[1:11] Organifi Green Juice
[6:13] Dean Karnazes
[12:40] How Dean Got To Writing The Book
[14:36] How Dean Found The Route Pheidippides Took
[16:02] The Myth That Pheidippides Ran 26.2 Miles
[20:37] Where Humans Can Outdo Horses
[22:47] The Footwear Dean Used
[27:35] What Did Dean Run
[31:03] The Hardest Part Of The Spartathlon
[32:54] Dean's Nutritional Approach For The Spartathlon
[34:52] Quick Commercial Break/BiOptimizers
[38:51] Continuation/Mastic Gum
[41:48] Fasting and Ketosis
[43:50] Dean's Nutrition For Other Endurance Events
[51:14] What Dean Does To Recover Quickly
[54:36] Dean's HIIT Protocol
[1:03:16] Chronic Cardio And Health And Longevity
[1:11:08] Other Biohacks Dean Uses
[1:15:16] End of Podcast
Ben: Yo, it's Ben Greenfield. I got my friend Dean Karnazes on the show today. This dude is nuts. He ran across Greece and followed the old Spartan marathon trail. And he didn't drop dead at the end. We talk about that and much more. Also, I don't know if you're a public radio fan, but you know how public radio, and I think public television used to do this too, they used to do like fund raising drives to raise money. Yeah, I don't do that. But I do have a request for you. No, no. Please, don't turn it off. Don't fast forward. Can you leave a review on iTunes if you haven't yet? Just go to iTunes and do a search for the Ben Greenfield Show, or Ben Greenfield and leave a review. Just jot a note to yourself or whatever to do it. It helps the show out a ton. Just go in there and like leave five stars, or one if you hate me, and say something nice. It could even be like one word like, “Cool,” or “Rad,” or “Bomb,” or “The Shiznit”. But those reviews help the show out a lot. So if you could do that, that would be awesome.
And now I actually am going to tell you about some cool stuff before we go talk to Dean. The first thing I wanted to tell you about is mint. My kids and I go out in the backyard and we harvest wild mint. I mean it's really good as a palate cleanser, as an appetizer, as a digestif. And it helps with nausea, it helps with headache, it helps with depression, fatigue, it's like a natural stimulant. There's so many things that mint is really good for. I mean even just like a little bit, like a smoothie every day, or sprinkled on top of a meal that you eat, really great digestif. Anyways though, mint is one of the ingredients of this little scoop of powder that I put into my smoothie every morning. So this company takes mint and they combine it with spirulina, and chlorella, and matcha green tea, and wheat grass, and turmeric, and all these super foods and it tastes really good. And it's really convenient. They have like travel packs, they have this little canister that I just keep in my pantry. It's called Organifi Green Juice. If you want to try it just 'cause you listen to the show, you get 20% off. So the URL that you use for this is bengreenfieldfitness.com/organifi. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/organifi. That's O-R-G-A-N-I-F-I. The discount code for 20% off is Ben. And I also wanted to make sure that you know that they do a protein version now, like a certified organic, vegan protein powder with a lot of these super foods in the protein as well. If you want to get swole, or get more protein and not just drink woo-woo greens. So up to you. But anyways, bengreenfieldfitness.com/organifi, use discount code, Ben that gets you 20% off.
This podcast is also brought to you by something called Crik, C-R-I-K. What is Crik? Well, you could probably guess. It has to do with crickets. Crickets are really good functional protein source. They are way more sustainable than beef because crickets don't fart like cows. It's actually got like 100 times less greenhouse gases, cricket does, compared to a cow. That's per size of the actual cricket. Maybe crickets do fart, but they're really little tiny farts. And they've got up to three times the protein punch of beef too. They even blow away organ meat in terms of nutrient density. And what this company Crik does is they make a GMO-free, gluten-free, soy-free, lactose-free, completely no added sugar, no colors, and no artificial ingredients-free, and it's a protein powder. It's a protein powder made out of crickets and it tastes really, really good. You can try it, and you'll notice if you get bloating, or gas, or issues with other protein powders, you don't get any of that stuff when you try an insect-based protein. So the way that you get 15% off is you go to crik.me, that’s CRIK.ME/bgfitness. crik.me/bgfitness. And when you go there, you can use code Ben to get 15% off. They even have a 100% money back guarantee. So you could use code Ben for 15% off at CRIK.ME/bgfitness. Enjoy. And now on to today's chat with Dean Karnazes.
In this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“The research you read is that prolonged endurance training actually increases it. Running increases your telomere length versus decreasing it. So that's kind of always what I believed.” “Don't rely on anything extraneous. Just let your body perform, do its best of its ability. And that's kind of the strategy that I use. And from a practical standpoint, a lot didn't have much time to do things.” “Flat lining as fast as you can for 26.2 destroys you. That's exactly how I feel. I do a lot of just regular road marathons and I feel crappy afterwards.”
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield here. And if you're a history buff, you may know that back in about 490 BCE, there was this masochistic Greek guy named Pheidippides who ran for something like 36 hours straight from Athens to Sparta, he's the guy who you might think of as the very first guy who ran a marathon. And I think the legend is that he dropped dead right afterwards. But the whole idea behind that was he was going after help to help defend Athens from a Persian invasion in the battle of, fittingly enough, marathon. And in doing so, he saved the development of Western civilization, he inspired the birth of the marathon as we now know it. And of course even now, like 2,500 years later, that run still kind of stands out as one of the great physical endurance accomplishments in the history of mankind.
Anyways though, the reason I'm telling you all this is that my guest on today's show came up with this crazy idea of honoring this dude Pheidippides and actually going off and recreating that entire ancient journey, which it turns out was actually quite a bit more involved than just like running a marathon. And my guest today is named Dean Karnazes. You may have heard about him before as being the guy who has done things like run 50 marathons in 50 days. He's done quite a bit more than that as a matter of fact, and that I'll fill you in on that in a second, but what I thought was very intriguing was Dean's most recent endeavor in which he went off and he replicated this whole event that Pheidippides ran. But during this time, he also abstained from things like contemporary endurance nutrition, like sports drinks and energy gels, and he ate a lot of the stuff that Pheidippides would have only had available to eat, like figs, and cured meats, and mastic gum, and all sorts of crazy stuff during the actual event. So I want to talk with Dean a little bit about that, about his new book, which I'm holding my hands right now and I just finished, it's called “The Road to Sparta: Reliving The Ancient Battle And An Epic Run That Inspired The World's Greatest Foot Race“.
But before we jump in to the interview with Dean, if you haven't heard of him before, he's done some pretty crazy stuff, and perhaps you have heard that he's run the 50 marathons in 50 days, but he's also run across the Sahara Desert, he's run a marathon to the South Pole in -40 degrees, which I think is right up there with Wim Hof climbing Mt. Everest in his underwear. On 10 different occasions, he's run a 200 mile relay race solo. He is a swimmer, I don't know if you knew that, but he's actually swam the San Francisco Bay. He's raced bicycles for 24 hours straight. He's a surfer. He's surfed some pretty big waves off the coast of Hawaii and California. And of course, he's also done a ton of running. Run the 50 marathons in 50 US states in 50 consecutive days, and we're going to geek out today with Dean on how he actually hacked some recovery and sleep during that time. He ran 3,000 miles in 2011 from the coast of California to New York City, doing 40 to 50 miles a day. And one day he even ran 70 miles.
