By Bob Howells
Fifty-three-year-old Dean Karnazes is singular among his fellow-ultramarathoners, which to the rest of us means he’s as far out as Mork. Karnazes has run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days; 350 miles non-stop (in about 81 hours); and a marathon at the South Pole. Now he’s in the news again—a summertime, 12-day jaunt, The New York Times reports, of 326 miles that follow Central Asia’s foregone Silk Road. “…when I first looked at it [the trip agenda], I thought, ‘They’re going to kill me,’” Karnazes tells the Times.
Should we aspire to be anything like this middle-age mileage monster? Turns out that Karno and his runs aren’t all about bragging rights. Past Karnazes ultra-efforts have raised awareness and money for pediatric organ donation. This time none other than the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs asked him to run the Silk Road as a sign of “sports diplomacy.”
“Running’s a great democratizer,” Karnazes tells the Times.
He isn’t entirely masochistic, either, as we learned in our own edited Q&A with him about mortal (and relevant) topics like diet, aging, and rest. Herewith, a few reasons for us to follow in at least some of the rambling Karno’s footsteps.
The Masters Athlete: You’re over 50 now. How many years have you been an ultra athlete? Do you feel you’ve made any concessions to age?
Dean Karnazes: I’ve been doing this now for more than 20 years and still love it as much as ever. I wouldn’t say that I’ve made concessions to my age. It’s more like realizations that some things aren’t what they used to be.
TMA: Tell us about those concessions.
DK: Now that I’m in the “afternoon of my life,” I’ve accepted the fact that I’m just not as fast as I used to be, and that I’ve got to work twice as hard to maintain the same level of fitness.
TMA: What hurts when you roll out of bed in the morning? What do you do to relieve the pain?
DK: I still feel pretty good when I roll out of bed. It takes me a bit longer to get going. Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blend coffee is a best friend.
TMA: A lot of middle-aged runners either back off running or give it up altogether, but you just keep running farther. Do you have some joint-saving secrets you can share with us?
DK: I don’t buy into the adage that you only have so many foot strikes until your joints break down. I see men and women in their 60s, 70s and even 80s at marathons, and they look great. To help preserve my joints, I do lots of cross training to build leg strength. I also train my core and upper body to help maintain proper running posture. Having a strong all-around body is critical for preserving your joints.
TMA: What about diet?
DK: Extremely regimented. I’ve eliminated all refined and processed foods. Nothing in a package or bag. No wheat, rice, oats or other grains, which can cause inflammation and joint pain. I’ve been eating cold-water fish all my life, principally wild Pacific salmon. Omega-3 fatty acids are very beneficial for joint health.
My idol, Jack LaLanne, said, “If man made it, don’t eat it. And if it tastes good, spit it out.”
I do have one weakness, and I indulge myself. Chocolate covered espresso beans are the bomb!
TMA: Is it true you only get four hours of sleep a night? No study or coach champions that practice.
DK: Sometimes five (laughter). When I’m feeling lazy.
TMA: You wandered away from fitness for quite a while, then started running again at age 30. What is your advice to people who have been sedentary but are now, in midlife, sensing that they better start getting fit?
DK: It’s never too late. Another one of my idols, Walt Stack, was a smoker and a drinker until age 50. Then he became a remarkable runner, logging more than 60,000 miles in his lifetime. He also had an endearing quote: “I start slow, and taper from there.”