Words: Tristan Kennedy. Main image: The North Face
2,500 years ago, a Greek man named Pheidippides died after running a “marathon” to deliver news of the military victory in the town of the same name. Seeking a greater understanding of himself and the origins of his sport, Greek-American ultra runner Dean Karnazes recently retraced his footsteps. He hadn’t realised he’d risk death himself in the process…
It’s four days before the London Marathon, an event that will see more than 40,000 people from all around the world attempt an incredible feat of endurance. For many this will be the only time in their lives they ever run 26.2 miles.
There will be sweat, there will be tears, there will probably even be blood. In previous years people have died running the London Marathon. At the very least for most of them it will be a landmark achievement, one to tick off, if not necessarily to repeat.
The man sat opposite me however, is treating the imminent ordeal a whole lot more casually. “So you’re here to run the London Marathon…” I ask Dean Karnazes.
“…But you just ran the Boston Marathon last Sunday?”
My mouth is already hanging open, but Dean isn’t finished yet.
“…And then I’m going to run another marathon on Tuesday in Lisbon, and then I’m going to fly to the East Coast, Washington DC, to run a 50 mile race on Saturday and then I’ll fly to the West Coast to run the Big Sur Marathon the next day, on Sunday.”
This, he explains, is not even an unusual fortnight for him. “It seems like my life is rolling like this now. I get invited and I have a hard time saying no.” He laughs. Most people of course wouldn’t need to say no, their body would do it for them. Recovering from a marathon generally takes around two to three weeks.
“Karnazes first ran the full marathon distance at the age of 14”
But as an ultra runner, and the author of the international best seller Ultra Marathon Man as well as the recent The Road to Sparta, Dean regularly runs far greater distances. His record is 350 miles in a single stretch, a feat which took him 80 hours, or three and a half days, without sleep. His body has a remarkable ability to push through pain and recover afterwards.