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May 3, 2011

Running on Empty: Book Review, Video Trailer, and Giveaway

One of the most common descriptions you’ll hear about Marshall Ulrich is how humble he is – and before I even started reading his book this spring, I had two examples of exactly what those people are talking about.

The first one occurred after Marshall happened to send me an unsolicited e-mail in response to a recent Monterey Herald column my friend Mike and I wrote about Marshall’s one-time running companion Charlie Engle. Marshall told us he enjoyed reading the article, and informed us that he had a book coming out describing his misadventures with Charlie while running across America, and said he’d be happy to give us a copy to read.

That’s not such an unusual proposal … except for the fact that I already had Marshall’s book, Running on Empty, in my possession, thanks to his professional publicist. It was almost as if he wasn’t aware that he was a celebrity – even before the book was released, Marshall was one of the most widely respected ultrarunners in the world - and was trying to share his story by making connections with one reader at a time. When I told him that I was already working with his publicist, his response was something like, “Oh, OK … great to hear that you have a copy.  Thanks for taking the time to review it.”

The second example of Marshall’s humility was an e-mail exchange between him, Mike, and me as we peppered him with a few questions about his running experiences. When Mike asked him why he hadn’t written a book before now, this was part of Marshall’s reply:

The reason I didn’t write a book sooner is that I didn’t feel qualified. I didn’t want anyone saying, “Marshall who? He has done what?” I wanted to have walked the walk.

For the record, here are portions of the resume that Marshall Ulrich felt left him unqualified to write about his experiences: 9-time Eco-Challenge competitor, finisher of over 100 footraces of 100 miles or more, 4-time winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon (in the old days, on the 146-mile course that went to the summit of Mount Whitney), only person to do a self-supported quadruple Badwater run, only person to do the Leadville 100 and Pikes Peak Marathon on the same weekend, and climbing all Seven Summits. You know … the stuff anyone can do.

Indeed, all of those accomplishments serve as a warm-up act to the main narrative of Running on Empty, which is an account of Marshall’s transcontinental run that he completed in the fall of 2008, and was the subject of the feature-length documentary Running America (linked and previewed below). Marshall breezes through the first couple of chapters talking about his upbringing, the tragic loss of his first wife, and his early endurance sport exploits, then spends the rest of the book detailing his two-month odyssey from San Francisco to New York, which he also decided should be an attempt to take down the world record for the fastest crossing of the United States on foot. The previous record was set by 28-year-old Frank Giannino, and had stood since 1980; at the time of his own attempt, Marshall Ulrich was 57 years old. He defies age barriers just like any other obstacle, overcoming them mainly through sheer willpower and determination.

I won’t spoil the ending of whether he set the record or not, because the run is really just the backdrop for many other issues that Marshall explores while on the road across America – and those, as much as the athletic endeavor, are the true appeal of Running on Empty. Marshall is one of those people who runs as a means of escape, both from personal demons and from soul-crushing external circumstances. He discusses what drives an extreme athlete to persevere no matter how daunting the next challenge might be – and how that single-mindedness often comes at the expense of career, relationships, and even family bonds.

One other point stands out about our e-mail exchange with Marshall: he told us that in hindsight, he’s glad that he waited so long to write a book. He said that his perspective and priorities have changed since his younger days, and that he wouldn’t have been capable of acknowledging his own shortcomings or developing any meaningful insight if he had tried telling his story sooner. In that regard, it’s a great thing that he waited, because Running on Empty is equal parts heartfelt personal journey and wonderful adventure tale. You’ll identify with him on the personal stuff, and admire him for the athletic feats.

Running on Empty is available for $17.16 from Amazon.com, or $12.99 for the Kindle version. I’ve also been given an extra book to offer as a giveaway prize, so one of my readers will receive a free copy; leave a comment below this post to enter, and I’ll announce the winner on Sunday, May 8.

Thanks very much to TLC book tours for setting up this review and providing a copy to give away.

As a special bonus, here's a great video clip of Marshall's run across the USA, excerpted from the film Running America:

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Anonymous,  5/3/11, 9:20 PM  

Looks like a great read. Thanks for the contest.

Jeff Collins
Vallejo, California

Eddie 5/3/11, 9:53 PM  

Would enjoy the book!

Tozilla 5/3/11, 9:59 PM  

It will be great to add this one into my running book collection.

Itao Tsai
San Jose, CA

Danny Miller 5/3/11, 10:18 PM  

Looks like a great book.

Lenexa, KS

jamesbg,  5/3/11, 10:36 PM  

I've heard about Marshall--especially the Leadville and Badwater runs. Would love to read his own words. Thanks for the contest.

mike_hinterberg 5/3/11, 11:32 PM  

Saw and enjoyed the film locally in Denver, look forward to the book.

Mike Hinterberg
Denver, CO

krystyna47 5/4/11, 12:49 AM  

Oh gosh, this book looks like something I would loooove to read. Thanks for the giveaway!

JenniferLeah 5/4/11, 2:32 AM  

I really, really want to read this book!
Thanks for another great contest :)

Asko 5/4/11, 2:49 AM  

There are some great running books coming out, this looks like a beauty.

jonnyb 5/4/11, 2:53 AM  

I would definitely enjoy reading this.

Kevin 5/4/11, 4:28 AM  

sounds like a great book

Woodrow 5/4/11, 5:04 AM  

Sounds like a good book. Thanks for the review and regardless of the outcome of the contest I will have to pick up a copy somewhere.

Hall 5/4/11, 5:15 AM  

This sounds pretty interesting. I'd love to add it to my collection of endurance/running/adventure sports books.

