Ultra Marathon Man

Even among long-distance runners, S.F.'s Dean Karnazes is a phenom

Back on Alexander Avenue, he looked down at Black Sands Beach off to our right. "I was running once and I saw a whale down there," he said. "So I ran down there and, sure enough, it was a beached whale. Then right when I got there, this big shark swum up and opened its jaws and took a huge bite out of the whale. It was amazing."

Earlier, Karnazes had theorized that his running addiction involved more than just an endorphin fix. "There's something about being unencumbered," he'd said. "To have nothing on you but your shoes and shorts. It's the primitive need of a human to be wild, in a sense."

As we got to the Golden Gate Bridge and headed back toward San Francisco, Karnazes looked forlornly at Highway 101 going north. "Don't you just want to keep going and run all the way to Nicasio right now?" he asked with a winning smile. "Can you understand why someone would want to do that? Don't you just want to go?"

Karnazes: First to run to the South Pole.
Photograph courtesy of Dean Karnazes
Karnazes: First to run to the South Pole.
Running 26 miles in the whiteness of 
Antarctica, Karnazes felt like he had vertigo.
Photograph courtesy of Dean Karnazes
Running 26 miles in the whiteness of Antarctica, Karnazes felt like he had vertigo.

I could see how badly he wanted to run another 40 miles, but there was no way I could make it. Later, I asked him what he would do when, one day far in the future, he was too old to run.

"It's naive and ridiculous, but I don't think I'm going to get old," said Karnazes. "If I was forced to stop running, I don't know what would happen. I would be miserable. I'd probably drive everybody around me crazy. What would I channel it into? I don't know. An intellectual pursuit versus a physical one? Potentially. But I don't think I'm as good at that, truthfully.

"I still feel like a teenager. I know it's irrational. But I honestly think I'm never not going to be able to run."

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