Dear Ultra Community:
I am a writer, psychology researcher and runner, working on an article for my psychology website (Neurotransmission.org) about the psychology of distance running. Part of the story will relate to the career of Dean Karnazes, an athlete whose reputation clearly inspires strong reactions in Ultra circles. One of my objectives is to present a definitive and journalistically substantiated record of Karnazes’ accomplishments in the context of the history of ultrarunning and its champions.
On one side of the debate is the view that Karnazes has done much to bring ultrarunning into public awareness, with some noteworthy accomplishments, including his 2004 victory at Badwater. He has many faithful friends who have deeply appreciated his personal support and are admiring of his charity work. At the same time, however, some commentators in Ultra circles have alleged the existence of factual inaccuracies either in media reports of some of Karnazes’ achievements or even his own discussion of them, while others have commented that Karnazes’ writing (principally in “Ultramarathon Man”) does not give due credit to other ultra runners whose achievements have equaled or even surpassed his own (eg. Kouros, Jurek).
My research objective is to assemble the evidence base on any allegations that Karnazes (or media reports regarding Karnazes) may have knowingly or inadvertently misrepresented his achievements, and then to invite Karnazes to comment on this evidence to the extent that it can assembled. To that end I will be interested to hear from any readers of this site who have information on this topic or opinions on the debate surrounding the topic.
A word on my approach: I bear no personal animus towards Dean Karnazes and have in fact found his example (as described in “Ultramarathon Man”) very inspiring in my own first forays into ultrarunning. I have no desire to rehearse unsubstantiated rumors or mean-spirited thoughts, and have no agenda to besmirch the reputation of a talented person in the public eye merely for the sake of scoring salacious journalistic points. Quite by contrast, my interest as a writer/psychologist is much more broadly to probe the deep psychological and personal forces that drive us to run long distances, the benefits we get from that activity, and to analyze the public profile of Dean Karnazes to see what it may have to tell us about the intersection of commerce, culture, and a sport (ultrarunning) that until quite recently has differentiated itself through a position almost outside of society, with relatively few accolades available to its most talented participants beyond the respect of their peers. In making a living out of ultras, Dean Karnazes has changed the sport’s “outsider” status and in that respect warrants scrutiny in terms of what he’s objectively achieved, the role of successful self-promotion in his growing fame, and the psychological and cultural forces driving the emergence of an ultarmarathoner as Time Magazine’s 27th “most influential person in the world.”
Beyond DK, the article will feature commentary on some recently released books on the therapeutic effects of running (eg. “Psychodynamic Running” by Dr. Ethan Gologor); analysis of the history and anthropology of distance running (from Ancient Greece and Navajo tribal runners to today); investigation of the links between running and meditation; and reports of the psychological insights gleaned by runners on the trails (including my own experience of the Lake Tahoe Rim Trail 50M last July, and recent 3:02 marathon PR in Sacramento).
The article will appear at my website, Neurotransmission, a small but growing community of psychologists, psychiatrists and writers in the U.S, Europe and Australia. My background is in journalism for the BBC and Channel 4 in London; I’m now training as a clinical psychologist.
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