Welcome to Pushing the Limits, the show that helps you reach your full potential, with your host Lisa Tamati, brought to you by lisatamati.com.
Lisa Tamati: Good day, everyone. Welcome back to Pushing the Limits, your host Lisa Tamati here. Today, I have one of my longtime friends and a guy who has had a massive influence in my life both as a role model and as someone who has facilitated me with a lot of help with my books and so on. He's a worldwide legend. He is Dean Karnazes. He is the author of four books. And he has a new one out called the Runner's High, which I was excited to give me an excuse to chat to my buddy, and see what he's been up to, and to talk everything, ultramarathon running. We talk a whole lot about getting older in ultramarathon running, and the difficulties, and we talk about life in general and longevity, and the beauty of the sport. He's an incredible ambassador for our sport. He's done so much. He's brought so many people into the sport worldwide and he's an incredible human being.
He's actually stuck in lockdown in Australia right at the moment as we were recording this and was about to do a race ride around Australia with my other friend, Pat Farmer. Another incredible human being. These guys are just next level crazy, and bloody COVID has ripped everything so they're now down to doing thousand-mile race around a military base in Australia in New South Wales. But in true ultramarathon form, where there's a will, there's a way. And when there's an obstacle, you find a way around it. Improvise, adapt, and overcome as my friend Craig Harper always says. So that's what these guys have been doing. So I hope you enjoy this episode with Dean Karnazes. Without him, I wouldn't have my books. He is a very generous and caring person as well as being an incredible athlete.
Before we head over to the show, just want to remind you, we have our BOOSTCAMP live webinar series coming up starting on the first of September 2021. If you're listening to this later on, we will be doing these on an ongoing basis. And actually, we have planned to set up a mastermind that goes the year long. I don't know how long it's gonna take us to get organised but that is our goal. We're all about helping each other upgrade our lives and be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. This one's called BOOSTCAMP. This eight-week-long webinar series that Neil and I are doing. This is a live series where you hang out with us once a week for an hour and get a lot of great information: the latest science, the latest biohacking, the latest longevity, everything about mental toughness, resilience, everything that's going to basically upgrade your life and help you be a better human. The stuff that we've spent years and decades actually studying, learning, and doing. So I hope you get to enjoy this with us.
You can head on over to peakwellness.co.nzboostcamp. That's B-O-O-S-T camp. BOOSTCAMP, not boot camp. We won't be making you run around doing anything. We're just going to be having wonderful chats and education. A lot of lectures and a lot of fun to be had along the way. And, I think, what's most important is you'll be networking with like-minded individuals. They say that you are the sum total of the five people that you hang out with most. And make those five people, in this case, it will be a few more, some top-quality people who are all on a mission the same as you are. So if you want to come and join us, that's BOOSTCAMP.
We also have our epigenetics program. If you want to know all about your genetics, and how to upgrade your life through your genes, understanding what your genes do, if you're dealing with a difficult health journey, and you don't know where to go to next, this is a very good place to start. This is our flagship program that we've been running for years now. We've taken hundreds and hundreds of people through this program. And it's really an incredible all-encompassing program that looks at your food, your exercise types, what time of the day to do different things, your mood and behaviour, and lots, lots more. So come and check that out at lisatamati.com and hit the ‘Work with Us’ button then you'll see our Peak Epigenetics program there if you're interested in doing that. Right. Now, over to the show with Dean Karnazes who's sitting in lockdown in Australia.
Well. Hi, everyone and welcome to the show. Today, I have my very good friend and absolute legend of ultramarathoning, Dean Karnazes, with me. Dean, welcome to the show, again. Repeat offender.
Dean Karnazes: Oh, it's so nice to be back on with you. Thank you for having me. We always have such lively conversations. I love it.
Lisa: We do, right? I just absolutely enjoy your company. Whenever I've had the chance to spend a little bit of time with you, it's been absolute gold whether it's been on the podcast, or interviewing you, or hanging out with you on the Gold Coast like we did last year. That was absolutely awesome. Dean, you've just brought out another book. Another amazing book called Runner's High, and that's why we had to get you back on, because I want to share about all this book. But before we get into the book, you're sitting in lockdown in Australia. Tell me what is going on there.
Dean: It's a long story but it started with a run across Australia with Pat Farmer. So from Western Australia to the East Coast, and that was the original idea; it was 5,000 kilometres. And this was six months ago when the world was going in a better direction, and over the past six months, boy, the world has done just the opposite. And we, like you, are a fighter and we kept saying we're going to persevere the same... Well, the run across Australia got mixed to a run across New South Wales, a thousand-mile run across New South Wales.
And we kept thinking, 'This is going to happen. This is going to happen.' I boarded the plane, I flew to Australia with 10 people on the huge jet, yeah. And when I get to Australia, I realise how bad the situation is here. And every day, I turn on the news. It's getting worse, it's getting worse as I'm in quarantine, and then finally Pat called me a couple days ago and said, 'We can't do the thousand-mile run now. We could still the thousand-mile run. It's just going to be contained within a military base because we need to stay in our own bubble.’ And I thought 'Oh.'
Lisa: He has flown away from America to Australia to run around the military base. It sounds a bit like being tactic stuff.
Dean: Oh, yeah. And not only the... To sit in quarantine. To your point, I've been in our hotel room for 12 days now, waiting to get out, yeah.
Lisa: For someone like you... You're just like me. Obviously, you're even more extreme than me. It must be torture. I just can't comprehend being in a room. This must be awful for you.
Dean: Don’t remind me, but yeah. Basically, from the moment I get up, I'm staying active. We both know the importance of movement. So from the moment my head leaves the pillow, I'm not sitting down ever. Even right now, I'm pacing back and forth in this room, and I'm doing bodyweight exercises just constantly, at least throughout the day.
