‘Running On Empty’ Leaves Runner Full of Inspiration & Motivation

REVIEW: Running On Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America by Marshall Ulrich (PURCHASE)

As a long-distance runner, it’s both intriguing and frustrating to read about the athletic achievements of famous ultrarunners. On the one hand, it gives you insight into the inner workings of the ultra athlete in his element, his thoughts, passions and fears. On the other hand, it makes the act of running a marathon seem puny by comparison. But that’s the toll you pay when you open the pages of books such as Dean Karnazes’ Ultramarathon Man or Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run.

I must first admit my ignorance as I had never heard of Marshall Ulrich prior to seeing this book at Barnes & Noble. Like most core runners, I was familiar with Karnazes, Scott Jurek and Josh Cox because they’re the big names that most people know. However, after the foreword, written by McDougall, I felt like a running tyro for not having erected an altar to Ulrich’s impressive athletic resume. This guy ran the Pike’s Peak marathon and the Leadville 100 back to back, which is almost logistically impossible because they happen so close to each other. He won the Badwater 135-mile ultramarathon in Death Valley several times, ran it unassisted, and is famous for running it four times in a row. He’s scaled Mount Everest, participated in adventure races all over the world and holds numerous ultra running world records.

Also, he’s almost 60.

Running on Empty is a recollection of all of his most intense feats, from mountain climbing in the Himalayas to his personal struggles with romance and fatherhood. But the centerpiece of the book, around which his life’s story gravitates, is his last great accomplishment, the transcontinental Run Across America. My first thought was that the book was going to get tedious and repetitive. How much can you talk about running from coast to coast without getting bogged down by tales of running injuries and the frustration of monotony? However, Ulrich does a great job of balancing the narrative, using particular nuanced moments to reflect on previous events in his life, athletic or otherwise. He also intersperses local, idiosyncratic stories into the mix, talking about the history of local food establishments as he runs by them or reminiscing on charities close to his heart to forget about the pains in his feet.

Even though I can’t possibly comprehend how someone can average 50-70 miles a day for 52 days, I still found myself identifying with a lot of Ulrich’s stories. It seems like those who get into running passionately don’t only do it because of a drive to improve their health, but also as a means to unearth one’s hidden qualities. Ulrich shows that long-distance running can say a lot about one’s character, ambition, strength and resilience. The fact that he ran from San Francisco to New York in his late 50’s only reinforces that fact that age shouldn’t deter people from challenging themselves in extreme ways.

I’m not quite yet an ultrarunner – the marathon is still my biggest accomplishment. But if I keep reading books like these, it won’t be long until I break the 26.2-mile barrier into what all but the most dedicated runners call “insanity.”

Daniel Solera
[Daniel’s Running Blog]

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This post was written by:

- who has written 1052 posts on Run It Fast®.

Joshua Holmes has completed 197 marathons/ultramarathons while running 100+ miles 43 including races such as the Badwater 135, Western States 100, The Last Annual Vol State 500K (3x). His favorite races to date are the Vol State 500K, Badwater 135, Barkley Fall Classic, Catalina Eco Marathon, Chimera 100, Across The Years, Savage Gulf Trail Marathon, Strolling Jim 40 Miler, Tunnel Hill 100, RUTS, EC100 and the Flying Monkey Marathon in his home state of Tennessee. Follow @bayou Follow @joshuaholmes on Instagram

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One Response to “‘Running On Empty’ Leaves Runner Full of Inspiration & Motivation”

  1. Benj says:

    I met Marshall at the Nashville Marathon expo and he is such a humble and nice man. Talked to me for like 15 mins about his future adventures and was kind enough to have a photo with me.

    ps as a runner in the south thank you so much for this amazing web site!

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