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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

Review of Charlie Engle's Memoir: Running Man

Updated: Jan 18

I was a bit familiar with Charlie Engle having watched the documentary Running the Sahara after its release in 2009. It's a powerful and inspirational ultrarunning documentary. Add it to your collection of running documentaries.

Not long ago a Runner's World article about Charlie's 26 year sobriety popped up in my Twitter feed. A New York Times article led me to his book Running Man: A Memoir.

In Running Man, Charlie writes with sheer honesty and humor about his life as an alcoholic and drug addict that began in college and spiraled out of control into alcohol, and crack and cocaine binges over a decade. In desperate times he resorts to desperate measures to satisfy his craving for more cocaine.

He writes, "There was an art to getting coke - good coke - from a stranger." Running out of money on day two of a coke binge, he buys starter jackets for dealers on his gold American Express card at a local mall in exchange for a thousand dollars worth of crack enough to last him a few days.

Charlie also writes about the toll that his alcoholism and drug addiction have on his relationships and failed marriage. But the birth of his son at age twenty-six is the impetus for his sobriety.

He begins to turn his life around and to get clean by running race events, navigating grueling adventure races around the world, including the Eco-Challenges and the Raid adventure race in Ecuador, and running 4,500 miles across the Sahara in 111 days with fellow elite ultrarunners Ray Zahab and Kevin Lin.

Startlingly, Charlie's life is turned up side down when he is arrested by armed IRS agents, receives a 15-count indictment for overstating his income on a home loan application, a liar loan, and committing bank fraud. In 2011, he lands in Beckley federal prison in West Virginia to serve a twenty-one month sentence. Sponsors drop him.

Charlie knows all about mental, physical, and emotional pain and suffering, and setbacks. The shock of going to prison for a crime he didn't commit does not break his spirit. Running fuels his resolve. At Beckley, he runs circles around the prison gravel track. Inmates bestow him a fitting name - Running Man. Charlie sets a goal. On the day the Badwater 135 is taking place in Death Valley, he runs the Badwater 135 distance at Beckley in two days.

Charlie runs and writes while in prison. Having been raised by writers and playwrights for parents, writing is in his DNA. While in prison, and with the help of a friend, he maintains his blog Running in Place, which he began before going to prison. "Mostly, I wrote about how I had decided to view being in prison as a challenge, and how I was adapting to to my new routine - and learning to keep the flames low without allowing my fire to be extinguished."

Charlie's life is one that seeks challenges, and that thrives, for better or worse, on danger. He writes, "I felt happiness and most alive when I was in peril." Engagingly well-written Running Man is a compelling page-turner chock-full-of jaw-dropping and harrowing stories of alcohol and drug addiction, cocaine and crack binges, hitting rock bottom, close calls with death, setbacks, struggles, suffering, and injustice.

But Charlie's life of recovery, sobriety, perseverance, enlightenment, personal growth, family, and redemption, is also a story of hope and the light that shines bright in the darkness of life. It's a story about the power of writing and the saving grace of running. "Running is a form of penance,..Running saved my life - and then gave me a life," writes Charlie.

Running Man is not your typical book about running. "I didn't want to write a book about running," writes Charlie, "but rather I wanted to write a book about how running has shaped me and changed me." Add Running Man to your reading list. It just might move you to overcome any obstacles and adversity you may be enduring, and to transform your life.

Read next: My interview with Charlie Engle.

Copyright 2018

I am the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. You can order the book here from from the publisher, Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble.

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