(Not) Running With Marshall Ulrich

In late 2008 Marshall Ulrich carefully double knotted his shoelaces (probably) and set off running across the United States of America. Pushing his limits, he covered 3,063 miles from San Francisco to New York. For 52 days straight he ran an average of two marathons and a 10k, and in doing so nailed the third fastest such foot crossing.

Marshall is not shy about trumpeting his age at the time of this achievement. He was 57. This year he will be 60. His age does not come with an asterix and footnotes as to why he couldn’t have done better or tried harder, and he defies the notion that there is such a thing as “too old”. He waves his age, not as an excuse, but as a proclamation of determination and the triumphant possibility of living adventurously.

A week or so ago Marshall Ulrich was at Fleet Feet Sports Seattle as runner and guest speaker to spread this message and promote his book, Running On Empty, the story of his transcontinental journey.

This evening my grand plan was to run the five miles to the store, join Marshall for the group run and then take a leisurely night time trot home again after the talk and book signing. Admittedly my goal was not quite such an amazing feat as running across the USA chasing a world record set by a 28 year old, but it was an adventure that I was very much looking forward to after a day of being shrieked at, whined at, and primarily used as a climbing frame by my two little offspring. I was gasping for some personal space, the therapeutic solitude of running to clear my head and more elevated topics of conversation than who hit who and why one sibling deserves a toy dinosaur/cat/train/car/half eaten biscuit over the other by virtue of greatest lung capacity.

Come departure time my plan was already derailed. Bill arrived home to take over parent duty and found me exasperated and still in my mum clothes, comforting an hysterical son while the argument provoking daughter clung to the doorframe and wailed like a banshee. Notions of running to the event flew out the window with their howls and I resigned myself to taking the car. Yet even the remaining fortyfive minutes spare to drive five miles to the store proved insufficient as I inched my way towards Marshall in thick traffic and then, just as I knew I would, struggled to find parking. Eventually I made it to the store and the runners had left. In typical Kay style, despite best laid plans, I was late.

Directed to run up towards Volunteer Park in an effort to cut the group off and join them I set off hopefully, but that effort proved fruitless. Standing alone and adrift on the outskirts of the park I had a bit of a cry. The day felt wretched. I saw a barefoot runner jog past with his canine companion, then watched wide eyed as another runner narrowly escaped being knocked down by a car turning the corner. Pulling myself back together I sauntered back down the road to the shop, I would at least listen to Marshall talk.

Sideshow Jesus and I are still competing to run across America ourselves. Each of us is logging miles in a virtual race to reach Valentine, Nebraska, the centre point between Seattle and Charlotte. At the time of Marshall’s talk we had been running since April Fool’s Day, and the race was picking up. 274 miles for me, 269 for Jesus.

Marshall’s talk started with a slide:

“California – 4 day State”

In four days the man had covered as many miles as Jesus and I had in almost three months, running across California and well into Nevada. That certainly put his incredible journey into sharp perspective for me.

The talk was interesting, though a little pithy as he seemed very guarded so as not to give any book spoilers away, and Marshall came across as very genuine and sincere. I regretted going in blind and waiting for the event to buy his book as I wished I had been prepared with insightful questions to ask him.

Afterwards I did purchase a copy, got it signed, and took the opportunity for a fan photo.

On the frontispiece Marshall wrote “To Kay, It was great running with you – my very best always. Marshall Ulrich.”

I almost let it be, but halfway back to the car I paused and just had to go back and have a quiet word. I hope he didn’t take it the wrong way, but I simply had to ask him to amend his inscription. I just couldn’t leave it, and the result with the correct version of events would be too funny to walk away from:

Leaving the store for the second time my evening felt completely turned around and I happily clutched my book that has a story to tell of its own.

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