Lisa: I used to... If I was travelling and I was stuck in a hotel room somewhere in a dangerous city or whatever, I'd put on something running on TV and run along with them. I was doing the Boston Marathon in Budapest in a hotel room one day. Just run along the spot. Doesn't matter. You got to do something to keep active, so I can imagine it being a bit of a mission for you. So my heart goes out to you and hang in there for two more days.
And all my love, please, to Pat Farmer. I love the guy. He's just amazing. We got to hang out when we're in the Big Red Run together, which I failed spectacularly, by the way. I had a back injury that walked me out in the middle of that race. But one of the big advantages of that run was actually getting to meet Pat Farmer because he's an absolute legend of the sport. So you two together would be a really powerful combination. I'm really sad that he’s not going to go right around Australia because imagine the people that would have come out and enjoyed meeting you two.
Dean: Oh, he pulled all the strings. He's very well connected in political circles and the Australian Army is crazy for us. So we had 13 Army personnel and they're setting up a tent city every night, and they're cooking for us. It was amazing but COVID had other plans.
Lisa: Oh, bloody COVID. It’s wrecking every damn thing. Hey, but it's ultramarathon runner and Pat Farmer who has run from the North Pole to the South Pole, people. Absolute crazy guy. Obstacle? Find a way around it. Obstacle? Find a way around. And that's what you guys are doing, and you have to be flexible. That's a good lesson for this day and age because we're all having to be very, very flexible right now, and adapt to a hell of a lot of change, and being able to cope in different situations. So I bet you guys would just find a way through it and it will be another incredible story at the end of the day.
Dean: I think the world needs it. As controversial as the Olympics were, I think it was an amazing thing, and it's so scaled back, right? But still, people are stuck in their house and now, what are they doing? They're watching the Olympics. They're getting energised, and they're thinking about the future so yeah, thank you. It's been a very emotional journey for me to leave a place... Where I live in California, we're over 80% vaccinated. So to leave a place where there was no masks then come here, it's been eye-opening and challenging.
Lisa: You should have Pat go to you and run around California. You got it backwards. I have no doubt that you guys will just find a way through, and you’ll make it epic, anyway. Say you get given lemons, you make lemonade.
Dean: Yeah well, at least we're staying in military barracks, and we're basically running. Every day, we're staying in the same place so logistically, it'll be easier.
Lisa: Yeah. Oh my god, you guys just don't stop. I admire you guys so much, and I was saying to you last year, when we're in the Gold Coast, 'I've hit the wall at about 48 but to be honest, I had a pretty hit on, full-on war with my body and....' But you guys just seem to keep going, and going, and going. I had Mum as well so I did have an excuse, guys. But pretty highly, it was a stressful last five years. But you just seem to... Because how old are you now, Dean, if you don't mind sharing?
Dean: Yeah. Well, when anyone would ask my age, I would say, 'Are you talking about my chronological age or my biological age?’
Lisa: Well, your chronological because biological, you're probably 20 years younger. Because I definitely am. That's my take on it.
Dean: Chronologically I'm closer to 60 than 50.
Lisa: Exactly. Have you actually ever had your biological age done? Because that's an interesting thing.
Dean: Yeah, I had a couple. There's a lot of good ways you can test it, and I've had it done a couple different times. One, I was about I was in my late 30s. And then on another, I was older than my actual chronological age.
Lisa: Which one was that?
Dean: It was post ultramarathon. So after racing, we spoke about C-reactive protein earlier and inflammation. And that was one of the biomarkers that they used in calculating your biological age. So when I looked at the results, I said, 'Hold it. How did you arrive at that figure?' And they gave me all the markers they looked at, and I said, 'Well, look. This is wildly elevated because just four days ago, I just ran a hundred miles.'
Lisa: Exactly. And C-reactive protein, if you've just had a cold, if you've just hit like we were talking about my dad before and sepsis and his C-reactive protein was just through the roof. So that makes sense that they would be out. There's a whole clock, which is the methylation markers, which is a very good one. I've done just one very basic one that came out at 34. I was pretty pleased with that one. At the end of the day, I think if you can keep all your inflammatory markers like your homocysteine and C-reactive protein generally under control, keep your albumin levels high, they are pretty good markers. Albumin is one that is looking at, it’s a protein that your liver makes, and that's a very important one. And if you albumin starts to go too low, that's one sign that things aren't going to good. So keep an eye on all those.
I love studying all this longevity stuff because I plan to live to 150 at least, and I don't think that that's unrealistic now as long as I don't get run over by a bus or something. With the stuff that's coming online and the technology that's coming, we're going to be able to turn back the clock on some pretty advanced stuff already. Now, my mum's on more than me because obviously, her needs are a bit greater than mine. I can't afford for us to be on all the top stuff. But yeah, I'm very excited. We don't need to age like our grandparents have aged. We're gonna have... And someone like you, Dean, who's lived a good healthy life, apart from pushing the hell out of your body, and I'll talk about that in a sec, but I think you've got the potential to live to 150, especially because you're Greek. You come from stock.
Dean: And my mom is from one of the Blue Zones. An island called Ikaria and I've been there and I've met... Ikaria, the island she's from, has the highest concentration of centenarians anywhere on Earth.
Lisa: Oh my gosh. So you're going to live to 200 then.
Dean: Well, the beautiful thing about these people is that not only are they over 100, they still have a high quality of life. They're still mobile; they're self-sufficient. Mentally and cognitively, they're sharp as a tack. They're active. The one thing that they have that we don't have the luxury of is the complete absence of stress. They don't pay attention to time.
