DEAN KARNAZES WAS SLOBBERING DRUNK.
IT WAS HIS 30TH BIRTHDAY, and he'd started with beer and moved on to tequila shots at a bar near his home in San Francisco. Now, after midnight, an attractive young woman – not his wife – was hitting on him. This was not the life he'd imagined for himself. He was a corporate hack desperately running the rat race. The company had just bought him a new Lexus. He wanted to vomit. Karnazes resisted the urge and, instead, slipped out the bar's back door and walked the few blocks to his house. On the back porch, he found an old pair of sneakers. He stripped down to his T-shirt and underwear, laced up the shoes, and started running. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
He sobered up in Daly City, about 15 miles south. It was nearly four in the morning. The air was cool, slightly damp from the fog, and Karnazes was in a residential neighborhood, burping tequila, with no pants on. He felt ridiculous, but it brought a smile to his face. He hadn't had this much fun in a long time. So he decided to keep running.
When the sun came up, Karnazes was trotting south along Route 1, heading toward Santa Cruz. He had covered 30 miles. In the process, he'd had a blinding realization: There were untapped reservoirs within him. It was like a religious conversion. He had been born again as a long-distance runner. More than anything else now, he wanted to find out how far he could go. But at that exact moment, what he really needed to do was stop. He called his wife from a pay phone, and an hour later she found him in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven. He passed out in the car on the way home.
That was August 1992. Over the next 14 years, Karnazes challenged almost every known endurance running limit. He covered 350 miles without sleeping. (It took more than three days.) He ran the first and only marathon to the South Pole (finishing second), and a few months ago, at age 44, he completed 50 marathons in 50 consecutive days, one in each of the 50 states. (The last one was in New York City. After that, he decided to run home to San Francisco.) Karnazes' transformation from a tequila-sodden party animal into an international symbol of human achievement is as educational as it is inspirational.