A Plea to Dean Karnazes – Take a Break!

[Update: While the below is a sincere plea to Mr. Karnazes, the broader purpose of the post is to highlight the issues of over running or over racing. Below my letter, I discuss one of my own episodes of over racing and invite other readers to discuss their own battles with the same.]

Dear Mr. Karnazes,
We’ve briefly met on the trails and in person, but it’s unlikely that you know who I am. That’s ok. Suffice to say I’m no 5k-running-fanboy, but I’m no hater either. I respect you as a runner and competitor and offer these words, because I’m not sure who else has or will – Please take some time off from running!

Dean Karnazes Canadian Death RaceIt is certainly none of my business to speculate as to why you’re in the state you’re in, so I won’t. However, I’ve watched you run at Western States, TNF’s Canadian Death Race, and the GORE-TEX TransRockies Run and something is not right. Sure, Western States was brutal and you had discrete reasons for dropping… but it wasn’t going well early. You toed the line at the Canadian Death Race, but weren’t in the thick of it at any point and you didn’t look well at 80k (photo right). I was sorry to learn that you cracked ribs at TRR (I believed I cracked some two years ago and it was a painful battle for months), but, again, the results show that you weren’t the runner I know you are during the two stages before you injured your rib.

Ok, I will speculate just a little, but only because I’m pretty certain you’d agree. Part of your problem is that you’re racing too much. Take some Did No Starts and restart your running life. I understand that it’s hard for a casual runner to make the decision not to start a race and can only imagine that it would be exponentially harder for someone who has made a name for himself through his perseverance and who makes a living off running to do the same. However, that should not stop you and here’s why.

No one will think less of you if you decide to bag your next however many races. Seriously, you’ve established your running credentials and they stand for themselves. If anything, continuing to race in the face of your current adversity could be a detriment to your reputation as a runner. You were a big man to drop when you needed to at Western States and even bigger man when you let Helen Cospolich tow you at TransRockies. Be an even bigger man and say enough is enough… for now. People will respect you for your discretion.

Anyway, I sincerely hope you seriously consider taking some time off from racing and maybe even some time entirely off from running. I’d love to see you roaring down some single track more like your former self come next spring.


Reflection for Others
Many of us have been in situations where we’ve over raced or over trained. I know I have… and I’ve not always responded accordingly. With that being the case, I’m left to ponder the many reasons why, when faced with such situations, we may be hesitant to take time off from racing or to back off from running when we need it. It all but certain that we’d be better runners for it, but it’s something that we love so much and don’t want to give up. We’ve invested time in training. In doing so, we’ve taken time away from other pursuits… which may make us feel accountable to those very people. Perhaps, we feel that others will think less of us for not having the “guts” to start a race, even if we should. As I suggest above, I really doubt that’s the case.

Goodness knows I’m one to talk about taking time off. Back in the fall of 2007, I raced three 50 milers in 15 days (Mountain Masochist, Stone Cat, and JFK) and while I PRed in the final race, I severely wrecked myself. I futilely started the Hellgate 100k just three weeks later and spectacularly DNFed. (brief report) Not surprisingly, I acknowledged that I was running on empty about a week later. Eventually, I yielded and took two weeks off from running. I probably should have taken more time off.

At various points I’ve taken long breaks off from racing. I probably should have taken them more often.

  • Anyone care to share when they’ve taken time off from running or racing due to something other than an injury?
  • Any thoughts on why it’s so hard to do?

There are 23 comments

  1. René Jeninga

    I think youre right! Dean Karnazes should take a break, he is racing way to much and because of that his performance is suffering. I'm out of training to because of a achilles injury. It is hard not training but i know i will come back better and stronger!

  2. solarweasel

    haha nice letter bryon!i agree though; as much as some of us like to deny it, dean is a reason ultrarunning has received some media attention of late, which has corresponded with an increase in registrants.a lot of these new-comers undoubtedly look up to dean, and if he is going to race himself into paralysis, what's to keep these naive followers from doing the same?i like jurek's routine… every winter he takes a full month off of running, puts some weight on, lives it up for a while, then starts building up to a long, fulfilling racing season.

  3. TrailClown

    Hmmm, interesting. Although I think you are right in your assessment, I think you may want to steer clear of personalizing this type of debate in the future. I think you have created a perfect platform with this blog to debate the issue in general, but picking out one individual for a public intervention (a notable one nonetheless) is blurring boundaries. It will be interesting to see if and how Dean responds on this blog. I just don't want to see your blog become a dramatic soap opera, as mine undoubtedly would if I had one.

