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Ultramarathon Man Dean Karnazes - Brain Chemistry Process and The Runners High

by Faster Than Normal

I want to thank you for listening and for subscribing to Faster Than Normal! I also want to tell you that if you’re listening to this one, you probably listened to other episodes as well. Because of you all, we are the number one ADHD podcast on the internet!! And if you like us, you can sponsor an episode! Head over to  It is a lot cheaper than you think. You’ll reach… about 25k to 30,000 people in an episode and get your name out there, get your brand out there, your company out there, or just say thanks for all the interviews! We’ve brought you over 230 interviews of CEOs, celebrities, musicians, all kinds of rock stars all around the world from Tony Robbins, Seth Godin, Keith Krach from DocuSign, Danny Meyer, we’ve had Rachel Cotton, we’ve had  the band Shinedown, right? Tons and tons of interviews, and we keep bringing in new ones every week so head over to XXXXX rab an episode, make it yours, we’d love to have you, thanks so much for listening!  Now to this week’s episode, we hope you enjoy it!

Named by TIME magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World,” Dean Karnazes has pushed his body and mind to inconceivable limits. Among his many accomplishments, he has run 50 marathons, in all 50 US states, in 50 consecutive days. He’s run across Death Valley in the middle of summer, and he’s run a marathon to the South Pole. On ten separate occasions he’s run a 200-mile relay race solo, racing alongside teams of twelve. His list of competitive achievements include winning the World’s Toughest Footrace, the Badwater Ultramarathon, and winning the 4 Deserts Challenge, racing in the hottest, driest, windiest and coldest places on earth. A NY Times bestselling author, Dean is a frequent speaker and panelist at many running and sporting events worldwide. We’re thrilled to have Dean with us today- enjoy!  


In this episode Peter and Dean Karnazes discuss:  

1:42  –  Intro and welcome Dean Karnazes!!

4:32  –  On the concept of “the runner’s high” and what is Dean’s and how does he feel after he runs

5:46  –  On learning the chemistry behind the runner’s high and what do you have to do to obtain it

8:02    On the 100 mile races you’ve been involved in – tell us a little more about those. 

8:42    On training for such long runs,  what’s your process? 

11:36  –  On keeping yourself occupied during races that don’t allow headphones or music.  Do you do anything specific to pass the time?  

12:08    On whether or not you are literally thinking “step, step, step, step?” 

13:48    On what you tell yourself on mornings,  or even days when you get up and just aren’t feeling it?  What do you do? 

14:31    On confirming that it’s 50 marathons in 50 days?  

14:45    On the logistics of that kind of extensive race.  How do you prep for it? 

15:05    On what the 50th marathon city was

16:48    Dean, I’m so excited to have a chance to talk to you. I definitely want to get you back on here.  Guys, the book is called  but Dean Karnazes is the New York Times best-selling author of author of , and Superhuman…. [laughter] I love this, Good Morning America,  “a superhuman athlete writes love letter to runners.” This is, if it’s anything like your last book, it’s going to be inspiring as hell and I can’t wait to read it. Dean thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. I really appreciate it, man. It’s great to see you again.

You can find deal on the Socials @DeanKarnazes here on Twitter  Facebook. @Ultramarathon on INSTA and via his website 

Thank you so much Dean Karnazes! And thank YOU for subscribing, reviewing and listening. Your reviews are working! Even if you’ve reviewed us before, would you please write even a short one for this episode? Each review that you post helps to ensure that word will continue to spread, and that we will all be able to reach & help more people! You can always reach me via [email protected] or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterThanNormal on all of the socials. As always, leave us a comment below and please drop us a review on iTunes and of course, subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already! As you know, the more reviews we get, the more people we can reach. Help us to show the world that ADHD is a gift, not a curse! Do you know of anyone you think should be on the FTN podcast? Shoot us a note, we’d love to hear!

