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11 takeaways from Dean Karnazes' book 'A Runner's High'

By Henry Howard

Dean Karnazes’ first book, Ultramarathon Man, inspired a legion of runners to dream big and pursue goals for running. His anecdote of leaving a bar on his 30th birthday to run 30 miles with zero training not only led him on a renewed life of running, it created a Forrest Gump-like virtual following of runners on their personal quests.

His new book, “A Runner’s High,” is just as inspiring. The 246-page book (published by HarperOne) is reflective, capturing his thoughts on his running life in general, using his return to the Western States 100-miler as a thread throughout the story.

It’s hard to put down a Karnazes book without walking away inspired or wanting to lace up the running shoes to head out. For me the book arrived at a perfect time. I was rehabbing from a heel injury. Not only did I have some spare time to read but the writing came through to serve as added inspiration when I needed a boost.

So instead of approaching this as one of my standard book reviews, I’ve picked out 11 quotes from the book that spoke to me. Here they are (in order as they appear in the book):

“Running an ultra is simple; all you have to do is not stop.“ In essence, of course, Karnazes is right. One foot in front of the other. Repeat. A good mantra to have when the going gets tough during an ultra.

“You needn’t fear the darkness if you have the light inside.” When it comes to 24-hour, 100-mile or similar ultras, runners will go through the night. Embrace the darkness during training, and you will shine through on race day.

“I didn’t run to live longer; I ran to live fuller.” Of all the takeaways in this book this is one of my favorites. I was in my early 40s when I began running. Ten years later, my life and heart are full, thanks to the running community, my amazing stable of athletes and the feeling I get from my runs.

“How to remain relevant in the face of Father Time?” Karnazes shows a sign of understanding that not even he can outrun the effects of inevitable age. As a masters runner, I know that my time is also somewhat limited. This underscores the importance of finding joy in the pursuit of running as well as commitment to regular cross-training and other forms of recovery.

“Running as form of escapism.” It’s well documented that those who discover running often are finding an escape from something else. Drugs. Alcohol. A stressful. Past abuse. Mental health issues. Running can be a form of therapy, but it should not replace therapy for those who need it.

“Beating others was never a primary motivation.” While I push myself during races, our only competition should be ourselves. We can’t control who shows up on race day, or how well they do. And that doesn’t matter to our own personal journeys.

“Reaching the finish is not the ultimate prize, it’s the story that’s lived along the way.” It’s a great feeling to receive a medal or buckle at the end of a race, especially a grueling one. But those will stand lifeless on a shelf or hang among others on a wall display. The stories, however, are those that we will remember. As you go about your training, go out and make memories.

“Running great distances together stripped away the protective and allowed a more honest meddling of souls.” In ultras, I’ve had the honor of pacing a runner to a 100-mile finish and also being paced to my first 100-miler. In both cases, a bond strengthened between the other runners and me. Same holds true for runners we meet along the trail during challenging times. It’s a simple reminder of how amazing the ultra running community is.

“Brief is the season of a man’s delight.” Anyone who has run an ultra can understand this. There will be hard times. But every so often runners rally, seemingly disposing of all the previous pain and uncertainty at an aid station or alongside the trail. One thing that helps me find this joy is to smile. Smile every freaking mile. Especially when feeling discomfort or when the negative thoughts threaten.

“See you at Western States.” Toward the end of the book and Karnazes’ journey at Western States, he meets up with Simon. The fellow runner tells Karnazes about how the author signed his previous book, which turned prophetic. “See you at Western States” is indeed a goal of mine.

“Tides washing out.” As I’ve written about previously and reminded myself, there will come a day when I won’t be able to run. Same goes for Karnazes and others who enjoy pursue similar passions now. But today is not that day for me. I’m headed out for a run, with heart full and mind focuses on the consistency of training and where it will lead my own personal life of running.

If you enjoyed this post and are a fan of the Ultramarathon Man, check out these other posts:


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