Not just a celebrated endurance athlete, philanthropist, and bestselling author, Dean Karnazes is a sought-after speaker who has inspired audiences across the globe with his stories of persistence and perseverance. We asked him how he found the road to his current career.
Parvati Magazine: You were an avid runner in your youth, but then you stopped for years. Why all of a sudden on your 30th birthday did you decide to start again? What did you learn from your time off the road?
Dean Karnazes: I loved to run when I was younger, but gave it up when I hit my teens. Then, on the night of my 30th birthday, I found myself in a nightclub with some friends when I felt this primordial urge to leave. “What?” they questioned. “It’s only midnight; let’s have another round of tequila.” Instead, I walked out of the nightclub and ran 30 miles to celebrate my 30th birthday. I ran straight through the night and it was the first time I’d run in over a decade. That night forever changed the course of my life.
What I learned from my time off the road is that following the path society prescribes for happiness doesn’t work for everyone. By all accounts I was a successful young professional. I had a large paycheck, stock options, a company car, and a liberal bonus program. I should have been happy, right? I wasn’t. I was miserable. I didn’t like being a businessperson; it just wasn’t who I was. So I ran away from it all that night and haven’t looked back.
Parvati Magazine: When did you know that running had to be not just a hobby, but your full-time living—even though that meant leaving behind all the perks of a corporate job?
Dean Karnazes: It struck me that night that we all live in prison cells, with the door wide open. I could either remain in my comfortable little cell, or do something daring. I knew right there and then that my life would be inexorably altered. It was terrifying because I had no idea how I was going to make a living, but I didn’t care. I had to take that chance or would spend the rest of my life regretting it.
Parvati Magazine: Given that you have run 350 miles consecutively without sleep, what does self-care mean for you?
Dean Karnazes: That’s an area I need to improve upon. I tend to push myself to the limit, or beyond, in everything I do. That said, I take extremely good care of my body to make sure I’m the best possible animal I can be. That means no shortcuts in my training and preparation, an extremely disciplined and healthy diet (always, no cheat days ever), good quality sleep, and harmonious interpersonal relationships. All of these things must work in synchronicity for me to be at my best.
Parvati Magazine: What is the most memorable moment you have had while running?
Dean Karnazes: While I’ve had the great privilege of running and racing on all seven continents of Earth, twice now, in some of the most extreme and exotic locations—from running a marathon to the South Pole to running across the Sahara Desert—my most memorable moment is running a 10K race with my daughter, Alexandria, on her 10th birthday. Nothing will ever surpass that moment.
Dean Karnazes is a world-renowned ultramarathoner and endurance athlete, bestselling author, and motivational speaker, one of the TIME “Top 100 Most Influential People in the World”. His feats include a marathon in each of the 50 US states, in 50 consecutive days, and winning the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, “the world’s toughest footrace”.