17:15    Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits



Hi guys. My name is Peter Shankman. I’m the host of Faster Than Normal.  I want to thank you for listening, and I also want to tell you that if you’ve listened to this one, you probably listened to other episodes as well of Faster Than Normal.  We are the number one ADHD podcast on the internet, and if you like us, you can sponsor an episode.  Head over to  – that’s It is alot cheaper than you think. You’ll reach… God about 25….30,000 people in an episode and get your name out there, get your brand out there, your company out there, or just say, thanks for all the interviews we brought you over 230 interviews of CEOs, celebrities, musicians, all kinds of rock stars all around the world from we’ve had… God, who have we had…we’ve had Tony Robbins, Seth Goden, Keith Krach from DocuSign, we’ve had Rachel Cotton, we’ve had  the band Shinedown, right? Tons and tons of interviews, and we keep bringing in new ones every week, so head over to  grab an episode, make it yours, we’d love to have you, thanks for listening.  Here’s this week’s episode, hope you enjoy it.

You’re listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast where we know that having ADD or ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Each week we interview people from all around the globe from every walk of life, in every profession. From rock stars to CEOs, from teachers to politicians who have learned how to unlock the gifts of their ADD and ADHD diagnosis, and use it to their personal and professional advantage.  To build businesses, to become millionaires, or to simply better their lives. And now here’s the host of the Faster Than Normal podcast, the only man who goes skydiving to calm down and focus, Peter Shankman


Hey guys, Peter Shankman look, another episode of Faster Than Normal. This episode actually really is faster because we have someone on the podcast today who I have been fortunate enough to meet in the VIP tent of the 2006 New York City Marathon, and when I talk fast and when I talk, uh, determination, this guy always comes up in conversations I have with my running buddies, my travel on buddies, talking to Dean Karnazes.. And, and if you have ever run, or thought about running, or ran by pressing X on a joystick, you know, this guy. Uh, he is pretty incredible. He has written several books on running. His latest is called Um, but he’s a New York Times bestselling author of , which I’ve got to tell you, Dean, what sticks out at me, always about that, was the time the part of the Ultramarathon Man, where you just decided you want to get back into running, and so on a whim, you ran something like 40 miles and called your wife and said, Hey, um, can you bring me a new pair of sneakers, some Taco Bell and my health and my, uh, my health insurance card, cause I think I have to go to the hospital. And that is totally something someone with ADHD would do, they just start and 40 miles later, they’d be like, yeah, that was, that was a mistake…. so well to the podcast, man, it’s, it’s amazing to talk to you again. 

Yeah, it’s good to be with you again, I got to preface and say that I was drunk during that episode, so that got even better. [laughter]

Spectacular.. I love that. So, OK, so let’s talk first about the book, uh, the concept of , right? So I started running, I was taken out for a run by one of my employees back in 2000, and prior to that, I’d never run, right?  I ran… like to the store for cigarettes, right? I went to a performing arts high school, we didn’t run, we sang.  We, we, we fulfilled our gym credits in, in, in, in, in other ways. And my, this woman who works for me, Rebecca, she took me out for a run. Somehow convinced me to go on a half mile run with her, like a five mile run that was only….but I only lasted a half a mile, but I remember going over to half a mile, probably took like six minutes or so I nearly died.  Like, I look at him like, oh my God, I’m gonna die. And then 15 seconds later, I had this feeling of euphoria that I’ve never had before I’d never had before in my life. And that was entirely my runners high, right? Now I know that your book, is about your entire life and as a runner in motion, and all that, but you know, for someone with ADHD or someone with any sort of neurodiversity, runner’s high is one of the closest feelings to God you’re ever gonna get, because we live our lives perpetually denied dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline. And when I tell people and when people learn that it is literally as easy as going for a run or a bike ride or a swim or walking up 20 flights of steps to get that back for a certain amount of time, they’re blown away. And so tell us about your runner’s high, tell us about what, what you feel after a run. Now, mind you, when I say after a run for you, I mean, you know, it’s not the same as a run for me, which is, you know, five miles you go, you know, to the next state or whatever. But tell us about, tell us about how you feel after a run and, uh, tell us about yourself as well, I’m really excited to be talking to you, so I have to shut up now. 

