Inspiration Never Rusts


The word inspiration has almost become cliché these days. It’s so overused the true meaning has been diluted and cheapened. Yet there’s no denying that the words others say to us can have the power to, well, inspire.

I’ll never forget the World 24-Hour Championships in Seoul, Korea. The conditions were dreadful, hot and humid with appalling air quality. There were too few toilets on the course and many of the runners were becoming sick. The stench was overpowering.

By the 10-hour mark the U.S. team was falling apart, as was nearly every other team. Many of the runners audibly groaned as they stammered along, the medic tents increasingly filling with each lap.

I was approaching one of these medic tents when I noticed a fellow teammate, Roy Pirrung, sitting on the ground with one of his shoes off. Roy is a guy I greatly admire and perhaps the toughest motherf*er I’ve ever met (can I say that in UltraRunning magazine?). As I grew nearer, I saw what appeared to be a freshly lanced marble-sized blister on his toe that was oozing puss and blood. As I ran past him, face ashen and grimacing with agony, Roy looked up at me, too much of a gentleman to say the words aloud, and silently mouthed, “I love this sh*t!” Whenever I’m facing a rough patch, I reflect back on that stirring lip-sync.

Here are other words that have inspired some of our fellow endurance athletes:

Mike Arnstein “Stu Gleman is the founder of the Ancient Oaks 100, a small hardcore old school 100 with no frills. It’s the kind of event where you just show up and see what you’re made of, or not made of. It was my first 100-miler and I slept on his living room floor the day before the race. It was tough going and I DNF’d at mile 78. I was devastated. The next day he said to me, ‘Mike, if you train really hard and believe in yourself, you could make history in the sport one day.’”

Mike’s since gone on to finish more than 50 ultras, run a sub-2:30 marathon, finished eight Ironman races, broke 13 hours at the 100-mile distance and made the Top 10 alltime list in North America. ’Nough said.

Lisa Henson “It’s not always easy being married to John Medinger, accomplished ultrarunner, Western States board member and former publisher of UltraRunning magazine. It’s especially not easy when you’re dragging during an ultra and John’s crewing for you. At the 22-mile mark of a particularly brutal 50- miler I was flagging. Then I saw John and I was certain he was going to offer words of encouragement and empathy. Instead, he said, ‘Can’t you run any faster?’

I was so mad that I crushed the next 28 miles, setting a new 50-mile PR in the process. Sometimes the craziest things really inspire you to your best performance.”

David Krupski “‘It’s on you.’ Simple, empowering and completely direct. If you want to accomplish something, change something, whatever it is you want to do, it’s on you—and you alone—to do everything necessary to reach your goal.

I’m drawn to ultrarunning because it’s probably the ‘fairest’ sport out there. It’s all about preparation/training… the harder we train, the better we do. I love the fact there are no “magic pills” in ultrarunning. It’s all on you.”

Rob Krar “I was driving across the vast desert on the way to Western States, listening to a podcast of Katie Lee, an Arizonian folk artist, writer and environmentalist. I’d been doing a lot of reflecting during the drive about the torrent of events that had transpired this past year, how my performance would be at States, and where the future would lead me. Katie started to speak about her love for the Colorado River and Glen Canyon before the dam was constructed. She concluded with, ‘… and, I mean, when a place talks back to you that’s your place, and you’ll know it right away.’

It was a defining moment for me and maybe hard to explain to others. I’d been trying to better understand what running means to me and why I do it. When I heard those words the hair on the back of my neck stood up. It was a revelation. It suddenly seemed so simple—I run to feel a connection to the earth and the peace it provides. When I run, the earth speaks back to me.”

Michelle Barton “Last summer I was running the Sinister 7 100-miler and started unraveling at mile 82. By the 88-mile mark I could barely hold a decent jogging pace. There seemed no way I was going to make it; a DNF seemed inevitable. All hope was lost.

My running partner could sense my internal strife and discord. He assessed my condition and said, ‘Michelle, I believe in you. His words were so sincere, so honest. He didn’t say much, just that he believed in me. Heck, I thought, I’d done other 100-milers before. I’d finished Badwater. I knew what it took. Suddenly, I was infused with a renewed energy and vigor! I went on to finish the race in 29:20. Not my fastest, but at mile 88 I never thought I’d ever reach that finish line. What got me there was someone else believing in me when I had lost all belief in myself.”

I hope these stories help to inspire a belief in yourself.


About Author

Named by TIME magazine as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential People in the World,” Dean Karnazes is a passionate ultrarunner and extreme athlete. He’s run across the Sahara in 120-degree temperatures, and he’s run a marathon to the South Pole in negative 40 degrees. On ten different occasions he’s run a 200-mile relay race solo, racing alongside teams of twelve. Dean has swum the San Francisco Bay, scaled mountains, bike raced for 24-hours straight, and surfed the gigantic waves off the coast of Northern California and Hawaii. He lives with his wife and family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

1 Comment

  1. Dean – your stuff always inspires me. The book “Ultramarathon Man” was a life-changer for me. It was fun running with you in Dallas on the Katy Trail a couple of years ago.