And he's also been all over the place. I mean the dude's been on The Today Show, and 60 Minutes, and The Late Show With David Letterman, and Late Night With Conan O'Brien, he's been in Time, he's been in Newsweek, he's been Peopled, GQ, Men's Journal, Forbes, the list on and on. He's a pretty impressive endurance athlete. And he's also quite a charitable gentleman. He's raised millions of dollars for charity along the way with all these things that he does. So we're quite honored to have him on the show. Dean, you aren't running right now, are you? While we're talking.
Dean: I just got back from a run to honor this interview.
Ben: Yeah. I figured. Alright. Cool. Well, try to hold still during the interview and not go break any records if you can, if you can hold yourself back.
Dean: I'm standing up. I'll let you know that. So I'm bouncing around on my toes as I talk.
Ben: By the way, million dollar question, 'cause I think the last time we hung out was on that Spartan cruise down in the Bahamas. I don't remember, have you actually done a Spartan race, like a Spartan obstacle race?
Dean: Oh, yeah. I've done a few of them.
Ben: What do you think of it?
Dean: I enjoy 'em. I really enjoy 'em a lot. And I know Joe pretty well, the founder, and I really like the entire movement he created. Some of the obstacles, I'm a little more contrived than others. But overall, I think they're great events and I think they mix it up a lot. I mean if you're just a runner, I encourage you to try these obstacle course races 'cause they're a kick.
Ben: Well, you're Greek right? So it should be right up your alley to throw the spear and like run through gladiators.
Dean: (laughs) Like I'm saying, some of them are. Like tossing a tire out and some of the other things are a little bit different than ancient Greece. But I think it does a great job replicating a lot of the hardship that the Spartans are known for enduring and I got to get back and say, let me digress just a moment, your introduction was terrific. Thank you. And it sounds like you geek out about ancient history, especially with regard to endurance sports, as much as I do. So it's good to be talking with you.
Ben: Oh, yeah. I'm known to be quite the history buff. Not really. But I do know, as you just alluded to, that the ancient Spartans did not actually realistically flip tires. And I don't think they threw spears at hay bales, they actually threw spears at real other people who they were trying to defeat. But that kind of gets into this whole book that you wrote about, 'cause I know you are Greek, and I think it's cool that you went back to kind of go replicate one of these fascinating Greek events that actually did happen in history. So tell me about what exactly it is that you set about to do in writing this book. I mean it did you pretty much go back and do the entire road to Sparta that Pheidippides ran?
Dean: I indeed did. And I worked with a gentleman who's one of the foremost authorities on ancient Greek culture. His name is Dr. Paul Cartledge from Cambridge University. And I also worked with another researcher, Dr. P.J. Schaff, also from England, to recreate this original footpath that Pheidippides would have traveled when he was dispatched from Athens to run to Sparta to recruit Spartans. And as you said in the introduction, the Persians had invaded at this place that was covered with fennel. Wild fennel grows all over Greece.
Ben: Oh, really? That's interesting, if I could interrupt real quick. I actually use fennel, I order fennel seeds off Amazon and use them as a digestif almost every day, like sprinkle them on the salads, and soups, and casseroles, and things like that. So that's interesting. So he actually ran through fields of fennel?
Dean: I do the same, but I actually pick, when I'm Greece, I just pick wild fennel 'cause it grows all over. The word marathon in Greek literally means “field filled with fennel” because where the Persians ended, it's this big coastal bay just filled with wild fennel. It's a big plain, a flat plain. So the Greeks said they landed in fennel, which is marathon. That's the translation.
Dean: Yeah. They realized that there were supposedly about 50,000 troops from Persia and there were about 10,000 Athenian warriors. And they thought, “We're going to get really creamed here, so we need to get the Spartans. We need reinforcements.”
Ben: Okay. So you went back and you basically tried to replicate the entire trail that this guy ran. How did you actually know from a historical standpoint the route that he actually took when he took off to go gather reinforcements and go get help?
Dean: Yeah. So I read a lot of ancient history by a gentleman by the name of Herodotus who's the father of history. And he kept the ancient record of milestones that Pheidippides had reached along his track. So he recorded certain areas that he passed through and certain sites he saw on his way to Sparta. And by the way, this a 153 mile run that he was dispatched on.
Ben: So this wasn't a marathon? This was way more than a marathon?
Dean: This is an ultra marathon of hellish proportions because Southern Greece is very rocky, it's very hot. In fact, Pheidippides, his name, [0:15:21] ______ the horse, because he's trained daylong runners that were called hemerodrome, they were professional runners, they could outrun a horse. And that's why they used foot messengers rather than horses. So he did something that was remarkable, and I wanted to see how it was possible for someone 2500 years ago, running probably barefoot, if not barefoot, in leather sandals. How was this possible? And I thought, “Let's try to recreate it and see if you can do it.”
Ben: Now why is it that there is this prevailing thought that he ran a marathon? Where did that come from, the 26.2 miles?
Dean: That's really lore. Herodotus, if you read history and you read about Pheidippides being dispatched to Sparta, he basically just glosses over it as though, “Hey, this guy's a hemerodrome. This is what he does for a living. Yeah, it's a tough day at the office. [censored] day at the office, but this is what these guys do. It's no big deal that he ran 153 miles, and then turned around and ran 153 miles back. He's just doing his job.” But the last 26.2 miles, what happened is that he died. And in the ancient Greek culture, there is nothing more heroic than dying at the end of fulfilling your mission. It was like the highest, it was like the Spartans. I mean we've all seen 300, and…
Ben: Which is where I learned, by the way, that the Spartans all speak and shout with Scottish accents.
Dean: That's so wrong. I know. There's a lot of things wrong with that movie. We'll go with it, yeah. But, yeah. He died at the end. And that to the ancient Greeks was just the father of gods.
Ben: Okay. So it was like the last 26.2 miles that was like the nail in his coffin, and that's where we come up with the 26.2?
Dean: Actually the trek from Marathon to the Acropolis is only 24.8. And the original marathons were 24.8 miles. But then in 1906, the Olympics were held, the modern Olympics in the UK, in England, and the queen wanted the marathon race to end at the royal viewing box on the track, and that ended up being 26.2 miles. So she issued, actually the king of England issued a decree that changed the distance of the marathon from 24.8 miles to 26.2. So that's how we ended up with 26.2 miles.
Ben: Okay. But in reality, he ran 153 there and 153 back?
Dean: And then 24.8. That's exactly what…
Ben: And then the 24.8. So how long did that take?
Dean: Running from Athens to Sparta took 36 hours, less than 36 hours. Because Herodotus said he left one morning, and he arrived by sunset the next day. And that's pretty much interpreted as 36 hours. Which is phenomenal to think about running 153 miles in those conditions in sub-36 hours. And then the trek back, they just said it took a few days. So it's less specific in documenting the run back from Sparta to Athens. And the reason he decided to run back is when he got to Sparta, the Spartans said, “Yes, we'll come help you battle the Persians, but we can't leave for six days because the moon is in full. Our religion forbade us from leaving for battle until the moon is full.” So Pheidippides thought, “Oh my gosh. They're coming, but not for six days. I got to tell my fellow, you know, the Spartans are delayed.” And that's why he ended up running back.