Yeah, no, that, uh, what you just described happened to me when I was six years old. I mean, I’ll never forget it. I was….I was in kindergarten and you know, I’m a young boy and they tell us to sit still and pay attention and whatever your six year old wants to do is run wild and not pay attention, right?  That’s our, that’s our, our nature as a six-year-old. So I, I just remember, you know, chewing the back of my hand off until the be…..the bell rang, and I was free and I would run home from kindergarten. I’d run a mile home from kindergarten. And that was the only time I felt whole Peter.  When I walked through the door, I just felt like a different person when I got home, and that’s how I discovered the runner’s high and the power of running to really quiet the mind and just give you that peace and that, uh, It’s profound. I mean, you and I both come from the same place, you were just a little bit older when you, when you learned about that place.  

At what point did you realize sort of the chemistry behind it, of what it was, you know, runner’s high, the actual, uh, chemistry that produces it or, or, or, or what you have to do to get it?

You know, I mean, the chemistry is interesting, right? Because we thought it was endorphins. We always attributed a runner’s high to endorphins, but they’ve recently done some experiments where they gave people a drug that blocked endorphins and they went running and they still got to runner’s high, and so now they think it’s Endocannabinoids that are responsible for the runner’s high, and we, you know, just the name suggests, yeah… but, um, it’s, I think it’s profoundly chemical. And when I talk to other runners that say, I’ve never felt the runner’s high, I look at them, that’s it, you’re just not paying attention, because that’s impossible you know, I think it’s your body’s reaction to, I mean, you had this reaction to pain and a lot of way that, that half mile that you ran with your coworker back in 2000, it must have hurt like hell…


where your body responds, by numbing the pain in  a lot of ways.

Well the problem was, was that the first time, you know, the first, that first half mile, I joke about my running buddy now, David, that first half mile is a bitch. I’m gonnna be 49 this summer, everything hurts that first half mile, right?  But as soon as it’s like, it’s like a, it’s like a, like a stopwatch, the first half mile ends. It’s like I’ve turned a corner, boom, let’s go through like, you know, eight, 10, 12 miles. And the crazy thing is, is that, you know, I’m a single dad here, right? So the only time I can really run is super, super early, and so fortunately, David is as crazy as I am and we do our long runs, we’ll start at like 3am, um, actually you might know this story, I got arrested in Central Park for exercising before it opened several years ago, I was with that was that guy who was on the front page of the Daily News holding up a summons, cause I have to stop, stop, and he’s like, what are you doing?  I’m like, what do you think I’m doi….? you know, I’m, I’m trading sexual favors or crack. What do you think? You know, wrong thing to say to a cop, but yeah. So, um, you know, but that early morning high translates for me. I’ll hold that all day, right?. And I know people who realize that. 

Yeah, and you’ve done some of the longer races.  I mean, when I run an ultra marathon, so when I run a hundred miles nonstop, I mean that high, it can last for two weeks, Peter. It’s amazing, yeah, you still feel it. And it…. it actually gets more pronounced after about four or five days. 

That’s that’s I mean, I’m just, I’m stuck on that, on a hundred. Tell us about the endurance races.  Tell us about the hundred milers.. 

Yeah. I mean, the first time I heard about this, I thought it’s just trickery, right? It’s… no human can run a hundred miles nonstop. I mean, there’s, there’s hotels along the way, or, you know, you hop in a car, but then no one’s looking. But, um, the guy said “ a gun goes off and you start running and you stop when you cross the finish line” you know, you try to do it in under 24 hours.  And I thought, I hate driving a hundred miles, like how, how is this possible? And I went out and did it, and it was just the most amazing, expansive experience I’ve ever encountered in my life, and I’ve been doing that same sort of thing now for almost three decades. 

How do you train for something like that?  Is it just constant long runs? 

