Across the country, one step at a time |

Across the country, one step at a time

Karina Wetherbee
Special to the Daily
Summit County, CO Colorado

There are people in this world who are driven, motivated by some force, internal or external, that sends them along difficult and unpredictable paths. Some, though, are clearly more driven than others, battling privations, physical pain and unimaginable challenges. Marshall Ulrich, one of the world’s top extreme athletes, is such a person.

A marathon is challenging, certainly, as is an Ironman competition, most definitely, and climbing Everest is the pinnacle of achievement, of course. He’s done all those. But what about running more than 116 marathons in one race … at the age of 57? Now that requires something extra, something the average athlete does not possess.

What does it mean to achieve a dream, when the imagined goal is so out of reach? In the captivating memoir “Running on Empty,” Colorado’s own Ulrich explains the drive, the physical and mental challenges and the resiliency involved in tackling such a feat. But what exactly does it take to send someone on such a path in the first place?

As is often the case, personal tragedy is the motivating force. Facing a terminal cancer diagnosis for his young wife, the mother of his children, Ulrich turns to running to manage his stress. Confronting his own mortality, and with his own health concerns compounded by the eventual passing of his wife, running quickly becomes an escape, an escape from family, from decisions, from responsibilities. Ulrich is the first to admit his early attempts at running were less a run toward better health and well-being and more a dash away from the tragedy eclipsing his life.

Very quickly, though, his desire to run leads him to a new soulmate, one who sees his drive for what it is and who supports him wholeheartedly. With the wind of a loving relationship at his back, Ulrich sets out to do the unimaginable, a coast-to- coast run, in record time, and he does it at an age when most people are beginning to think about slowing down.

In this well-written account, Ulrich shines an unflinching light on the day-to-day hurdles involved in his cross-country run, inspiring and motivating the reader. Through stifling heat, personal challenges, periods of self-doubt and physical torment, Ulrich puts one rapidly swelling foot in front of the other … for 52 days. Ulrich’s obsessive drive wins the day, and “Running on Empty” succeeds in inspiring lesser mortals.

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