The Road to Sparta

My friends and family know that Dean Karnazes’ first book, Ultramarathon Man, spurred my interest, and eventual love, for running longer distances. Karnos’ ability to bring the reader into his world of calling for a pizza, coffee, and cheesecake delivery in the middle of the night while running extraordinary distances made ultrarunning into a doable adventure.  I’ve since read his other books, 50/50 and Run!, which proved just as enjoyable and inspiring as his first due to his unique way of breaking down his thoughts and experiences, and making them a story for all.  It should be no surprise that I choose to read his newest book, The Road to Sparta.

I finished this fantastic book during my Boston Marathon trip last month, which seemed pretty appropriate with Karno running the same race, promoting the new book, and then jumping on a plane to London for the marathon.  My initial reaction was to do a book review of sorts and break down how got to the starting line of the epic 153 mile ultra run, the Spartathon.  Upon reflection, I want other readers to experience the book in their own way, or to read the many other reviews out there in the interweb. Therefore, I decided I really wanted to jot down some of my favorite quotes and passages from his deeply personal journey to Greece and his 150+ mile road adventure.  Words can inspire, and I found Karnos’ words not only inspired me but also articulated my own feelings and emotions about running in some of the best ways possible.

On Passion: Run with your heart and the body will follow.  Listen to your heart.  If the heart grows weary and uninspired, stop.  If the heart remains impassioned and burning with desire, go. Karnos’ H.S. Cross-Country Coach, Benner Cummings.

On Balance: People speak of finding balance.  To me, hat’s a misplaced ambition.  If you have balance, you do everything okay. But to excel at your craft, you need obsessive, unbridled fanaticism.  Not only does excellence require commitment, it demands it. A life worth living is frenetic, disjointed, breakneck and quite fantastic. Balance doesn’t lead to happiness – impassioned dedication o one’s life purpose does. Dean “Karno” Karnazes

On Disappointment: My sense of purpose and bearing was inexorably undermined; I drifted about, rudderless in a swirling sea of despair.  Where once there was meaning and a clear sense of purpose in my life, now there seemed only emptiness and the hollow anguish over having failed.  I spent the better part of months moping about, licking my wounds and wallowing in self-pity. Karno

On the Mind: People may think the mind grows dull after prolonged periods of intense exertion and that one would easily lose his bearing, but just the opposite is true.  The senses become more acute and attentive, almost as though the physical threat compromising the body forces the mind to take up the slack.  A protracted fight-or-flight response ensues in wh ich awareness progressively sharpens while the body and muscles increasingly weaken and fatigue. Karno

On Ultra Running: When running an ultra, the rules of engagement are crystal clear.  There’s a starting point and there is an ending point. Karno

These are the moments I live for.  Life is at its most extraordinary during the struggle, not during times of idle contentment, and this was sure to be an epic contest. As horrible as I felt, and knowing that untold adversity still lay ahead, there was still something tugging at me to get going, an inner voice compelling me onward, back into battle. Karno

The idea of covering 100 miles on foot was so expansive to me that it absolutely obliterated all preconceived notions of what was, and wasn’t, possible. The limits of human capability were completely redefined, and nothing seemed out of reach any longer, in running or life. Running these long distances were liberating. Others might have found it daunting and intimidating, and it was on some level, but also a means by which to set the body free and unbind the spirit. Vanished are the pittances and mundane trivialities of everyday living when one is engaged in an all-engrossing test of physical and mental fortitude. Nothing else matters much when you are in the grips of great pain, struggling to somehow persist and continue forging onward against staggering odds. These endeavors would temporarily ruin my body but cleanse my soul. My spirit would be awakened, and I would be left in a state of higher being, the dismantled fragments of my essence eventually reconstituting into a better version of myself. Karno

On Suffering: Suffering provides a road to truth.  This is where life is lived at its fullest, bare and susceptible yet completely engaged and whole, navigating the course when one is able and being carried by the tides when one is not.  Karno

The bold may not live forever, but the timid do not live at all. Marco Polo

On Spartathon: To finish the Spartathon, you must give yourself up to it entirely.  The pain had become so intense that I thought I would collapse, and then it went away. Karno

I was at once vulnerable and powerful, a physical presence moving through this earth, though largely defenseless and exposed.  An ultramarathon is a way to engage intimately with the world and at the same time escape from it. Karno

Inevitably an ultra marathon is not a race against others or against a stopwatch; it is a match against oneself, a contest of your versus you. Karno

On Runners’ Bond: Many of the themes in my writing are identifiable to any runner…this sacred brother and sisterhood between runners is a bond we share. Karno

Regardless of what place it is we occupied in this world, we shared the same emotions and experiences and this commonality united us in a way that words could never adequately convey. Karno

On Contentment: Somewhere along humanity’s cultural progression we seemed to have confused comfort with contentment, but I now realized that contentment doesn’t come from comfort; contentment comes from living through great discomfort. Karno

On War: No one is so foolish as to prefer war to peace.  In peace children bury their fathers, while in war fathers bury their children. Herodotus

On the Marathoner: A marathoner is not just something you are, but someone you’ve become. Karno


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