I get up like you do. I get up at 3am I might run a marathon before breakfast, you know, fix breakfast for the kids and get them off to school and the same sort of thing. You know, you, you, you train when you can and I’m opportunistic any chance I get, I train, I don’t do something that you’re doing right now, and we got a camera on people. That’s how I know Peter is sitting. You can tell him standing. I never sit down. I do all my book, writing all my emails, everything. I mean, I have a very profound case of ADHD. I’ve just never been diagnosed, but to quiet my mind, the only time my mind is quiet is when I’m running.

Well that’s that goes without saying, but beforehand, I want to say the guys, I’m now proud to say I’ve been, I’ve been sit-shamed by Dean Karnazes, so I’m going to take that to my grave. Um, but you know, it’s really true that the concept of quieting the mind, I mean, I do two things for that. I exercise and I’m a skydiver, right?  And, and I talk about the fact that when I know I have to run a 10 mile training run, or I know that I have to do 50 miles on the bike, either outside or on my Peloton, you know, that is, it’s sort of a given that’s what I have to do. And, and when my trainer gives me….  when my coach gives me my, my weekly plan, I can’t deviate from that, and it’s the same thing with skydiving. When I jump out of the plane, I have two options, open the shoot and live, or not open to shoot and die. I don’t have any other choices. And I think that the great thing about exercise, about running… about, you know, is that, is that when you’re tied to a schedule of, you know, Hey, the race is into, they’re not going to move the race, right?  It’s in 20 weeks and four days, and they’re not going to move that. So here’s what I have to do to be ready for that. It eliminates the ability to choose other things and that, and the elimination of choice is something I preach. Cause that’s that quiets the mind more than anything else. If I only have A or B, I’m making a decision, but if I have A through M right… forget it. 

Yeah, no, and I think running an ultra marathon is very much a binary experience. I mean, you make it to the finish line and you succeed.  You don’t, and you fail. I mean, the rules of engagements are black and white and when you’re running a hundred miles, it’s so intense of an experience, it so commands you…

….that your mind can’t wander. I mean, every thought has gotta be on, how am I going to get to the finish line? You’re very focused on the present moment of time, the here and now,  you don’t reflect on the past. I mean, it, it requires that you be entirely present to get to that finish line, when you’re… you know, doing Ironman in Kona in October, you know exactly what I’m describing here.

Yeah. Well, it brings up an interesting question.  What do you do, um, to keep yourself occupied? I find that so on marathons, I can listen to my music. They don’t, they don’t stop you. They discourage it, but they let you wear your headphones? Right. And Iron Man it’s, it’s a, it’s a disqualification if they catch you with headphones, right? So my first half Ironman I ever did, like 2008 or nine or something, I remember. I…. I literally recited the entire scripts to Back to the Future and Midnight Run, like word for word. and that got me through, right?  Do you do anything specific to, um, to allow yourself to, to, to pass the time? I mean, it’s a 100 miles.

I try to be in a present moment of time, so it requires a lot of discipline because our minds are active places. I mean, your mind is intensely active, and to come back to center and just be in the present moment, the here and now, really requires discipline and requires, uh, you know, you to make an effort because you can control your mind and it can wander very quickly, so I don’t let my mind wander. I bring it back to my next step. 

Well that was my question, are you thinking… are you literally thinking step, step, step, step 

{indistinguishable}  it’s almost like you’re, you’re meditating in a sense, and I can be there for six or eight hours where the only thought is take your next step to the best of your ability, take your next step to the best of your ability. That’s all that’s going  through your mind. 

