“Running On Empty” Book.

My parents bought me this running book a few months ago and it took me until now to lose it and then find it again and read it. I was super surprised and happy when they bought it but then they said “It was on the clearance shelf and you like reading those weird running books so…” Is it still the thought that counts? 

I have read so many crazy running stories, and talked about each and every one of them on the blog. I read Katherine Switzer’s “Marathon Woman” and she inspired me to sign up for my first marathon! There was Dean Karnazes book “26.2: Stories of Blisters and Bliss” where I determined Karno was a special breed of human that is in one word – crazy. Then there was Matt Long’s book, “Long Run,” that was incredibly inspiring and made me cry a few times. Finally, I read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, the now-controversial story of the Tarahumara tribe that relies on running and beans to live their lives in the secret jungles of South America. It was the book that inspired the minimalist running shoe movement that has recently come crashing down with skyrocketing injury rates and the Vibram lawsuits. I actually really liked the book but could truly see how many people might dive into minimalist running without a lengthy transition or more research on the subject! It was an intriguing story though!

I recently just finished “Running on Empty” by Marshall Ulrich. I didn’t really know what the book was going to be about and I didn’t have a clue who Marshall Ulrich was. I was pleasantly surprised at how captivated I was by the book and I couldn’t put it down!

The book is primarily the story of Ulrich’s run across America. At 57 years old, Marshall Ulrich set off on a life changing journey, attempting to break a world record for shortest amount of time taken to run across America. He dives into how and why he started running, what drives him to keep going, and why on earth he wanted to run for a few months non-stop from San Francisco to New York City. His story surprised me, captivated me, and inspired me. I never ever want to run that far for that long, but Ulrich does an amazing job of conveying the message of perseverance. If you want something enough, you will find a way to make it happen.

Ulrich began running to try and escape his fears, his emotions, and his problems. He starts the book with the emotional story about his first wife and her battle with cancer. The need to run was planted early and he didn’t stop. He climbed, he ran, and then he climbed and ran some more. He climbed Everest, he ran and won Badwater MANY times, and he pushed himself to the limits over and over again. Ulrich doesn’t shy away from talking about how this need to escape and run away affected his relationships, and it is evident how much he battles internally with his love of his family and his love of adventure. Often you hear about the greatest triumphs of a runner and in this book you get to hear about all of the trade-offs that come with a dedication to ultra running. 

The book goes into many many details about his trip across the country. To touch on a few, the Ulrich discusses the arguments between him and his crew, his personal thoughts about running with someone else who he wasn’t entirely sure was ready, his constant battles with injuries, his daily diet, the struggles of “crewing” a runner, the logistics of travelling across America with limited resources, and his relationship with his wife before, during, and after the journey. It was amazing to read what an incredibly difficult trip it was and how he was able to persevere through it all to make it to NYC. 

If you search “Marshall Ulrich” on google you will get one of two photos of him. This one:

Or something like this one:

Marshall Ulrich is known mostly for his decision to surgically remove all of his toenails to help reduce the pain of distance running. It was extreme, but for the amount he runs and the time he spends on his feet, he doesn’t regret it for a second. Ulrich doesn’t back down from describing his most painful experiences on the run and what each and every day of running across America did to his body. When I think of how freaked I was about a little shin pain after my Sunday 20-miler, I can’t even imagine what running 60 or 70 miles a day for days on end would do to me. It hurts thinking about it. 

I highly recommend this book. I went into it with an open mind because I honestly had no idea what I was getting into but I loved it. There are even a few appendices in the back with his training schedule for the run, the daily mileage details for the actual journey, his medical treatments over the course of his run, and his diet each and every day. Reading this didn’t make me want to run across Canada or even run more than a marathon, but it did make me think about what the human body is capable of and how putting mind over matter is the best kind of training for runners. 

There was a documentary done about this run as well called “Running America” and you can check out the trailer HERE. If you want to read more about Ulrich himself, HERE is his website! 

Have YOU read his book or did you hear about his journey? 

Would you ever think about surgically removing your toenails?!


  1. Hmm, surgically removing toenails?!?!?!? Eeew! I’ve read a couple of those books, but I am interested in the Katherine Switzer one. I wonder where I could get that…

  2. Great review! What got to me is that Ulrich is only slightly younger than I am so it really does make you pause and reflect! Maybe I’ll try and pick it up sometime (or isn’t that what Xmas lists are for….?)

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