“Running on Empty” Ulrich’s Trans-America Run

Thanks to a month-long cold that turned into an incessant coughing, instead of running, I read about running. I had to get my “fix” from somewhere!

I decided to pick up Marshall Ulrich’s “Running on Empty” that recounted the story of him running across America from San Francisco City Hall to New York City Hall. The epic quest was a mind-boggling (and physically-challenging) 3063 miles in 52 days at age 57 years old. Every day, he ran the equivalent of TWO marathons and TWO 10K’s. (For those who prefer a number, that was about 70 miles daily)

Yeah, this guy was extreme (or crazy, that was my first reaction). No doubt.

The first part of the book described his ultra running’s accolades fairly succinctly, which surprised me. (And Marshall pushed boundary with Badwater and numerous other activities) I had expected a more detailed story. However, a third way through I realized this book was about the incredible trans-America journey. It provided a chronological trip from west to east, providing a lot of the backend story, viewed from Marshall’s perspective. I flipped through the pages, as if I was running with him (spiritually, of course!)

Of course, Marshall’s story and accomplishment was amazing. Perseverance. Mental toughness. Persistence. Courage. Physicality. We could throw another dozen quality out there that would describe the lessons from this book. However, one of the biggest lesson that touched me was when Marshall was recounting his mountaineering activity of summiting the Everest.

(I know, this man just does A LOT of extreme adventures!)

In particular, it was the story of a group of Russian climbers who were summiting the Everest along with Marshall’s group, coincidentally also lead by a Russian leader. The Russian National Climbing Team was setting a record of a never-done-before North Face route WITHOUT oxygen. They also did not use Sherpas; they would carry the heavy equipment themselves. Marshall was observing how one day, one of the climbers from the National Team came down dejected, because he was kicked off the team for “gripping about his hands being cold at 27000 ft”.

WOW. Talk about a dream vanishing in front of you. Or there goes years-long preparation. Or it just sucks!


The take away for me was “quit complaining”! Just because it was cold, it did not mean that you had to say it. It would have accomplished NOTHING. If anything, it brought down your mental toughness and killed the energy for those around you! In the case of summiting Everest, obviously, mental strength was probably the biggest asset to accomplish the task.

In life, myself included and guilty, it can seem easier to gripe about little things. At the end, it really does NOTHING. Absolutely counter productive. There is a subtle and a blurred line between expressing one’s emotions/feelings and complaining. After reading about the Russians (which by the way, I’m married to one), I am more aware the difference between a healthy (and quick) expression of one’s state of emotion and a useless complain.

In line with my Chinese upbringing of Taoism, everything in moderation is the practice. I don’t vow to become a “Macho-Russian” (Marshall’s words). Instead, I want to adopt this “suck it up and just do it” attitude in my plethora of tools. It may be helpful in certain situations, like halfway through a 10 mile long run. I choose to train and run, therefore, suck it up, don’t complain about the pain, just do it!



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