February 2, 2015

Book Review: Ultra Marathon Man by Dean Karnazes

I'm participating in Sarah Ohm's Blogger Book Club 2015 because I love books and participating in this link up will hopefully help motivate me to reach one of my New Year's goals to read one book a month for fun.  This month I decided to read Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes. Actually I read the whole book one day during jury duty last week. High five to me for being productive.   

I have read about Dean Karnazes, one of the most famous ultrarunners, and even met him a couple years ago at a running store event. He was so genuine, enthusiastic, and positive in person.


I finally picked up his autobiographical book Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner published in 2006. It seemed like a great pick for the motivation theme of this month's book club. No, I've never run an ultramarathon, although I'm toying with the idea of trying a 50K one of these days. I am however a runner and fascinated by ultramarathons.  I give lots of respect to the different type of running and physical stamina those events take. The ultrarunning culture, fuel, and community is interesting to me.  

I also like how even though Dean eats super healthy, during ultras he does things like gets an entire pizza delivered to him on a run and eats the entire thing himself. 
True story, it happens in this book. Pizza is clearly the way to my heart. 


I'd say you don't have to be a runner to like this book though. It's more about inspiration and following your dreams, no matter how crazy they seem.  Clearly that lines up with my "run happy, dream big" mantra as well. 

The book Ultra Marathon Man is about Dean from the very beginning of his running career until the end of a 199 mile relay race he ran solo in California in 2000. 

He ran mostly cross country in high school and fell in love with running but later is sister Pary was killed in a car crash.  Her death and how it affected Dean is a theme throughout the book. What I think is surprising is how Dean  not only held a corporate job in San Francisco when he started running but throughout his career.  One of the motivating quotes in his life and of the book is how a former favorite high school coach told him "If it felt good, you didn't push hard enough. It's supposed to hurt like hell.After a hiatus from running, he rediscovers his love of it on his 30th birthday and enters the world of ultramarathoning.  

I'm not going to give the whole book away (you should read!) but it talks about his journey towards chasing the toughest events in the world form his first Western States, to Badwater, to the first marathon on Antarctica, and then finally the relay in California.  He doesn't just run ultramarathons but ridiculously difficult events like Badwater which takes place in Death Valley for 135 miles with temperatures in 120 °F. Seriously. Oh and he won it in 2004. 

Now it's a little self-promoting, but I think most autobiographies are.  I found the book to be entertaining and inspiring. He is such a positive person who keeps dreaming bigger and is crazy enough not to question his capabilities to achieve his goals. He never gives up. I loved the descriptions of his first Western States and Badwater races because I felt like I was right on the trail with him. 

One of my favorite quotes is how Dean describes part of his running awakening. Haven't we all felt like this at some point? 
"At that moment I realized that my life was being wasted.  Disillusioned with the trappings of the corporate scene, the things that really mattered----friendship and exploration, personal expansion and a sense of meaning----had gotten all twisted around making a lot of money and buying stuff.  I hungered for a place where I could explore nature and my capabilities, away from a corporate office in a corporate building in a big city with crowded supermalls and people judging me by the car I drove (which, of course was a new Lexus)."

The book totally made me want to go run a big race right away. It also has made me want to run more outdoors and on trails. It's a good reminder of some of the reasons why I run and also to keep following my dreams.  Dean shows that you can do anything with hard work and persistence.  

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Ultra Marathon Man (yes I'm the type of person to dog-ear pages in my books!) :


"If you're not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you're not constantly demanding more from yourself-expanding and learning as you go-you're choosing a numb existence.  You're denying yourself an extraordinary trip."

"Every devout runner has an awakening. We know the place, the time, and the reason we accepted running into our life."  

“If you can't run, then walk. And if you can't walk, then crawl. Do what you have to do. Just keep moving forward and never, ever give up.” 

“I wasn't born with any innate talent. I've never been naturally gifted at anything. I always had to work at it. The only way I knew how to succeed was to try harder than anyone else. Dogged persistence is what got me through life. But here was something I was half-decent at. Being able to run great distances was the one thing I could offer the world. Others might be faster, but I could go longer. My strongest quality is that I never give up.” 

Check out all the great book reviews in the linkup!

What is a great motivational book? What is the last good book you read? 


  1. Ah! You met Dean?! I am so jealous right now haha! I read his book two months ago and absolutely loved it. I am not one to want to do an ultramarathon or any of the races Dean did, but his story is so inspirational to all runners. I found myself pushing myself just a little bit harder on every run after reading his book.

  2. Dean seams like a really down to earth guy. I can see how this book could be motivating to non-runners as well as runners. Great review and great quotes too.

  3. Love the sound of this book. Great review. Looking forward to next month.

  4. You got some great quotes out of this book! Sounds like a good one. I'll check it out, thanks for the review!

  5. I met him when I ran the North Face Endurance Challenege DC 50K in June of 2012. He was so nice, telling me to, "watch out for the stinging nettles" haha! That tip proved useful, although he should have mentioned that the mud was knee deep for the first and last 13 miles. That's really cool that Sarah started a book club- I LOVE books, especially if they have to do with running.

  6. Amazing girl!!!!!!!!!!!! OMG and how awesome is it that he tweeted to us!? I'm jealous he can eat whole pizza's. That's my dream!

  7. Great review! I didn't know if I wanted to read this--I'd heard he has a huge ego, but he commented on a picture I posted on his FB page. So there's that. He's so small!

  8. It sounds amazing! I'm deeply in awe of people like him, who have such determination and perseverance to pursue their dreams. And how cool that you got to meet him!

  9. That is quite possibly the best use of jury duty time I've ever heard of. I've been wanting to read this book for a long time. SO cool that you got to meet him!

  10. Oh yes! I read this when it came out in 2006. I was prepping to run 3 marathons in 15 months and it was beyond inspirational!! I've always heard wonderful things about Dean and he's such a wonderful ambassador of our sport!!

  11. SO cool that you got to meet him!!! What an incredible athlete.

  12. Sounds like a great read! I've always found DK to be fascinating. How cool you met him. Totally agree that running=therapy sometimes. : )