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

There are 11 comments

  1. Matt

    Dean 'the self-promotional machine' Karnazes at work again… He's made a great career for himself, despite not winning any races of note for the past several years.

    1. gordon

      Matt, full disclosure: I do the publicity for the TransRockies Run, so please know I'm not 100% objective, but I had a chance to run with Dean on Saturday, and was impressed at the guy's total friendliness, openness and self-effacement. He's an amazing runner and yeah — he's not at the point in his running career where he can challenge the likes of Tony K. or Geoff Roes. But…so what? He works damn hard at what he does, comes up with creative ways to make a career out of running and brings attention to the sport. Which in turn helps other runners get bigger prize purses (TNF Ultra Endurance Challenge) and sponsorships (New Balance). A rising tide floats all our ships, which is just my $.02 from a middle-pack trail runner.

  2. EricG

    I dont think its always about winning. I have a great deal of respect for Dean and all he has done to motivate others. He certainly motivated me back in 2006 and I am thankful. Keep it up Dean. You are the man in my book. Peace

    1. Matt

      I agree that Dean is a good cheerleader and has drawn a lot of attention to the sport, but it is largely by drawing attention to himself.

      He is like the Tony Robbins of ultra-running – a really nice guy and super-positive, but it would be great to see athletes like Scott, Tony and Geoff get some wider recognition and sponsor dollars. But alas, there's only so much room on the podium of public opinion.

  3. EricG

    I appreciate your opinion and agree it would be nice if there were greater opportunity for the top athletes. One of the things I do love about this sport however, is its obscurity and that is what prevents athletes from earning a living at it. It's just not spectator friendly. Dean found a way to make a living at it so good for him (I would argue he is a damn good athlete too). And throughout his journey he seems to use his success to try and help others. Plenty of room on the podium for public opinion:) Peace

    1. Matt

      It's not surprising that ultra running has not provided a big financial incentive for its top-flight participants – in the US, it's hard enough for marathoners and track athletes to earn a meager living from shoe sponsors…while in Europe, Killian is a highly regarded athlete.

      A race like the WS100 is probably just as spectator friendly as an Ironman or a leg of the Tour de France – it's all about getting a few cameras about there and making a 60 minute TV recap of the race for NBC.

      Having seen Dean at the North Face 50 in NY this year, it's clear why he is the face of the sport: Personable, photogenic, weighty resume, great books, etc. Let's hope that he opens the door for greater public interest and bigger purses for the folks who have done so much to change this sport over the past few years.

  4. hollyMcC

    I had the chance to hear Dean speak last month and he was very inspirational and personable. I like the idea of running each day of TransRockies with a different GORE-TEX contest winner. I look forward to hearing how things go this year.

  5. Tony Mollica

    I am looking forward to the coverage of the TransRockies Run! I hope to run the event someday with my oldest son. He is a lot faster than I am, but I'm in a lot better shape than he is.

    As for Dean; if his style bothers you then don't follow him or read about him. It's pretty simple. I first heard about Ultrarunning from Dean's book "Ultramarathon Man", and I'm glad I did. it is my favorite sport to follow and participate in now. I am way into Geoff, Tony, Killian , Scott etc;, and I don't see how Dean distracts from them. It's apples and oranges, as they don't do the same thing.

    I have yet to hear anyone who has gone on a run with Dean say anything bad about him. That should count for something.

  6. Kyle Fahrenkamp

    Let's not forget that the dude has 12 WS100 silver buckles, 9 Badwater finishes, and myriad of top notch performances all over the world.

    I'd say that is pretty impressive!

  7. justus

    no matter what deans intentions he is good for ultra running. i had never heard of it until reading his first book and being inspired to run my first ultra.

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