Monday, January 24, 2011

50/50: Dean Karnazes's Marathon Challenge

A few weeks ago, I posted a review of Ultramarathon Man, the movie documenting Dean Karnazes's running of 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days (posted here).  The accompanying book, 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days--and How You Too Can Achieve Super Endurance! chronicles those 50 days and throws in lots of practical running and training advice. 

I really enjoyed Dean's recounting of the runs, of his ups and downs through the 50 days, and his personal stories of the people he met along the way.  This was late 2006, before I was interested in running at all, but  through Runner's World magazine, blogs, and e-mail lists, runners accross the country signed up and ran with him.  On weekends, many of the marathons were large events.  During the week, he ran the certified course in whatever city they were in, and worked with the race director for logistical help.  This marathon tour was a huge production, with dozens of people supporting him the whole time, and many more volunteers pitching in at each stop.  Besides the physical feat of running the 50 marathons, the practical feat of coordinating this travelling circus is impressive as well.  (Oh, and by the way, after his last marathon--New York City--Dean said, "No one had booked me a return flight from New York to San Francisco.  So I decided to run instead."  For the next 90 days, he ran all the way to St. Charles, Missouri, where he had started the 50/50, but decided he missed his family and went straight home from there.)
The crew set up full marathon amenities, like this cool finish line, at every event.  This lady ran the 6 New England marathons with Dean and cartwheeled across every finish line!
I must admit I was taken in by the subtitle of the book.  I want to achieve Super Endurance like Dean!  Well, maybe I can.  Mixed in with the travelogue, Dean offers lots of training and running advice for both beginners and experienced runners.  I don't believe you can ever get too much input.  If you read a magazine like Runner's World for more than a few months, you soon realize you're reading lots of similar running wisdom, presented in different forms.  50/50's advice is in the same vein.  Throughout the book is some great advice for runners, but it interrupts the prose of the 50/50 quest, and is presented in a scattershot way which would make referencing it difficult later on.

All that good advice fails on the promise of the subtitle.  If I did everything Dean says, I know I would be a better runner.  While I don't want to minimize Dean's amazing commitment to running and his intensity and love of the sport, I think he has to admit that he is genetically gifted.  I still wonder if I could reach his level of endurance; I'll never know if I don't try, but I'll never be able to try because that guy runs so freakin' much!  As one example, during the 50/50, Dean's blood was tested periodically.  At the end of it, he showed 1/4 as much muscle damage, as measured by creatine phosphokinase in the bloodstream, as a typical runner after one marathon!  Has his body adapted, or is this a genetic advantage he has?  Who knows.
Dean raised money for his charity, Karno's Kids.  You gotta love the slogan, "No child left inside."

On a side note, even though the 50/50/50 challenge sounds likes something no one has ever done before, at least one person beat Dean to it.  Sam Thompson started a similar quest earlier in the same year, completing 51 marathons in the 50 states plus D.C. in 50 days to raise money for Katrina victims.  In this Runner's World interview, Dean sounds supportive, "What Sam's doing is absolutely terrific. . . . if he encourages other people to get out and do things, I can't take anything away from him," but gets in a little jab, too: "He's obviously wanting to scoop what I was doing."  According to this Sports Illustrated article, Dean had some nice things to say about Sam Thompson's feat, and, in fact, talked his own major sponsor, North Face, into taking Sam on as well.  While Dean finished it with a small army and a large sponsor, Sam finished it with his wife and a trickle of a word-of-mouth campaign.  Both are amazing, but I tend to think Sam's might be a bit more amazing.

All things considered, Dean is an amazing runner and remains high on my list of running heroes.  I'm pretty sure I'll never match anywhere near his accomplishments, whether completing the 50/50/50, winning Badwater or Leadville, or running 300 miles in one stretch.  But he is an example to all runners to stretch ourselves, and set out to accomplish things we never thought we could do.  For some, that might mean finishing a marathon.  For me, it might be qualifying for Boston or completing a mountain 100.  More importantly, he promotes running just for fun.  Step out the front door, and run as far as you can in one direction, then run back home.  I love his take on the Australian walkabout.  He says to set aside a day for a runabout.  Start running in the morning, before the sun comes up, and run until after the sun goes down.  And just like Dean, enjoy every step of the way.

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