Runner Reads: “A Runner’s High” by Dean Karnazes

The book "A Runner's High" by Dean Karnazes against a background of fall leaves.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free through a BibRave partnership.

I don’t read as many physical books as I’d like to anymore, primarily listening to audiobooks now, but I recently finished “A Runner’s High: My Life in Motion” by Dean Karnazes and really enjoyed it. I am one of the moderators of the BibRave ambassadors’ internal book club, and I was sent the book for free through a BibRave arrangement.

Karnazes joined the BibRave Book Club for a Zoom discussion on my birthday a little more than a month ago, which was a cool opportunity. He took the time to answer questions, including some questions about writing a book.

“A Runner’s High” focuses on Karnazes’ drive to complete the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run after years away — as an older runner who is not as fast as he used to be. He also shares some memories, such as running across the country and into the White House, and the experience of the Silk Road Ultra in Asia.

While I think anyone could enjoy this book, there are certainly some things that are relatable to runners and ultrarunners. The beginning of Chapter 3 reminded me of local Race Dictator Trent Swanson, who puts on numerous races in the area through Algonquin Ultras Inc.

“Running down that hot and dusty trail at the Bishop High Sierra Ultra, gasping for air and trying to absorb the punishing impact of each footfall, it occurred to me that this could very well be another person’s version of hell. Yet I loved it. It was hot, miserable, and painful — perfect, really,” Karnazes writes on page 29.

I made notes of a few other things I wanted to mention as I read.

For example, during the chapter about the Silk Road Ultra, Karnazes writes, “There’s a habit I keep of thumbing through the local newspaper when traveling abroad. This isn’t so much an effort to keep up on current affairs as it is an occasion to enter another culture’s reality.”

I really liked this. As a former newspaper reporter who still freelances when I can, I enjoy the fact that people are appreciating newspapers. Several years ago, I rode along to a court hearing with a longtime reporter from the Burlington Free Press in Vermont. When we stopped along the way, he picked up the small town newspaper.

As runners, competitive or not, I think we often are so involved in the running scene that we forget everyone isn’t like us. So, I found this excerpt from page 136 funny: “Those in the competitive world of running (i.e., the serious runners) tend to fixate on racing. Sometimes we forget that running can be something entirely unrelated to time and speed. I remember once telling a taxi driver that Eliud Kipchoge had just broken the two-hour marathon barrier. ‘That’s amazing!’ he replied. ‘How far is a marathon?'”

Since the Algonquin 50K has been my main ultramarathon experience (unless you count the Pemberton 24, which is broken up), I found another way to relate this book back to Algonquin later on. Karnazes discussed trying to avoid wet feet and then having to just get soaked during Western States.

“It may have slowed me down, but my prudence in navigating the watery minefield would most certainly pay off later. I am so wise, I thought,” Karnazes writes on page 171. “And then we came around a corner in the trail only to find a waist-deep river of water flowing across the path with no possibility of dry passage in either direction.”

Algonquin is notoriously wet — read my recaps from 2017 and 2021 if you’re interested.

Having both volunteered at an Algonquin aid station for three years and having massive appreciation for those who are volunteering while I’m running races, I also liked Karnazes’ description of what an ultramarathon aid station is like.

“There is something about the spirit of volunteerism that brings an aid station to life, some mystical pixie dust that elevates the experience beyond that of a mere feeding trough,” he writes on page 185.

Despite no desire to run an 100-miler, I found the book relatable, and I enjoyed Karnazes’ writing style, too.

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