  4. Anonymous

    With all due respect, I find this an incredibly strange public post. I've been a reader for a little while now but can't help but think that this is a little inappropriate. I can't imagine we know enough to know if he has problems and what his problems are.As far as the newcomers looking up to Dean, well, they have some personal responsibility to monitor their own fitness and abilities. Surely no one is claiming it will be his fault if someone else foolishly attempts to emulate his rigorous racing schedule.In the future, if you have something to say to your readers about the rigors of racing, maybe it makes more sense to talk more about your own experiences and less about something you freely admit to knowing little about (Dean, personally).

  5. Bryon Powell

    Trail Clown and Anonymous,It's rare that I'm moved to post something. I was last evening. I truly respect Dean as a runner and am saddened by where his running is at the moment. He is a public figure/celebrity. He documents his racing and shares his thoughts on his own sub-URL over at runnersworld.com. I don't mean to create a debate, but do think this type of issue needs concrete examples. People need to see over racing is a real issue.As for my own over running and racing, I shared some of that in the post. If I were in such a state at the moment, I would have posted directly about the issue of over racing… as I have in the past. It's an important issue and Dean is a clear example of it at the moment.While I sincerely make this plea to Dean, I tried to expand the issue to all readers. I've had multiple runners contact me privately identifying with the post and their own over running and racing.

  6. Greg

    I've been a reader of your blog for a while but this is a really lame post. If you want to talk about over-racing, over-training that's fine. Even if you want to speculate that Dean is over-racing, that's fine too. But calling on another runner to back off is really misguided.Dean is a big-boy. He can make decisions for himself. He doesn't need you to tell him what to do.

  7. TrailClown

    I think you are spot on, it's just that nobody likes getting publicly punked, even if they do need an intervention. Hell, back here in Arlington, VA, Michael Wardian needs a serious punk, so I'll give the shout out: Iron Mike, cut back, before it's too late! I think it's good you put it out there, I just was saying you might want to rethink it, because now in the future if ever you are over-tired and show up for a race, you'll catch some flak. Sorry, you're a celeb now, so you got to be careful…Peace out.

  8. Bryon Powell

    TrailClown,I hear ya and if I were to do this over again, I might do so differently, but I'm not one to take down posts. To err is human and sometimes ya gotta live with that. I'll catch flak for this and that's ok.As for showing up to a race overtired, I hope it doesn't happen. Even if I couldn't see my own fatigue, I would hope my friends would see it and would counsel me. If that's not the case, I'd appreciate others standing me up and telling me that I'm overdone. I wish folks would have done that before I raced Hellgate two years ago. It would have saved me from an awful race experience that undoubtedly put me in an even deeper hole than the one I has already dug for myself.

  9. Chris Freet

    Ultrarunners are part of a community and as a community we need to hold one another accountable and look out for one another. Nobody is perfect and we need others to watch out for us. My running friends pulled an intervention on me once, they thought I was doing too much too soon and they were afraid I would get hurt. Did I like to hear it? No. But I'm glad I have friends that are willing to hold me accountable in that way so I can enjoy to sport for many years to come.- Chris

  10. Derrick

    Hmmm…back to the post, I do find it sad that DK feels it necessary to race so often. That just can't be fun and obviously affects his performance. I have a streak, so I don't take days off from running, but I think that's a little different. You can go out and enjoy an easy week of 30minute shuffles on the trails and have your batteries totally feel like they've been recharged. I just couldn't imagine HAVING to go into a race week in, week out because it's on your itinerary. Man, that's a sure fire way to start hating the one thing that we all seem to love so much. Hopefully, he can take some downtime, and enjoy some non-pressure training runs before he takes on the epic '200miles at 2000ft below sea level run'.

  11. Eric Grossman

    We've all been there. Let's face it, we aren't reasonable people. Bryon will be the first to confess it. My guess is that his open letter to Dean is his attempt to raise the stakes for himself. Bryon — I'll be watching you!

  12. Bryon Powell

    Derrick,There is a big difference between overracing/overtraining and running every day. In fact, overracing and overtraining aren't necessarily frequency or mileage based. Strong emotions, illness, and fatigue as well as family, work, or social obligations can make a normal training or racing schedule too much for the moment. Also, what is too much for one person is well within the norm for another. For instance, Michael Wardian races a ton. Good friends and coaches have called for him to race less frequently for years. We all believe he'd race better if he raced less often… but I would rarely, if ever, say he's overraced. He might not be reaching the epitome of his potential, but he's not destroyed. He continues to be a destroyer of competition. He continues to be healthy, hungry, and damn fast!

  13. Bryon Powell

    You nailed it, Eric. Please call me to reason if ever I should need it!And, yes, the letter served as a reminder to myself even today. I may feel ok to run, but I ran a strong 100 mile race last week and need to rest. Taking a zero day today. I'll save my battles for the future.

