Outlasting Ultra Pain for Great Causes

Book Review of RUN! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss (2011) by Dean Karnazes


Humble Philosophy

 

Karnazes has built his life around a pursuit of adventure. His vivacious appetite for pushing his limits, attempting new, and often inconceivable challenges, has no boundaries.

He views running as both a cause of, and cure for, pain, but also a means of giving back to the community that has so dearly supported him.

Due to his natural introversion, he uses “Karno” as his alter ego, never accepting he has any special skills or talent, simply an indomitable will to keep moving when there is every reason not to.

He does the basics right though, preparing for every race meticulously, conditioning his mind to embrace the unexpected, and appreciating family time and a non-materialistic lifestyle.

Extreme Adventures

 

Influenced by his Greek father’s stubborn, but always supportive, demeanor, Karnazes tells the stories of races and runs that require nothing less than his total dedication and sacrifice.

After almost dying during his first attempt at the Badwater 135 he manages to finish the following year after being on the verge of a coma. He then overcomes almost being run over, escapes flash flooding, lightning and snowstorms to complete the brutal race seven more times.

He attempts to break the world record for running the most miles on a treadmill in 48 hours live on TV. Despite the constant onlookers, sleep deprivation and extreme chafing he lasts longer than the belt he runs on, which becomes slack halfway through the challenge. Although he fails to break the world record, his 212 miles is a remarkable achievement.

He becomes the 2008 champion of the 4 Deserts Championship after completing four multi-day, self-supported races crossing 155 miles of the most savage wilderness. He wins one of the races and places well in all the others to become the first of two men to complete every race in a calendar year.

Other highlights include:

  • Failing to finish the Leadville Trail 100 miler twice before overcoming a mental burden and vomiting to complete the high altitude race.
  • Running 354 miles from Australia’s highest summit to its largest city in six days.
  • Running across the United States of America on TV, accumulating 75 days of 12-hour, 40-50 mile runs, wearing out 53 pairs of shoes on the pain-filled route from California to New York.
  • Running the Hood to Coast, 197-mile 12-person relay race, all by himself, to celebrate his 40th birthday, equivalent to 45 hours of running non-stop.
  • Running ‘on water’ in a Hydro Bronc, and almost coming to blows with a sea beast.

Inspirational Mentor

 

Throughout the book Karno explores the journey of his best friend Topher, from being a non-runner to quickly becoming an obsessive ultrarunner like Karno. Skipping the marathon distance altogether Topher races 50km and 50 mile races until he beats Karno at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), a 103-mile circumnavigation of Europe’s highest peak.

Karno’s athletic feats are awe-inspiring, and yet it isn’t his seemingly unending tolerance for pain for which he should be admired most. Instead of fame and money, Karno has used his amazing ability to help others.

Whether raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity or placing his own money under random car’s windscreens as he runs by, he is a community-minded man, who continues to look for the truth within himself and the people who are crazy enough to join him.

How to Run for Life

The overriding reason you should run is simple.
You love the sport. In other words running should fill you with joy.
This reason cannot be overstated.

There will inevitably be other motivations to run. These could include financial gain, social status and/or club glory. But these should be additional benefits – if they even matter to you.

Instead, more consideration should be made towards fitness, companionship and even challenge, such as testing yourself in competition. These factors can enhance the experience of the sport. Again, only if you feel this is personally beneficial.

You should also run predominantly for yourself. It may appear obvious but when you run, you are using your own body and mind, and nobody else’s. This means that unless you understand your own body and mind, running can be self-destructive, such as in the case of severe overtraining or self-induced injury.

Other runners, and non-runners, can certainly inspire you to continue running (and even to get you started), but they cannot, and should not, affect every run you complete.

To be truly fulfilled you must be autonomous with your choice to pound the pavements.

I have never believed that running is a selfish act, despite the self-centred approach of the sport compared to, say, team sports.

Running is a personal pursuit that makes me a more balanced, healthy and stronger person. As long as running does not take so much of your life that there is little other time for anything else, then it can be an empowering and unique tool to gain success.

Of course, it is unrealistic to expect that you will be in the best mood every time you lace up your running shoes. But you should appreciate that choosing to run (or not) is a privilege that not everyone has. By all means use any reason to run on any given day. But if your aim is to run for life then you have to believe that running improves your life, because it is fun.

This is the unwavering foundation of my running. It should be of yours.


This post is inspired by Pure Sport: Practical Sport Psychology (2nd ed., 2013) written by John Kremer and Aidan Moran.

Lessons from an Elite Tennis Coach

The Coach (2017) by Patrick Mouratoglou


From Sickly Child to Grand Slam Winning Coach

He was an ill child who was bullied. He started playing tennis at the age of sixHe became an unruly teenager, ruining his formal education.

He had therapy to correct his behaviour and worked for his father, who mentored himHe discovered the discipline and motivation necessary to develop his tennis academy in the mid-1990s.

He began coaching famous and successful tennis players such as Marcos Baghdatis and Grigor Dimitrov, and since 2012 has coached one of the greatest female tennis players of all-time, Serena Williams. Williams has won a tremendous amount of tennis titles, including ten grand slams and an Olympic gold medal, since being coached by Mouratoglou.

