Dean Karnazes’ quotes from Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an all-night runner

This is a collection of my favorite Dean Karnazes’ quotes from his book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an all-night runner.

Many of the Dean Karnazes’ quotes from this book inspired me to run my first ultramarathon. I’ll highlight my favorite quotes and briefly discuss what they mean to me.

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Dean Karnazes’ quotes from Ultramarathon Man

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The difference between school & running – and why Dean chose running.

School was about sitting still and trying to behave as someone explained what the world was like. Running was about going out and experiencing it firsthand.

School brainwashes you to think certain thoughts, act a certain way, and conform to societal norms. School allows for no freedom, no creativity. Running sets me free.

Dean Karnazes quote on running as inspiration

For a kid my age to do what I had just done was almost unthinkable, and I could feel the power in it, the ability to inspire.

This is in reference to a 40+ mile bike ride – without directions – that Dean rode to his grandparents’ house on his twelfth birthday. Although I’ve never done anything that extreme, I do understand the ability to inspire.

Dean’s track coach on how it feels to run hard

If it felt good, you didn’t push hard enough. It’s supposed to hurt like hell.

We all get motivation from somewhere. Dean got some from his track coach.

A fortune cookie once told me…

He who suffers remembers.

I couldn’t agree more. I’m a firm believer in learning from mistakes, and learning the hard way. Whenever I take the easy path, do things the simple way, and make it through unscathed, it just doesn’t have meaning. When I suffer – when it’s difficult – that’s when I get something from the experience.

Blowing off the President of the United States

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When ex-president Nixon would pass Dean & friends on the beach, and ask about the water, Dean would respond, “Good, Mr. President,” and leave it at that. Dean thought:

No need to shoot the breeze with Nixon when the surfing was so great.

When you’d rather do something you love than talk to the President, you have big things of your own to accomplish. This is a great indicator of success.

Karnazes quote on human body vs. human spirit

When Dean Karnazes told his coach his legs felt weird, his coach replied, “Don’t run with your legs. Run with your heart.”

The human body has limitations; the human spirit is boundless.

Most ultrarunners understand this well. For me, running ultramarathons is not just physical & mental, but spiritual as well.

Dean Karnazes on his early corporate lifestyle

I was moving fast, that was for sure, but was I moving forward? I needed a sense of purpose and clarity—and, perhaps, adventure.

I was moving fast at my job for 2.5 years. But when I finally stopped moving forward, I quit. Everyone needs purpose & clarity. Ultrarunners also need adventure.

Karnazes on life’s lessons

As I limped around my office, trying to appear natural, I reminded myself that pain and suffering are often catalysts for life’s most profound lessons.

Dean on being a champion

…that the Western States Endurance Run would be primarily about one thing: not giving up. It really didn’t matter how long it took to get the job done; what mattered was getting it done. This was an exploration into the possibilities of self. Being a champion meant not quitting, no matter how tough the situation became, and no matter how badly the odds seemed stacked against you. If you had the courage, stamina, and persistence to cross the finish line, you were a champion.

Many ultrarunners, myself included, run against the course. Time isn’t important. It’s the journey to the finish that matters.

Dean Karnazes on the simplicity of running

I’d also come to recognize that the simplicity of running was quite liberating…“Things” don’t bring happiness…A runner doesn’t need much…Perhaps in needing less, you’re actually getting more.

This is why I still struggle to get on the bike. The simplicity of running is one of it’s greatest attractions.

Karnazes quote on lifes’ goals being so clearly defined

…at least I knew what was expected of me. There would be a starting line, and 100 miles from that a finish line…the rules of engagement were clear…no hidden meanings or mixed messages. Just run, and don’t stop. If I made it 100 miles, I’d succeed. If I didn’t, I’d fail.

Again with the simplicity. Time isn’t important. Just go out and get a job done.

Dean Karnazes on the moment he became a changed man

It struck me in the space of a few steps that my past as I knew it had suddenly ceased to exist. Nothing would ever be the same to me from this point on. I’d been profoundly transformed by this journey, in ways I had yet to understand…I was more capable than I imagined, better than I ever thought I could be.

Dean Karnazes & his hunger for adventure

If it required strength, stamina, and a lack of better judgment, I was game.

Karnazes on the impossible

When asked what kept him going during the South Pole Marathon, Dean replied:

Easy. It is what I lived for. The adventure. The challenge of pushing the human body beyond reality. Not only had a marathon to the South Pole never been run before, but plenty of people doubted it could be done, said it would be impossible. I was out to prove that it could be done, regardless of how irrational, how improbable, how dangerous the effort was.

Dean truly believes that nothing is impossible. You can’t not respect that.

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Dean on pain & suffering

People think I’m crazy to put myself through such torture, though I would argue otherwise. Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. I’ve now come to believe that quite the opposite is the case. Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in. There is magic in misery. Just ask any runner.

Well, he’s asking you. What do you think?

Dean Karnazes on the pursuit of a passion

Running has taught me that the pursuit of a passion matters more than the passion itself. Immerse yourself in something deeply and with heartfelt intensity – continually improve, never give up – this is fulfillment, this is success.

I’m not sure I understand the pursuit mattering more than the passion itself, but there is no better way to find fulfillment than immersing yourself in something deeply. Any passionate runner person can testify.

Why Dean Karnazes runs

I’m not giving it all away. You should buy the book for a more complete answer, but he does say this:

I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path…and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go.

If I missed any of your favorite Ultramarathon Man quotes, I’d love to hear them. You can post them in the comments.

Visit Dean’s official site or check him out on Wikipedia.

2 thoughts on “Dean Karnazes’ quotes from Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an all-night runner”

  1. I like this collection of quotes you have put together here. While I have for the most part fallen out of love with Dean as an ultrarunner, I have to honestly say that he inspired me to become and ultrarunner after reading Ultramarathon Man 3 or 4 years ago. These quotes were great reminders of what got me interested in pursuing some of my running goals and pushing myself harder and farther than I could have ever imagined. Thanks for this post!

  2. I didn’t realize that was your inspiration for getting into ultras. I’ve heard a lot of negative (or just indifferent) comments about Dean lately, and I’m curious where they come from.

    He’s not the best, or even one of the top ultrarunners, out there. I get that.

    Is it because he markets himself, does interviews, appears on talk shows, makes appearances, and is treated more like a celebrity than an ultrarunner? Is that why people have fallen out of love with him?

    I’d love to meet him so I could talk to him about this, but my suspicion is that he doesn’t do all that stuff so HE can be recognized. I think he does it to promote wellness, especially to the younger generation. Maybe I’m giving him too much benefit of the doubt.

    But hey, you and I are 2 good examples of how he has inspired. And if he wasn’t as well known as he is, I don’t know I’d be running ultras right now.

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