Dad of Divas' Reviews: Book Review - Running on Empty

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review - Running on Empty

About the Book
"Old age ain't no place for sissies," H. L. Mencken declared. It's especially true the way Marshall Ulrich does it.

This month, to celebrate his 60th birthday, Ulrich will climb two deadly mountains in the same week -- right after he finishes running 146 miles across the hottest place on earth.

During the climbs, he and his fellow mountaineers will be roped in, but the best insurances against plummeting off Mount Eiger (13,025 feet) and the Matterhorn (14,692 feet) are strength and experience, both of which Ulrich has in legendary measure. He'll need them: the Eiger has earned the nicknames "the Ogre" and Mordwand (German: "death wall") because more than 60 people have perished while trying to scale the north face since 1935. The Matterhorn has claimed even more lives: 500 since it was first climbed in 1865. This fact just makes Ulrich all the more eager to conquer them.

But this is not the first time he has thumbed his nose at advancing age:
  • In 2008, when he was 57 years old, Ulrich ran 3,063 miles (the equivalent of 117 back- to-back marathons) across the United States, breaking records set by men more than 15  years his junior.
  • Four years earlier, he had ascended Mount Everest.
  • To mark his 50th birthday in 2001, he had run across Death Valley four times in a row for  a total of nearly 600 miles, crossing the scorching desert and going up and down Mount Whitney in order to raise money for orphans.

This time he will run the Death Valley route just once as his warm-up to the Alps climbs. The infamous Badwater Ultramarathon, dubbed by National Geographic as the toughest footrace in the world, accounts for the first 135 miles but then Ulrich, a 4-time winner and 16-time finisher in this race, never stops at the finish line. He always runs up Mount Whitney and back to make it 146 miles, just because ... well, just because.

Earlier this year, Ulrich debuted his memoir, Running On Empty: An Ultramarathoner's Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America (Avery; $26). He is frequently asked why he waited so long to write it because his athletic accomplishments warranted examination sooner than this, readers say. Ulrich responds that he is glad he waited, as this book is richer and more reflective than one he might have written as a younger man. "Before, I didn't feel qualified to speak with authority," he admits, though most would argue the point. "Finally, I felt comfortable to write about something more than sport, to communicate some valuable lessons I've learned about living."

It is also because an important element in the book is a recounting of how Ulrich met his wife late in life and how she taught him to love again after great personal tragedy. He credits her not only with helping him to become a better man but also with being essential to his completing this epic, record-setting transcontinental run.

Ulrich has been competing in extreme endurance sports for nearly three decades, but he didn't start his athletic career in high school as did most peak performers. It wasn't until his thirties that Ulrich discovered his formidable talent for ultrarunning and set records on some of the world's toughest courses. In his forties, he became an innovator in the sport, finishing feats of endurance no one had accomplished before and many of which no one will ever attempt to beat. And then he diversified into adventure racing, taking on multi-day team events requiring a combination of such skills as long-distance trail running, ocean paddling, mountain biking, and (on occasion) camel riding.

As he entered his fifties, he was hailed by Trail Runner magazine as one of the legends of the trail; Outside crowned him "Endurance King," and Adventure Sports highlighted him as an athlete "Over Fifty and Kicking Your Butt." That's when he started climbing and went to the top of the highest mountains on every continent, reaching all seven summits on his first attempts.

So Running On Empty is both a love story and a thrilling look into the life of someone who has accomplished more than most people can comprehend--and who continues to take on new challenges to show that the human body and the will to endure are miraculous indeed. For Ulrich, there are no such things as "too old," "too far," or "too difficult."

For a closer look at the life of this extraordinary man, please visit his website

My Take on the Book
I am not an avid runner but even though this is the case I have to say that this book was one that anyone, runner or non-runner will enjoy. This was the type of book that you are simply drawn to. For me, I picked up the book and could not put it down. While the person in the book has lived (and is still living) a life that is beyond my comprehension, I was completely intrigued and was more than interested to read more and live vicariously through his experiences.

To me, at 57 this author is doing things that I could only hope to be doing at his age. I mean how many people can say that at 57 they were climbing Mt. Everest or running across America? I would venture a guess to say very few. The book is motivational and inspirational and will make you look at your own life and ask yourself what you are doing within your own life (at least it did for me).

I also liked how the book not only explored the author's success but also shared his failures. I also liked the stories that he shares. The book is down to earth and shows the humanity of the man in which this story is about. He lets his readers know so much more about himself than just this running but moreover what made his the person he is today. 

This truly was a great book for people of all walks of life and interests. You will not be disappointed!

All opinions expressed in this review are my own and not influenced in any way by the company.  Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Please refer to this site's Disclaimer  for more information. I have been compensated or given a product free of charge, but that does not impact my views or opinions.
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