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In 2008, at age 57, ultramarathoner, adventure runner, and mountaineer Marshall Ulrich ran 3,063 miles from San Francisco to New York City in a record 52 days. Slightly more than 400 miles of that journey were spent traversing “The Loneliest Road in America,” Nevada’s U.S. Highway 50. We recently caught up with Ulrich (figuratively, of course) to learn about his impressions of the Silver State and inquire about his next desert dash.
Q: In your 2008 record-setting cross-country run, you spent six days running across Nevada. All told, how was your time here? What are your lasting impressions?
A: Nevada proved to be a tough stretch, no doubt about it, but that was mostly because I was running 70 miles a day. There was intense fatigue, and I had to deal with some physical ailments. However, one of my coping mechanisms [was to] think about the surroundings as they were in the past, and the area was rich with opportunities to do this. Passing through Carson City and Austin, I daydreamed about the Old West, imagining gunslingers and women in swinging skirts. On parts of Highway 50 when we were nowhere near a town, I thought a lot about the Pony Express and about the people who’d gone before [me].
The landscape provided welcome diversion, too. Gorgeous! I’ve since [learned] that Nevada is the most mountainous state, and I suppose I might have figured that out. There were vast valleys surrounded by mountains, and Nevada was the only place where I experienced this. During the day, I was struck by the natural beauty, and, occasionally, by some unnatural beauty. Near Middlegate, we passed the shoe tree that [has since been cut down], and, from far off, I’d thought I was hallucinating because it looked a lot like a tree I’d seen in Africa. Up close, it just made me laugh, and I was happy when a member of my crew succeeded in hooking a pair of my shoes on one of the limbs. After dark, I was dazzled by the display of stars. Those were some of the most brilliant night skies I have ever seen.
Q: The arid expanses of the Silver State have been the bane of many a traveler since the days of the California Trail and Pony Express. How did you cope with the heat and loneliness?
A: Although I’m accustomed to running in extreme heat, the temperature was definitely a factor [and slowed] me down during the day. My crew was instrumental in keeping me hydrated and as cool as possible, and I sought shade when I could. The loneliness was often more difficult. Even though I was being tended to every mile by someone on my crew, I’d long for real conversation (something more than “here’s a banana” and “what else do you need?”) and time with my wife, Heather, away from the road. So I took that time where I could, and Heather knew how important this was to me—she would even stay by my side while I napped because she knew it comforted me.
Q: You have another major desert run starting around July 21—about the time many of our readers will see this story. Can you tell us a little about it and specifically why you chose to do it in the height of summer?
A: This July, my buddy Dave Heckman and I will attempt the first-ever circumambulation of Death Valley National Park [see video below]. Parts of the expedition are in areas where the temperature can exceed 130 degrees; so to succeed, we’ll need to pay special attention to avoid dehydration and severe heat exhaustion. Our route will take us across the California state line into Nevada for a part of the trip. Altogether we’ll go nearly 500 miles on foot, virtually unaided, surviving on buried caches of food, water, and other supplies.
WORTH A READ
Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America
By Marshall Ulrich, Penguin Group Inc., penguin.com, 212-366-2000, 304 pages
In Running on Empty, Ulrich shares the gritty back story of his 2008 cross-country run and the excruciating punishment he endured on the road.
WORTH A CLICK
Marshall Ulrich — Dreams in Action