Have you tried pulling an all-nighter recently? It hurts. A once-common event in college – thanks to studying or partying or midnight hikes that turned into sunrise missions – becomes increasingly debilitating the older you get. It’s like your first run after some time off: You might feel okay doing it, but you’ll pay the next day.
Unless you’re the genetically blessed aberration that is Dean Karnazes, 53, one of the most well known runners of our time.
In 1992, after taking a 15-year break from running, it wasn’t enough for Karnazes’ first run to be 30 miles. Winning the infamous, 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon across Death Valley in 120-degree heat didn’t cut it. Nor did pushing the opposite end of spectrum of human suffering by running a marathon to the South Pole, at -13-degrees F.
Nope. He had to combine two of life’s hardest activities: running and losing sleep.
“There is a fine line between hobby and mental illness; many a runner has crossed it.” – Dean Karnazes
From October 12-15, 2005, Karnazes ran 350 miles across Northern California without stopping. He didn’t stop to sleep or to eat, or – in the most stupefying accomplishment of all – he did not even slow down to sample a Sonoma Valley chilled chardonnay. All told, he ran for 80 hours, 44 minutes without a break. He covered ground – from San Francisco to Bodega Bay to Stanford University, in Palo Alto – that many of us would plan for a weeklong road trip in a car.
The outing, which cost him a few toenails, included 40,000 calories of intake over the 3.3(ish) days, required shoe changes every 50 miles or so to accommodate his ever-swelling feet, and wasn’t originally supposed to be quite so long. After winning the Badwater in 2004, Karnazes set the goal to be the first runner to go 300 miles without stopping. Because, why not?
His arch nemesis, Pam Reed, beat him to the punch earlier in 2005 by running 300 miles in 79 hours, 59 minutes. Kidding! Oh, she ran 300 miles nonstop, but there’s no documented rivalry between Reed and Karnazes. Still, the bonds of peace-loving, genetically-mutated ultra-marathoners may be challenged when there’s a record on the line. So Karnazes tossed another 50 miles onto his goal like he was chucking another crouton on a salad: ain’t no big thang.
Despite some serious weaving and hallucinating kicking in around mile 300, Karnazes wrapped 80 hours, 44 minutes, and 350 miles of running with a nap.
The next year, in 2006, Karnazes took it easy and re-introduced sleeping into his regime. For 50 straight nights he actually slept (or we’re assuming he did), in between his daytime hours when he clocked 50, three-hour (plus or minus) marathons in 50 days.
Depending on how you look at it, the record for the longest amount of time running without stopping was set by a Kiwi woman, named Kim Allan, in 2013. And because she did it by running 332 times around the same park in Aukland, she earned an unofficial record for tenacity in our book. In covering 310 miles, Allan didn’t quite hit Karnazes’ mileage, but she did best his time spent running by a few hours. She did not stop to eat, sleep, or do anything other than trot for 86 hours, 11 minutes.
Because, once again, why not?
Photos by Ultramarathonman.com