Lisa: That's, I think, a crucial point. Stress is a killer in so, so many ways.
Dean: Even the fact that we have mortgages, and we have payments, rent, all those sort of things, I think, contribute to obviously, to stress. And fitting in with new society. It's much more of a sense of community in these villages where everyone is part of it. They all take care of each other, so it's a different lifestyle.
Lisa: I think, definitely when you're actually living the old way of being out in the sunshine, from the time you get up to the end of the day, you're working outside and on the ground, in the land, hands in the dirt, all of that sort of stuff really... Because I studied lots about circadian rhythms and how our eyes, for example, you see sunshine early in the morning. That resets your circadian rhythms, sets the clock going for the day. Your adenosine starts to build up over the day. You get tired at about 14 to 16 hours later. All of these things that we've... as modern-day humans, we've taken ourselves out of the old way of living and put ourselves into this artificial comfortable environment. But this is upsetting all our ancient DNA, and that's why that's leading to problems.
And then, of course, we've got this crazy life with technology, and the stuff we have to do, and work. Just like stress, what it does to the gut, the actual microbiota in the gut, and how much it affects your gut health. And of course, gut health affects everything. Your brain and your gut talk all the time. All these stuff so I think if we can harness the cool stuff of the technology coming, plus go back and start respecting as much as possible our ancient DNA, and then eating our ancestors did as best we can with these depleted soils, and pesticides, and glyphosates, and God knows what's in the environment, but doing the best we can, then we've got a good chance of actually staying around on this planet and still be running ultramarathons or at least marathons when you're a hundred plus. I don't think that that's unrealistic anymore, and that excites me. So I'm always learning on that front.
Dean: But I want to be that guy that's running a marathon when you say a hundred. That's my ambition now.
Lisa: I'll keep you up on the latest stuff then. What you need to be aware of.
Dean: I don't have any... People say, ‘You must have arthritis, or back pain, or knee pain, or joint pain.’ I don't have any of those things. I don't know why but I just... I'm so happy. I get up every morning and feel fresh.
Lisa: That's absolutely amazing. I think one of the amazing things with you is that... Because I studied genetics, and I looked at my genes. And actually doing really long bouts of exercise with my combination of genetics and my cardiovascular system, especially I've got a very weak glycocalyx, which is the lining of your endothelial cells. Bear with me people. This means that if I do a lot of oxidative damage, which you do, of course, when you're running, that's pretty damaging to my lining of my blood vessel. So I've got to be a little more careful and take a lot of antioxidant support. But having that inflammation means I can now take steps to mitigate that so that I can still do what I love to do. And that's really key. It's hitting stuff off at the pass and there's so much we can do now and that's really, really exciting. But I've gone completely off topic because we should be talking about your book.
Dean: No, I think it's very relevant because I think that some people are built to run far and slow and other people are built to run quick and short.
Lisa: Yeah. I do and I agree and it's not just about your fast-twitch fibres. It is also about your methylation and your detox pathways, your hormonal pathways, your cardiovascular genes. All of these things do play a role, and that's why there's no one size fits all. And that's why we don't all have to be Dean Karnazes or Pat Farmer. You know what I mean? Not everybody is built for that or should be doing that, and that's okay as well. And working out what is optimal for your health is the key thing. Having role models like you guys is just mind-blowing because it does lift your perception of what the human body is capable of. That leads the way for others, and to follow, and to test out their personal limits. I think that's important too.
Dean: Well, I've run over 300 traditional marathons. And you go to the Boston Marathon, you go to these big marquee marathons, the New York City Marathon, and you see people in their 70s and 80s that, compared to their peers, are off the charts. You say, 'Well, that running is gonna be bad for you.' I don't subscribe to that.
Lisa: I've done what, 70-odd thousand K's. Not as much as you have. And I don't have any knee pain. I don't have any back pain because I keep my core strong and that's despite having accidents with my back and having no discs. Because I keep myself fit and healthy. I have had some issues with hormones and kidney function because when we... You would have been rhabdomyolysis, no doubt a few times.
Dean: Minor, minor, but I have. Yeah. Every ultra runner has, yeah.
Lisa: Yeah, so things that. You've got to just keep an eye on and make sure you don't... You look after your kidneys otherwise and do things to mitigate the damage. Because yeah there are certain things that damage. But life damages you. Like living, breathing is damaging. It's causing oxidative stress. So you've got to weigh up the pros and cons, but having an active physical life outdoors, and having adventures, and being curious and excited, and being involved in the world, that's got to be beneficial for you. So when do you actually start with this big adventure with Pat?
Dean: It's on the 14th of August, so in about a week. Yep. They finish on the 24th, yeah.
Lisa: Oh, I'd like to get you both back on at the end of it to give me a rundown, have a go. That will be cool. Dean, let's just pivot now and let's talk a little bit about your book. Because you brought out some incredible books over the years. You're world-famous. You're a New York Times bestselling author. You've been named by the Times magazine as one of the most hundred influential people of the world. That's just insane. And now, you're brought out Runner's High. What's different about this story?
Dean: Well, my first book was Ultramarathon Man, and that was kind of a coming-of-age book. It was about me learning about this crazy universe of ultramarathon and people doing things that I thought was impossible. And Runner's High is five books later and three decades later. How am I still doing it? And how have I changed? How has the sport of ultramarathoning changed? How has the world changed? And that was the book. And it was also a very personal book and that... You're an ultramarathoner, and you know ultramarathon is an island.
If you start running these long distances it impacts everyone in your life including your family. Very much for your family. The book, it is not really about running. It's funny. People read it and they say, 'Wow. It's amazing but it's storytelling.' And you and I are both good storytellers, and that was what I just set out to write a book that was true and honest, and it was enjoyable for the reader. And yeah, it's doing really well in New Zealand, actually.
