More Q-and-A with Marshall Ulrich


Following up from today’s column (linked here) on Marshall Ulrich’s plan to run again in the July 11-13 Badwater Ultramarathon through Death Valley (linked here) and then fly to Switzerland to scale both Mt. Eiger and the Matterhorn in the Alps, the author of “Running On Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss and A Record-Setting Run Across America” (linked here) about his run across America (linked here) adds some insights on how it’s not all that difficult to get to a point in your life where you can consider yourself to be an athlete, too.

QUESTION: On Page 24 of your book, you go through all the things that were written about you in different running magazines — “Trail Runners” called you “one of the legends of the trail,” and “Outside” referred to you as “Endurance King,” and “Adventure Sports” had you on their list of an athlete “Over Fifth and Kicking Your Butt.” Your response in the book is: “Good for me. I was a badass.” I’m laughing because I’m sure at the time that was the last thing you thought of yourself, as you’re trying to finish this Badwater Quad, and now you were in a tough spot and couldn’t figure a way out of it.
ULRICH: That was definitely tongue in cheek. I was totally humbled at that point. I never considered myself a ‘bad ass.’ I was just making fun of myself. I had to chuckle: ‘Yeah, right, all I’m doing is trying to survive like everyone else.’

Q: Would you consider yourself some kind of freak of nature at least?
ULRICH: I don’t consider myself extra ordinary, but I admit that because I’ve been able to do this for so long and do some remarkable things, just holding up, that’s simply genetics. Some are predispositioned to have bad joints and knees. So in some respects, I lucked out. But I think a lot of what I am is learned behavior, more of a work ethic. That’s just the way I grew up. I’ve been on some adventure races with people from New Zealand or some Aussies, and they grow up paddling and all those activities that’s just a way of life for them. It’s so ingrained in them, they don’t have a preconceived idea about how it should be.

Q: Is the Badwater Ultramarathon still a challenge for you year after year?
ULRICH: Many things are a challenge. I just know I’ve done so many times and I have a good history there.


Q: What has the reception to your book been like?
ULRICH: It’s been great. Some excellent reviews. It’s really over the top of what I’d hoped for. There is a lot of word of mouth about it. I’m the most pleased that people find that it’s not just a book about running. Some have told me it’s not about running at all. There are so many elements of life, so many layers that many can relate to. Honestly, I think I did my homework and the book I wrote is exactly how I thought it would turn out. I think it speaks not just to runners, but there’s a demographic of women from 40 to 60 who really seem to get it.

Q: As cathartic as the book may have been for you to write, which is easier for you: Running or writing? Can you compare the two?
ULRICH: Of course, running is much more physical, but, that’s about right, this was as much of a mental challenge as running is a physical challenge for me sometimes in more difficult races. It was very emotional and kind of a healing experience also. I tried to peel all the layers back and get to the core of my issues, open up the sores, make it very honest. That’s the greatest compliment I get about it.

Q: Would it have helped you years ago to read a story like this, to help you through your life struggles?
ULRICH: I think so, but so much is dependent upon how your perspective is in hearing what another person is saying. If I wrote this when I was 40 or 50, it might be more event orientated, about running achievements. With a lot of detail about those things. Instead, I take a lot of my races with a grain of salt today. It’s the journey I took to get here, and it led to overall getting me to this place. The run I had across America really brought me and my family together, and I think the reason was because it also allowed them to open up. That’s the key. They connected with me on a deeper level. That really caught me by surprise.


Q: What advice are you giving to those 50-plus year-old people who feel as if they’re in no shape to get off the couch and attempt anything like this?
ULRICH: More than anything, they literally have to take the first step. Maybe it’s swimming, or golf or tennis, riding a bike. Anything that’s physical, but also something that’s enjoyable. You can’t force a square peg into a round hole. Then the trick is to just say you’re going to do it maybe three minutes a day. You’ll know it’s hard. It’s hard for me to convince myself to run all the time. But don’t be too hard on yourself. Allow yourself the luxury of not having to do it every day.

Q: You even mention in your book that the first time your doctor suggested you run, you did it, and it was miserable.
ULRICH: I think I was just curious as to why I wasn’t running. I knew there would be a point when I’d get over that uncomfortable feeling. You have to have the faith that will happen. Just take it a step at a time.

== More on Marshall Ulrich on his website:

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