Entrepreneurs, Endurance Runners, and Motivation

I’m not much for motivational books — I was going to make a wiseass comment about lacking the motivation — and so I was surprised at how affecting I found Dean Karnazes’s excellent Ultramarathon Man.

The book can be read straight through as a fascinating personal story about the miseries and triumphs of one particularly dedicated ultra-endurance runner. It is even more rewarding, however, as a reminder of the power of motivation, willpower, and desire.

To precis one apropos Karnazes comment, he says that the first half of any long race is run with the body, while the second half is run with the mind. It is such a simple but powerful point, and it is one that bears repeating. His detailed “I was there” description of runs like the Western States 100 Mile are horrific but strangely noble, as he takes you through how he collapsed from exhaustion at one point, but eventually through sheer willpower embraced the pain, running in it and through it.

In reading Ultramarathon Man I was reminded of a comment from a top climber in the Tour de France a few years ago. After a particularly brutal mountain stage, one involving 13,000 feet of climbing over 150 miles of baking French road, he was asked how climbers like him could do it while those behind on the road suffered so much. He said, “Climbers don’t suffer less, we just suffer faster.”

Put differently, it is a mistake to believe that successful people (from endurance athletes to entrepreneurs) don’t find hard things hard, because they do. The difference is their ability to maintain consistently high levels of effort, despite a big part of them that wants to call the whole mad thing off.


  1. It is called stoicism, I believe? Very effective in the Armed Forces in general and very useful when giving “natural” birth.

  2. jme giffo says:

    Paul thanks for picking out my next read, i love the point about the second half being run with the mind, nails down what i’m going thru now,

  3. fartikus says:

    dean is unreal! when i ran the 2004 napa marathon, he in fact did show up to the start line at 6am, having run 100 miles to get there, looking as fresh as someone who had just slept for 18 hours. western states is indeed brutal. running 100 miles on flat or even declining surfaces would be hard enough. for a tamer taste of what its like in the bay area, try the nisene marks trail marathon, or the various mount diablo races organized by pacific coast trail runs (a great org run by dedicated people who are more focused on fun than competition).

  4. fartikus says:

    by the way, for anyone who really wants to understand how dean’s head works, RUN! it will be far far more rewarding than reading a book, you will truly UNDERSTAND what it means to have mental discipline. if you are in the bay area, look at those hills – public spaces cover most of the range. you can run it all.

  5. I heard about this guy on NPR’s All Things Considered about two months ago. It was so interesting hearing him talk about how he sometimes passes out while he’s running and doesn’t remember parts of the course.
    I too will be picking this up for my next read!

  6. I agree with nela :) I used to be an infantry officer (UK) and on one course I did I remember vomiting twice during a run and keeping going. They liked that a lot and graded my physical fitness and determination as ‘excellent’ at the end. Now I’ve been self-employed for a couple of years and am trying my hardest to get a company or two off the ground so remembering moments like this and stories like Dean’s are very useful indeed.