Running In Place - Page 9
As he turned away from Colfax onto a highway, Engle heard a cry, "like a meowing kitten," in the backseat. Turning around, he looked into the wide eyes of a young boy, of, he guessed,18 months. Engle's vehicle had probably been "rented out," a common practice with stolen cars in downtrodden areas. His brain spinning worst-case scenarios, he made the decision to find his way back to that neighborhood, where the apparent mother stood yelling in the middle of the street. As he pulled up, the woman simply reached in, pulled out the child and hurried back to the house.
As heinous as that binge was, though, says Engle in addiction speak, "I had still not hit my bottom." It's not that he didn't want to quit. "Quitting is easy -- I've done it 100 times," he jokes. Engle thought the simple act of his first son's birth in May 1992, would be enough to make him quit.
His bottom would come on July 23, 1992, two months later, on a curb on notoriously crime-ridden Broadway Avenue in Wichita, Kansas. On the tail end of a six-day bender that ended with drug dealers shooting holes in his car—with him in it—and stealing the last of his money. He said a prayer for the first time in his life, asking for the suffering and craving to be taken away. "It seemed like a good time to quit," he says. "It was that simple."
That day, with "no one watching" (for him a key point, he says), Engle attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (not his first)—in fact, three of them. The next day he went for his first run, a mile, of what he hoped would be a new life, "almost dying after having smoked crack for six days in a row." He would attend daily AA meetings for a year. Still sober 18 years later, he continues to attend them.
Photo by Don Holtz Photography
"Twelve-step recovery groups provide the backbone to the desire to stop being an addict," he says. "AA taught me how to start managing my life, not how to quit drugs."
During his first three years of sobriety, Engle channeled his addictive tendencies into running, ticking off 30 marathons. "The spirituality of running and recovery from drug addiction go hand in hand," he says. "The fear and frustration that I felt with drug addiction needed that outlet. I was finally able to get many of the same euphoric feelings that I got from drugs."
Near the end of that marathon spree, Engle experienced trail and ultrarunning for the first time—the latter quite unintentionally. That first foray into ultrarunning came while he was "working" a massive hailstorm in Brisbane, Australia, in 1996. On a whim, he had signed up for a "10K," but was shocked at the start line, when two locals struck up a conversation, asking, "So, have you ever done a 100K before?" Not ever having run more than 26.2 miles, Engle wanted to sneak to his car and escape, he says, but pride, and the fact that his car keys sat in his gym bag near the announcer/race director's feet, wouldn't allow it.