My run with Dean Karnazes!

At 4:15 am on Sunday morning, my alarm woke me from a state of semi-consciousness. It was hard to sleep the night before my run. A million questions kept circulating through my mind…. Did I train enough? What if I can’t keep up? What if I am not well enough yet? But giving up was not an option. It was raining as I made the drive from Santa Fe to Albuquerque – RAINING – because running with Dean Karnazes at 5500 feet elevation after the flu apparently wasn’t enough of a challenge! I was terrified, but SO excited at the same time. Other than the race director, I was the first one to arrive. There were to be 30 runners total that day.

I took a deep breath and stepped out of my rental car to head for the start line. For the walk there I was joined by a P.E. teacher and his son who was probably about 10 years old. He clutched Dean’s book in his arms. He wanted so much to run but his dad, of course, would not let him go that distance. A group of us huddled together under the Endurance 50 tent trying to stay dry although the rain was beginning to let up. I met a few guys who had run with Dean in other cities and another girl named CIndi who was celebrating her 40th birthday. It wasn’t long before Dean arrived, fashionably a few minutes late, and joined us for a group photo. It was completely surreal. I couldn’t believe this moment had finally come. Everyone has heroes, people they dream of meeting one day, but how many people get to play basketball with Michael Jordan? How many people get to toss the football back and forth with Peyton Manning? That is exactly how I felt lining up at the start line with Dean. I looked to my right and saw the little boy who had joined me for the walk here. He was smiling ear to ear. His dad had agreed to let him run to the 5K mark with us. “Don’t worry,” I said to his dad “I’ll watch him for ya! That is, if I can keep up!!” It wasn’t long before Dean’s daughter announced the start of the race and we were off! The pace began fairly manageable for me – about a 9:30 to 10 minute mile, but I could feel the elevation taking its toll on my lungs a bit. Still, there was nothing in the world that would keep me from running with everything that was in me. People took turns running next to Dean and asking him questions. There was a reporter there doing a story on him and I listened as she asked him things that were much more intelligent than anything I could have asked!

“Dean, it is an honor to run with you today,” I said when it was my turn. “Thanks, Summer! Great to see you.” I paused for a moment. “You remember my name?” He smiled and turned to the reporter. “About 6 months ago there was a girl that didn’t know me at all who wrote me an e-mail offering me her coveted spot in the New York City Marathon if I didn’t make it in and she did, for my final marathon. That girl is running next to me today.” I didn’t even know how to respond. Of those few people that get the privelege of meeting their greatest hero, how many of those heroes take the time to get to know THEIR names? Dean has met THOUSANDS of his fans, even since the two of us first met back at the Big Sur Marathon, but he cared enough to remember who I was, and I doubt very much that I am the only case of that.

Dean’s pace quickened with the group and I knew the speed that he was running was not one that I could maintain, but I decided to stay with him as long as I possibly could. Around mile 10 I began to slow down and take my position in the back of the pack. I followed behind another runner and let him pace me for a while. I’m not sure how long I was behind him before I realized that this man was not part of the Endurance 50 runners! I was officially lost. Determined not to give up, I went back to the main road that we had turned off and started searching down side roads. I knew that this was an out and back course, so worst case scenario, I could go back to where I remember running with them last. After about 20 minutes of searching, I saw a police car round the corner with Dean and the pack close behind. “Dean! I got lost!!” “I LOVE it!” He laughed… “You are doing an ultra!” I stayed with him for about 4 more miles until weakness overcame my legs. Although I could not keep pace with Dean any longer, I wouldn’t give up. A few wrong turns and a conversation with a curious onlooker later, I finally found myself a mile from the finish line. Surely after 5 hours of running, I was the last finisher – but to my surprise, round the corner came another runner from the group! We waved wildly at each other.

“I got lost!” she laughed. “Me too!!” I said. “So lets finish together!” We crossed less than a mile down the road – the last ones to finish in Dean’s 22nd marathon.

We entered the ampitheatre shortly thereafter and Dean clapped for us while he signed autographs for his many fans. To my surprise, his dad was there, someone I very much wanted to meet. He came up and congratulated me. I told him about a quote in Ultramarathon Man that he said to Dean a mile and a half from the finish at Western States: “Run if you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, but never give up.” Tears welled in his eyes as he told me first hand about that day, Dean’s first finish at States. He gave me a hug, sat me down and filled me full of Cytomax and protein bars. For a moment, I wished my own dad was there too!

It was a perfect day. Why, if I always finish last in these races, do I continue to pursue this as a passion? Maybe it’s because it IS such a challenge that I love it so much. Maybe it’s for the same reason that we love people in a romantic sense – we don’t choose it, but when we find it, it grabs on and doesn’t let go. And we have no choice but to make it work. My race with Dean goes down as one of my happiest memories ever. So what now? Sharing in Dean’s goals has become such a big part of my life, I guess it’s time to get one or two of my own. Nine Trails, anyone?

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