So I have a quote on my, uh, well, in several places in my life. I believe it’s in my, on my Facebook quotes section, but I’ve also said it to myself countless times, and I believe it’s attributed to you, uh, run… run if you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, but never ever give up.  And I believe you said, yeah. And I have taken that. I’ve taken that. If you’re wondering if your first book affected me dude, I’ve taken that with me for years now, for years. Um, 

I’m glad you’re still liking it…

and you know, I’m planning on, oh God, I’m planning on taking that into Kona as well. You know…..Tell me about so-so. How, how do I ask it?  So the past year there have been two types of people over the past, like 14 months. There’s been types of people who say, okay, I’m going to use this, this virus, the virus, the shutdown and everything, and the quarantine as a way to get out and exercise every day and run. And there’s the kind of people that say they’re going to do that and they don’t do that, right. And so there’s two kinds of people, both of them say they’re going to do it, only one of them actually does. Um, my rule is I have to exercise immediately upon awakening, or I won’t do it. I’ll come up with some excuse as to why it shouldn’t be running the meteor around Pluto, Pluto might go out of orbit and it might hit the earth and, you know, whatever it is, I’ll come up with a reason for it.  Um, so I, I get up super early and I just, I just don’t think about it right?. I sleep in my bike shorts, I’m on the bike and I’m out the door. Done. Don’t think about it. What do you tell yourself? Or what do you do or are you so super human that you’ve never had this experience? What do you tell yourself when you wake up and you just don’t freaking have it? 

Yeah. I know, and people say… you know, it’s incredible you know, do you ever not want to run? And yeah, there’s a lot of days I don’t want to run, but I use this concept called Forward Projection. so I just project how much better I’m going to feel post run, than I feel now. And I know that I’m inevitably going to feel a lot better if I can go for a run, and the thing is, you know, once we get ourselves out the door…

Everything changes, right? 

Yeah. It’s just, it’s just putting your shoes on, getting out the door is the hardest part, but if you can get out the door, it’s on, you’re almost on autopilot at that point. 

Last question is only respect for your time… 50 marathons in 50 states consecutively, right in 50 days. 

50 day… yeah. 

So, I mean, I guess the first question is dude, what the actual F but I’ll, I’ll leave that, um, Logistically that must’ve been a bitch.  

Peter, I don’t, I won’t profess to doing logistics. I work with the agency that they coordinate the Olympic torch run across the country.

I let them do it because I was, I, there was no way I was going to figure that one out. Yeah. 

And what was it that…. remind me again, that culminated with, your 50th was New York or DC…. where was your 50th, I don’t remember? 

It was New York. We met each other in the…

…. that was when you, that was the last one of your 50 my God!

yeah, 2006, yeah. 

Amazing. Amazing. And I guess the, the, the concept of that is, I mean, I do a 26 mile 26.2 mile run and. I can’t go down subway steps the next day. And you proceeded to do it for 50 days in a row. 15:35 How does your body, I mean, what, what do you do for your body to, to not, you know, I don’t know, die the next day or the day after, or the day after.  

Yeah. I remember at Marathon 19, I couldn’t crawl out of bed in the morning and I’m like, I can’t, I can’t get out of bed, how am I going to run a marathon today? Let alone 31 more and 31 days on top of that. And I stopped counting at that point. I used that same technique as it just, just get yourself to the hotel sink and splash some water in your face. OK, just make it over to that. In-room coffee machine and have some  horrible coffee, put your shorts on one leg at a time. Just get to the starting line. Okay. You’re at the starting line. Just take your first step of the marathon, and, you know, I finished New York… that was my fastest of all.  I finished in 3hrs: 30 seconds, which was pretty decent for New York. And that was with 49 consecutive marathons {indistinguishable} prior.

Jesus, yeah, I was a 22min, I was 28min behind you, I was a 3:58:03, my fastest marathon before or since. So now I’m kind of at the point where it’s… old are you?

A little bit older than you. 

Oh, I hate you…. just, just on principle. I don’t like you. I really, really dislike you… but that being said, Dean, I’m so excited to have a chance to talk to you. I definitely want to get you back on here.  Guys, the book is called  but Dean Karnazes is the New York Times best-selling author of author of , and Superhuman…. [laughter] I love this, Good Morning America,  “a superhuman athlete writes love letter to runners.” This is, if it’s anything like your last book, it’s going to be inspiring as hell and I can’t wait to read it. Dean thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. I really appreciate it, man. It’s great to see you again.

Thanks for having me run by. Haaah-yeah!


Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were composed and produced by Steven Byrom who also produces this podcast, and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week. 


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