The Road to Sparta by Dean Karnazes: Book Review

How did Dean Karnazes’ heritage influence his running?

Both his maternal and paternal roots are in Greece, and are known for both their resilience and tranquil way of life. Karnazes’s genetic linkage is also distinguished by abnormally enlarged, bifurcated calf muscles.


Growing up, did Dean Karnazes run?

Yes, Karnazes did run, winning a mile race at school and enjoying cross country. Inspired by his coach and teammates he sometimes ran 70-80 miles a week. At 14 years old, he overcame severe pain to run 105 laps of a track, equivalent to a marathon, raising money for his high school. Similar to East African runners Karnazes found running home from school freeing.


Did Dean Karnazes pursue a running career once he became an adult?

No. Instead of pursuing a running career Karnazes sought a high salary and status, becoming a millionaire by his late 20s by working at GlaxoSmithKline.


What was the catalyst for Dean Karnazes’ ultrarunning career?

Partly discontent with his corporate job and seeking a new challenge, he ran 30-miles on the night of his 30th birthday, wearing only pants and trainers. From that moment on he became addicted to the sport. He would often run more than once a day, and 8-10 hours non-stop each day of the weekend. His commitment lead him to become a sponsored athlete, after finishing The North Face, a 100-mile footrace. He then quit his corporate job to become a full-time athlete.


What is his advice to ultrarunners?

Karnazes’ ultrarunning advice is to always hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Multiple contingency plans are essential. Interestingly, despite enjoying competing Karnazes preferred less-structured adventure outside of racecourse boundaries. Due to his natural introversion he would run for hours and sometimes days alone, away from home.


What did Dean Karnazes discover about Ancient Greek ultrarunners?

During his journey of self-discovery he came across hemerodromoi, professional day-long runners in Ancient Greek times. These athletes would cover incredible distances on foot, over rocky and mountainous terrain, forgoing sleep. Hemerodromia were men of high strength-to-weight ratios, upstanding characters and hugely patriotic. They ran barefoot or in leather sandals, and ate figs, olives, dried meats and pastela (ground sesame seeds and honey in paste form).


What is the story of Pheidippides?

Pheidippides was one of the best hemerodromia of his times, and was needed to carry important messages between Athenians and Spartans during the invasion of the Persian armies around 490 BC. He is said to have run from Athens to Sparta (136-142 miles) for 36 hours straight, only to return to Athens in 2 days after a brief stop. He then had to run 25 miles to Marathon and once again run back to Athens. Unsurprisingly he died of exhaustion, covering over 300 miles in less than a week.


How did Dean Karnazes prepare for the Spartathlon?

Intrigued to replicate Pheidippides’ epic journey, Karnazes completed a number of adventures.

  • He ran the Silicon Valley Marathon half naked dressed as Pheidippides.
  • He ran 700 miles to the 2007 San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, then completed the marathon in 3 hours and 16 minutes, consuming 7,500 kilocalories on route.
  • He trained 100 miles per week, with 80-mile training runs once a month and completing a host of 50-mile and 100-km races to maintain his competitive edge.

He benefited from his life on the coast of California, USA, because Greece is similar in mountainous terrain, and warm, dry temperature. Unsurprisingly he felt at home in Greece, despite the jet-lag and illnesses from regular plane journeys. He also cross-trained a lot in the gym but never felt self-assured leading to race day.


What happened when Dean Karnazes ran the 2014 Spartathlon?

The annual Spartathlon consists of 153 miles (equivalent to almost 6 marathons) from Athens to Sparta, replicating part of Pheidippides’ legendary athletic mission 2,500 years ago.

At spectator points Karnazes had to sign autographs for his fans, fulfill interviews and be followed by constant photographers. When he was alone, he suffered nausea, hallucinations, and even an out-of-body experience (watching himself running outside of his body). He ran whilst asleep for brief moments and failed to consume many calories.

Although he wasn’t all that pleased with his performance he completed the race in 34 hours, 44 minutes and 49 seconds, finishing in 131st position.

Run Like Duck by Mark Atkinson: Book Review

This book review of Run Like Duck by Mark Atkinson answers the 15 most important questions every runner should know.

What is Run Like Duck?

Run Like Duck is an autobiographical book, which details the running journey of UK’s Mark Atkinson.

When was Run Like Duck published?

The paperback was published on 15 November 2018 by Sandstone Press.

Who is Mark Atkinson?

Mark is the author of Run Like Duck, a self-professed unathletic man from Milton Keynes, who began running when a friend introduced him to his local parkrun.

When and how did Mark start running?

Mark began running in early 2011 whilst in his early thirties. He began by using a run-walk strategy, under the cover of darkness. Thankfully, he persisted, despite the initial frustration and difficulty.