Ben: Okay. Gotcha. Interesting. Now you said that they would outrun the horses in something like this. That makes me think of, I don't know if you've read Tim Noakes' book, I don't think it was “Waterlogged”. He had another book that he wrote, it may have been in “The Lore of Running” that Tim Noakes talked about this. I had him on my podcast where he discusses how humans, unlike most of the other animals, are able to walk upright which allows us to stay cool for longer periods of time, we're able to sweat to get rid of heat rather than just pant to get rid of heat, and we're able to, basically due to our large proportion of slow twitch muscle fibers, go for relatively long periods of time on somewhat low amounts of fuel. And he suggests that because of that, we can pretty much, over long periods of time, out run just about any animal on the face of the planet. Including something potentially like a horse. But do you know, is there like a specific distance, like a specific number of miles where travelling on foot, a human foot tends to become a better option than going on horseback? Like is there a cut-off where humans start to beat horses?
Dean: That's a fascinating question, and that's a question I've asked for years. Because I've read [0:20:42] ______ speaking of by Dr. Noakes, I've also outrun a horse myself in the Vermont trail 100-mile endurance run. I actually…
Dean: Yeah. I beat a horse over a hundred miles. But the horses start later than the runners. And I just wondered if we started at the same time, at what juncture would I pass the horse. Because truly in the short run, it's going to outsprint human by a long shot. At one point, and it was hot, the conditions were hot, and as you noted, animals with hair cannot dissipate heat as effectively as humans. So at some point, I would have passed the horse if it hadn't started later than me, and I just wondered where that juncture would've been. But I've never heard a clear answer to that, like how far a horse can run its sprint distance before it starts slowing down.
Ben: Yeah. Neither have I. While I was out hunting once in the high mountains of Colorado, I beat a horse over sixteen miles when, on the last day of hunting, I decided I wanted to run back to camp. And so I had the guy I was hunting with take the horses back to camp, but they were trotting along with a whole bunch of water, and a guide, and they weren't exactly in race pace mode, I don't think. So it wasn't quite as hard for me. But I can brag that I have beaten a horse over at least 16 miles, while the horse was not, in my opinion, that highly motivated. But, yeah. It is a fascinating idea. And by the way, for those of you listening in, I'll put a link to that interview that I did with Tim Noakes, and I'll also put a link to Dean's book and everything else that Dean I talk about if you just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/roadtosparta. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/roadtosparta. Now another thing that you mentioned Dean, was that Pheidippides ran this thing probably barefoot, or in leather sandals. And so I'm curious, did you wind up doing it barefoot or in some kind of like a Tarahumara-style leather sandal?
Dean: I ran a marathon barefoot. I wanted to test it out, and so I ran the Silicon Valley marathon barefoot. And after 26.2 miles of barefoot running, and I've got to say that half of that 26.2 was on kind of graded fire road, so like a footpath. The other half was on the actual pavement, on asphalt. And I thought there's just no way I could run beyond that distance barefoot. So I experimenting with it, but I got to be honest, it would take a while for my feet to toughen to the point that I could actually run barefoot beyond a marathon.
Ben: Yeah. It doesn't seem that intelligent. I interviewed, at one point, I don't know if you're familiar with a guy who used to be big in the barefoot running community, Tellman Knudson. And Tellman tried to run across the US barefoot, and he made it from like the East Coast, like halfway into Vermont, before his physician made him stop running due to internal heel bruising. And so I know that you definitely get to a certain point where running great distances barefoot can get kind of foolhardy and not that smart. Did you wind up using like Hokas, or are you like a minimalist running shoe guy? What's kind of your take on this whole running shoe debate about going minimalist versus using like the built-up cushion shoewear. If that's even a word, shoeware. I may have just made that up.
Dean: (laughs) Footwear, shoewear, it's all the same. It's all good. But I recommend the right shoe is the right shoe for you because we all are built differently and our biomechanics are different. The thing with me is I can run in anything. I can run barefoot, I can run in Hokas, and I can run in racing flats. I just have a pretty good biomechanics. But a lot of people love the Hoka. It's changed a lot of lives. I interact with a lot of runners and they say the shoes revolutionized the way I run. So this particular race, I ran in a pair of North Face trail shoes. I'm sponsored by a company called The North Face, so I'm somewhat obligated to wear their shoes. And they're pretty good shoes. But I would say wear the shoe, for you listeners, wear the shoe that works best for you. Experiment a lot. It gets kind expensive because you got to try different shoes, but a lot of running store will let you wear test shoes to see how they feel before you actually purchase them.
Ben: Yeah. The only sandal that I've run longer distances in is this one called the Earthrunners. I don't know if you've seen this one, but it's kind of like a Tarahumara sandal-slash-Jesus sandal-style shoe. But it's got carbon plugs in it to allow you to be, it's a little bit woo-woo, but it allows you to be earthed or grounded, like get more negative ions from the earth while you're running. Have you seen these?
Dean: I've heard of them. I still advocate, if you're going to run your sandals to run barefoot. But you see, I can run on the beach. I'm close to the coastline, so I can go to the soft sand and run barefoot, but I would say go to the infield of a track and run on the grass barefoot. ‘Cause I think we are engineered to run barefoot, but just not on manmade surfaces. I think trying to run across America barefoot is crazy because you're not on national surfaces, you're on road.
Ben: Right, right. Exactly one more question about shoes before I get back to this run that you did. Have you had a chance to try out the shoes that Nike has developed to allow folks to potentially beat the two-hour marathon mark? These shoes with the carbon inserts? I think they're called the Vapor Flys?
Dean: Vapor Flys? No, I haven't tried 'em. I've tried the Adidas version, the Boost and the UltraBoost. They're really nice. I mean, I think that it's kind of interesting to see over the next couple of years what these regulating bodies do with these shoes. Because some of them, it almost feels like you're getting greater energy return with every footfall.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. I think it's something like a 13% increase in energy back to the athlete based on the foam that they use. I guess most shoes use like an ethylene-vinyl acetate, and these new Vapor Flys use like some kind of a different foam, and then they put some kind of a plate. Who knows? It might give banned by the World Anti-Doping Association as an actual doping shoe. Could be the first shoe to get banned as a doping shoe. But anyways, I find it fascinating. Okay, so you did this entire run. Did you go the 153 and the 153 back?
Dean: Well, what ended up happening is in trying to recreate the actual path, I found it impossible. If you've been to Greece, Southern Greece, it's amazing how much has changed, but more amazing at how much has not changed. When you get outside of Athens and you start running in the countryside and the hills, it hasn't changed in 2500 years. I mean there are still ancient Roman and Greek footpaths, but the problem is it's just a dizzying array of trail networks to potentially follow. Most of them being goat trails. So I did my best to try and recreate this actual race and found it entirely impossible. There was just no way to chart a course through that back country. And a lot of it was very overgrown. I mean in ancient Greece, there would have been footpaths that these hemerodrome would have followed, and now it's just thickets. So what I ended up doing is actually registering for an ultramarathon called the Spartathlon. And that race is a race that actually exists. And it doesn't follow the ancient path, it's primarily on the road, but it's a close proximity to the trail to Sparta from Athens.
Ben: Okay. How long did that wind up being?
