Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mind Over Matter

Dean Karnazes is a freak of nature.

Thinking back on my first (and only) marathon, my mind jumps immediately to the pain of cramped muscles and the constant pounding on my knees and feet. At 26.2 miles, a marathon is about as far from a sprint as it is possible to get. As such, I didn't feel too winded either during or after the race. What I did feel was near failure in the muscles, tendons and ligaments of my legs and feet.

Long-distance running is not glamorous like the 100 and 200 meter dash. There is no explosive motion or energy. There is no eye-popping speed. Long races, endurance work; they are all about mental toughness. If your hamstrings cramp and seize at the 16 mile mark, you have another 10 MILES to think about it and deal with it. Unless you quit, your only option is to recognize the pain, acknowledge it, and carry on with your task despite the presence of it.

Most people run a marathon, they walk like they have been prison-raped for the next few days. Experienced campaigners and world-level runners, they may take weeks or months to be ready for another go at it. Dean Karnazes ran 50 marathons in 50 50 different states. The endurance required for such a feat is impressive, but the powers of recovery are simply mind-boggling. The human body is just not designed to take that kind of pounding.

As expected from a supreme athlete in a sport that requires chart-topping levels of mental fortitude, Karnazes views his mind as the most important muscle in the body. "The human body has limitations," Karnazes says. "The human spirit is boundless."

Testing the limits of human performance requires a deep and abiding tolerance and acceptance of pain. Before running the Badwater Ultra Marathon, he trained in the high heat of summer wearing a ski parka over a hooded sweatshirt. He trained so hard and so long that the extreme became normal and expected. Pain, while never a friend, became at least an old and familiar companion.

Based out of San Francisco, California, Karnazes finished his 50th and final marathon of the tour in New York City. He then ran home.



mrblackmagic said...

Dean is the man.
Also the guy I used to train with for muay thai when I was first getting started back around Tommys Gym time, Tom Jones, ran a marathon a day, for 3 months running from Long Beach To New York city.

Also David Goggins...that guy is out of control.

Martin said...

And then there's guys like this:

They ran the equivalent of two marathons a day for 111 days to cross the 4000 mile Sahara Desert.