2016, written by Charlie Engle
Listened to on Audible
Being a good storyteller, and having good stories, are separate matters. The same can be said for being a good runner, and being a good writer. Charlie Engle, for my money, is all four.
It was at Engle’s description of his first ever drink that I realised this was a ‘running’ book with an unusually artistic flair: the place setting of his mothers house parties; the silently spinning record, the sleeping woman, the cool beers in the fridge, it all recalled the straightforward beauty of an old American wordsmith.
It is a running book, although for great stretches it appears not to be. Engle came to fame for running across the Sahara in a documentary narrated by Matt Damon, but he came to running in the first place to try and fight off debilitating addictions to cocaine and alcohol. He holds nothing back in showing the depths these addictions took him. Chugging beers post mile 20 of his first marathon is worth a chuckle and a thumbs up, but his lost days in dingy motel rooms, holed up with fast friends smoking crack cocaine whilst dealers beat down his door with baseball bats, may have you white knuckling your armchair.
He gets clean though, eventually. The marathons and AA meetings set him on his way but after accidentally tumbling into the world of ultra running, Engle starts to go long. Real long. And he is good at it. To me it is clear that his addiction, his inherent inner darkness, helps in these fearful pursuits. What drives a man to cross the Sahara? Is it really enough to just be adventurous? I don’t think it is. I believe most of us can live our lives in complete satisfaction without subjecting ourselves to abject misery for the sheer bloody thrill of it. Yes they raised a lot of money and did some good, but that was not where the idea came from. The idea came from the darkness. In his relentless pursuit of the high, Engle was searching for something more. Something beyond his earthly woes. The problem with drugs is that it only makes those woes deeper, darker, and every come down widens the chasm and makes the climb to the high all the harder, so you take more, more, until you capitulate, or give it up.
Engle gave it up. But that chasm doesn’t go away.
How do you escape it without the drugs and the drink?
Maybe you run. And perhaps the deeper the darkness, the farther you feel you have to go.
This book is all about running, in the end, although sometimes it may seem like it is not. The drugs, the adventures, the misadventures, his eventual arrest, it is all about running and will speak to the part of every person who reads it who desires to run in any capacity; towards something, away from something; or just for the sheer hell of it.