Dean: Well it's 153 miles, it's got a 36 hour cutoff time. So it's a really aggressive cutoff time. And the year I did it, there were 350 starters, and it's very difficult to get in. I mean this is the most elite of the elite across the world, something like 45 countries represented, and only a third of the people actually finished the race, which is insane. And when you think about it, when someone asks, “Have you done the Spartathlon,” they don't ask, “Did you do win,” they just say, “Did you finish? Did you make it?” Because only a third of the people actually made it. I finished in about a little bit over [0:29:30] ______ hours, and you have a 36 hour cutoff. So I had a lot of problems, Ben, along the way, just because of the foods I was eating, but somehow grunted through to the end and made it.
Ben: What does that come out to for minute per mile pace?
Dean: I don't know. I haven't [0:29:50] ______ calculation. One of the reasons that I, any ultramarathoner would tell you when you do a race like this, the pace is varies wildly because of the amount of climbing. So there's a lot of really steep climbs in this race where you're probably at, I know at one point it took me something like three hours to go 15 miles. It's so steep, I was barely crawling. So in other points when it's flat, you're running sub-eight minute miles. Maybe even sub-seven minute miles. So it just fluctuates so radically over the course of 153 miles.
Ben: Yeah. It looks like it comes out to, based on my calculations about 3.75 miles per hour. So it's booking along for a hundred and some odd miles. That's pretty good. Now when it comes to what you would consider to be the hardest part of this event, would it be those steep parts? I mean, was there one part during the event that was just like the most epic crucible for you as far as the most memorable part when it comes to just like the hardest part of doing this entire thing?
Dean: Yeah. There's a peak you've got to climb, it's called Mount Parthenian, and it's in the middle of the night, and it's about a 30, I think about a 3300 foot climb. But if you look at the elevation profile map of the course, it is straight up. I mean you're crawling at times on all fours, and there are cables, old cables, metal cables from World War One and World War Two that you actually hold onto as you're climbing up this thing in the middle of the night. And it is really sketchy. I mean you get up halfway up the face of this mountain, and you look down, and you see light that’s directly below you, and you just think, “If I was let go this cable, I would die. I would literally die. There's just no way you would ever survive a tumble down that mountain.” And at that point you've got 90 miles on your legs, you're beat up, you're sleep deprived, it's 2 in the morning, and there's no one else around. So you're just out there by yourself. And that was one thing that was really shocking to me is one, how much of this race actually ran solo where I didn't see another runner, I didn't see anyone else for long periods of time. And being on that mountain in the middle of the night in those conditions, not only was it steep, and black, and hairy, it was really, really windy. So the wind is whipping around, the pebbles are blown in your face and in your eyes. It was challenging. It was really challenging.
Ben: And you ate for this race and I guess we may rabbit hole a little bit on this, but it looks like you ate a lot differently than of course runners traditionally eat, but even more different than you would eat in previous efforts. Can you go into your nutritional approach for this event?
Dean: Yeah. Well the approach was trying to do it as authentically as I could, as trying to live in Pheidippides footsteps as best I could. And so I ate only the ancient foods, I did a lot of research on what foods these hemerodrome would eat, and they ate basically, figs, olives, cured meat, almost like a beef jerky, and something called pasteli , which is a ground sesame paste mixed with honey. So those were the foods I ate. Of course, I only drank water. I didn't use any sort of electrolyte replenishment. I mean there was no Gatorade 2500 years ago. And to be honest, I trained with these foods. So it's not like it was the first time I'd done. But what I learned is running six or eight hour training run eating only figs is fine. When you eat figs for 24 hours, Ben, there are issues.
Ben: Yeah. I would imagine that you needed some kind of an ancient Spartan diaper with that type of nutritional approach long term.
Dean: Yeah. It was fine on the way in. On the way out, it got a little, yeah. Not pretty. And so I basically, I stopped eating at about halfway into the race, my gut shut down I couldn't eat any food.
Ben: Oh, really? Now with the sesame seeds and honey, how are you consuming those? Was it like some kind of like a ball, or is it like a stick or a bar?
Dean: It's like a bar. The food form is like a bar.
Ben: Okay. Gotcha.
Dean: The problem with that, when it gets hot, imagine honey when it gets hot. This bar, it melts. And it's wrapped. So it's almost like just finger food that you're stuffing in your mouth.
Ben: Yeah. I would imagine sesame seeds probably kind of stick in your teeth after a while too.
Dean: Yeah. There were multiple issues going on, yeah.
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One thing that fascinated me in the book was you talked about this stuff called mastic gum. I actually tried to look for it after I read the book 'cause it seemed kind of interesting. Can you go into mastic gum and why someone would have chewed mastic gum?
Dean: Yeah. Well this gum has medicinal properties. Were you able to find much information…
Ben: No. I couldn't find any. And by the way, if you're listening in to the show notes and you've got a good source for mastic gum, I mean there's a few nutrition companies online that sell it, and I guess it's uses a little bit of an anti-bacterial, but I was unable to find a decent source of it. So if you're listening, go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/roadtosparta and fill me in on your favorite source for mastic gum. But what'd you think of it, Dean?
Dean: Well, I've been eating it since I was a kid. When I was in Greek school, when I was a young boy, the priest used to chew on it. And the mastic tree only grows on one island of Greece. It's quite amazing, so it's gum from this tree, and you said you like fennel, fennel seeds for like a digestivio. This mastic gum is 10 times more effective than fennel seeds. It's amazing stuff. I really think you should source some. You might have to get it from Greece, but it's got a very distinctive taste. It's almost like pine sap, but it's got even a more exotic flavor to it. It's very powerful.
Ben: Interesting. Okay. Cool. So did you chew this over multiple days during the event, like while you were running?
Dean: No. I didn't even think to bring it. And I stopped on the roadside at about mile 130, and there was this Greek guy there, and he said, “You're nauseous, right?” And I said, “Yeah. I can't get anything in my mouth. My guts are a mess.” And he pulled out some mastic gum. He said, “Here, chew on this.” And as soon as I stuck it in my mouth, I just got back to Los Angeles, the Greek Orthodox Church where I went to Greek school, chewing on this mastic gum. It really woke up my mouth and it kind of soothed my stomach quite a bit.
Ben: Interesting. Well if I source any good mastic gum, I'll certainly put a link to it in the show notes for you guys so you can check it out. So you really did not do any Gatorade, or gels, or energy bars, anything like that?
Dean: No. I couldn't use some, and I'll tell you that.
Ben: And you went for how long during this race without eating anything at all?
Dean: I went for over 70 miles just on water.
Ben: Wow. Now previous to that, because we have a lot of people listen in who experiment with things like fasting and ketosis, for example. Had you done much of like the fasted runs, experimentation with the use of ketones, or using like a ketosis-based approach to running? Or did you just kind of like accidently shift into ketosis for 70 miles?
Dean: I've been doing intermittent fasting for about the past 20 years. In ancient Greek, it was called an “Apostle's fast”. So I've been doing intermittent fasting for quite a while, and I've done some fat-adapted running, but I hadn't really trained fat adapted. But I know that when I've been analyzed, like my substrate's been analyzed on a treadmill, I utilize a lot of fat during my running. The problem is that I drop, in training for this Spartathlon [0:42:18] ______ this ancient foods, I dropped about 10 pounds, primarily of muscle mass, but also body fat. My body fat was really low, like about 4%. So I think I was basically going into gluconeogenesis where I was catabolizing muscle tissue…
Ben: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Dean: Which is not good, Ben. As you know.
