ORLANDO, Fla. – Dean Karnazes, arguably the world’s fittest man, is jogging through the streets near downtown Orlando, Fla., chatting easily as he goes, utterly relaxed, as if he could keep running like this for 100 miles.
He could. He has.
If you don’t recognize the name from the “60 Minutes” profile or the People magazine article or his best-selling book, “Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner,” perhaps you caught him on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
With his world-record-setting 350-consecutive-mile run last fall – and a 5-foot-8-inch, 154-pound physique so well-chiseled that Sports Illustrated Women once named him one of the “sexiest men in sports” – Karnazes has made scientists wonder just what the human body is capable of.
His Web site lists his accomplishments: He has run across Death Valley in 126-degree temperatures. He has run a marathon to the South Pole, where it was 40 degrees below zero. Seven times he has run a 200-mile relay race solo, racing against teams of 12. (He beat some of them.) He has swum across San Francisco Bay, scaled Half Dome in Yosemite, surfed the gigantic waves off Hawaii, and is a regular and accomplished windsurfer. He’s won what is considered the toughest 100-mile footrace in the world.
But Karnazes wants more than records. This 43-year-old father of two wants to inspire. He wants more ordinary men and women to get off their posteriors and get moving. Thus he recently found himself in Orlando – and Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and Portland – promoting the paperback release of his book, which contains a new epilogue of his diet and exercise advice.
“The first thing I would tell people is just find an activity you really enjoy,” he says, his arms and legs still pumping in a metronomic rhythm. “If it’s not something you look forward to, something you have some passion about, you’re not going to keep it up.
“If it’s walking, just put a credit card in a fanny pack and head out. If you see a Starbucks and want a latte, grab a latte. Make an adventure of it. Talk to people along the way.”
If it sounds simplistic, it’s really not too different from what Karnazes himself did the night of his 30th birthday when, dejected by his too-much-work, not-enough-play existence, he stripped to his shorts and T-shirt, grabbed a $20 bill and old sneakers, and headed out into the night from his home in San Francisco. He hadn’t run since he was a teenager.
Seven hours and 30 miles later, he wound up at Half Moon Bay, near delirium, his feet bloody and swollen, his legs in agony, calling his baffled wife from a pay phone.
“Please grab our insurance card,” he told her. “I might need to stop by the hospital on the way home.”
These days, his goals are better planned. As he ramps up his training to do 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states this fall, he is launching a program to recruit kids for a six-week training course so a group of them in each state can run the last mile of the marathon with him.
As he trots around Orlando’s Lake Eola, then heads south toward Delaney Park, he shares the secrets of his fitness regimen – some of which he recommends, some of which he knows are best left to the fanatical.
Q. You run 70 to 100 miles a week, windsurf, mountain-bike, lift weights, are president of a health-food company, travel, give speeches and have two young kids. Aren’t you tired?
A. No. As long as I get my exercise in, I feel fine. But if I don’t exercise, then I get tired. And if I eat any refined sugars, what I’ve found is I bonk. I’ll just fall asleep at my desk or something.
Q. What’s your normal diet like?
A. I eat wild Pacific salmon four to five days a week. It’s not hard to find in San Francisco. Farm-raised salmon has less omega-3 fatty acids and higher levels of pesticides and mercury. I eat lots of organic salads, whole grains, vegetables and some fruits, and I use olive oil. I drink coffee every morning and would say that I am as addicted as the next coffee drinker. I’ll have a couple of beers now and then.
Q. But in your book, you talk about ordering a pizza in the middle of a 150-mile run and having the guy deliver it to you on the road, eating as you go. You also mention burgers, french fries, ice cream and chocolate éclairs.
A. I do that when I’m racing on these long (100-mile-plus) runs because you need to consume so many calories that, if you eat natural foods with all the fiber and bulk, you’ll fill up too quickly. So you have to eat refined and highly processed food just to get the calories. But other than that, even on my long training runs, I eat really well.
Q. What you do is so extreme. Do you think other people can relate?
A. I got an e-mail the other day that sums up for me what it’s all about. This woman said, “I’m a slow, chubby triathlete, and I used to run two miles a day. But after reading your book, I run three miles a day. Thanks for the inspiration.” That made me feel so good.