Dean Karnazes has written a neat little autobiography, Ultramarathon Man, subtitled "Confessions of an All-night Runner". Like some of the long races I've experienced, it has both ups and downs. Karnazes is an astoundingly hard-working, talented, tough long-distance racer who somehow manages to write about himself with good humor and modesty. He's adroit in describing the ugly-funny side of ultrarunning, and is particularly deft in handling scenes involving unæsthetic human bodily functions --- the kind of things that become matter-of-fact "Yeah, that happened" incidents during an ultra, but which aren't ordinarily mentioned in polite society.

Unfortunately, although Ultramarathon Man is a fast read Karnazes's prose is (sorry to have to use this word here) often pedestrian. A few passages dance; many more plod. Far too many events are described as the "toughest", "most extreme", "ultimate", etc. There are repetitive over-dramatizations of impossible challenges and pain-beyond-imagination. In most sections a low-key presentation of the facts would have been convincing. The cascades of superlatives that Karnazes uses, alas, tend to make his genuine adventures sound like foolish and arbitrary gambles.

But among the histrionics are some real gems. In Chapter 6, for instance, the author reflects:

I'd also come to realize that the simplicity of running was quite liberating. Modern man has virtually everything one could desire, but too often we're still not fulfilled. "Things" don't bring happiness. Some of my finest moments came while running down the open road, little more than a pair of shoes and shorts to my name. A runner doesn't need much. Thoreau once said that a man's riches are based on what he can do without. Perhaps in needing less, you're actually getting more.

The final pages of Ultramarathon Man similarly climb to near-poetic heights. Karnazes hasn't written another Touching the Void or Into Thin Air. This time he finishes behind both And Then the Vulture Eats You and Running Through the Wall. But Dean Karnazes is in his early 40's; this is his first book. Next time he will doubtless place higher.

(cf. SenseOfWhereYouAre (4 Jun 1999), AchieveNewBalance (17 Jul 2002), MoreFunLessStuff (1 Oct 2002), TheBelay (10 Apr 2004), IntoWetAir (20 Apr 2004), LongWalk (31 May 2004), TouchingTheVoid (2 Jun 2004), EatTheOrange (28 Nov 2004), AndThenTheVultureEatsYou (9 Dec 2004), RunningThroughTheWall (23 Jan 2005), LessMore (14 Mar 2005), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicRunning - TopicEntertainment - 2005-04-14

(correlates: Comments on UltramarathonMan, LessMore, PosterChild, ...)