Jacob 5/4/11, 5:17 AM  

always looking for a new book to read

Matthew 5/4/11, 5:40 AM  

Inspiration is always key, sounds like a great story.

Lisa 5/4/11, 5:44 AM  

Wow, sounds like a great book -- would love to read it. Thanks!

Meg T 5/4/11, 5:47 AM  

Sounds very interesting!

Mamarunsbarefoot 5/4/11, 5:49 AM  

I would LOVE to read this!!!

Richard 5/4/11, 5:52 AM  

Impressive resume! I did Mount Whitney in a day a few years ago and then drove to Badwater. That race was inconceivable(still is but no summit takes a lot of it's panache)!
Princess bride... inconceivable

Anna 5/4/11, 5:57 AM  

That book has been on my reading list for awhile!

Trailrat 5/4/11, 6:34 AM  

Another cool give away!

Boulder CO

Maren 5/4/11, 6:41 AM  

Man, that video had me cryin like a baby! Thanks for the giveaway. If I don't win, I'll definitely be picking up a copy!

Jay 5/4/11, 6:58 AM  

Thanks for the review. Looks like a book I'd love to read.

Michael Shane Helton 5/4/11, 7:51 AM  

Michael Helton
Reno, Nevada

If I do not win I am definitely buying this book.

Michael Shane Helton 5/4/11, 7:56 AM  

One more comment: I do not want to take anything away from his run across America, but in my mind his solo-supported Badwater is one of the all-time accomplishments in the world of running.

Badwater is definitely one of the hardest races on the planet and only thee elite of the elite even have a chance to complete it...he did it pulling all of his supplies with him. Simply amazing.

dug deep,  5/4/11, 8:03 AM  

Enter me please

Joseph 5/4/11, 8:06 AM  

Wow, great video, that book seems very interesting.

RD Jim 5/4/11, 8:21 AM  

What an inspiration. Maybe 60 miles when I turn 60 won't be that bad.

paiNn3ck 5/4/11, 8:57 AM  

Holding off on buying... hoping to win! w0ot!

Mike A

Dan 5/4/11, 9:23 AM  

Flat on my back, feet up on the wall, letting my legs recover from another long training run, engrossed in a good book.

Now that's my idea of heaven!

Morgan Hill

tdomina 5/4/11, 9:49 AM  

Nice review. I'd love a copy.

Anonymous,  5/4/11, 9:50 AM  

Sign me in!
Eddy Compagno Zoan, Los Angeles

Knuckles 5/4/11, 9:54 AM  

Sign me up, Donald. Sounds like a great book.


ajones 5/4/11, 10:47 AM  

Alex J
Pocatello, ID

Paul 5/4/11, 10:52 AM  

Can I keep my toenails?

Centerville, CA

maxamilian 5/4/11, 11:27 AM  

More and more I am falling in love with books about running. I usually read a little before bed and it always gets me excited about waking up way too early the next day and going for a run. Great review.

Brandon Mulnix - Owner Modern Photographics 5/4/11, 12:05 PM  

Not Qualified my butt! He's the man! I am so glad he has written his journey in a book. This one is on my must read list

marathonmaiden 5/4/11, 12:06 PM  

i need a new book about running to read!

mtlion 5/4/11, 12:16 PM  

I'm in. Thanks.

Ryanstatia 5/4/11, 12:44 PM  

I just started training for my very first marathon, and I would love to have some insight from an expert!

chad 5/4/11, 2:19 PM  

Sounds like a great book, I'll have to check it out and it could be head into my running collection soon

Gary 5/4/11, 2:23 PM  

Looks very inspiring and a good ruuning read.

Jerome 5/4/11, 3:40 PM  

Should be a good way to spend a few afternoons post workout.

Jerome B
Pasadena, CA

Mark 5/4/11, 8:14 PM  

Looks like a great book. Like Born to Run, a good running book always motivates me to get out there myself.

Cherylrunner 5/4/11, 8:23 PM  

Donald, Can't wait to read the book - already downloaded it to my Nook! Posted the video clip to my FB page! Would love to get the "real" (paper) one, too!

Karien @ Running the Race 5/5/11, 6:56 AM  

Looks like an awesome read!

Heather Ulrich 5/5/11, 9:24 AM  

Thanks so much for your review of Running on Empty. Really appreciate your helping to spread the word!

JimDog 5/5/11, 10:18 AM  

Love to read it! Count me in.


John L.,  5/5/11, 11:15 AM  

Sounds like a great book, I might just have to get a copy.

John L.
Shelby Township, Mi

Bryan,  5/6/11, 10:29 AM  

Sounds awesome, I'm in.
Bryan M.
Dallas, TX

Sarah 5/6/11, 2:40 PM  

Looking forward to reading this book!

David 5/6/11, 3:39 PM  

would like to read the book.

LisaMM 5/6/11, 6:17 PM  

I'm so glad you enjoyed the book! Thanks so much for being on the tour and for sharing your thoughts with your readers. Marshall sounds like a very humble guy!!

wattage 5/7/11, 8:11 AM  


Sound like a very interesting read!

Thanks for the contest.

Take care
Jurgen, Montreal

Sparkplug 5/7/11, 12:17 PM  

Sounds like a great book!

Tegyn 5/7/11, 7:39 PM  

Great Post and a great book. Would love to read it!

Jen 5/8/11, 6:11 AM  

I love a copy of this book. It's on my list. And I find that most ultra runners are extremely humble. Which is amazing to me because of the great feats that they are able to achieve. It's so inspiring. Something must happen to a soul in those miles.

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