Ben: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I mean if your essential body fat stores drop low enough, I've had to run into this as well, pun intended, because I'm about 3 to 4% body fat. And for me, going out on long runs with nothing at all, and this is why I'll have a lot of times like take a Ziploc bag full of like essential amino acids tablets to allow myself to keep going without catabolizing muscle. It's tough. You don't quite have as much fat stores to rely upon as folks who are, perhaps, have a little bit more girth to be able to go for really long periods of time without eating like that. And you alluded to the fact that you burn a lot of fat as a fuel, which a lot of trained endurance athletes do. But the skinny train insurance athletes still kind of have an uphill battle when it comes to the amount of fat that is available for fuel during exercise for long periods of time. Now, for your other events, like the 50 marathons in 50 days, did you have like a specific nutritional approach that you used for those events? Did you have like a go-to nutrition source that you've found to work pretty well?
Dean: Yeah. I was relying a lot on nut butters. So cashew nut butter, hazelnut butter, they're very concentrated sources of calories. They're good calories. I was also into coconut oil way back then.
Ben: Oh, yeah. Yeah, that works really well. Now did you find with the nut, 'cause I found this, I started using nut butters a couple years ago for Spartan races. My only problem was like the dry sticky mouth that they give you. Did you find you had to drink a lot of water whenever you'd use these nut butters?
Dean: Some of the ones I like are kept with honey, and they seem to be a little more tolerable. But you're right. Like just straight cashew nut butter is pretty pastey in your mouth.
Ben: Yeah. Now did you have like specific brands that you use that you found to work pretty well, or did you just kind of go with whatever you could pick up at the grocery store?
Dean: Well, originally I just went with Justin's Nut Butters because that was all that existed when I started using 'em back then. But there's actually a lot of brands that, as you know, that caters specifically to endurance to athletes and endurance sports. And there's some really great products out there now that are in a much more, in a better delivery system than just those tear packs.
Ben: Right. Right, yeah. I had one article that I wrote a while back on fat-based energy gels, and I think I talked about Justin's, I talked about some that have chia seed-based gels in them. I know Hammer's doing like a dextrose with a bunch of fatty acids in their peanut butter-based gel. But I think the one that I was using the most was this one called PocketFuel, which was like dry roasted almonds, but then they added things like banana chips, and dried blueberries, and sea salt, and stuff like that to it. I don't know if that company is still around or if they're still making it. I'll link to that article though for those of you listening in. What were you saying, Dean?
Dean: Yeah. And that's why, I mean again I did the 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days about 10 years ago, and these things didn't exist back then. That's why I was mixing the nut butters. I was just getting nut butters from Whole Foods and mixing them with coconut oil just to get some moisture there. And that helped with digestive, it helped not to just gum up in your mouth, as you're saying, it kind of gets stuck in your throat.
Ben: Yeah. By the way, not to turn this into one big supplement ad, but did you have also like specific nutrition supplements that you relied upon, like were you using l-arginine, or nitric oxide, or beet powder, or any of these type of things that you see a lot of runners using these days?
Dean: No, I wasn't. I was relying specifically on diet. And I was trying [0:46:22] ______ through crazy because I was demanding that I had wild salmon every almost every night. I thought the omega 3's and the quality of the protein was so good that I could rely on this food alone. So I was relying on just food. There are a couple hacks I was following. I mean one thing I do which I would recommend trying is I put rosemary, fresh rosemary in my coffee in the morning. So I drink coffee, but I actually brew rosemary with it, and the antioxidant, the [0:46:51] ______ value of rosemary [0:46:52] ______ of any plant on the planet. So I thought that was really helping. And I also eat a lot of chocolate, dark chocolate, in fact 100% cocoa chocolate. So it's not sweet, it's kind of gnarly, but it's amazing how it makes you feel. There's no sugar added whatsoever. It's just cocoa…
Ben: Oh, yeah. I mean you get a lot of the similar effects as you do from like the, I forget if it was the Aztecs, or there was another population that they would like chew on cocoa leaves and you get some of the similar physiological effects in terms of nitric oxide release, dopamine, serotonin, and endurance, and blood flow when you do something like a very, very dark chocolate, like 100% dark chocolate. But that's interesting how the rosemary, because I know there was one study where they looked at rosemary extract in rodent models, and they actually found a significant increase in time to exhaustion in rats that were like supplementing with like rosemary extract. That's when you don't hear people talking about much is the use of rosemary for endurance exercise.
Dean: Yeah, I know. It's funny. My mother's from an island called Ikaria, which is in Greece, and it's one of the Blue Zones. I don't know if you know of the Blue Zones.
Ben: Oh, yeah. The people there are amazing. I mean there's more centenarians on this Greek island than anywhere on the planet. There are people I spoke with that are active, like walking five or six miles every day and they're 105, 106. And this old lady said she added rosemary to my coffee in the morning. She just picks some rosemary from the garden quite a bit, and just threw it in there, and we brewed it up and I thought, one, it really mellows out the coffee, like the acidity of the coffee seems to disappear, and I just felt phenomenal afterward. And it's just black coffee. There's nothing else added. It was just black coffee with rosemary. And yeah, so I think there's something there. But I mean I just stumbled upon it thanks to this old lady in Greece.
Ben: I take notes when I when I interview people. I'm lucky I get to interview folks are chock full of information like you. I'm taking you know right now to actually try adding some rosemary to my coffee tomorrow just to see what it tastes like. And then I remember we actually did a story on a podcast a few months ago about that very area in, it was in Italy that you talk about where they used a lot of rosemary. And what leaps out in my memory from that story was that there were two things that a lot of the old, old men did, and these guys, they were like 40 year old men, except they were above 100 in terms of their chronological age, and it was rosemary, and they had a very, very active sex life. So it looks like rosemary and sex may be at least two of the secrets that one could throw into their diet. You also mention astaxanthin, which I think is really interesting. I'm actually going on a salmon fishing trip next week, so this is near and dear to my heart. But astaxanthin is one of the things that they say is the natural antioxidants that you find in salmon flesh that allows them to be able to achieve these great feats of endurance that they achieve when swimming for extremely long periods of time. And so it could be that your wild salmon consumption and the astaxanthin you were getting helped you quite a bit during that 50 marathon in 50 days event.
Dean: Yeah. Well I also consumed the skin. I mean I drive my kids crazy. Like, “Dad, you're gonna eat that salmon skin?” I eat the skin as well. So I think there's an even higher concentration in the skin.
Ben: Yeah. You're man after my heart. My kids and my wife never finish off the skin, and I like the skin almost as much as I do the flesh really. So that's great. Wild salmon and rosemary to the coffee. If you pick up just two things during this interview, there you go. Now what about recovery? I mean, obviously there was a great deal of recovery necessary for the Spartan event and also the 50 marathons in 50 days. I mean other than food, do you have specific things that you do to help you recover more quickly, Dean? Like do you use special space age recovery boots, or massage devices, or compression socks, or like what's your key to recovering so quickly?
