Running Across America: Top 10

Ulrich U.S. Map Near FinishPeople sometimes ask for my advice on running across the United States and whether or not they should do it. Other times people don’t ask me, but I give my opinion about their chances, anyway.

Now I’ve put together my Top 10 Reasons For and Against Running Across America, so you can decide for yourself.

Running Across America: PRO

1. Nice tan and no teeth whiteners. Within the first 4 days, I was dark brown — running’s better for you than a booth and less skeevy than spray-on. Bonus: as the tan gets darker, your teeth seem to get whiter.

2. Showering optional. The road doesn’t care how you smell.

Transcon Day 43: Good Luck3. Free souvenirs. Finders, keepers: While running across America, I scored a rubber snake in Colorado, pink teddy bear in Indiana, license plate from Marshall County in Iowa, and some other trinkets, all of which I picked up by the side of the road.

4. No gas crisis. All the gas you pass out there costs next to nothing.

5. Fashion forward. You, too, can realize your dream of wearing every knee brace, bandage, and support! The only thing you care about fashion is that it helps you go forward. To wit …

6. New shoes. I put on new ones every 100 miles or so. Altogether, I went through 32 pairs of shoes in 52.5 days.

7. Increased libido. (Maybe this should go in the “con” column — see #9 below, but …) Better than Viagra.

8. Amazing scenery. No need to take snapshots, as it passes by so slowly.

9. Close friends. Believe me, the words take on a whole new meaning, especially when 6 people share an RV.

10. Finishing. It feels like getting out of jail, flying to the moon, eating the best Mexican food you’ve ever had, and having sex all at the same time.

Bonus (from Margo). You learn what true love, devotion and marriage is all about.

Running Across America: CON

Bonus (from Margo). You put that marriage to the test every moment during planning, training, running and decompressing.

1. Traffic and trucks. Buick Century Sedans seem to morph into armored tanks, and wind from passing trucks will suck the hat right off your head. In Iowa, I almost became the creamy center of a two-vehicle sandwich.

2. Batshit farmers with firearms. A guy shot at me one night while I was running by his homestead in Ohio. Cussed at me, too, which hurt my feelings.

3. Crapping in cornfields. The stalks give you some privacy, but this gets old. Really old.

4. Canker sores from eating all the time. And then the tasty (not) remedy of Orajel and Mylanta.

Transcon Day 42: Rainy Day Run5. Out cold. Getting “warm” or “dry” during low temps or rain is relative when a 10-minute snooze in the crew van is as good as it gets.

6. Siren song of fast food and flophouses. The smell of french fries and the sight of a “Vacancy” sign are torture when you know stopping’s not an option.

7. High drama. When Frank Giannino (the current world record holder) was running across America with a friend, they parted company permanently, and not amicably. Deja vu, me too. Charlie Engle and I haven’t really spoken since before the end of the run in 2008.

8. Nightmares. Pushing my body to its limits meant that when I was asleep, I was tossing and turning, dreaming of being executed for some unknown crime.

9. No down time. I sat in a chair only once and read a newspaper only once (both while I was in a hospital for tests). I had few conversations that weren’t about running across America, ate nearly every meal but breakfast on the move, and (obviously) watched no TV.

10. Injury and illness. Just as Mr. T predicts for the outcome of his bout with the Italian Stallion, only one thing is for sure when you’re running across America: pain.


Is there something I left off that really ought to be on this list? [This offer has expired. Margo was our winner!] Leave me a comment, and I’m giving away a signed copy of my book, Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-setting Run Across America, to whoever comes up with the best addition. Runner-up gets a pair of socks. (Totally subjective judging: I’m picking the winners myself.) Plus I’ll put it on the list and credit you for your contribution. Bonus points for making me laugh.

This entry was posted in Book, Running on Empty (2011), Movie, Running America (2010), Run Across U.S., SFO-NYC (2008). Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Running Across America: Top 10

  1. footfeathers says:

    Great stuff!
    Hoping to make it this Sunday to see you at the Boulder Book Store.

  2. Markus says:

    Good list Marshall,

    For the con list I would add:
    Almost nobody understands WHY somebody is running across America.

    For the pro list:
    You saw the country how it really is, all the way, every foot of it.

    I hope I can do the same this summer.
    Markus´s last blog post ..2 month to go

  3. Jim McCordM says:

    Great thinking time… I know I thought of things I never could have imagined otherwise. I tell people, “You can’t think of something I didn’t think about on that run.”
    Some of those thoughts would have been on the “pro” side, and some on the “con” side.

  4. I would love to run across the states but financing stops me. My real dream is to run the perimeter of Texas raising money for public schools to help build tracks and bolster running programs. Need sponsors! No idea how to do that.
    No Saturday morning cartoons.
    People’s blank stares.
    Having to squat for potty breaks (doubles as quad stretch)
    Pro –
    Everyone thinks you are cool.
    You get ultimate bragging rights.
    Getting to giggle when people give you blank stares.
    Learning what works in the corn fields for TP.

  5. Anna says:

    2 additional:
    – avoid standing in ~117 packet pickup lines (and going through all those goodie, or not so goodie, bags)
    – learning more than anyone needs to know about the innerds of various roadkill from all across the country.