Lisa: It must be doing well around the world. And this one is very... It's really real, and genuine, and raw. No holds barred. No barred... What do you call it? No... How do you say that? It's very much a real and it's a love letter to, basically, like you say, to running. And you're actually revisiting the Western States, a race that you've done how many times? 13 times or something? But coming back in your 50s, late 50s to do this again in 2018. It was a bit of a tough road, shall we say. Can you tell us a little bit about that part of the journey and why Western States are so special to you?
Dean: Yeah. The Western States 100 mile endurance run is in the Sierra Nevada, California. And it was the first 100-mile trail race, and I first did it back in 1994. So your first is always your best. It's kind of this amazing experience that you have, and you just never forget it. I can recall literally conversations I had in that race in 1994. I can recall what people were wearing. I can recall where I saw my parent. I recall it. It gets impressed upon your mind. So my synapses just absorbed it. So going back here after 13 goes at it and thinking, 'Wow, is this going to be a stale experience? Or what is it going to be like?'
And it ended up being quite magical and quite transformative in my career as well as... I learned a lot about my father and my son, and I wrote a lot about that in the book, and watching them crew for me, and how things have changed over time. It wasn't a good race. I don't want to be a spoiler but I think good races don't make good stories. Good races, you pop the champagne, yeah, it's boring. You high five at the finish, you have some champagne, and all this good. When things go to shit, that's an interesting story.
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. I've got three books full of things turning to shit. And I think it's beautiful that you talk about your dad or what a crazy guy he is, and your son coming and how your son was actually... Like you didn't know whether he was up to crewing for you really because he's a young man. He wasn't going to take this seriously because you need your crew to be on form. How do he actually do when he was out there?
Dean: Yeah. There's a saying that in school, you get the lesson and you take the test. In parenting, you take the test and then you get the lesson. You're just like, 'Boy I screwed that one up.' You lose track of your kids, especially when they go off to uni.
Lisa: Just interrupting the program briefly to let you know that we have a new patron program for the podcast. Now, if you enjoy Pushing the Limits, if you get great value out of it, we would love you to come and join our patron membership program. We've been doing this now for five and a half years and we need your help to keep it on air. It's been a public service free for everybody and we want to keep it that way. But to do that we need like-minded souls who are on this mission with us to help us out. So if you're interested in becoming a patron for Pushing the Limits podcast, then check out everything on patron.lisatamati.com. That's patron.lisatamati.com.
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Dean: As a parent, your kids grew up quicker than you adjust to them growing up, and I always treat them as a guy that needs his diaper change kind of thing even though he's 20 years old now. Nick was just such a dichotomous individual because he complained to me when he came home from uni that his roommates were such slobs. I said, 'How do you like living with three other guys?' He's like, 'It’s great. They're my best friends, but they're such slobs.' Every every time I walked past his room, I'd look in his room, and it was a Tasmanian devil had gone through it. ‘Your room is such a mess.’ When he volunteered the crew for me at Western States, claiming he knew how to do it, even though the last time he'd done it, he was nine years old, and he didn't do anything.
At this time, he was actually driving a vehicle. He was the most important support I had during this kind of foot race. And I just thought that it was gonna be a horrible experience. That he'd be irresponsible, he wouldn't show up, and this, and that. At least it was just the opposite. He was the most responsible, so much more responsible than my dad. So much more capable. My dad's been doing this for 30 years, and my son who's never done it was so much better than my dad. He showed me a new side of him that I'd never seen.
Lisa: That's him growing up, I suppose?
Dean: Yeah. I think every parent that's got a kid is kind of nodding their head as they're hearing this because they can relate.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And I think kids, sometimes when they can be a kid, they'll be a kid. They'll be the irresponsible... But when you actually put them on the spot and expect something from them, sometimes, they come to the party if you're lucky, and actually step up to the line, and actually do a good job, and obviously, Nicholas did that.
Dean: Yeah. I think it's more the burden of the parent to accept and to realise that this little baby is self-sufficient and capable. Let go of the fact that they once were so dependent on you. They're not anymore. They have their own life, and they can navigate their way through the world.
Lisa: It must be pretty hard to let go. What do you think it's been like for them having such a famous, crazy, extreme athlete dad? Was it hard for both of them? Because I can imagine you were away a lot. You're doing dangerous, crazy, amazing things. Everybody knows you. You're extremely well known when you go anywhere. How did that affect the family in general?
Dean: It's funny. My kids have never known me as anything different. They've always known me as this ultramarathoner, and it's always been a family affair for me. My kids, they've been to Australia, they've been to Europe multiple times, South America, all over North America. I have taken them with me. I once ran 50 marathons in all of the 50 US states in 50 days, and they were along. Yeah. How many kids... My son was nine, my daughter was 11. How many kids ever, how many people ever get to see all of the states of America, let alone when you're that age? So I think that they just accept me for what I am.
Sometimes I get the fan thing where people come up to me like at a restaurant. Like, 'Oh, can you sign this or that?’ And it's always good people. The people that come up to me in an airport and say, 'Hey, I really admire you. Can we do a selfie?' They're decent people. Like I want to go have a glass of wine with this guy or this lady. It's not like I'm a rock star or movie star where I have all the crazy people chasing around. The people who chase me around are my peers. People I really admire myself.