Top Coaching Advice

With the enthusiasm of wanting to be the best tennis coach in the world, Mouratoglou sought the necessary advice from the top tennis coach of the 1990s, Australia’s Bob Brett. 

He eventually became an independent coach after learning that to become the best tennis player, one must acknowledge their potential, be open-minded and trust the coach’s methods.

In return, Mouratoglou became obsessed with analysing opponents’ games by viewing countless matches and compiling extensive statistics. The use of notebooks was fundamental to his growth.

He is honest in why relationships with former players broke down, such as experiencing too greater emotional involvement, not sharing the same long-term ambitions, and clashing in personalities.

When he found Serena to have the same desire to dominate the sport of tennis, he used the following coaching principles to achieve outstanding success:

  • Listen intently and think carefully before speaking.
  • Research tactics and experiment endlessly.
  • Focus on psychological conditioning (such as self-esteem and self-image), eliminating unnecessary stress in the athlete.

He is today the founder and president of one of the world’s largest tennis training facilities Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, and a well-respected sports commentator and author.

He has found his greatest achievement through pairing with Serena Williams, arguably the most driven and decorated female athlete in the world.

My Inspiration to Run a Fast Mile

There are three people that inspire me to run my fastest mile.

First is Hicham El Guerrouj, the world record holder for one mile since July 1999. He clocked 3:43.13. More than his staggering performance, that has lasted for over eighteen years, is the man’s contribution to society and humble personality.

In my opinion he remains the gold standard for the mile and displays the positive attitude that all people (not just runners) should adopt.

Quentin Cassidy, the fictional protagonist in John L. Parker, Jr’s 1978 book Once a Runner, is another influence. Listening to the audiobook reminded me of my high school track career, where pain was an inevitable consequence of pushing one’s limits.

Roger Bannister is also an iconic figure in running history, as the first man to break the four-minute mile barrier. He achieved this through specific, sustained training. Surprisingly, his feat inspired others to further improve the record, proving that limits are as much psychological as physiological.

I too want to find out how quick I can run a mile (although not necessarily on the track). I am fascinated by this short distance, the primary unit that all my running is defined by. I am 27 years old, feel that I am in the peak range for my running fitness and believe this is the time to find out who I am as a miler.

Finally, my inspiration is the lifetime goal I have set (as a coach to myself) of running a mile in less than 4:30. Although extremely ambitious, I believe that I can get close, with future seasons of training, to my absolute physical and mental limit.

As with all goals it is important to break them into manageable chunks, and thus my current training will focus on milestones necessary to run a mile in less than 5 minutes.

Famous Contributions of Sir R Bannister

Twin Tracks: The Autobiography (2014) by Roger Bannister


Born in 1929, Roger Bannister grew up in Harrow, Bath and Hampstead, winning numerous races from half-mile to cross country distances in his teenage years. He later competed for Oxford, whilst studying medicine, where he would meet other top British runners.

His race reports are fascinating insights into a professional and humble man. He sheds light on his rising journey to become an Olympic medallist, only to finish fourth in a dramatic race at the Helsinki Games in 1952. This was due to exhaustion from running the 1500m heat and semi-final in the two consecutive days leading up to the final.

However, his determination to overcome the damning press and realise his potential meant he continued to train smart towards new, but no less ambitious, goals. During his time winning four AAA (British) Championships in four years, and breaking the British record for the mile, he set his sights on breaking the four-minute mile, a feat the Australian John Landy was also close to achieving.

On 6 May 1954 at the age of 25 he did just that, using his two best friends Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway to pace him at different stages along the four laps of the Iffley Road Track at Oxford University. He ran the first and last lap in under 60 seconds each, and finished in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds. Significant factors contributed to his success, despite the abnormally windy day:

  • 5 rest days beforehand.

  • Lighter shoes than he was used to.

  • Ability to relax at the crucial moments of the run.

  • Willingness to wait for weather conditions to improve.

  • Positive encouragement from his friends, the crowd and one-time coach Franz Stampfl.

Then he beat Landy in the 1 mile race at the Commonwealth Games of 1954 in Vancouver with a lifetime best of 3:58.8. Bannister ended his impressive career by winning the 1500m gold medal at the European Championships in Switzerland in another lifetime best and championship record of 3:43.8.

In his book he reflects on his achievements during his decade-long running career

  • Genetics played a role in his development as a runner; he reached six foot in height and possessed strengthened legs that were naturally long in comparison to his torso. His father was also a strong runner at school.

  • Specific training with single aims that balanced well with work, family and social commitments. His training was refined over many years that consisted of either 25 miles per week, or 4-5 sessions of 40 minutes per week, incorporating a lot of fartlek and interval training.

His advice to readers to improve their running is intriguing and pragmatic:

  • Run with friends to make the hard work of training more enjoyable.

  • Find a knowledgeable coach that inspires.

  • Experiment with training but also play to strengths.

  • Learn to harness natural instincts of pacing.

But it is Bannister’s position as consultant neurologist at two major hospitals in London, and as senior advisor to organisations, such as the Sports Council and the International Council of Sport and Physical Education, that warrant even greater admiration. His work paved the way for greater funding and provision of superb sporting facilities that support greater participation at every ability level. The various honours he has received are a token of his life’s extraordinary contribution.