Seconds Matter


Ultramarathon races take hours, days. What’s a few lost seconds, right? Wrong. Seconds really do matter. Let me share with you a little story that illustrates this point. The race wasn’t a traditional ultramarathon, but a multiday adventure race involving a variety of disciplines, which included running, mountain biking, paddling and rock climbing. Our team, The North Face, was comprised of four athletes, including the legendary Tim Twietmeyer.

Over the course of two days of nonstop racing, we’d managed to take a slight lead. But on the last night we got lost and were passed by Team Nike. You can imagine our disappointment.

The final discipline of the race was a mountain biking segment on a long uphill grind. As we came around the final corner of the ascent, we spotted Team Nike not far ahead! They were noticeably bonking, barely creeping along. Tim advised us “Okay everybody, heads down as we pass. No signs of weakness.” We blew by them and they congratulated us on cinching a hardfought victory.

After cresting the summit of the climb, the finish was just a short descent down the backside of the peak. However, in our elation over winning the race, we rode right past the finishing chute! Only when we heard people screaming at us to turn around did we realize our mistake.

Just as we were swinging about, Team Nike appeared at the summit. Noticing our blunder, they suddenly came to life and started frantically peddling down the hill. We did the same, peddling like crazy to retrace our path. The race was on!

Unfortunately for us, they got there first, and after 51 hours of continuous racing, they beat us by one second. One stinking second! Which only goes to show that even during an ultramarathon, seconds really do matter. Moral of the story here, next time you’re sitting around lounging at an aid station, just remember that every wasted second could mean the difference between success and distress. Even if you’re just walking, you’re still moving in the right direction. You don’t have to go fast, you just have to go, because, take it from me, every lost second counts.


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. Gunhild Swanson on

    I can attest to that – having completed Western States this year with just 6 seconds to spare.