  14. xxx

    I fully support the theme and call to Dean. He is a public figure and craves the attention; this is part of being a public figure. You tempered your posting with praise and empathy.For my part, a distant family member did the same for me and it has turned my life around (putting on 15 needed pounds and abandoning the need/focus on 'racing' and just having fun. Also, what was your long-term learning from your 07 energy episode? thanks

  15. Bryon Powell

    Thanks, XXX. This was a tight rope to walk… and it took a couple iterations for me to craft something close to the right message.I'm glad you had someone step into your life when you needed it. Sometimes a runner will be need to be told to cool it for a while. For others, especially for those with addictive or obsessive personality traits (disclaimer: I'm not even an amateur psychologist), they may need to be convinced to let the grand pursuit go and to simply run for the enjoyment of running.As for the '07 lack of energy incident, I learned not to be an idiot about racing. I don't need to race simply because opportunity presents itself or because I've committed myself to a particular race. In general, I'm pretty good about listening to my body and resting as needed, but sometimes the mind gets carried away for whatever reason. From that point forward, I've aimed to race with a purpose and given some new opportunities, I need to redouble that effort!As for a technical diagnosis or solution for what happened to me that fall/winter, I'll never know. Fortunately, time and rest took care of things, but it such for a long while.

  16. Gordon

    I've talked to Dean and interviewed him a couple times for stories in the past, but never really spent time with him until the 2009 Gore-Tex TransRockies Run, where we hung out quite a bit, so I'll wade in here.Is Dean over-running? No one knows but Dean. But having talked with him extensively in my role as media director for the race, I was impressed by his good attitude regarding his performance. He was struggling, especially the first day, though he got stronger every day until his crash. When I asked him point-blank how it felt to know that Helen was the stronger runner on the ascents, he laughed and said, "Dude, she was TOWING me up the hills."Zero attitude, cheerful all around and genuinely impressed with Helen's fitness. My own personal take — and I haven't shared it with him — is that running, to Dean, is a career. He may overextend himself, but it's for a greater cause — a cause neccesarily self-serving and in the service of sponsors like TNF. I don't think he's as results-oriented in competitive events as most other racers, frankly.As for the calling out aspect, I'll opt out of commenting, because I am a huge fan of Bryon's. And, now, Dean as well. My story about his and Helen's GTTRR experience can be found on the TransRockies site.

  17. Bryon Powell

    Gordon, Dean definitely has zero attitude. It's something that I've been impressed with every time I've had an interaction with him – while running together for a bit during a Western States 100, during some chats during and after the Canadian Death Race, and as he was running into Camp Hale during Stage three of this year's GORE-TEX TransRockies Run.Gordon, you're the man, so always feel free to post usual stories in your comments on iRunFar. For folks who are interested in reading about Dean and Helen Cospolitch's run at TransRockies, read Gordon's article, Ultramarathon Man & Woman: http://transrockies.com/transrockiesrun/news/?p=2… . Readers, I met Helen for the first time in Camp Hale and she's super nice in addition to being a tremendous runner.

  18. Speedgoat Karl

    I met Dean briefly at UTMB a few years ago. He gets alot of grief for no reason. He likes to run, wrote an entertaining book, and made some money. Good for him. He likes to run races…good for him. He probably doesn't care what others think about over racing…good for him. I hope I can run as many weeks as he does in races. Would one say I am over-raced? Maybe, but I don't care. I like to race too. It's fun. Dean has nothing to prove, and more power to him. Interesting read Bryon. Cheers! :-)

  19. Bryon Powell

    Karl, I sure wouldn't say you over race… you just race a lot! You wouldn't be my pick to win the Wasatch 100 if I thought you were over raced. :-)

  20. Anonymous

    "too much exercise leadeth to death." an inspired statement. animals don't naturally overdo anything. when they are tired they rest – they follow their God-given instincts. they don't take stimulants that alter the natural function of their bodies. over exercising can be a sympton of a spiritual void in a person's life that repentance, daily prayer and scripture reading, meditation and serving others would fill. remember that God is not in the extremes. satan is pleased when we do the most that which matters the least from an eternal perspective. i learned this personally from overindulgence in sports. it can also keep us from spending time with our family. we get our priorities skewed and life passes so quickly we can't afford to make this mistake.

  21. Anonymous

    "too much exercise leadeth to death." an inspired statement. animals don't naturally overdo anything. when they are tired they rest – they follow their God-given instincts. they don't take stimulants that alter the natural function of their bodies. over exercising can be a sympton of a spiritual void in a person's life that repentance, daily prayer and scripture reading, meditation and serving others would fill. remember that God is not in the extremes. satan is pleased when we do the most that which matters the least from an eternal perspective. i learned this personally from overindulgence in sports. it can also keep us from spending time with our family. we get our priorities skewed and life passes so quickly we can't afford to make this mistake.

  22. anonymous

    I don't know if he has or not, but I would be interested to see Dean race with the Tarahumara. I really think he would gain some new, refreshing insight into running.

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