What were the first races Mark ran?

In his first year of running Mark ran the, then called, BUPA London 10k, the NSPCC Milton Keynes Half Marathon and the Run to the Beat Half Marathon  in London.

Where was Mark’s first marathon?

During that same year, Mark ran the Luton Marathon. Although he didn’t train adequately enough he persevered in wet and cold conditions to finish in 4 hours and 57 minutes. More significantly, it was the day he discovered the 100 Marathon Club.

What other significant marathons has Mark run?

He has run the London Marathon for charity, his local marathon in Milton Keynes, the Brighton Marathon, the Bournemouth Marathon and the New Forest Marathon, along with many others across the UK. Mark has also run numerous marathons abroad, including the Tallinn Marathon in Estonia, and the Paris Marathon.

What is Mark’s personal best time?

At the time of publication Mark’s personal record is 3:15:31.

Is Mark a member of the 100 Marathon Club?

Yes. In 6 years, and with plenty of determination and perseverance, Mark completed his 100th marathon, and joined an inspiring group of runners.

What running advice does Mark have for other runners?

Mark often thinks that if he spent more time focusing on specific races with plenty of training cycles beforehand he would improve his personal best time for the marathon. However, the excitement of his next race means sometimes he hasn’t even recovered before he stands on the starting line again.

He believes in rotating running shoes regularly and that pursuing athletic goals can’t be achieved at the same time as weight-loss goals.

As a coach I echo his wisdom; success is more likely if you stay determined on a single goal, and allow yourself enough time to be fully prepared for the challenge.

What running mistakes has Mark made?

He frequently cites that despite his extensive experience, he doesn’t run a consistent pace during marathons, as he tends to run too fast during the early miles. 

He also frequently eats McDonald’s breakfast meals as pre-race fuelling, along with chocolate and cola drinks on route. The wrong running clothing is another error he has made, as cotton t-shirts are not the best for allowing sweat to evaporate efficiently.

Has Mark ever run an ultramarathon?

Yes. Mark has run numerous ultramarathons throughout his running journey. His first ultramarathon was the Bewl Water Ultra. He ran the 37.5-mile course in 5 hours and 50 minutes. 

Other notable races he has completed include the Chiltern Wonderland 50, the South Downs Way 50 and the South Downs Way 100, the last of which he completed in 22 hours and 22 minutes.

What other running experiences has Mark enjoyed?

He is a fan of the Enigma-hosted races, and has run the Quadzilla, which consists of 4 marathons in 4 consecutive days. Endure 24 is another race he ran, which is a team relay event. He completed 8 laps, equivalent to 40 miles in total, with two and half hours rest in between efforts. 

He also advocates for the events that the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) host as there is less pressure to perform and they are well organised (and cheap) adventures.

Would you recommend runners to read Run Like Duck?

Absolutely. Mark’s account of his numerous running races is an inspiring read. Some of his stories will be familiar to any marathoner. Other times, his opinions will make you laugh or nod. But always, his endeavours remind you that from a humble beginning and with imperfect running form, any endurance feat is possible if you don’t overthink it.

Where can you buy the book?

According to a book price comparison tool you can buy Run Like Duck from Amazon, Abebooks and Wordery.

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.

Advice to Optimise Your Running

Running Science: Optimising Training and Performance
(2017) edited by John Brewer


Fantastic Facts

  • Running performance is greatly determined by how much and how quickly horizontal force can be applied to the body.
  • On calm days the energy cost of running to combat air resistance is still approximately 8% for sprinting, 4% for middle-distance running and 2% for marathon running.
  • There is no additional benefit in exceeding 60-70 miles of training per week for a recreational runner (or 70-110 miles for elite runners).
  • Exercise is an effective strategy to regulate and improve mood, which supports creative thinking. Successful performances are therefore linked to strong mental and physical health.

Training Tips and Errors

  • Avoid straightening your knees on landing, striking the ground in front of your body, swinging your trailing foot and leaning too far back whilst running because it decreases running economy.
  • Run on a variety of surfaces to create greater adaptations in bones and soft tissues.
  • Avoid taking an absence from running (unless due to injury or mental fatigue) for four weeks or more. Cardiac output may fall by 8% and VO2 max by up to 15%.
  • As exercise intensity increases concentrate on the components of running, such as form, foot strike and stride length, to run closer to your maximum.
  • If you listen to music whilst you run, ensure the tunes incite emotions appropriate to the situation; listen to calming beats on easy runs and personally motivational songs during more important workouts.
  • Avoid wearing clothes made from materials such as cotton and wool that will keep sweat from evaporating whilst running. Instead choose wicking fabrics such as polyester to prevent overheating.
  • Wear sunglasses whilst running on sunny days to ensure your eyes are relaxed, which is crucial for performance.