Running With Dean Karnazes

GORE-TEX TransRockies Run[Beginning this Sunday, iRunFar’s Heidi Dietrich will be covering the GORE-TEX TransRockies Run live from the Colorado Rockies. Each day this week, iRunFar will feature a story that Heidi’s written about one of this year’s TransRockies participants. Tune in the next two weeks for extensive TransRockies coverage.]

Most GORE-TEX TransRockies Run participants need to mesh with just one partner. Dean Karnazes, on the other hand, will pair up with six.

The best selling author, The North Face athlete, and celebrity ultramarathon runner plans to run each day of TransRockies with a different GORE-TEX contest winner. He hopes to use the encounters to inspire and encourage runners to continue with the sport.

“It’s a great way to introduce people to the world of trail running,” Karnazes said. “And for me, it’s really refreshing to live the experience through the eyes of someone new.”

This year’s TransRockies is the first time Karnazes has taken on such a non-traditional approach to the event. Last year, he teamed up with fellow The North Face athlete Helen Cospolich. Though they didn’t know each other well before the race, they found their personalities clicked. Karnazes, a big fan of team events, enjoyed the chance to spend so many trail hours getting to know someone.

Dean Karnazes Helen Cospolich TransRockies Run

Karnazes and Cospolich running at last year's TransRockies

“TransRockies peels away any level of pretension,” Karnazes said.

Karnazes, used to training at sea level, sucked wind and struggled to keep up on the climbs. On the descents, he pushed Cospolich.

All went well until day three, when Karnazes tripped on the trail and smashed his torso into a rock. He ended up cracking a rib, making any heavy breathing excruciating.

“I’d never been in so much pain,” Karnazes said. “But I don’t drop out of races.”

Karnazes managed to slog his way through two more days, until a TransRockies doctor finally told him that he risked rupturing a lung by continuing the event. Much to his disappointment, he sat out day six.

“I have unfinished business at TransRockies,” Karnazes said. “I want to run the last day.”

Karnazes is no stranger to multi-day running events. He ran the Championship Desert Series, participating in six-day races in Antarctica, the Sahara Desert, the Gobi Desert, and the Atacama Desert in Chile. Unlike TransRockies, where organizers schlep all the gear for race participants, the desert races forced competitors to carry everything on their backs. That provided an advantage to the somewhat stocky Karnazes, who considers himself bulkier than the average ultrarunner.

“Those multi-day grunt fests fit my style,” Karnazes said.

Compared to the Desert Series, TransRockies seems like a catered party to Karnazes. In the desert, he ate dehydrated food and slept in tents cramped with smelly, moaning fellow runners. At TransRockies, he enjoys the catered meals, group gatherings, slide shows, and even beer.

“At TransRockies, you get an incredible workout during the day and then you’re treated so well at night,” Karnazes said. “It’s unbelievable.”

TransRockies is just one of the many running-related events piled on Karnazes’ plate. He just finished a book of short narratives called “Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss.” The book is due out next year.

As for running adventures, Karnazes plans to run the American Discovery Trail across the U.S. early next year. Most of the trail lies on former railroad tracks. Karnazes will start in San Francisco and run the trail all the way to the end in Delaware. Then, he’ll tack on an additional stretch beyond the Discovery Trail to finish in New York City.

Karnazes’ biggest scheme will unfold in 2012. That year, he plans to travel the world, running a marathon in all 204 countries recognized by the United Nations. Since obtaining permission to visit such places as Afghanistan and North Korea presents a logistical nightmare, he’s already begun working with the U.S. State Department to form his plans.

Heidi Dietrich is a writer, journalist and trail runner living in Seattle, Washington. Learn more about her writing at www.heidiseattle.com.