couple weeks ago.

Dean: Yeah, I use that thing which is incredible cross-training, it builds great quad strength, just uses a lot of the same muscles.

Jill: Don’t you do long distances with that too?

Dean: Yeah. I also love to surf, wind surf, I rock climb, I snowboard… I like outdoor activities for cross-training.

Jill: Do you find your endurance changing as you get older, better or worse? What about recovery? I’m not calling you old, by the way.

Dean: It’s funny, what I notice is that my speed is going down. My top-end speed . But as far as endurance and stamina I still have not seen an appreciable drop off. I’m sure at some point that will happen but so far I still seem to be able to push through things. Endurance, strength and stamina seem to be increasing.

Jill: There are so many conflicting viewpoints on stretching, some say do or some say don’t stretch… what works for you?

Dean: (Laughs) Uh… I don’t stretch. At all. But my guidance to people is to listen to everyone, follow on one. We’re all different and I’ve got friends I run with that are great runners who stretch constantly, it works for them. I see no benefit in stretching personally, so I don’t. But again, I would say, do what works best for you.

Jill: What are your thoughts on the whole natural running movement? Do you think runners should tinker with their form mechanics?

Dean: I just think its funny that its such an issue now because when I was high school years and years ago, I grew up down in Southern California on the beach, my coach used to have us run from our high school down to the beach and have us ditch our shoes and run on the soft sand barefoot. And then we’d run back to the school and he’d have us take off our shoes and run around the grass infield of the track barefoot. So it’s nothing new to me. What I don’t advocate, I don’t think we were necessarily engineered to run on pavement . I see people running half marathons and stuff barefoot and I’m like, “Oooh… I don’t know if we were made for that.” But I’ve always been a big proponent of barefoot running. And I do it all the time.

Jill: Do you?

Dean: I just tell people when you get home from a run at your house, just take off your shoes, walk around your house barefoot and that will help condition your feet.

Jill: Anyone who’s read your books or articles about you knows your infamous tactic of ordering a pizza and rolling it like a burrito to eat on the run. Seriously though, how do you do that? I’d end up with grease and cheese all over my face, hands and clothes!

Dean: I didn’t say it doesn’t get all over you!

Jill: Oh, okay! You don’t share that!

Dean: (Laughing) It’s sloppy, it’s all over you. But I’ve learned some tricks over the years. Here’s what you do, give you some tremendous insight. You order the Hawaiian style, cause like the pepperoni and stuff like that, it’s too spicy and it just doesn’t sit well. So you get the Hawaiian style , you ask them not to slice it, don’t have them slice your pizza, and get the thin-crust, and then you roll it to the Italian burrito and it works a lot better that way.

Jill: Do you have any other big feats of endurance in the planner right now?

Dean: Well, I’ve got some things in the works , I could tell you but I’d have to kill you.

Jill: (Laughs) Please don’t do that!

Dean: (Laughs) I’m going to try and run, I’m planning to run a marathon in every country of the world in a one-year period. I’m setting off on a global-expedition and hitting… the U.N. recognizes 204 countries right now , so I’m hitting all countries in one year.

Jill: That would be awesome. So would you have a book and a movie to go along with that?

Dean: (Laughs) I imagine so.

Jill: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I don’t want to keep you much longer, I know you have a tight schedule.

Dean: You’re welcome Jill, and I’ll see you down the road!

Jill: Sounds good, I’ll talk to you later!

Dean also told me to tell my friend Molly hello for him and to wish her good luck on her run across the Himalayas this summer. (They ran Badwater the same time a couple years ago!)

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