Lisa: Or other runners. You know what? Something I've always admired about you, too, was that you always gave every single person time of day despite... And when we did that speaking gig together last year on the Gold Coast, I was really nervous, to be honest, because I was like, 'I'm on the stage with someone who is a superstar, and I'm little me.' Right? I'm sort of like, 'How the hell am I on stage with you? Because no one's gonna be interested in what the hell I've got to say when you're standing next to...' It's like some superstar, and you're standing on the stage with them, and you've got to do... It was quite difficult in a way because everybody wanted to... The line for your books was just two hours long. The line from mine was two people long.
Dean: You carried yourself beautifully. I thought together, we were a great pair. We complemented each other.
Lisa: You are a gentleman. You would always straight to me and make sure that I was included, which was fantastic. I saw you. Like you take the time for every single person. You are present with everybody, and that's a really hard thing to do. It's not so hard in a book signing, but it's bloody hard in the middle of a hundred-miler or a hundred K-er or when you were half-dead, dragging yourself into a checkpoint, and somebody wants a signature from you or a selfie, and you're trying to just get your stuff together. I found that difficult on my level of stuff. Because when I enter in New Zealand, I found that really difficult.
I'd have people coming out on the road with me all the way through. And in that preparation, I thought that would be cool. In the reality of the day-to-day grind, did you know when you're... Because I was running up to 70K's a day. I was in a world of pain and hurt most of the time, and just struggling to keep going, and very, very breakable, you feel like. And then, you'd have people coming out and now it's been maybe 2, 3, 4 or 5K's with you, and they're full of beans, and they want you to be full of beans and full of energy, and give them the greatest advice in their 5K's when you're half dead. I found that really, really hard because I'm actually, believe it or not, quite introverted and when I'm running, I go in.
How do you deal with it? How do you deal with that without being... Because you don't want to be rude. You don't want to be disrespectful to anybody, God forbid. But there were times on that run when I just literally had to say to my crew, 'I can't cope right now. I'm in a world of pain. I need some space.' And they have to sort of politely say, 'Sorry, she's not in a good space.' How do you deal with that?
Dean: Well, it's amazing that we're having this conversation because there are not a lot of people that can relate intimately to what you just said. Because most people will never be in that position but what.. I experienced exactly you've experienced. When running 50 marathons in 50 days or running, I ran across America as well. When you're in a world of hurt, you've got this protective shell on, and you don't want to be social, and then I'd have groups of college kids show up with my book. Like 'Oh my god. Karnazes, you're such a great influence, and we love your book.' And 'Let's order a pizza.' I just feel like I just want to crawl into a mummy bag and hide and you just got to turn it on.
Lisa: You've got to step up fine.
Dean: Yeah, they're so happy to see you, and they want to see you on. They don't want to see you like this groveler just dying. They want to see you strong and engaging, and it's really tough sometimes. Yeah. It's definitely really tough sometimes.
Lisa: Yeah, and that's why I admire that you managed to do that most of the time. You turn it on no matter in what shape you were. If I were to pull it out whereas, to be honest, a couple of times, I just couldn't. I'm just like, 'I'm done guys.' Remember on the run through New Zealand that one time? This was not with fans. I was running for CanTeen, the kids with cancer. I was in an immeasurable world of hurt one night after running for, God knows how long I've been out there, 1200 K’s or something at the stage. I had a 13-year-old boy was sent into my room to give me a pep talk. He was dying of cancer or had cancer, and he was here to give me a pep talk because I was crying. I wasn't able to get up and run the next day. And he came in and told me how much it meant to him, and to his peers, and what it meant to him that I was undertaking this journey.
That was a real lesson. Like, 'Oh, get over yourself. You're not dying, okay? You're not a 13 year old with cancer. You just have to run another 70 K's tomorrow. So what?' That's a good perspective. I did get up the next morning and go again and that was like, 'Here, come on.' Some funny but really touching moments. You are human and it's very easy when you go to a speaking engagement or whatever to be what you meant to be, a professional. But it's bloody hard when the chips are down and you're in the middle of a race to do that. So I really always did admire that about you. What I also admired was that it didn't matter whether you came first or last in a race. With the Western States, it was a struggle.
You never shied away from the fact that today might not have been your day, and you're having a bad day, and you weren't embarrassed about that. I've had races with Pat Farmers, a classic one in the middle of the Big Red Run where I was just falling to pieces. I was going through some personal trauma at the time, and my back went out. Yeah, I was just at a bad place. And I was embarrassed because I failed at a race at that stage. I was in that mindset. Now, I look back and go 'Give yourself a break.' How do you cope with that? How do you... Like when you don't do what the fans expect you to do on that day?
Dean: To me, it's your ego. Yeah, it is such an ego thing. And let's be honest, when you're a public figure, your failures are public. You don't fail in silence. You just kind of DNF and walk away and live the race another day. You DNF and people are taking pictures of you, and it's on the internet. I always got crowded. But in the end, I just... What can you do other than just do your best? You're human. All of us can only just do our best. So my commitment now is like, ‘When I stand on the starting line, I'm going to give it my all. I'm not going to leave anything on this course. I'm just going to be the best that Dean can be. I'm going to try my hardest and the only way I'm going to fail is if I don't try my hardest and don't give it my all.’ And when you go with that mindset, no matter what happens, you're doing yourself a service.
Lisa: Yeah, and you're a winner. This is such a powerful message, I think, for young people listening because often, we don't even try because we don't want to risk embarrassing ourselves, and risk failure, and risk looking like an idiot. And what you're saying is just forget your ego, set that to the side, and go, 'I'm going to give it all today, and if it isn't enough, it isn't enough and that's fine. I'll learn something out of it. And it's a journey that I'm on. And I'm going to be the best I can be today.' That's such a powerful story of perspective, and resilience, and leaving the ego at the door. I did struggle with that when I was younger because I had some pretty spectacular failures, and they really hurt. They really hurt where you take a long time to sort of go, 'Do I want to do that again in the public eye?' So to speak. And you've just always just been 'If it was a good day, it was a good day, and on to the next one if it was a bad day.'
