On June 29, American ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes began his 12-day, 326-mile run along the ancient Silk Road trading route.
The run, which Karnazes is doing as part of the State Department's sports diplomacy program, will take the athlete through Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, and Kazakhstan, according to The New York Times.
Karnazes, who Grind TV reports once fell asleep while running, has a history of outrageous runs, including a 350-mile run with no sleep, a run in Death Valley in summer, and a marathon in the South Pole. He also ran 50 marathons -- one in each of the 50 states -- in 50 days.
An ultramarathon is a race longer than the traditional 26.2 miles of a normal marathon, according to the Washington Post. Ultramarathon runners often experience hallucinations from extreme fatigue, along with an increased risk of stress fractures and hypothermia.
Karnazes said that on his long-distance runs he takes electrolyte powder to mix with water, but tries to mainly stick to local foods. "For example, in Greece I found this stuff called pasteli," he said. "It’s honey and sesame seed. I thought, 'Wow, this is better than any gel pack I’ve ever had, and it’s more sustaining.'"
Karnazes told the Times that he was inspired to run the Silk Road because of an encounter with another runner during the 2015 San Francisco Marathon. The man explained that he worked for the State Department and lived in Kyrgystan, which led Karnazes to inquire about whether that area of the world had much recreational running.
The other runner then asked him if he'd like to run the Silk Road, following the footsteps of Alexander the Great.
"I'm thinking this is just a fantasy, this guy," said Karnazes. "But his State Department contacts, they put a proposal in front of me. I’m very bad at saying no, and this sounded too good to be true. So I said yes."
Karnazes said that his preparation for the trip involved watching the area's weather, and practicing to adjust for the heat. "Uzbekistan is right above Afghanistan. It’s desert. It’s 112 degrees. So I’ve been running in the mid-day heat, which a lot of runners don’t do," he said.
Karnazes said his reasoning for the 326-mile trek is to promote unity, as well as celebrating the 25th anniversary of these countries' independence from the former Soviet Union.
"The idea is to link these three countries together on this footpath," he said. "The power of running - it unites people, there’s a magic in running. It’s so simple, it’s a commonality we all share as a species."