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Marshall Ulrich

Ultramarathon runner and author Marshall Ulrich, left, leads a group of running enthusiasts on a short run Tuesday in Winona. Ulrich spoke about his book "Running on Empty" at The Bookshelf after the run. (Rory O'Driscoll/Winona Daily News)

Marshall Ulrich is most known for his transcontinental run.

It took him from the steps of City Hall in San Francisco to the steps of City Hall in New York

He covered 3,063 miles in 52 days.

On Tuesday, I went running with him. We covered 4 miles. It took 45 minutes.

Ulrich was in Winona, Minn., visiting the in-laws - his wife, Heather, is from Winona - and talking about his memoir "Running On Empty" at The Book Shelf downtown.

A group of 10 of us ran with him from the bookstore, around the small lake and back, before listening to Ulrich speak. He made it a point to talk to each person on the run, in which he jogged with a little limp.

The 59-year-old spent three months in Winona training for his transcontinental run across America, in which he averaged 60 miles and 9,000 calories a day. He ran from Sept. 13 to Nov. 4, 2008.

If you were around the lakes during the time of his training, you may have seen him. And then seen him again. And again.

"I'd do back-to-back 50-milers around the lakes," Ulrich said Tuesday.

I get a little bored running the lakes once - did I just call what I do running? But doing it 10 times in a row for a few months? That sounds awful.

It's the joys of ultra-running or extreme running or whatever you call what Ulrich does, because not many others in the world do it.

Listening to Ulrich speak was funny, inspiring and a little unbelievable to comprehend.

Running the equivalent of two marathons and a 10K 52 days in a row will do that, I suppose.

He's climbed Mount Everest. He's run across Death Valley four times in a row, unaided. But this, "was absolutely, bar none, the hardest thing I've ever done."

The stories he told were both sad and funny.

He started running at 28 to cope with depression. His wife was diagnosed and eventually died of cancer.

He progressed like many of us runners do, from a 5K to a 10K and beyond. But Ulrich never stopped. And the more he learned about the extremes of the sport, the more he pushed himself.

At 38, he did his first 24-hour run and set a record in winning.

In the early 90s, he wanted to do the transcontinental run when it was an organized race.

"I was the in the processs of developing a business and raising three kids," said Ulrich, who grew up on a farm. "So I held that thought."

He held it until he was 58 and then thought it a good idea to try and break a 28-year-old's record for crossing the U.S. Frank Giannino, of course, still holds the record (46 days, 8 hours, 36 minutes).

"I just threw it out there," Ulrich said. "Why not go after a 28-year-old's record? I knew in my heart I knew I couldn't break that record, but if I put it out there, I was going to try."

Ulrich finished in 52 days, 11 hours and 58 minutes, earing him the Masters (over 40) and Grand Masters (over 50) record for crossing on foot.

He tried going all out his first four days of the run through Arizona. That's been his strategy in life, going all in - or all out - on something.

He was hitting the 70-mile mark each day - sleeping three hours a night - before his body started talking to his subconscious.

"I'd have nightmares about being executed or hung," Ulrich said. "My body thought I was killing it."

That was the first of a couple funny observations Ulrich talked about.

He suffered his first injury - plantar fasciitis - 11 days in. On Day 23, he tore a lateral tendon in his foot and needed an MRI.

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"After the MRI, I asked the doc what I needed to do," Ulrich said. "And he said, ‘Rest, ice, keep it elevated.'

"I then asked him, ‘What's rest? If I only do 40 miles a day instead of 60, does that constitute as rest?' And the look on his face was priceless."

As the days passed, and the foot throbbed and swelled, he named it "Fat Foot."

"I had to put the foot out of my head," Ulrich said. "I had to say things like, ‘This foot doesn't belong to me.'"

These are the things you come up with while running 17½ hours a day, 52 days in a row.

Later he used this strategy back home.

"When I wanted to get a midnight snack, get some ice cream out of the freezer, I would just blame it on Fat Foot," he said, "This isn't my foot walking to the kitchen."

Just about every state had its own niche. Iowa was known for its Buick Centurys driven by the elderly. One almost hit him.

He found a pink stuffed elephant in Indiana. No, he was not hallucinating.

"It was tore here and tore there," he said, "just like me."

He named it Indy. It's still at his home near Idaho Springs, Colo.

He finished the run on election day, going from Washington Square through Times Square and on to City Hall.

He really didn't depict any stretch of his journey as worse than another.

His favorite, however, he picked out easily.

"In Steamboat Springs (Colo.), where there were a bunch of kids," Ulrich said. "There were a few reasons: one was the kids, the other being in my home state and third was altitude where I felt very comfortable. It was a stellar evening, and that night I ran 67 miles."

Ulrich ran 40 percent of the time at night and averaged about 4 to 4½ hours of sleep.

He ate normal food, along with muscle milk mixed with whole milk and a multi-day vitamin.

He went through 30 pairs of shoes.

The trek was the most ridiculous of many ridiculous, amazing things Ulrich has accomplished, and he's not done yet.

He turns 60 on July 4. His birthday present to himself includes doing the Badwater Ultramarathon - for the 16th time - which is a run that begins at Badwater, Death Valley, the lowest elevation point in the Western Hemisphere at 280 feet below sea level, to the Mount Whitney Portals at 8,300 feet above sea level. He'll follow that with the Alps Trilogy, where he'll climb the Matterhorn and the Eiger. He's already done Mont Blanc.

Except for the nightmares the first few days, he didn't hallucinate during his journey across the U.S.; he mostly listened to music and talked to his crew. But he has seen things during Badwater.

"I've seen 747s pull up beside me while running in Death Valley," Ulrich said. "People were looking out the windows and waving."

He invented his own version of the Badwater, where he carries his own food and gear and runs the course twice out and twice back (586 miles).

He's climbed each of the seven summits, including Mount Everest, on his first attempts.

He's done 121 ultramarathons, which average more than 100 miles each. He's crossed Death Valley 22 times.

Did I mention we all ran 4 miles Monday?

The list of accomplishments seems endless, like his stamina. But none of it has gone to Ulrich's head. Meeting him in Winona, it would have been tough to point him out. He was just another one of the group, a smile always on his face.

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