Saturday, April 09, 2011

"Running On Empty" by Marshall Ulrich (Book Review)

I got a sneak preview of Marshall Ulrich's new book, Running On Empty, which chronicles his extraordinary life and journeys in ultrarunning and adventure racing. Ulrich is the real deal - accomplishing any one of his jaw-dropping endurance exploits could provide lifetime bragging rights, but to do them all is simply stunning.

If you're like me, you primarily know Ulrich as the guy who had his toenails removed to proactively prevent toe issues (I once thought this was crazy, but post-100 miler, I am a bit jealous of his commitment). But there is so much more! He can win the Badwater 146 four times, then come back and run a self-supported 4xBadwater adventure. The Pikes Peak Marathon is fun, but not as fun as the Pikes Peak Quad (4x) or doing Pikes Peak and the Leadville 100 in the same weekend. He's competed in all nine Eco-Challenges, set the record for running across Colorado three times, reached the top of all Seven Summits including Everest, and the list goes on. Honestly, one book isn't enough to capture what Ulrich's eyes have seen.

As exciting as the accomplishments are, I found Ulrich's humbling account of his early years to be the best part of the book. One often wonders what drives a person to push the limits like he does, and he's very open about the combination of hard work as a teenage farm hand and the loss of his first wife to cancer that created a cauldron of energy that would push him into and through races, a marriage, and more. He took a nod from his heroes like Ted Corbitt, and just went for it. A quote that sums it up well:
"As for me, sure, there's an underlying compulsion: survivor's guilt and a need to punish myself, to prove myself, to face down my own mortality, to defy death. But my running is also a reflection of my upbringing, a work ethic, a personal challenge. My love of history gets interwoven, too - the feats of other people in other times - coupled with the alluring possibility that I might be able to go farther, faster, today."
A majority of the book chronicles his record-setting 3,000+ mile race across America that he did as the ripe age of 57. If you think the battles between runner and crew on a 100-miler are tough, this account is simply stunning. At one point the pain in his foot is so bad that he "disowns it" to move on, and friends come out of nowhere to crew when the politics heat up. He holds nothing back, including some behind-the-scenes notes on Charlie Engle that explain a lot about tension levels in the movie Running America. You live through it with them all day by day, see the thousands of things that would make a normal person quit, and tear up when he reaches New York City with hours to spare. It's hard to put this book down once you get going.

The appendices are also fascinating - training plans, food plans, and more. There is a lot here that I think many would enjoy, and highly recommend it. Pre-order now, or get at your local bookstore on April 14th.


  1. Scott,

    Sorry to leave an unrelated comment, but I couldn't find any contact info for you on the site, and wanted to ask if you'd be interested in a guest post. Please drop me an e-mail.



  2. I love running! I like read your blog:)

  3. Based on your blog I learned a bit about Marshall and his exploits. Just happened to meet him in Boston at the Runners expo this past weekend and picked up his book. He could not have been nicer to talk to.

    Thanks again for the continuing great info.

    John M.

  4. nice posts! plenty of things for me to learn about running.


  5. Scott, after meeting you at the Sequoia races I just had to look this up. Very nice review. Thank you!!


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