Q&A: Ultramarathon star to jog through town

Staff writerJune 9, 2014 

Somewhere in Saturday’s field for the 42nd Sound to Narrows is expected to be arguably the most famous runner ever to participate in the race.

But don’t expect ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes to win the 12-kilometer race.

“It’s way too short for me,” said Karnazes, who built his reputation in longer races — like 93 miles longer.

He won the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon across Death Valley in 2004. He won a 100-mile race in Vermont, and he’s finished in the top 10 four times in the 100-mile Western States Endurance Race.

But he’s probably best known for epic stunts such as running a marathon in every state in 50 days in 2006, running from Disneyland to New York in 75 days in 2011, and running a marathon alone at the South Pole in 2002.

He’s been criticized by some runners for being a self promoter. It’s criticism he ignores.

Karnazes, 51 and from the San Francisco area, is visiting Tacoma and the Sound to Narrows through his foundation, Karno Kids. The nonprofit raises money for programs geared toward improving the health of children.

He will speak Friday at Hedden Elementary School in Edgewood. The next morning he will jog the 2K kids race at the Sound to Narrows. Then he’ll jump into the main event, the 12K race from Vassault Park through Point Defiance Park and then back to the park.

He recently slowed down long enough for an interview with The News Tribune.

Q: Are you sitting down?

Answer: (Laughter). Are you?

Q: Of course not. I’m at a standing desk.

A: You got it. They say sitting is the new smoking. Standing is better for you.

Q: So what does your office look like?

A: I like to do what I call “deskersize.” I’ll stand to write, then I’ll do some pushups and I have a pull-up bar. I’ll cycle through those and do some dips continually throughout the day. Whenever I get fatigued looking at the PC, I do a set of those.

Q: What are your thoughts about kids who spend their school day sitting at desks?

A: Kids, in general, are restless, and when you force them to sit still, it’s harder for them to pay attention. It’s completely unnatural.

Q: If you were a teacher, what would your classroom look like?

A: I think of Aristotle, who held his classes as they walked around Athens. Kids learn better when they aren’t sitting.

Q: Which of your accomplishments tends to most impress kids?

A: A lot of them get excited when I tell them about running across America. But some get excited when I tell them I love bananas. They’ll guess how many I ate in one day. They’re pretty impressed when I tell them I once ate 32 bananas in a day.

Q: What about when you run? What do you listen to?

A: Sometimes I do a digital detox. No cellphone or headphones. But I love listening to audio books. I used to read a lot, but now I spend a lot of time training and can’t read as much. I probably have 300 books on my playlist and probably listen to a couple per month. It’s a terrific way to stay engaged and up to date on reading and pass the time.

Q: What gets kids excited about running?

A: The great impediment to kids are adults. Kids naturally love and have fun running. Kids are built to run. But parents are not always a good role model. Parents sometimes say to me, “Gosh, I’m worried about little Johnny. What should I do?” Well, kids model off of parents. So I ask the parents what they are doing. That being said, the past decade it’s noticeable that (more parents) are doing just that. I’m encouraged by the progress.

Q: What do you tell people who say running is bad for you?

A: That idea is overblown. Runners are healthy. I’ve been to all seven continents to run marathons twice and there are people in their 60s, 70s and 80s running and they are in better shape than those who aren’t running. The benefits far outweigh the risks.

Q: What do you do to avoid injury?

A: A lot of cross training. Just running is a recipe for getting hurt. You need to build leg strength and core strength. And you need proper running posture when you start.

Q: What is your favorite cross-training sport?

A: I like to mountain bike. I’ll do resistance training. And I do CrossFit.

Q: CrossFit? Isn’t that one of the places where “the running isn’t healthy” idea is perpetuated?

A: We tease each other. They say running is horrible. I tell them I’m healthier than they are.

Q: What about stretching?

A: I’m the wrong guy to ask about that. Some runners say stretching is incredibly helpful. I’ve never found the benefit. But I’m not saying don’t stretch. Like I tell other runners, listen to everyone, follow no one.

Q: So what’s your next big project?

A: When I ran 50 marathons in 50 states (in 50 days) I thought that was a great combination of running and adventure. So next year I want to run a marathon in every country.

Q: What about countries like Ukraine?

A: Yes, and North Korea and Afghanistan. That’s the beauty of running. There is a lot that divides us. Religion. Politics. But running brings us all together.

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497

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