Dean: Yeah. When I did the 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, people were like, “Did you have a masseuse on board? What were you doing? Were you icing?” I did a couple ice baths after some of the hot marathons, but that was the extent of it. I didn't stretch and I didn't have one massage. I just thought, “Let your body be your body. Don't rely on anything extraneous. Just let your body perform to its best of its ability.” And that's kind of the strategy I used. And from a practical standpoint, a lot didn't have much time to do things, especially in the western states. Because I'd finish a marathon and we'd have to get in a bus and drive 8 or 10 hours to the next day. And I didn't want to sit around and get a massage or do anything like that. I just wanted to get on the road. So the conditions were not ideal. I mean, the last thing you really want to do after running a marathon is sit on your butt in a bus for eight hours. But that was the reality of that event. The one thing I did do going into it is I really bulked up. I increased my muscle mass. Right now, I'm about 148, 149. I got up to almost 160, about 159. But the same, my body fat didn't change. So it was just all bulk. And I think that helped a lot. It was just having strong legs, having the musculature to support running. So it wasn't breaking [0:52:35] ______ every day.
Ben: How did you do that? Were you lifting heavy weights, or did you go with more of like the high rep, low weight approach, or what did you do to bulk up?
Dean: Yeah. I was going with high weight, low rep. Yeah, so I was pushing a lot of weight. And I don't do that now. Now I just use body resistance. But I was pushing around a lot of weight in preparation for the 50 marathons.
Ben: How often do you do bodyweight training? What's your program for that in combination with running?
Dean: You know, a HIIT training program I do here at my home office. So I've got a pull-up bar in my office, I've got to sit-up mat, and I cycle through about five or six cycles a day. And this is push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, dips, and burpees. So it's high intensity, I mean it pegs your heart rate pretty high for about 12 to 14 minutes. And I'll cycle through, like I said, five or six of those a day. And that's pretty routine…
Ben: So you mean you break that up into like multiple small, 12 to 14 minute workouts during the day?
Dean: Exactly. I did two this morning…
Ben: That's a cool approach.
Dean: Yeah. After this interview, I'll do one. I'm going to go for a little bit of a run this afternoon. That's the other thing I do is I, people say, “Well, do you prefer running in the morning or in the afternoon? How do you do this?” And I mix up when I run. Sometimes I run early in the morning, sometimes I run at noon, sometimes I run in the evening, sometimes I run at night. Because when you're doing these events that I do that last for 24 or 48 hours, you're running continuously at different times of the day. And I don't think it makes sense just to get up in the morning and run every day just in the morning. So I change up when I run, but I still keep up, regardless of when I run, I still cycle through the five or six sets of that HIIT training throughout the day.
Ben: And I have a question about that HIIT training that you're doing. Is that a certain number of repetitions for each of these different bodyweight exercises that you're doing? Certain rest period? Like what's the actual protocol?
Dean: Yeah. I should video this one day, but it's a routine that a buddy of mine showed me. He was a Navy SEAL, he was an officer. And it's basically, it's designed to work every muscle and micro muscle in your body. So the push-up routine is 20 military push-ups, followed immediately by 20 close-hand push-ups, then 20 spread eagle push-ups, then 10 standing push-ups. So it's basically working the load from your, all the way up to your shoulders basically. And then I go right into 15 pull-ups, just 15 full, rightly done pull-ups, full extension. Then I go right into the dips. So it's pretty much back to back right through this whole thing. There's seven different things I do, and I jump from one to the other. So there's a lot of muscle confusion going on. And again, your heart rate is, you're pretty much anaerobic most of the time.
Ben: And what about leg exercises? Are you doing leg exercises as part of that? Like squats or lunges?
Dean: Sometimes I have something called an ElliptiGO, which I freakin' love.
Ben: Oh, yeah. I have one of those.
Dean: You do? Okay.
Ben: Yeah. Actually, I have it set-up indoors right now on an indoor trainer because, the snow has just finally melted so I should probably take it off the indoor trainer and get it outdoors. But, yeah, it's fascinating. There's actually some really good research behind how elliptical training and using something like this ElliptiGO actually has a direct crossover to running, almost a very direct crossover with none of the actual impact.
Dean: I'm a believer. I mean I've done some long distance treks. Like I rode one time from San Francisco to LA, it's like 350 miles. I've done a couple century and double centuries with the ElliptiGO and the thing is fantastic. I mean, you get such a great muscle workout, but you don't get the impact.
Ben: Right. Yeah. Although the one thing is it kind of falls into the same category as like the roller bladers that you see out on the running trail with the ski poles, or the guys with like the recumbent bicycles with the giant flags on them and the windshields, like those are the people you get like the knowing nods from as you ride by in your elliptical trainer. And then all the people on like the traditional bikes or the runners kind of give you these strange glances as though you're freak of nature when you're riding around in that thing.
Dean: That's the same way I go when I started snowboarding. I was like one of the original snowboarders. I never learned to ski, but I was a surfer. So as soon as I came out with a snowboard, I got into snowboarding. I just remember you were just like an outcast, like a pariah on the ski slope…
Ben: Oh, yeah.
Dean: And you're right. Some of the cyclists kind of embrace it, like, “Wow. What's this thing all about.” And others are just, “Oh my god. This guy's a freak. Get out of here.” (laughs)
Ben: You know what? I enjoy it quite a bit. ‘Cause you're sitting, you're not compressing your spine, you don't have to worry about chafing, and you're using your core, you use your arms. I'm a big fan of it, frankly. I love it. Not to turn this into a giant commercial for the ElliptiGO, but I'm glad to hear that you use that. Now what about sleep? You talk about running at night. Obviously, when you run marathons over multiple days, you're not sleeping much. How do you manage with so little sleep? Like what's your strategy for that?
Dean: You know, it's funny. Do you monitor your sleep?
Ben: I do now. I use this ring called an OURA, and it allows me to look at things like my body temperature while I sleep, my sleep latency, when I get my deep sleep versus my REM sleep versus my non-REM sleep. So, yeah. In the past year, I've started to track it a little bit more intensively.
Dean: And I have as well and it's counterintuitive because I am a shitty sleeper. But then again I've talked to endurance athletes that have said the same thing. So I was curious if you're, I don't get as much [0:58:33] ______ could, my REM cycles are very broken up and is consistent regardless if I'm in recovery or just finished an event. So I'm curious of what do you think? I don't know if it's inherent to all endurance athletes that don't sleep that well, but quality is not that good according to what we consider quality sleep. And I'm not a very good sleeper.
Ben: Well, how many hours of sleep do you get per night?
Dean: You know if you [0:59:01] ______ five and six.
Ben: Okay. Yeah, that's interesting.
Dean: A lot of it fairly restless as well.
Ben: It's pretty rare to run into like really solid athletes who can function on like less than seven hours of sleep per night. There are genes, there's one gene called the clock gene, another one called the BMAL gene that kind of been pegged for their roles in the body's circadian rhythm, and some people that have specific mutations on some of those sleep genes are actually able to truly need less sleep. Like they're called short sleepers and they go through their sleep cycles more quickly. Whereas one person might take 90 minutes to get through a typical sleep cycle from stage two to stage four sleep, these people will go through it in like 45 to 60 minutes. But it's also characterized by slightly more restless sleep, whether due to the increased amount of REM and less non-REM, or perhaps a little bit more period of time spent in light sleep, they kind of have a little bit more restful sleep but are able to get by on a shorter sleep cycle. So I'm wondering if that might be you. Because I personally have a pretty decent sleep cycles, but I also have to sleep like eight to nine hours for every 24 hour period of time if I'm actually training, like if I'm actually doing the, I don't quite go as long as you do, but I do quite a bit of masochistic-style endurance training. And for me, I got to sleep for longer. So you might be one of these people who actually has that gene that allows them to get by on less sleep.
