For runner Dean Karnazes, the 42.2 kilometers of a typical marathon is just not much of a workout. That’s why he thought it was “too good to be true” when he was invited to run a segment of the Silk Road, the famed ancient network of trade routes that stretches 7,000 kilometers through western China, central Asia and Europe.
Karnazes, who turns 54 in August, did not earn the name “Ultramarathon Man” easily. He has run marathons in all 50 U.S. states on consecutive days. He has run three days and three nights without stopping. He has run in 49-degree-Celsius temperatures across Death Valley, in his home state of California, and a marathon at the South Pole, where it was minus 40 degrees Celsius.
Bringing people together
- During his Silk Road run, which he completed over the course of 11 days, Karnazes followed the footsteps of Alexander the Great and ran 525 kilometers through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz Republic and Kazakhstan to mark the 25th anniversary of these countries’ independence from the Soviet Union.
The idea was to get people to come out and run along with him, using the universal passion for sports to bring people together. And it certainly did.
Baking under same rays of sun
Karnazes started in Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan. Then he ran across the border into Kazakhstan, where he was greeted by cheering fans and a band playing traditional music. “A year ago, they never thought they would meet me, and I never thought I would be in Kazakhstan. But, for one beautiful day, we shared the same road and baked under [the] same rays of sun,” he posted online at the time.
“What surprised me most is how enthusiastic and welcoming people were towards me,” he said, after returning from his journey that ended July 10. “They seemed genuinely excited and amazed that I was taking the time to visit their cities and spend time with them.”
Karnazes, who started running when he was 6 years old, noted that many dignitaries meet with certain people and tour certain sites when visiting. “I stripped down to my shorts and ran through their townships, high-fiving people along the way, talking at local schools, homesteading with local families and sharing meals together.”
“Running transcends borders,” says Karnazes, who ran as many as 80 kilometers a day. Sometimes the weather was brutally hot. Other times it was cold and windy. Local people were always there to help. When the temperatures quickly dropped, he was fed warm kumuz, fermented horse milk, a traditional drink in the area.
The last leg of his run took him from the scorching asphalt of Uzbek highways to the alpine breezes of the Tien Shan mountains of southern Kazakhstan.
On his final day, Karnazes found 250 runners waiting for him in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, and many of the runners were elite. “The pace was really fast,” he said, on a course that was almost entirely uphill.
Karnazes said the 11-day journey was transformative, for him and the people he saw along the way.
“You get an honest picture of a place when you see it at 6 miles per hour. And what I saw was really beautiful.”