    • Ha! Good one. Since I used to work in rendering, I almost put down as a Running Across America Con: The only familiar smells come from roadkill. But that wasn’t exactly true, and not everyone knows I was a “used cow dealer” back in the day. 🙂

  6. shine says:

    Pity on the con#7, whereas the rest are so spot-on. I am waiting for your book to reach my doorstop travelling half-way across the globe to make it to Malaysia. Can’t wait!!!
    You’ve probably heard this countless times, Marhsall: You are an inspiration.
    I can’t (maybe I can) run the distance that you have done, but whenever I struggled in my run, I would tell myself “If Marshall Ulrich can take the pain! why can’t I?!”


  7. Polly says:

    Loving the book!!

    Pro: I’d actually get to wear a small portion of running shoes I’ve acquired working in a running store.

    Con: You actually have to put clothes on everyday, as quick ‘natural’ treadmill workouts in your home won’t get you where you want to go.

  8. Tamara says:

    Well done on the book! Can’t wait to read it.

    Pro: The most scenic weight loss program in America where you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight.

    Con: The hardest, most scenic weight loss program in America where you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight.

  9. Mark Hofman says:

    Additional- “….cause it sure beats goin’ across in a coffin.”

  10. margo says:

    Pro: Learning what true love, devotion and marriage is all about

    Con: Putting that marriage to the test every moment during planning, training, running and decompressing.

    Thanks for the great love story Marshall, you’re an inspiration in many ways.

  11. Robin Ashton says:

    Pro: save $ on sandles and pedicures. With no toenails no one is seeing these feet for a long time 😉

    Con: your children don’t recognize you anymore when you get back from a long run. “Mom, is that you? Haven’t seen you at the dining room table in ages!”

  12. David Orman says:

    PRO: Divorce lawyers are inexpensive now.

    CON: I still would have to talk to a lawyer.

    Moral of story: I think marathons and 50s are a better bet for me.

  13. David Ninja says:

    – You can spit and burp and chew with your mouth open while nobody cares
    – you will never get a speeding ticket

    CONS: After the run, you can’t assimilate back to “society”
    – you forget not to spit and burp anytime you want
    – you find yourself “staking out” just to stop at Starbucks on your way to the hardware store
    – at a restaurant, you order a bottle of water then pour it over your head

  14. Nicholas Wied says:

    #1 No Baggage Fees: The $50 charge is absent when you decide to strap on the hydration pack, even if you pu tit over the weight limit by adding extra food!

  15. Brian Stark says:

    Pro: Seeing America from the pace and perspective of the settlers.
    Con: Learning why they lived to a ripe age of 35.

  16. All of these came in via Facebook:

    Steve H. Pro: You become an instant celebrity – Just think how many people mistook you for Forrest Gump 🙂
    May 3 at 11:08am

    Daniel L. Pro: Best way to get from SF to NYC without getting ‘Gate-Raped’ by the TSA!
    May 3 at 11:23am

    Jordan F. Con: Recognizing a serious need to question your own sanity for undertaking such an epic journey… Pro: Having plenty of time to think about it.
    May 3 at 11:37am

    Pete N. Pro – You are added to the group “crazy” which all good runners aspire to! Con – You are added to the group “crazy” which all normal people shake thier heads and roll thier eyes!! 🙂
    May 3 at 12:34pm

    Steven H. PRO: Proving to yourself that the human body and spirit is far stronger then the many limiting beliefs that we’ve collectively bought into over the years that try to convince us otherwise.
    May 3 at 12:37pm

    Steven H. CON: you may discover weaknesses that you are not ready to handle yet such as physical limitations but more importantly constant mind chatter from the ego trying to convince you to stop or that this is bad for you. haha
    May 3 at 12:40pm

    Doug D. Pro & Con: Sensory Memory – certain smells and sights will always bring back memories… Good and bad
    May 3 at 1:20pm

    Ray C. CON: Feeding your running addiction by running further than you have ever run before becomes prohibitively time-consuming.
    May 3 at 1:49pm

    Eva K. B. Pro: Next time you hear a bike horn, it probably is a little kid
    Con: Every time you run by a cornfield, you are, umm…moved.

  17. Everyone, thanks for playing … And the winner is Margo! Thanks for your addition to the list: “Pro: Learning what true love, devotion and marriage is all about. Con: Putting that marriage to the test every moment during planning, training, running and decompressing.” I’ve got a signed book with your name on it. 🙂

    Our runner up is Tamara, who offered: “Pro: The most scenic weight loss program in America where you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight. Con: The hardest, most scenic weight loss program in America where you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight.” Socks to you!

    I’ll be in touch via email.

  18. Pedro Garcia says:

    Very cool. Glad to see the spirit of running is always up and, well, running! I, myself, am part of a run that goes from Alaska to Panama every 4 years. The total run takes about 6-7months, but, surprisingly, it feels like a blink of the eye when it’s all done. I was just searching the web for a good pair of running shoes, when I ran across this blog. Couldn’t agree more with Con #7, friendships are definitely put to the test.

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