Dean: It's interesting you say that because my dad is the same way. My dad doesn't sleep at all, and he's in his 80's and he's fit as, I mean if you saw this man, you'd say, “My god, this guy looks like he's 50.” But he doesn't sleep. He does not sleep. When we travel together, we're both up at 5 in the morning, we're both up at midnight still a lot of times. (chuckles) So maybe there's something genetic. I've never, in fact, until you said that I heard about this supposed gene, but I never heard anyone with credibility explain it to me. So now it probably does exist.
Ben: Have you ever gotten like a 23andMe, or like a DNA ancestry test, or a DNAFit test, or anything like that? Like a DNA test?
Dean: I have. I have. And I'm 100% Greek. (laughs)
Ben: Okay. Well, yeah. But in addition to the genetic data, like the ancestry data, the other thing that you can do is you can look at snips associated with things like that sleep gene. So it'd be interesting to take a look at. Completely separate from this call, if you send me your raw data, I could probably go through it and check and see if you actually have that gene responsible for allowing you to get by on less sleep because you can actually search through your raw data, find that snip, and see if you actually have it. It'd be interesting to check out.
Dean: I don't know if I want to know the answer, Ben. Probably [1:02:01] ______ with my damn horrible sleep.
Ben: I hear you. Now speaking of not wanting to know the answer, this is something that kind of concerns me 'cause I've done telomere testing and I've actually found that my biological age, like the length of my telomeres is actually slightly shorter than it should be. And whereas I'm 35 years old, my biology, my telomeres say that I'm like 36, 37 years old, and I suspect a big part of that is due to the high amount of chronic cardio beating up my body, some of the association between chronic cardio being bad for testosterone levels or causing large amounts of inflammation, et cetera. Do you have any concerns about that eve with the large amounts of endurance exercise that you do, this talk about it potentially causing the arteries to become harder over time? Or you see Ryan Hall, for example, had to drop out of marathoning due to andropause, or low testosterone. What's your take on kind of the toss-up between this chronic cardio and actual health and longevity implications?
Dean: It's interesting about your telomeres because I've never had mine tested specifically, but the research you read is that prolonged endurance training actually increases, running increases your telomere length versus decreasing it. So that's kind of always what I've believed. Regarding testosterone levels, and hormones, and the hardening of, especially your heart and your arteries, I don't pay attention to it. And maybe I should more, but I do a lot of cross training. So I don't just run. Ryan Hall looks great right now, by the way. I mean he's obviously much slower than he was, but he looks healthier. Just everything about him looks better. His skin looks better, he just looks healthier. And he's bulked up a lot. And when people look at me, they say, “Man, you're pretty bulky for a runner.” And I think that's just something I do by design. Sure, muscle slows you down, but it's not something I'm going to compromise on.
Ben: Yeah. I think what you're referring to with telomere length, 'cause there have been a couple of studies done on this, it depends on the intensity. Like I know they have found a lot of like aerobic ultra-endurance athletes who are not necessarily like delving into higher amounts of intensity but who are instead doing, I guess you would consider it to be more of a Phil Maffetone or a Mark Allen type of aerobic, conversational, nasal breathing kind of approach to running. They actually have found longer, what are called leukocytes, telomeres, or white blood cell telomeres, which is actually any organization at this point in science that tests your telomere length, they're testing white blood cell telomere length, or leukocyte telomere length. And they've found that in ultra-endurance runners, it does tend to be a little bit longer. There does tend to be what appears to be a little bit of a longevity effect. Whereas, with folks who are doing higher intensity endurance, like a combination of both volume and intensity, it tends to be shorter. So it looks like if you're going to go long, you also have to make sure that you're going relatively aerobic if you want to have longer endurance exercise not, for example, turn out to be deleterious for your health. So it's kind of like, if you're content with running a marathon but running a marathon at an aerobic pace, aerobic conversational pace, that appears to be okay. But then once you start going after that huffing, puffing for three hours of pounding the pavement, that's where it looks like it causes some longevity decreasing type of effects.
Dean: Well intuitively, I couldn't agree with that more. I think the worst thing to do, the worst thing that beats me up and leaves me feeling aged is running a hard marathon.
Dean: Running a hard 5K or even a hard 10K leaves you feeling great. Running a hundred miles at LST at a conversational pace leaves you feeling great. Flatlining as fast as you can for 26.2 destroys you. That's just how I feel. That's exactly how I feel. I do a lot of just regular road marathons and I feel crappy afterward.
Ben: Yeah. And that's what found in a lot of the research. Like once you get above about 60 minutes of like that combination of volume and intensity, you see a law of diminishing returns for mortality. So if you're going to go out and do stuff, like if you if you're listening in and you want to be like Dean and go do the Sparta, it looks like if you're going to do it, the best way to do it, or that, or a marathon, or any other ultra-endurance event, if you're concerned about your mortality would be like stay aerobic basically. I've interviewed Phil, do you know Phil Maffetone, Dean?
Dean: Sure. Yeah.
Ben: Yeah. So that's Phil Maffetone's whole approach. Like anything you train for, you can go fast but you need to breathe through your nose, go aerobically. And back when he was training Mark Allen for Ironman, I think Mark was saying he used to like walk up the hills to ensure that his heart rate stayed low enough until he got to the point where he could do all of his running in an efficient and economical enough way to where he just kind of stayed aerobic the whole time.
Dean: Yeah. I buy into that completely. There's so much research and you can pretty much back any position you take with some research of some sort. But just intuitively, that's the way out my body feels is exactly what you said. Short and fast is fine, long and slow is fine. Fast and long is brutal and wrong.
Ben: Yeah. There's this whole concept behind the polarized training approach. Like if you look at the training that most of the world's top endurance athletes use, from cross-country runners, to cross-country skiers, to rowers, et cetera, you generally seen 80/20 split, meaning that 80% of their training is completely aerobic, and slow, and conversational, and 20% is extremely hard but short, like totally anaerobic high intensity interval training, and there's almost no training in like this black hole kind of sort of hard, kind of sort of easy for longer periods of time type of training. So it seems to agree with what most of the world's top athletes are doing anyways when it comes to achieving not just longevity in the sport, but also performance, this whole like 80/20 polarized type of approach.
Dean: Yeah. I agree and I also think that what Mark Allen’s approach if he actually did walk the hills for the very stated purpose of keeping his heart rate down, it really requires a lot of discipline. Because I know when I go running, I mean your inclination is just to run as freakin' hard as you can for as long as you can. And to hold yourself back and say, “I'm going to go slower, but I'm going to go up further” requires some discipline and requires some introspection. Just stay on your program and stand your training.
Ben: Yeah. I've even started to do things like long walks where I'm just breathing through my nose and focusing on breath control. And for about every fifth distance that I walk, like for every four blocks I'll sprint one block. So all I'm doing is slow training and fast training, and not much in between. And I feel great after those runs, walk-slash-runs, compared to if I just say like jogged an hour. So I think there's definitely something to be said for kind of like embracing a nontraditional approach to running or at least an approach that goes outside the bounds of just strapping on your shoes and pounding the pavement with a scowl on your face for an hour. Now what about, oh, go ahead.
