Book Review: Running On Empty, Marshall Ulreich

When I first started reading this book, I thought it would be just another book about an Ultramarathoner, but I quickly realized it was more than that -- it was a book about Superman. Not the Superman of the comics and movies. Not the Superman who wears a cape and flies faster than a speeding bullet. Not the Superman who stops runaway trains. But, a real, live superman. Marshall Ulrich is a person who has done things I thought were impossible. Let me list some of his achievements.
  • Pikes Peak Marathon.
  • 122 miles in 24 hours. A month later the Leadville Trail 100. A month later 133 miles in 24 hours (age 35).
  • Pikes Peak Marathon and the Leadville Trail 100 in the same weekend.
  • Badwater Ultramarathon (starting at 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley and ending on the top of Mt. Whitney at 14,496 feet (146 miles).
  • Completing Badwater solo ( pulling a 200 pound cart with his supplies).
  • Adventure racing in remote jungles and deserts in Africa, Australia, Asia, and the US.
  • Badwater Quad (four times across Death Valley and twice up Mt. Whitney) (age 50)
  • Climbed the Seven Summits (highest mountain on each of the seven continents).
  • Ran across the US, from San Francisco to New York City when he was 57 years old.
Most of the book is a day-by-day description of his training for and the completion of the run across the US. He averaged two marathons and a 10K per day for 52.5 days. I think that if most of us tried to do that distance for 52.5 days, we would literally die from the stress. Ulrich didn't die during his run across the US, but he did suffer injuries, including the following.

  • Joint pain
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Muscle cramps and strain
  • Tendonitis
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Blisters and bloody nose
  • Canker sores
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Longitudinal tear in tendon tissue
  • Infection
  • Diarrhea
  • Dislocated Fibula
  • Severe back pain
  • Post-run recovery (his body ached for several months)
As fantastic as his exploits are, the part that I enjoyed the most was to watch Ulrich grow from a shy kid to a real "people person". Many of his races were to raise funds for charities. School children came to his route to cheer him on. Runners of all ages ran short distances with him. The death of his first wife from cancer almost destroyed him, and he went through two more marriages and considered himself a failure at marriage. Then he met Heather Vose, and by that time he was beginning to understand marriage. They married, and during his run across the US, Heather was his chief care-taker.

Imagine running two marathons and a 10K each day for 52 days. Imagine eating all your meals except breakfast while you were running. Imagine being packed in a RV during those 52 days with several people who were your support team. Imagine those people having to put your needs first. Imagine the personality quirks of those people. Imagine the friction between them and you.

I enjoyed reading about Ulrich's struggles to keep going day after day, not allowing himself to even think of quitting. I enjoyed reading about his being almost completely dependent on his support team. I enjoyed reading about the dedication of his team to the successful completion of his run across the US. To me, the relationships between Ulrich and his team are the real story of his run across the US.

This book is his book, and it tells the story from his perspective. Read the book and then decide what impossible feats you want to accomplish in your life.

The Penguin Group

Copyright 2011 by Marshall Ulrich
ISBN 978-1-58333-423-2

1 comment:

Heather Ulrich said...

Thank you so much for your review of Running on Empty. We are grateful to you, and so many others, for spreading the word.
Heather Ulrich