Book review: Running on empty

After reading about him in multiple books, I decided to pick up a copy of Marshall Ultrich’s book “Running on Empty” and see what he was all about.

As I discovered in Scott Jurek’s book, the life of an Ultra Marathoner is often a rough one, but Marshall’s book was something else. It is the first book by Ultra runners that I have zero desire to re-read. None. Not because it was bad, but because after reading it I nearly felt like never running again.

Marshall’s life took a lot of dark turns and running became for him an escape, albeit a fruitless one. There seemed to be no distance he could run to escape the world, because what he truly was seeking to escape seemed to be himself. Not distance was enough. He pushed further, past all bounds of reason.

Reading the book is a bit like watching a train wreck itself in slow motion. Unlike many other books on running, I found little motivation to be had. There was a subtle sadness prevalent throughout the book. Most of all, I found not a trace of myself in Marshall, making it difficult both to empathize and to become inspired. I felt badly for him, his life was not an easy one, but also felt as though he piled difficulty higher and higher onto his own plate, as though the buffet of challenge was not enough so he had to move to hardship, loss and the near impossible.

Did he succeed? In most things he did, which is how we know of him. He pushed the boundries of human capability and redefined what we know we as a species are capable of achieving both physically and mentally. But the price was high, more than I would be willing to pay.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that just the physical act of even training for Ultra running is hard on the body, mind and even relationships. I get that. But there comes a point where you have to stand back and ask “Really?”. I nearly got to that point in Eat & Run, but Scott brought me back from the brink. I was there very quickly in this book and it was downhill from there. I finished it, but even as I got to the last pages I was already thinking about how negatively I felt about this book.

Would I recommend you read it? I’d say it would depend a lot on what you’re looking to get out of it. There’s a lot of drama here, a lot of story. There was almost an air of reality TV near the end of the book. The book is gritty and real, dark in places, very dark in others. Will you be entertained? Probably, the book has meat, there’s a lot here. For me, reading the book at a period in my life when I was recovering from injury, hoping to be inspired and invigorated about running and rebuilding this book was a bucket of cold water dumped over my head. It might simply have been my timing.

Luckily I was too hard-headed to let one book fizzle my firework. If you’re looking to read a book about incredible running, distances nearly beyond belief, run by a man who has pushed himself past the limits normally ascribed to humans, this book delivers. Just don’t expect to come out the other side happy. Wiser, perhaps, but not happy.

Cost: $12.80
Score: 3/10 RAWRS (A dark, nearly tragic tale of extreme endurance, loss and hardship. / not planning on reading again / buy if you’re into that kind of thing )

High: Marshall is the real deal, and he’s pushed past incredible hardships
Low: It is difficult to emphasize with him, the feats he pursues sometimes are beyond the bounds of reason

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