Dean: Yeah, I think bold failures build character. I have to be honest. Success builds character, but so does failure and in a more profound way. I lean into every emotion that I have. Either success or failure, sorrow or regret. All those things that happen when you have a bad race or a bad day. I want that full emotional range. It just makes you a better human, I think. Not to shy away from those deep lows where you're just crushed. I think that people that try to avoid that are really missing out. Yeah, yeah, it's painful and it hurts but it builds your character in a profound way.
Lisa: Wow. That is so deep, actually. Because we're often taught push down your emotions, and keep them in a box, and be a professional, and keep going, and keep calm and carry on type thing. And it has its place as far as when you're in the middle of a race, you’ve got to keep your shit together, and compartmentalise stuff, and be able to function. But I think it's also very important to experience the pain, the grief, the pain, or whatever you're going through, and the happiness. It's another thing. I would get to the end of a race and it didn't matter how well I'd done, and what I've just achieved, and how difficult it was.
I remember doing one in the Himalayas and a friend coming up to me afterwards and it was 220K race, extreme altitude, hell of a journey to get there, all sorts of obstacles. I get to the finish line and he's just like, 'Wow, you're amazing. It's incredible. I can't believe what you just did. If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it.' And I just went, 'Oh no. Someone else was faster, and there's a longer race.' You know what I mean? And I didn't integrate it. And he just went, 'Oh, for crying out loud. Can't you just take this one to the bank and actually bank it as being a success and a huge win?' And I really took that to heart.
And now, I pat myself on the back when I do even a little thing good because it reinforces that neural pathway in my brain that tells me, 'This was great because I just got a little reward' rather than, 'You're never good enough.' Because that was what I was telling myself before. No matter what I did, it wasn't enough. And now, flip that script around to go, 'Hey, you managed to do your shoelaces and get to the end of the road today. Well, done.’ And it's the thought of it.
Dean: It is, completely. My son said something to me that was along that same vein during the Western States. I said, ‘Nicholas…’ This is maybe a mile 60 or 70 of a hundred-mile run. I said, 'My race is crap. I'm not having a good race.' And he looked at me, said, 'Dad, you're running a hundred miles. To most people, that's enough.' And I put it in perspective. That although I'm with all these super elite athletes, you're not doing that... To most people that hear about anyone running a hundred miles, they don't care if you came in first or last. A hundred miles? They don't care if my time was 15 hours or 50 hours. They're just so inspired. Yeah, blown away by it. Yeah.
Lisa: Exactly, And I think that puts it because when we hang out... Because you are the sum total of the people that you hang out with, the top five, as the saying goes. And that can have negative connotations as well as positive. It can be the fact that you think if you're hanging out with the five top guys in the world, then you are going to be not looking too good. But if you're hanging out with just the average person, and you're doing something this long and this incredible, for most people, that's just like, 'Huh? Humans can do that?' I did a speaking engagement yesterday in Auckland and the people were like, 'But that's humanly impossible.' I go, 'It actually isn't, and there's actually thousands of us that do the stuff.' And then, they're like, 'What? I don't get it.'
Dean: That was it. That was the same reaction I had when I heard about someone running a hundred mile like that. They're, 'Oh, there's trickery.' I thought there's trickery. I thought there's hotels, or just campgrounds, or something. The guy said, 'The gun goes off and you just run, and you stop when you cross the finish line.' I couldn't wrap my head around it.
Lisa: Until you did it.
Dean: Until you did it. Exactly, yeah.
Lisa: And you built yourself up to it, and this is the thing. It's a combination of so much and it's that journey isn't it? So I think what we're talking about is it being this incredible life journey that you go on within an ultramarathon and within the training of our ultramarathon. It's like living an entire life in short. You're going through the highs, and the lows, and everything in between. And it's long, and it's hard, and it's awesome, and it's amazing, and you meet incredible people. It's everything that you go through in life but just on an intensive timescale, I feel like. And it's just a beautiful experience to go through, especially with the value of hindsight. Sometimes, in the middle of it, mile 70 of a hundred-mile race, it's not looking too flash.
Dean: Well, but I mean, to that point, when we reflect back on moments that we remember, at least me, it's not the victories. It's not the crossing the finish line first to me. It's always that time where I thought, 'I'm done. This is it. I can't get out of this chair. I'm trashed.' And somehow getting through that really, really tough moment and carrying on. That's what sticks with you. It's pretty weird, at least with me. Those are the moments that reflect back on my career. It's those horrible moments that I somehow persisted.
Lisa: When you look back, you're proud of yourself and you know that when... One of the biggest values, and I've seen this with my story with Mum and, unfortunately, recently with my dad, is that when the shit hits the fan, like it did in those two situations, I knew that I could step up to do everything within my power and that I was a fighter. I knew that I was a fighter, and then I knew that I would fight to the bitter end, whatever the outcome was. And that's a really good thing to know about yourself. Because you need to know that when things are down, what character do you have? Who are you when all the niceties of our world have gone? What are you capable of? And you learn to be able to function when everyone else is gone.
And that's a really powerful lesson that ultramarathoning teaches you, I think, in decades of the sort of hard work. And that's why athletes, I think... When you're employing athletes or you going into business with other athletes, you're more likely to have someone who's willing to fight through the tough times than if you just get someone who hasn't ever experienced any sort of discomfort in their life. Then they're not liable to be able to push through and be as resilient. I think that's what I'm trying to say.
