Ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes Relishes Fame and Fun in San Francisco

For many runners, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is a special moment, a pivotal point in the annual United Airlines Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon San Francisco. But ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes, well, he’s been there and done that on more than one occasion.

“I live in San Francisco, so I can run across the Golden Gate Bridge a lot,” he said.

As someone who has “run more than 200 miles in one go,” running is often a solitary endeavor for the man who has written four books on the sport. So on this particular Sunday, jogging across the bridge among a sea of thousands provided a new perspective on a familiar scene.

“Usually when I run 200 miles, I’m out there by myself, dying,” he said. “Running with 10,000 people through San Francisco is a much different experience.

“I love it. I love running as a sport, as a lifestyle, as an activity and, because I run ultramarathons – hundreds of miles through the wilderness – running the half marathon yesterday is such a rich experience, because it’s a completely different and juxtaposed experience to a lot of the things I do.”

And Karnazes wasn’t just running alongside that throng of runners, he ended up becoming part of the attraction. Not only did people want to snag a photo crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, they wanted a selfie that included both the landmark and Karnazes.

“The thing that I love about Rock ’n’ Roll, and it’s just bizarre, but I’m kind of like this known character,” he said. “I don’t know how people know me, maybe because I’ve written four books about running, but I basically ran with people the entire time.

“It’s such a peculiar moment to be doing that, but I’m probably in 100 selfies with people,” he said. “It’s just a beautiful thing, people get so excited, so I’m glad I could bring that element to the event.”

Over the course of his impressive career as a distance runner, Karnazes has rarely run half marathons, but he enjoyed the change of pace. It was refreshing to run with the pack.

“It’s almost humbling, because you’re amongst everyday runners and that’s all I am – a runner,” he said. “People say, ‘Wow, you’re incredible, you’ve done all these amazing things,’ I’m just a runner, like any half-marathoner.”

Karnazes has run in events all over the world. In fact, a week before the San Francisco race, he was in Bulgaria. Regardless of the event, there is a special bond forged among runners created through a shared experience.

“It’s the same in every race I run,” he said. “Last weekend I was in, of all places, Bulgaria running a marathon and it’s the same feeling there. Even though I don’t speak the language, even though I’m wearing different clothing, it’s the same kind of brotherhood and sisterhood. We’re all kindred spirits.”

But for Karnazes, there is always something special about Rock ’n’ Roll races.

“There’s no comparison,” he said. “Rock ’n’ Roll’s got a feel to it that’s just different. They bring an element of fun into something that can be quite un-fun, if you will. And San Francisco, the city just kind of brings out the best in people. When you’re moving through the city at six miles per hour, it’s an even richer experience.”

Karnazes doesn’t have to travel far for his next race. He is competing in the Oakland Running Festival where he will earn the “City to Town” medal for running both Bay Area events.

Another weekend. Another race. A few more selfies along the course.

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