His feats are impressive. At age 57, Marshall Ulrich went 3,063 miles on foot, running about 60 miles a day for 52 days straight, from San Francisco to New York City. He was attempting to break a world record set by a man half his age and ultimately set two new records, completing the third fastest trans-American crossing in history.
You can imagine that being married to a guy so driven and prone to extremes requires a strength of its own, a special brand of emotional endurance. Ulrich’s wife not only puts up with this craziness but embraces it as an essential part of him. How? Why?
Ulrich wrote about all of this in Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America, now available in paperback. A central element in the book is a recounting of how Ulrich met his wife, Heather, late in life and how she taught him to love again after great personal tragedy and previous marriages. He credits her not only with helping him to become a better man, but also with being crucial to his completing this epic, record-setting transcontinental run.
Some “how to” tips for women in a relationship with a “crazy” man:
• Let men be men. All of us need to express ourselves in unique ways, and for one man, it may be running across the U.S., while for another, it may be a guys’ getaway in Baja, Mexico, and for another, it may be watching a show about Bigfoot.
• Respect that thing you think is silly or risky or even dangerous, as it can bring out the best in both of you. It isn’t anti-feminist to embrace the dreams and aspirations of men who want to test their mettle, whether that’s in sport, business, finance, or any other classically male area of contest. This also applies to men who want to explore the arts and other creative pursuits. The truth is that most men like to succeed, no matter their particular interest.
• Agree that this is a reciprocal arrangement, where both partners are committed to seeing the other become the fullest versions of themselves. If you can find it in your heart to encourage him in something you’d otherwise ignore or even dismiss, he can do the same for you. Who knows what you might accomplish together?
Running On Empty is both a gripping love story and an inspirational look into the lives of a couple who have experienced more than most people can comprehend – and who insist that everyone’s capable of more.
While the book centers on the transcontinental run and the importance of and strain on the Ulrichs’ marriage, it also includes stories and lessons learned from Marshall Ulrich’s nearly three decades of athletic accomplishments in extreme endurance sports:
He began running ultra distances in his thirties just after his first wife died, and in his forties he set records on some of the world’s most difficult courses. Ulrich won the infamous Death Valley Badwater Ultramarathon an unparalleled four times, has finished the race more times than anyone else, and he still holds the record for the original 146-mile course.
He started adventure racing while still in his forties; competing in multi-day events with a team of other hard-core athletes. He’s one of only three people to compete in all nine Eco-Challenges, contests that make the TV show Survivor look like a resort vacation. At the same time, he became an innovator in the sport of ultra-running, finishing feats of endurance no one had accomplished before.
In his 50s, he ascended all Seven Summits on first attempts, including reaching the peak of Mt. Everest in 2004. Yet the sight of Heather at base camp dwarfed the elation he’d felt at the top. Outside magazine crowned him an “Endurance King,” Trail Runner named him one of the Legends of the Trail, and Adventure Sports highlighted him as an athlete “Over 50 and Kicking Your Butt.”
Four years later, in 2008, he completed the run across the United States with Heather by his side, acting as his crew chief. He broke the Masters and Grand Masters records and outpaced all but two of his peers, both of whom were 20 years younger.
This summer, Ulrich plans to complete the first-ever circumnavigation of Death Valley National Park, going 800 miles on foot in one of the hottest places on earth. Heather will provide emotional, logistical and loving support – as always.