Monday, February 11, 2013

February Book Club: Running on Empty

Yay, it's book club time!

February's book was "Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner's Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America" by Marshall Ulrich.

Let me just say that this book solidified the fact that I WILL run an ultra someday, it might not be until 2015 but I will do it. But when I say ultra, I mean 50K, 50 miles max.

The book started out perfectly, with a Foreword by Christopher McDougall, the author of "Born to Run", and it jumped right into how Ulrich started his career as an ultramarathoner.

As the title of the book suggests, Ulrich's life was filled with love and loss. Actually, love and loss are what started his career as a runner. He began running when his first wife, Jean, was affected by cancer. The cancer eventually took her life and Ulrich delved even further into his running and adventure-seeking lifestyle.

This meant that he missed out on a lot of his children's lives (he eventually remarried and had two more kids, and remarried another time) and his eventual ex-wives' lives.  He was running to get away, literally and figuratively. 

Ulrich describes his endeavors in adventure racing and ultramarathons with so much detail that I felt like I was there with him running Badwater, climbing Mt. Everest and eventually running across America. 

Ulrich eventually remarried for the final time (as far as I know they are still together) and his wife Heather did not want him to embark on his run across America (she herself had experienced a traumatic situation that had changed her life forever).  She did not want to lose him, but eventually she knew that she had to let him fulfill his last lifelong dream.

The run across America was described perfectly. I loved the little graph at the bottom of each page once he started the run that showed the elevation and exactly where he was during his journey. 

During the run, Ulrich experienced injuries, loss (he started the run with a friend, who eventually turned against him), joy, pain, triumph and frustration. He almost was killed a few times, and even told his wife during the first week of the run that he felt as if he was killing himself.

Ironically, when I started reading "Running on Empty" another runner had embarked on his own journey from Maine to Washington DC. Gary Allen, the race director of the Mount Desert Island Marathon (in my hometown), started running from the summit of Cadillac Mountain (he needed snowshoes) on January 7th and arrived in Washington D.C. on the day of the Presidential Inauguration on January 21st.

Allen and Ulrich's journeys, while different, were the same in many ways. They both experienced injuries, ran 50 mile days (Ulrich often ran more than that) and they had people join them on their journeys.  I wish that Allen's route had gone through Rochester so that Mike and I could have joined him for part of his run.

One thing that stood out to me, from both Allen and Ulrich, is that the run changed them. They were no longer the same men who had started the journey weeks before.

I thoroughly enjoyed "Running on Empty" and I have added "Running America", the documentary that was filmed while Ulrich and Charlie Engle ran and attempted to run across America.

Other book club members' reviews:

Carrie at Fitness and Frozen Grapes
Emily at Life, Fitness, and Me!

Now for the discussion portion of book club:

Have you ever used running to run away from something? Did it help, or hurt, the rest of your life?

Ulrich, and Allen, both ran a huge portion of their runs with injuries, which also meant that they were in pain. Do you think that you could overcome pain so that you could achieve something that is much bigger than yourself?

Would you ever run an ultramarathon, why or why not?

And finally, if you ever attempted a run like Allen's or Ulrich's, what route would you want to take?

Just a reminder that the book for March is "A Life Without Limits" by Chrissie Wellington and I will email you the books for April and May sometime this week.


  1. Sounds like a great book! I would not run an ultra, but I will live vicariously through you Jamie:)

  2. I don't know if I'm up for an ultra, but I enjoyed his book too. I do think a lot of us use running to get through tough times. I got hooked on running during a tough phase in college when my dad was really sick. It can be a powerful tool for perspective and healing!

  3. Woohoo for book club! I'm really curious to see the documentary, especially since we know what went on behind the scenes. :) Hope it's on Netflix!

  4. My wild running partner wants to do a 50K next year if I survive the two marathons this year. Something about saying you did an ultra, just sounds pretty bad a$$

  5. Read this a while back, but enjoyed it. I haven't been running long, but I feel like it has always been to run TO something - not away. I had a hard time with the amount of injury and pain they dealt with on their journeys. I'm very much a believer in listening to your body. That said, I know that everyone who does something amazing like this, will experience some pain. I haven't personally gone through anything so brutal. I've learned to never say never, but running an ultra isn't high on my bucket list. I'd want a route that was as flat and weather tolerant as possible. I'm sure I'd do a ton of research ahead of time to try to figure it out.

  6. A great book! Really glad to have--somewhat randomly--found your blog and excited to follow along on your ironman journey.

  7. I love these kinds of books! I will have to look into this one!

  8. I wrote my review and finally managed to post it today:

    This was a thoroughly enjoyable book - it was hard to put it down, to be honest (I felt a similar way toward Dean Karnzes's 50/50).

    I still don't think I want to run an ultra, but once upon a time, I was not a runner. And then I became a runner to do a 5K, but I didn't want to go any farther. And then I did a 10K, but I didn't want to do anything more than that. And then I did a half-marathon, and that's when I learned to stop limiting my distances.

    I struggled with shin splits in high school, and I recently had a bit of an overuse "shinjury" as well. I admit I'm kind of a weenie - it's easy to "quit" for a time when things hurt. Hopefully I can use better preventive care - better running form, regular adjustments and massage, etc. - to help keep me healthy so that I can achieve any distance I aspire to.

    As far as what I use running for, it's so complicated that I don't think I can ever put it into a blog post, much less a blog comment.

    Thanks again for the great read! :)

  9. Sounds interesting. I don't think I'll ever been an ultra runner.....I can't even seem to get past the half marathon distance without getting injured ;) haha

  10. Here is my Review! Sorry it is late!