Behind Ultramarathon Man - Page 8
Dissing Dean came to head in 2007 when ultrarunning great Scott Jurek of Boulder, Colorado, expressed frustration in an interview about Karnazes, after seeing Outside’s cover proclaiming him “America’s Greatest Runner.” Jurek suggested Karnazes did not deserve that title, and that the media should focus on the “true champions” of the sport.
Scott Dunlap of Woodside, California, who writes the popular www.runtrails.blogspot.com, posted a transcript of Jurek’s interview about Karnazes on his blog, which sparked scores of comments from trail runners, who were split between defending Karnazes and sympathizing with Jurek. (Four years later, Dunlap says, it’s still one of the hottest topics on his blog.)
Responds Karnazes today, “You can’t read some of that trash talking and not be like, ‘That really stings.’ … I think a lot of it’s misdirected by people who don’t really know what I’m doing and think I consciously set out to be a big media machine. I’ve emerged as the go-to guy if you want to talk about running or ultrarunning, but I try to shine the light back on the sport and the people in the sport.”
Comments Rickey Gates of Woody Creek, Colorado, who set a course record at the 2011 Canadian Death Race 125K, “Whenever I tell someone I’m a runner and do mountain races, they say, ‘Oh, my God, have you heard of this guy Dean Karnazes? He’s amazing.’ People assume he’s the best—and my petty ego has to deal with that.”
Nonetheless, Gates credits Karnazes for attracting more people and attention to the sport, which helps generate sponsorship so athletes like him can take time off from regular jobs to focus on training. “He’s not the best of the best when he toes the starting line, but regardless of how fast he is or isn’t, he’s inspired more people to run than almost anyone out there.”
Take Geoff Harper, a 33-year-old mechanical engineer who attended a book signing for Karnazes’ recent release. Harper walked up to Karnazes and said, “You’ve changed my life.” He said that reading Ultramarathon Man inspired him not only to run more frequently and train for a marathon, but also to get his contractor’s license and start a new business. “I’ve taken actions to move myself forward with what I want out of life” since reading the book, he said, calling Karnazes “probably the single most important person I could ever meet. He’s like a superstar to me—a superhero.”
Karnazes expressed mixed feelings about that label, “Ultramarathon Man.” He said the phrase came from an old article that called him that, and his publisher persuaded him to use it for the book’s title.
“I wasn’t that crazy about it, because it almost sounds like too big of shoes to fill. It’s a brand I try to live down. The super elites go, ‘Aw, he doesn’t deserve that title; he’s never been on the top,’ while the casual, everyday runners go, ‘Oh, my god, this guy is superhuman, I’ll never approach that’—and that’s what I don’t want,” he said during our run. “It’s become the brand, but it wasn’t intentional, it wasn’t scripted—it’s just how it evolved.”
Says Geoff Roes of Boulder, Colorado, 2009 and 2010 Ultrarunner of the Year and the 2011 Ultra Race of Champions winner, “Dean has done some amazingly successful things in the sport. Generally negative opinions come from people who view success in running as being able to run certain races really fast. I don’t define success in running that way, so I have no problem with Dean having had so much success outside the realm of race performance.”
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.