Dean: I agree with you completely. And I often wonder if people have those character, those values, and that's what draws them to ultra running or if ultrarunning instils those values. I remember coming home from a run one time, and my neighbour was fetching up the morning paper. He saw me running back to my house and I'd, I don't know, I'd run 30 or 40 kilometres, and he said to me, 'Doesn't running hurt?' And I said to him, 'It doesn't if you're doing it right.' And he looked at me, 'I do everything to avoid difficult things.’ And I’m like, ‘And I embrace it.' It's just a different mindset.
Lisa: And if you have the mindset of wanting to always avoid all sorts of pain in life, then you're not going to experience very much. And when you're in a tough situation, you won't be able to cope because you won't have experienced any sort of pain. So the more that you had to struggle, the more strength you develop from that. The old proverb: 'Strength comes from struggle' is valid in all walks of life. So unfortunately, this is the way the world is set up. If you seek comfort all the time, you're actually going to be in deeper shit somewhere along the way and not able to help yourself because you haven't learned to fight, and you haven't learned to push through and to deal with a certain level of discomfort and a certain level of pain. And I think that's a really, really valuable thing to do.
Every day, I try to experience some sort of discomfort or pain: whether it's cold, whether it's pushing myself mentally, intellectually, whether it's pushing myself physically, doing some intense extreme exercise, or whatever the case may be. Every day, I try to do something that it scares the shit out of me or pushes me in some way because then, I know that I haven't gone backwards that day. I've probably learned something, and gone forward, and I've strengthened my body and my mind in some sort of way, shape, or form.
Dean: Yeah, but I think you're an exception. I think most people just try to take the path of least resistance and avoid difficult things and avoid pain. I think we've built our world around comfort: having every comfort available and removing as much discomfort and pain as we can. And I think, in a way, we're so comfortable, we're miserable.
Lisa: Exactly. That's exactly the problem. Because by actually experiencing a little bit of pain, by doing your push-ups, going for your run, doing your pull-ups, whatever the case is, being outside and digging the garden and doing stuff that is a bit unpleasant, it actually makes your body stronger, and it makes you mentally stronger. If we all sit on the couch and watch Netflix all day every day and eat chips, what's going to happen to us? We're going to destroy our health. We're going to just be so... And this is... I think I'm scared for the younger generation, that they haven't actually... We grew up. We're roughly the same age. You're a couple years older. I grew up in the 70's where we were outside, doing something all day, every day. We came in at night time for a feed and went to bed. That was our childhood, and that was just a beautiful way to grow up. We were cold. We were hungry. We were tired. We were happy.
Dean: We were playing, right? We were exercising. I remember riding my bike just everywhere. I never thought of it as exercise. It was playing. Kids don't play that way anymore, unfortunately.
Lisa: It's a scary thing for them because we need to teach them. Because again, it goes back to sort of respecting our ancient DNA and that's what I think... That's another thing that ultramarathoning does, or even trekking, or adventuring in any sort of way, shape, or form. It's that we've come from stock that used to have to build their own houses, cut down their own trees, chase animals, whatever the case was, just to survive. And then, we now have it all laid on for us. We're in lovely houses. We've got light all day or night. We've got food every street corner. And our ancient DNA isn't just set up for that. This is where all the problems come. We could go on a complete rant, which I often do on this podcast.
But coming back to your story in your Runner's High, what do you think now looking back at this incredibly long and prolific career and this incredible journey that you've been on so far, and I do think that you still got miles and miles to go. What are some of the biggest lessons that you've learned along the way on the thirty-odd year journey that you've been? What are the biggest takeaways from ultramarathon running?
Dean: I think that it's the little moments that are the most priceless. It's not the moments where... I write about meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama. Yeah, that was great. It was amazing, and incredible, and everything else, but it's the little moments of having a moment with a crew member or your family that you just you reflect on and laugh about. So it's those things to me that are most priceless. The other thing with ultramarathoning that I've certainly learned is that it's a journey. To me, it's a passion and it's something I've committed my life to. And staying true to the person you are, there's value in that. Even though it's just running, Lisa. It's nothing hugely intellectual. I'm not winning Nobel prizes. I'm just a runner, but that's who I am and I'm staying true to that. I'm going to do that to the grave. And I think in that, there's a simplicity and I think there's some magic in that.
Lisa: Oh, absolutely. You know what you're born to do. You say it's only running but actually, you're a teacher; you're an author; you're a person who empowers others. You're doing all of that in the framework of running. So you do a heck of a lot more than just running for me. You’ve influenced an entire generation worldwide. I hope you know. Without you, ultramarathon running would not be where it is today. So I think you know a little bit more than just running yourself. This is the power of books, and this is the power of storytelling. And it's the power of having such a unique character that is so charismatic and draws people in. And those are all the things that you've managed to take.
You could have just been a silent runner who just did his thing and went away again, but you've chosen to share your journey with the world. And that's just gold because that just gives people an insight into what they can do. It's all about... when I read your books, I'm getting something for me. And everybody who's reading those books, that's actually, 'Yes, we talk. We're hearing Dean's story.' But we're actually going, 'Huh. Maybe I could do that. Maybe I could try that. Oh, yeah I've experienced that.' This is the conversation that are going on in people's heads when they read those stories, and that's why they have such an intimate connection with you. And why, even though it's weird when people come up and ask you for an autograph or any of that, they feel like they know you, and they do know you.
Dean: I've got a message from a guy. Yeah, I know. Every time I think, 'Wow, this is really laborious, writing these books. And maybe it's my last book.' I got a message from a guy a couple days ago and he said, 'I was planning on reading a couple chapters of your new book before I went to bed.' And he said five hours later, 'I finished the last page.' And then, he said, 'And then I got up. I just had to go running.' Wow. Then the book worked if it motivated him to read the whole thing in one sitting and get up and go running, then it's worthwhile.
