It’s not unusual for illness or tragedy to inspire action. That’s how 61-year-old Marshall Ulrich started running. But we’re not talking jogs around the neighborhood. We’re talking 3,063-mile runs across America, twenty-three runs across Death Valley and the ascent of all Seven Summits, including Mount Everest, on the first try.
Yet before age 28, Ulrich had never run a mile in his life. First, it was his young wife’s bout with breast cancer, which she ultimately lost, that got him exercising. Then, diagnosed with high blood pressure, Ulrich started running on the advice of his doctor. And he’s been running ever since. “I found I didn’t have speed, but I had endurance,” says Ulrich, who holds the title of the third-fastest transcontinental run in history—a run he made when he was 57 years old.
Why does he put himself through the tough training schedules and occasional injuries, ultimately beating out competitors who are half his age? “It’s become a lifestyle for me,” Ulrich says. “And I want to set a good example for my children.”
Last year, Ulrich published his first book, Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner's Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America. “I initially wanted to write a book about adventure,” he says of his memoir, “but it’s really a love story about my wife and me.” Ulrich met his [second] wife, Heather, in 2001. “I had pretty well thought to myself I would spend the rest of my life alone,” he says. After losing his first wife to cancer, he says he did not think of himself as “marriage material.” Heather, he says, is proof that amazing things happen when you least expect them. “She brought me out of a several-decade funk I experienced after I lost my wife.” She also helped inspire him in his run across America, where he clocked an average of 60 miles a day for 52 days straight.
When he’s not training for an event, Ulrich runs three to four days a week and says running keeps him energized. “When I run, I feel more productive in other areas of my life. It’s more than just running to me.” Right now, he's preparing for a July 2012 run in Death Valley, California.
Go the Distance in Every Area of Your Life
Building endurance isn’t just necessary in sports. It’s an important life skill for all endeavors. As ultra-marathoner Marshall Ulrich points out, “Even raising kids is an endurance event.” How do you go the distance when the odds seem impossible? More important, how do you break through what you think are your limits? Ulrich has some simple yet profound advice for sports… and for life:
> Whatever your goal is, start small and slowly expand. If you’re trying a new sport, do it once a week; then keep building on that little by little.
> Stay focused on the process, not so much the end goal, and think about how it’s going to enrich your life.
> Know that limitations are only in your mind. If you don’t think you can do something, then you won’t do it. But if you believe, you can make it happen.
> Don’t buy into preconceived ideas, your own or anybody else’s. Think beyond barriers. There really isn’t anything you can’t do.
In this blog post, Marshall Ulrich writes about his July 2012 circumnavigation of Death Valley.