Bodywork

Why Dean Karnazes Is the Most Successful Runner On Earth

When you’re running 100-plus-mile races, you don’t experience epic success without epic fails. Dean Karnazes is well acquainted with both.

Dean Karnazes running marathon number 32 on day 32 of the Endurance 50 event in Bristol, New Hampshire.    

“I’ve had some spectacular failures,” says ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes. The biggest, he says, was his first Badwater Ultramarathon, in 1995. About 70 miles and several hallucinations into the race, his support crew found a pair of shoes, and then the 32-year-old Karnazes on his back, at the side of the road. After waking up in a hotel room, he says, “all I could say was, ‘I didn’t finish; I wasn’t finished. They assured me that, without doubt, I was, in fact, very done and very finished.”

The man whose name is now synonymous with Badwater has also had some spectacular successes. In 1996, he finished tenth in the race that had finished him the year before. Over the next 18 years, Karnazes ran, and finished, Badwater, never letting the race best him, and eventually winning the thing in 2004—the year dubbed by ultra-aficionados “the fastest Badwater ever.” In 2013, Karnazes earned his tenth finishers’ belt buckle—arguably his greatest accomplishment. We caught up with him to talk about what success means to him, as well as the virtues of failing spectacularly.

Success is whatever is extraordinary for you.

Whether it’s getting off the couch and running your first 10K, or a marathon, or finishing a 15-miler, you define your successes and accomplishments.

All humans have an instinct that drives a desire to be better and to succeed at some level.

When you succeed, you celebrate. When you fail, you reflect.

There comes a time when you realize that there’s something to accomplish, and that you can accomplish it.

I think that the desire to achieve manifests itself in an individual, especially an athlete.

Fail boldly. The more you take on, the more you will fail. But the more fail, the more you will learn—and the more you will succeed.

You have to hate failing. If you don’t mind failing, you’re never going to succeed—there will be nothing there to make you want more.

Failing makes you see yourself as you truly are, and where you can take yourself.

It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.

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