Book review: A Runner’s High by Dean Karnazes

As memoirs go, this is dull and a missed opportunity

It’s hard to know why A Runner’s High exists, other than to possibly fulfil a contractual obligation. That’s how it feels while reading it, because Dean Karnazes doesn’t tell us anything noteworthy in this, his fifth book about running.

Unlike his previous output, it’s uninspiring and disappointingly dull. The best way to describe it is like meeting an old friend for drinks, then listening to them ramble about boring stuff in an effort to kill time.

In A Runner’s High, Dean prepares to run the Western States 100 race (again) in his mid-fifties, and this time there’s more focus on his family, who he brings along on the journey. Unfortunately, these relationships and their subplots are never explored in any great detail.

Dean’s father makes several appearances throughout the book, but for no real reason. So too does his son, who nonchalantly insists he helps crew during the race, having never expressed a desire to do so before. The exploration into this has the depth of a puddle and we never really find the cause for the sudden interest.

It also produces some stitled and cringey conversations between the two. My favourite comes during chapter 20, when Dean considers retiring and spends six entire pages living out something that never actually happened.

Once he snaps out of his supposed nightmare, he tells his son:

“Sorry, Nicholas. I was experiencing a strange moment of darkness. But it wasn’t real, thankfully. Just a warning sign. I’ve risen from the ashes.”

Even George Lucas would wince at such corny dialogue.

I could continue criticising A Runner’s High for a few more paragraphs, but I think you get the point by now. As memoirs go, this isn’t an engaging one. Dean is an interesting person, but he didn’t have an interesting story to tell at this point of his career.

It’s also an opportunity missed to talk candidly about the fear of getting older, and I would’ve preferred a more philosophical exploration on the topic. This, however, barely scratches the surface.