Sarah Lavender Smith April 24, 2012 TWEET COMMENTS 2

Behind Ultramarathon Man - Page 5

In that first decade as a serious athlete, though, he was like everyone else at the starting line, an unknown shoehorning his training in between managing a career and starting a family.

The Relay and Running for a Cause
I first heard of Dean Karnazes in October of 2000 while riding in a van packed with sweaty runners on a back road of Northern California’s wine country. Our van represented one of dozens of 12-person teams competing in The Relay, a 199-mile event to raise money for the cause of organ donation and transplants.

One of my teammates piped up, “There’s a guy doing the whole thing himself. He’s called Team Dean. Rumor has it he eats whole cheesecakes along the way.” 199 miles? It seemed unfathomable to me. But it was true. Dean Karnazes ran The Relay from Calistoga to Santa Cruz solo 10 times, starting in 1995 and most recently in 2009, refueling with unconventional food and drink purchased along the route: entire pumpkin pies, pizzas rolled up and held in his fist like a giant burrito and liters of Pedialyte.

He started running The Relay as redemption for DNF’ing at Badwater. Very few events longer than 100 miles existed back in the mid-1990s, he says, and, “I heard about this 200-mile relay race and thought, ‘Well, there’s a distance that’s farther.’ … ‘You gotta bounce back—you failed at 135.’”

In 2000, he dedicated his 199-mile effort to raising money and support for the family of a dying girl in need of a liver transplant. The story had a happy ending: She got the transplant and survived. Then the story repeated in the following several years: Dean dedicated the annual run to a hospitalized child, and that child miraculously got the transplant or treatment needed to recover. In 2003, he founded Karno Kids, a nonprofit foundation to support programs for youth health and fitness.

As he wrote in Ultramarathon Man, “That string of miraculous outcomes left me with an eerie sense of providence, as if it were somehow my calling to be involved. I’m not getting saccharine here, and believe me, I’d probably be running like a wildman no matter what, but thinking about my sister, and being able to help others, has given me a greater sense of purpose.”

Not content to keep running “just” the 199-mile relay solo, he started adding miles to the course, either before or after the finish line: a total of 262 miles in 2004, and then 350 miles in 2005, which raised thousands of dollars for a two-year-old girl in need of a heart transplant.

The Rise of “Ultramarathon Man”
Writing a book was on his “life list,” says Karnazes, something he wanted to do but didn’t expect to be of much consequence. As it turned out, the publication of Ultramarathon Man in 2005 fundamentally altered his life.


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