Lisa: Absolutely. And you know when you read, I read books ferociously, and the list is long. I'm usually reading about 10 books at a time. And when I'm reading, I am distilling the world's top people and their entire experience, I get to absorb within the space of 10, 15 hours of reading their book. That's a good return on investment. If I want to download someone's experience, or knowledge, or whatever the case is, then reading books is just such a powerful way to do it and listening to podcasts as well. Because that's another way that you can do it without having to... You can be out and about, driving, or running, or whatever and absorbing some new information. And I think we're just so lucky to have access to all of this. It's just incredible.
Dean: It is and it's a pity if you don't take advantage of that because you're so wise and educated. That conversation we had before the podcast, it's amazing how... It's amazing. Your knowledge base and how you developed your knowledge base. Well, you've absorbed the best of the best and what they're thinking and the research they've done.
Lisa: Exactly. All you're doing is you're absorbing it from the best scientists, the best doctors, the best athletes, the best executives, the best business people, and then, you get to share it, teach it. This is the other thing. If I learn something in the morning, I'm teaching it in the afternoon. Usually it's to my poor husband or my mother. I'm teaching it and then, I often build into my programs, or it comes out in my webinars, or whatever. And you’re basically just regurgitating stuff that you've learned, but it's powerful when you put it into the perspective of your experience and you change it. You learn it, you teach it. You learn it, you teach it.
And that's a such a cool way to share, and get that information out there into the world, and actually help the world on your little corner of the earth and what you're doing. And that's what I love to do and that's the power of what your books are all about. So yeah, I commiserate with you. Getting a book out is a bloody long, hard journey. People don't realise how hard it is to write a book. Give me a bloody hundred miler any day over writing a book. In fact, give me ten hundred milers over any day because it's such a long process, isn't it?
Dean: Well, I do a lot of my writing while I'm running actually. So I dictate into my phone now. Because we have some of our clearest thoughts while we're running. Before, I used to think, 'God, why didn't I write that down? How did that go again?' Now, I just dictate as I'm running and then come home, put in an earbud, and just type up my notes.
Lisa: I haven't done variations of that. I do end up stopping on my runs and just writing a quick note. I haven't actually dictated. I have to start adapting that because maybe that'll make it easy because you're damn right. When I'm actually at the computer, there's distractions. There's a hundred windows open; there's notifications coming all the time, and I really find it hard to sit down and write. It is sometimes best if you could just dictate into something, so I'll have to give that a crack next time.
Dean: I think motion stirs emotion.
Lisa: Yeah, it does and it clears the mind. That's one thing I miss now that I'm not doing the ultras, personally, at the moment. It's that singularity of purpose. That cleanness the mind had before of this one goal. And I'm watching my husband's preparing for a hundred miler in November. And just watching everything in his whole day, and he has the luxury of doing this because we haven't got kids and stuff, but everything in his whole day is centred around his training and getting to that hundred miler in the best shape that he can. And that singularity of purpose, if you like, almost that selfishness but having that one thing that you're doing, oh, I miss that. I miss that.
Dean: It's funny because I have friends that are mountain climbers, and we compare notes in that regard, and they say the same thing. They said life is frenetic, and we're moving in all these different directions. It's crazy basically. But when we're preparing for a summit quest, we have a mission. There's this we get to the summit like everything we're doing is focused on reaching the summit and there's clarity in that. You're right, that singularity of purpose. That's a good way to put it.
Lisa: Yeah, and this clarity that I really, really find, I think, a lot of us are struggling with because I don't have the luxury of that sort of clarity at the moment and that singular thing because I'm building businesses, and looking after Mum, and doing a hundred bloody things that I do. And my brain never gets that quiet singular thing. It does want to go for a run, but it's a short run now. And so that's not long enough to actually get that feeling and I'm not on an athletic mission. Okay, it's a time in my life, and it's where I'm at, and that's fine. But Jesus, hard sometimes. Just not to be able to have that freedom of living just for yourself and being actually dedicated to one thing. And I find that very, very hard sometimes, especially with all the thousand things that are coming at you when you run businesses.
Dean: That's why I run, they say.
Lisa: I haven't worked that one out. I haven't organised myself for a while. What I have done. Oh, Dean, you've been absolutely wonderful today. I don't want to take up any more of your time in lockdown because goodness knows, you've got lots to do there, probably.
Dean: It's an exciting day because I think it's my fifth COVID test since showing up. So every couple of days, they show up. They knock on your door and stick a swab up your nose. I've been fully vaccinated. You've just been here five times. I don't think I'm going to get it. I've been in the hotel room by myself for two weeks.
Lisa: Yeah. Come on.
Dean: Where's it going to come from?
Lisa: Yeah, it must be very frustrating. But hey, two more days and you're in freedom and then you're going to be able to run, and run, and run.
Dean: I'd get to run a thousand miles, yeah.
Lisa: With a very cool mate so give my greetings to Pat Farmer. He's a legend, and I've got to get him back on. Actually, you guys should come on together at the end of your run. That'd be just fabulous. Mum is sitting over in the chair, waiting for me to take her to the gym so I better get my bum into gear. Dean, thank you so much for your time. I love you to bits. I think you're amazing. I think your books are awesome and what you've done for the world of ultramarathoning and beyond is just incredible. Thank you for your time today.
Dean: Well, the feeling is completely mutual, Lisa. Thank you, and I look forward to the time where we can share some footsteps together again.
Lisa: Oh, that would be absolutely gold.
That's it this week for Pushing the Limits. Be sure to rate, review, and share with your friends, and head over and visit Lisa and her team at lisatamati.com