The A-Team

Jan 12, 2001
Outside Magazine

Ulrich training for the 2000 Raid Gauloises in the La Salles Mountains, Utah

Marshall Ulrich


MARSHALL ULRICH DIDN'T take up running until the age of 29, when his first wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and his blood pressure "shot up way too high." In 1989 he rocked the ultrarunning world by completing a record six 100-mile races in one season, finishing in the top ten in five of them. Thereafter, says the 50-year-old from Fort Morgan, Colorado, his mission became clear: "Every year I decided to go out and do something else no one had done—things people would joke about doing."

Though he's lately made a name for himself as an adventure racer—he's one of only four people to participate in all seven Eco-Challenges mounted thus far—Ulrich is best known for his feats at the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile midsummer race from the bottom of Death Valley (North America's lowest point, 282 feet below sea level, and also its hottest) to the top of Mount Whitney (at 14,495 feet, the highest point in the Lower 48). Having already won the race four times, in 1999 Ulrich came up with a twist: complete the same route solo and without support. That meant towing a modified Baby Jogger laden with food, clothing, and 22 gallons of water and ice—totaling more than 220 pounds—through 19,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain, 128-degree temperatures, and persistent nosebleeds. His time: 77 hours and 46 minutes. How to top that? Last summer, in a benefit for a Third World hunger relief program, Ulrich ran from Death Valley to the summit of Mount Whitney and back, and then turned around and did it again—a 584-mile "quad" (the equivalent of 22 consecutive marathons) that took him a mere ten days and 13 hours.

"It's not that Marshall's not human," says Theresa Daus-Weber, a ten-time finisher of Colorado's Leadville Trail 100 run. "It's that nothing gets between his image of himself and the challenge at hand." That may sound a little too cerebral for a man whose day job is "used cow dealer," i.e. he buys dead cattle from feed lots and sells them to pet-food companies. But Ulrich's sporting philosophy seems to echo such ultramarathoners-of-the-mind as Carlos Castaneda and Friedrich Nietzsche. "Ultrarunners want to see what the human spirit is all about, what allows you to do things you couldn't normally do," Ulrich says. "Is there something more to life than everyday existence? The sport really puts you in that space, causes you to hallucinate, exposes your fears. It gets you closer to what your being is."

If Ulrich's endurance is extreme, so too is his preparation. He routinely runs in place inside a sauna to prepare his body for the Badwater's extreme heat; faced with the all-too-common runner's malady of blackened toenails, he had his toenails surgically removed. Next on Ulrich's list is an objective that seems humdrum in light of his running accomplishments: climbing Everest, a goal he's confident he can achieve provided it's for a good cause, since raising money for others is a prime motivator. "If it wasn't for the charity attached to it," Ulrich says, "I wouldn't have finished the quad." For the record, Ulrich has no intention of preventing frostbitten fingers the way he dealt with his toenails. —Rob Buchanan

Alan Webb


For the moribund world of U.S. men's distance running, 18-year-old Alan Webb may be the star-spangled messiah. In the mile at Oregon's Prefontaine Classic last May, against a field of international superstars that included world champion Hicham El Guerrouj, the then-high-school senior from Virginia ran into the record books by finishing fifth, in 3:53.54—almost two seconds faster than Jim Ryun's high-school mark (3:55.30), which had held firm for 30 years. Now a freshman at the University of Michigan, home to one of the best track-and-field programs in the nation, Webb has his sights set on breaking the mile's 3:50 barrier, which will firmly plant him among the world's elite (El Guerrouj's world record is 3:43:13). "He has incredible top-end acceleration," says University of Michigan track-and-field coach Ronald Warhurst, who spent a year wooing Webb to his team. "Some milers can accelerate right from the start; Alan can accelerate off of race pace. Once he gets going, it's like he has another gear." —Paul Roberts

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