Sunday, November 26, 2006

Ultramarathon Man (Dean Karnazes)

Right from the beginning of Ultramarathon Man, it is very clear that Dean Karnazes is first and foremost a runner, not a writer. The beginning of the book is to the point, barebones writing, and comes off even a bit melodramatic. But then I got sucked into this unbelievable story about Karnazes' life as an ultramarathon runner, and I could care less about the style of writing (and what I felt was melodramatic at the beginning turned out to be very genuine, I realized near the end).

For those unfamiliar with the term, an ultramarathon is any distance past that of a marathon. Apparently for some people, 26.2 is just not enough. Karnazes is one of those people. He was always a runner, but didn't really begin the very-long-distance running until after he turned 30. His first ultramarathon was the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, where participants run up and down the Sierra Mountains and try to finish in 24 hours. (To train for this, among other things, he would run up Hyde Street hill in San Francisco. I personally think "hill" is the wrong term for this street. It's very, very, very steep, even in San Francisco terms.)

Probably the best part of this book is Karnazes' descriptions of what happens both to his body and his mind during these long runs. During the Western States run, he develops night blindness, where he can barely see. (And even though those in the aid tent suggest he quit, he keeps right on racing.) And as if the Western States run wasn't enough, he then enters Badwater, which goes from Death Valley to Mount Whitney, 135 miles, where for the Death Valley part runners have to wear special UV protective desert suits so their skin doesn't scorch, they have to run on the painted white line on the highway to keep their shoes from melting, and Karnazes thinks he hallucinates that a bunch of rattlesnakes are on the road, but it turns out that they are indeed really there.

There are even more astounding runs in the book, including the first ever Antarctic South Pole marathon. This is a short book (took me an afternoon to read) and I think it's worth it to read Karnazes' story. Oh, and wonder what he's doing now? He just completed Endurance 50, 50 marathons in 50 days, and now is in the process of running home from New York (home is San Francisco).

Next book up: This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman


Anonymous said...

How am I supposed to get anything done when you keep recommending books that I want to read.

Here is the list that I am taking to the Alpine Library tomorrow. At least three of these are from your reviews. I'll see if any of these are on the shelf (not likely) and then will ask her to order a couple at a time. Will probably start with Heat and the new Stephen King novel.

Lisey’s Story Stephen King
Heat Bill Buford
Nature Girl Carl Hiaasen
The Innocent Man John Grisham
The God Delusion Richard Dawkins
No Country for Old Men Cormac McCarthy
Slow Man J M Coetzee
Ultramarathon Man Dean Karnazes
Blue Latitudes Tony Horwitz

Anonymous said...

So the books came in. Three of them today. Ultramarathon Man, No Country for Old Men, and Slow Man

Came home put the books on the kitchen counter and took a quick look at Ultramarathon Man and read a few pages, then a few more, he was talking about all the food he need for food when he is running, and he made me hungry. Someone gave us a fruitcake today, there it was on the counter so I stood there eating fruitcake and reading. Read the first hundred pages standing up and eating fruitcake.