Sarah Lavender Smith April 24, 2012 TWEET COMMENTS 1

The Man Behind Ultramarathon Man - Page 6

On the Dreadmill

Following the 50-50-50 project, Karnazes went on to win 2008’s 4 Deserts race series totaling 1000 kilometers—the Atacama Crossing (Chile), the Gobi March (China), the Sahara (Egypt) and The Last Desert (Antarctica)—each self-supported over seven days and 250K.

That same year, he ran 48 hours on a treadmill in the ABC-TV studio in New York, attempting the world record of 251 miles (he ran 211). The event was hell, he says, but provided an interesting moment when Senator Barack Obama, the presidential candidate, stopped by to say hello at the 42-hour mark. Moments before, says Karnazes, “I got off the treadmill because I was getting chafed, put a big goo of Vaseline in my hand, held my shorts down and did my thing.” All of a sudden, Secret Service guys ushered in Obama.

“Obama said, ‘I think what you’re doing is incredible, and I just want to shake your hand.’ I started reaching for his hand and went, ‘Oh!’ and gave him the presidential knuckle bump.”

The ABC event actually was his third major treadmill run that generated press attention and was derided as “gimmicky” by some ultrarunners.

Karnazes’ “treadathalons” began in 2004, when his friend Christopher Bergland of New York City, winner of three Triple Ironman competitions, asked if he would run at his side to help him break the 24-hour treadmill record. Bergland broke the record at 153 miles while Karnazes ran about 149. Karnazes said it was miserable and told his family, “I’m never doing anything like that again.”

But in 2007, the company Accelerade approached him about doing a treadmill run in Times Square. The treadmill would be suspended on the side of a building, and the event would be broadcast live.

Karnazes accepted, he says, “Because it was my job—it was how I fed my family. Yeah, I got a lot of shit for it, but a lot of people found it hugely inspirational.”

He fell short of breaking Berglund’s 24-hour record, running 130 miles. “It was the most brutal thing. Every time one of those plasma screens lit up, it was like a dose of radiation,” he said, laughing, “but it made me appreciate trail running a lot more.”

Running Across America
Before Karnazes’ Run Across America began last February, the Hawkeye team meticulously planned the route from Los Angeles to New York and coordinated with WABC-TV in New York to cover the event on morning TV for 75 days.

“At first I thought, why would I want to do this? I had never watched Live! With Regis and Kelly, and I can’t imagine anyone in my peer group watching morning TV,” Karnazes recalled. “Then I thought, the demographic watching this is probably the folks that need the most inspiration to get off the couch. If I’m going to do something that makes me feel best, which is helping others be the best they can be, then I have to use the media.”

Brandon Friese of Denver, an independent contractor for Hawkeye and member of Karnazes’ support crew, said the team used two tour buses, one to transport Dean’s crew and another for the television crew. On most mornings, Friese received a call from Dean between 4 and 7 a.m.—“a lot of times he couldn’t sleep, so he’d want to get started”—and thus began a day of running 40 to 50 miles, which lasted between seven and 12 hours.

Karnazes was “very detail oriented,” says Friese, wanting to know the elevation profile and terrain before each day, and he was “pretty regimented with his food.” The crew would mix yogurt or Ensure with granola and nut clusters, hand him the bowl, and he would eat while walking. “His big thing was always forward, always moving.”

Karnazes and his entourage reached D.C. in early May. Television from that day shows Karnazes running through the streets with a pack of schoolchildren following his lead and the television host Kelly Rippa jogging at his side. They ran through the gates to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House lawn, where Michelle Obama high fived the school kids, greeted Karnazes’ family—who had flown out for a White House tour—and hugged Karnazes.  

Michelle Obama told the schoolchildren and the national television audience, “I want kids everywhere to look at Dean as an example. … Exercise! Eat healthy! Keep moving!”

After three hours in the White House, Dean recalled, “I finally told them, ‘I’ve still got 30 miles I’ve gotta run today,’” so he left and kept going toward New York. “I can’t even believe it’s me who lived that experience [at the White House]. “I was like, ‘I’m a runner, what am I doing here?’ It was surreal.”


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