The Train Ride of Addiction with Charlie Engle
The boxcar smelled like piss. The train showed no sign of stopping and Charlie was getting further from home. The only thing left to do was hang over the side, lower his legs to the ground, and try to jump out.
Luckily, at twelve years old Charlie was able to get his feet moving quickly enough to keep anything catastrophic from happening. He marched back to the tracks and starting jogging towards home.
You could call it his first long distance run.
Charlie Engle, Author of The Running Man and ultra marathon runner, looks back at this event as a metaphor for his life. In the first part of our interview, he told us about his bout with addiction and how running gave him a new life.
In part two, Charlie walks us through his life after addiction and some of the lessons he learned through the good and the bad things that life handed him.
The Sahara Idea
“I wanna see as much of this world as I can see before I’m done. Running saved my life, and then running actually gave me a life.”
- Charlie Engle
Charlie recalls the friend that first introduced him to the notion of running across the Sahara. His initial response went something like, “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard”.
He and Ray were running through the Amazon jungle in Brazil, so there were more pressing matters at hand. But once at home, Charlie couldn’t shake the thought.
No one had ever run across the Sahara before, and for good reason.
It was impossible.
He was going to do it.
He made the decision and said it out loud, “I’m going to be the first person to run across the Sahara Desert.”
It was so far fetched that it was fun to say, but there’s a huge difference between saying something and actually going through with it.
Charlie had done enough crazy things up to that point physically that nobody would tell him he couldn’t, but they did say it’s impossible.
“It’s a matter of making your decision; you just have to change your relationship with pain.”
- Charlie Engle
Every time someone told him running across the desert was i,possible, Charlie’s visceral reaction was to dig his heels in and cling to his story, one he’d learned to tell well and was becoming more comfortable with.
Ultimately, Charlie says you just need to let other people take possession of the impossibility of something. You take hold of your story and believe in it.
And that’s not to say that believing in something will make it happen, but failing to believe in it will absolutely guarantee failure.
Things don’t happen to you; they happen for you.
Whether it’s beginning the fight to save his life from addiction or finding out that Matt Damon wants to produce and narrate his film, life is always teaching Charlie something new.
“The hardest things that I faced were always the things that I got the best lessons out of.”
- Charlie Engle
Charlie had passed through the struggle for sobriety, embarked on a journey with ultra long distance running that brought new life to his reality, and released two films that were very successful.
In the moment where he was at the top of the proverbial mountain – his life in order and going well – he was arrested by the IRS for overestimating his annual income on a loan application.
With everything he’d been through, Charlie recalls being “the most prepared person in history to go to prison.” Even so, being targeted by the IRS potentially due to his newfound notoriety seemed unfair.
Guilty or not, Charlie was already convicted in the eyes of the public and saw things he’d worked so hard to achieve begin to disappear.
Ultimately, Charlie would be convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to 21 months in prison.
It would have been easy for Charlie to slip from victor to victim easily. No one would have blamed him for it. However, life was giving him another lesson.
As an addict he’d already learned that assigning blame isn’t the point. Like he had many times before, Charlie resolved that his happiness – and ultimately, his fate – was up to him.
Years later, he’s back where he likes to be – running, speaking, writing, and telling his story.
His life, and not just his running, bears the mark of going the distance. Charlie would urge you to rethink your boundaries and take control of your story.