Both Feet on the Ground: A Prescription for the Stay At Home Coronavirus Blues

You’re stressed out, tired of looking at the same four walls, drained by the negativity on social media, and exhausted from juggling work with homeschooling and entertaining your kids. No matter your age, location, or financial standing, there is a simple, effective therapy that is abundantly available, and it’s right outside your door.
“Get out and stay out—as often and for as long as you can.”

That’s one of the messages in my new book, Both Feet on the Ground: Reflections from the Outside. You need to unplug, plant your feet firmly in the earth, fill your lungs with clean Both Feet Coverair, and dream of bold and personally compelling outdoor adventures. Of course, for now, your adventures in natural places may be as simple as sitting outside or walking around your neighborhood. But experience has shown me that any time outside can help create physical connections to the natural world that are vital to health of body and soul. Outdoor experiences can put you back in touch with who you are; how resilient, resourceful, and hardy you can be.

While you’re reading, I’ll take you back to bailing hay on the dairy farm of my youth, gasping for air at the top of Mount Everest, running through the searing heat of the Gobi desert, and riding the crest of huge ocean waves off Morocco. More importantly, hopefully you’ll gain some valuable insights from my endeavors, along with useful findings and recommendations from other experts, all organized around themes of earth, air, fire and water.

As one reviewer put it, Both Feet on the Ground asks you to consider the possibilities for your own journeys; encourages you to consider:

  1. How will you find, within your nature/self balance, your necessary grounding and sustenance … your earth element?
  2. How will you, as with your head in the clouds, marshal your own unique daring, acclimation and attitude … your air element?
  3. How will you kindle your own passion and find the perseverance and retreat needed to endure until you succeed the most trying of your challenges … your fire element?
  4. And, how will you grow, in your innermost, deeper being, through renewing your courage, redemption and reflection … diving below the surface of your water element?

Ultimately, I hope you’ll be inspired to find new ways of engaging with these natural elements yourself to experience the healing powers of the outside world.

Stay well.


Buy your copy of Both Feet on the Ground today on Amazon/Kindle, iTunes, Barnes & Nobel/Nook, Audible, or your favorite bookstore or other outlet.

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Posted in Both Feet on the Ground, Expeditions, Excursions & Other Outdoor Explorations, Health and Wellness, Mountaineering, Nature - value of, Running | Leave a comment

Death Valley to the Summit of Mount Whitney – At Age 67

July 19, 2018, Evergreen, CO – After thirty-five years as an extreme endurance athlete, including running at least 129 races averaging over 125 miles each; completing twelve expedition-length adventure races; and ascending the Seven Summits, including Mount Everest, all on the first attempt, you might think Marshall Ulrich would retire.

But, at age 67, Marshall is not finished. On July 23rd he will toe the line at the Badwater basin in Death Valley, hoping for his twenty-first finish of the official 135-mile race. But, he won’t be finished then, either. Every time he’s started at this, the lowest point in the U.S. (minus 282 feet), and made it to the official finish line on the shoulder of Mount Whitney, he’s continued a total of 146 miles to the 14,505-foot summit of the mountain, the highest point in the contiguous states. “If I’m able to succeed, it will be my twenty-fourth lowest-to-highest crossing,” Marshall says, “and I hope my daughter will be at the summit with me.”

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My 20th Badwater 146

Crossing the finish line in 42 hours, 30 minutes after running 135 miles across blazing hot Death Valley was not a record setting time for me. The iconic Badwater ultramarathon starts at the Badwater basin, the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level, and now officially ends at the 8,360-foot Whitney Portal trailhead on the mountain.

At the 2015 AdventureCORPS Nutrimatix BADWATER®135 race, I did set a record by completing an unrivaled 20th Badwater 135 races. I ran my first Badwater Ultramarathon race in 1990. Why 20 Badwater ultramarathons?

The desert is never forgiving, but always welcoming to me. There’s a peace in disconnecting from the everyday, electronic world and instead being connected to the earth, your support crew, and the Badwater family. That’s what has brought me back for so many years.

In the field of 68 men and 29 women consisting of extreme sports athletes, adventure racers, ultrarunners, mountaineers, and triathletes who had to compete with their sports credentials and accomplishments just to be invited to the race, at age 64 I was still a competitive applicant. In 2012 I finished the first-ever circumnavigation on foot of Death Valley National Park, about 425 miles in one of the hottest, driest places on earth, during the most blistering month in U.S. history. I rank that expedition, completed with Dave Heckman, as tougher than ascending Mount Everest, but not as challenging as my record-setting transcontinental run of more than 3,000 miles from San Francisco to New York City in 52 days, which was the subject of my memoir, “Running on Empty.” I’ve also completed a fully unaided solo crossing and a 586-mile “quad” run across Death Valley.

All told, I’ve crossed Death Valley on foot, in July or August, a record 27 times. I’ve won the race a record four times. But, I also did not finish (DNF) three times: first in 1994 when I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma, in 2000 when I decided to stop at 51 miles (Wild Rose) as I had an adventure race the next week and decided I couldn’t let those teammates down by pushing myself at Badwater; and then again in 2009 when I wasn’t recovered from injuries obtained during my trancon.

At the 2015 Badwater Ultramarathon, where the average age of the racers was 46 among the 38 newcomers and 59 veterans from around the world, I placed 63rd of the 97 starters. Eighteen athletes did not finish (DNF) the race. Why such a high DNF rate?

For various reasons the race went back to an evening, or PM, start which is the way the race run from 1990 to 1995. While some people thought it would be easier, that wasn’t the case. Higher temperatures at the start, as well as sleep deprivation, especially for those of us that had to run through two nights, really took a toll on a lot of participants.

In addition, the AM start records (22:51 for men and 26:16 for women) did not fall, as many predicted. However, my 1992 male PM start record of 26:18 did finally fall – to 27 year old Pete Kostelnick who finished in 23:27. Nikki Wynd won the 2015 women’s division with a time of 27:23. The 79 runners that did finish the official 135 miles within the 48-hour cutoff earned the coveted Badwater 135 belt buckle. There is no prize purse for the “The World’s Toughest Foot Race.”

But my race did not stop at the Portals. For every one of my 20 crossings I have completed the 11-mile climb to Mt Whitney’s 14,505-foot summit that is the classic crossing from the lowest to highest points in the continental U.S. This year was no exception. After finishing the Badwater 135, I obtained the necessary Forest Service wilderness permits and summited MUlrich Westergaard 2015 Whitney Summit-touchedupt Whitney in a total time of 65 hours from my 8 PM race start on July 28th.

On the top of Mount Whitney with another “Badwater purist,” Danny Westergaard, who also went to the 14,505-foot summit to complete the original Badwater 146 couse (lowest to hightest). 

My record for the 146 miles from the Badwater basin to the summit of Mt Whitney of 33:54,set in 1991, still stands after 24 years. Why do I always go to the top?

For me it’s a matter of honoring the people that came before me. I guess I’m just old fashioned that way. Sadly, only about four people continued to the top, as most runners either don’t know the history or don’t understand the original intent of those that established the lowest to highest route.

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