Dean: I would say reverse engineer it. A lot of the listeners here are not going to try to qualify for the Olympics. I mean there are, a lot of listeners I'm sure might not even be targeting an event in the future. They just want to be healthy. And I these are prudent steps just to be healthy. Certainly you've got to train specific program or goal-specific training, you're going to [1:10:28] ______. But a lot of people just run, I think applying what you just said, is really prudent.
Ben: Right. Yeah. Now what about biohacks? Like you see all these runners using like hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers, or training masks, or different types of like electrostimulation biohacks. Are you one of those guys who ever uses, aside from the ElliptiGO of course, any crazy pieces of technology? Are there any fringe things that you've tried, whether it's like self-quantification devices or any other number of things you see runners using more and more these days as technology of running progresses?
Dean: I've experimented a lot, I got to be honest, and I've come back to “don't do anything beyond what the body naturally could do”. I mean a lot of these devices are contrived, and they're not natural. So I've kind of gone back to just a more natural approach. That said, I still do ice baths or cold water showers. I still believe in that. I do my rosemary and my 100% chocolate. But as far as microdosing LSD, or anything like that, or even pot, marijuana right now is a big topic in endurance sports.
Ben: Oh, yeah. Especially with ultrarunners.
Dean: Yeah. I got to be honest. I'm not a fan. If I'm going to get high, I want it to come from my body. We produce cannabinoids naturally. I prefer the high from running verses weed. But to each his own. I mean I'm not going to criticize people.
Ben: Yeah. There are some Runner's World articles I believe that talked about some of the ultra-endurance athletes now getting into like sativa-rich marijuana strains, kind of shut down pain, increase cannabinoid availability during exercise. But, yeah. I mean we're talking about chocolate. Chocolate is a natural cannabiniod precursor. And man, rosemary in your coffee, a little bit of dark chocolate, some mastic gum, and cold showers, man. I like your approach. I think it's great.
Dean: Yeah, yeah. Let's go cover some distance.
Ben: Yeah. Cool. Well the book, for those of you listening in, it's called “Road To Sparta”. We kind of only scratched the surface of that actual adventure. I know we delved into some of Dean's other practices quite a bit, but it's a fascinating book. I think you should give it a read. It actually made me want to go to Greece, and I don't know if I'd quite do it as quickly as you did, Dean, but it really made me want to maybe, go hike the road to Sparta, or at least go over there and eat some of these fantastic foods that you talk about. I'm a big fan of figs, and sesame, and honey, all three. I don't know how much I'd consume while running copious amounts of miles like you did, but ultimately fascinating book. Road to Sparta. You guys can check it out if you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/roadtosparta, fittingly enough. Dean, thanks for coming on the show and sharing all this stuff with us, man. It's fascinating.
Dean: You're a great host, so thanks for having me on. It's my pleasure, Ben. It's been really great.
Ben: Yeah. Absolutely. And folks, if you have comments, or questions, or your own little tips to add, or a good source for mastic gum, or anything else that Dean and I talked about, again just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/roadtosparta, leave your thoughts, grab the book. And Dean's got another great book called “Ultramarathon Man”, by the way, you can also check out when you get that book. And, Dean, thanks for coming on the show, man.
Dean: Thanks for having me on.
Ben: Alright, folks. Well, it's Ben Greenfield along with Dean Karnazes signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
In 490 BCE, some masochistic Greek guy named Pheidippides ran for 36 hours straight from Athens to Sparta to seek help in defending Athens from a Persian invasion in the Battle of Marathon. In doing so, he saved the development of Western civilization and inspired the birth of the marathon as we know it. Even now, some 2,500 years later, that run stands enduringly as one of greatest physical accomplishments in the history of mankind.
Dean Karnazes, my guest on today's podcast, came up with the crazy idea of honoring Pheidippides (and Dean's own Greek heritage) by recreating this entire ancient journey in modern times. During his run, Karnazes even abstained from contemporary endurance nutrition like sports drinks and energy gels and only ate what was available in 490 BCE, such as figs, olives, cured meats and even some stuff called “mastic gum”.
Then he wrote about the whole experience is his new book “The Road to Sparta: Reliving the Ancient Battle and Epic Run That Inspired the World's Greatest Footrace“.
The new book is intriguing, comical, sometimes tear-jerking, and certainly thought-provoking and entertaining, and Dean is probably even more intriguing. Get a load of this guy…
TIME magazine named Dean one of the “Top 100 Most Influential People in the World.” Men’s Fitness hailed him as one of the fittest men on the planet. Stan Lee called him, “Super Human.” He's an acclaimed endurance athlete and NY Times bestselling author, who has pushed his body and mind to inconceivable limits. Among his many accomplishments, he has run 350 continuous miles, foregoing sleep for three nights. He’s run across the Sahara Desert 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. He has swum the San Francisco Bay, scaled mountains, bike raced for 24-hours straight, and surfed the gigantic waves off the coast of Hawaii & California.
His long list of competitive achievements include winning the world’s toughest footrace, the Badwater Ultramarathon, running 135 miles nonstop across Death Valley during the middle of summer. He has raced and competed on all seven continents of the planet, twice over. In 2006 he accomplished the seemingly impossible by running 50 marathons, in all 50 US states, in 50 consecutive days, finishing with the NYC Marathon, which he ran in three hours flat!
In 2011 Dean ran 3,000-miles from the coast of California to New York City, averaging 40 to 50-miles per day (one day covering more than 70!). Along the way he stopped at schools to speak to students about the importance of exercise and healthy eating. When passing through Washington DC, he was invited to run through the White House to meet with First Lady Michelle Obama and be honored for his tireless commitment to helping this country get back in shape.
Dean and his incredible adventures have been featured on The Today Show, 60 Minutes, The Late Show with David Letterman, CBS News, CNN, ESPN, The Howard Stern Show, NPR’s Morning Edition, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the BBC, and many others. He has appeared on the cover of Runner’s World, Outside, and Wired magazine’s, and has been featured in TIME, Newsweek, People, GQ, The New York Times, USA TODAY, The Washington Post, Men’s Journal, Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, and the London Telegraph, to mention a few. Dean is the winner of an ESPN ESPY and a 3-time recipient of Competitor magazines Endurance Athlete of the Year award.
Dean has also raised millions of dollars for charity and was awarded the prestigious Community Leadership Award by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
-Why it is a myth that Pheidippides ran 26.2 miles…[14:50]
-How humans can actually outrun horses…[19:30]
-Whether Dean ran barefoot or in leather sandals in the same way that Pheidippides did…[22:30]
-The hardest part of Dean's entire run…[30:45]
-How it went for Dean to eat for this race different than he ate for your other races, and why he chewed on something called “mastic gum”…[38:55]
-How Dean ran for 70+ miles with no food…[41:15]
-Why Dean adds rosemary to his coffee and consumes large amounts of wild salmon…[46:15]
-How Dean recovers so darn fast between his events, and why he bulked up before his 50 marathons in 50 days…[51:00]
-Why Dean splits his day into multiple 12-14 minute body weight workouts, and what his exact routine is…[53:00]
-How Dean manages with such little sleep when running marathons over multiple days…[57:50]
-Dean's take on all the talk about chronic cardio being bad for testosterone levels, increased risk of mortality, etc…[63:05]
-And much more!
Resources from this episode: