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From Crack Addict To Running The Sahara To Prison Hero — Charlie Engle’s Third Act

By September 25, 2016January 26th, 2024No Comments

“It doesn’t matter what happens to you. All that matters is what you do with what happens to you.”

Charlie Engle

There is extreme. Then there’s Charlie Engle – a man who has run across deserts, summited ice-covered volcanoes, swam with crocodiles, overcome crack addiction and survived a stint in federal prison.

The story goes like this: after a hair-curling, decade-long love affair with booze and crack cocaine that culminated in a near-fatal six-day binge and a hail of bullets, Charlie finally gets sober. For solace, he turns to running, which becomes his lifeline, his pastime, and his salvation. He begins with marathons, but it wasn’t enough. Ultramarathons soon became the focus of his affection, a new love affair that takes him to stunning heights and accolades.

During this second act, Charlie would clock a handful of impressive top-10 finishes at prestigious races like Badwater, a 135-mile jaunt across Death Valley widely considered to be the toughest footrace on Earth. But his athletic zenith is an unprecedented, absolutely astonishing 111-day, 4,500-mile run across the Sahara Desert — a feat chronicled in the Matt Damon narrated documentary entitled Running the Sahara.

Life was pretty good.

Then came quite possibly the most bizarre and improbable challenge Charlie could ever imagine facing. A bad B-movie narrative that involved an obsessed IRS agent with an axe to grind. Wire taps and garbage probes. Even the requisite wily enchantress dispatched to entrap. A saga that culminates in an unjust conviction for mortgage fraud.

A poster child for everything awry with the mortgage-backed security crisis, Charlie serves 16 months in a West Virginia federal prison – what Charlie jocularly refers to as his federal holiday.

He could have played the victim. Instead, he spends his days pounding the small prison track, running endlessly in circles. Soon his fellow inmates were joining him, struggling to keep their spirits up in dehumanizing circumstances.


A prison hero by the time his sentence concludes, Charlie now embraces his third act as a more fully actualized version of his pre-shackled self — armed with newfound perspective and a grateful appreciation for what matters most in life.

Charlie is one-of-a-kind. A world class talker and master storyteller, I knew Charlie’s new memoir would be a page-turner. But I didn’t expect the book to be so well written. Running Man: A Memoir* is every bit the gripping, raw, honest, funny, emotional, at times cringe-inducing, but ultimately inspiring story I hoped it would be – and then some.

I’m thrilled to bring you my second conversation with Charlie. Picking up where episode 67 leaves off, (a must listen if you’re new to the show), this is an intimate discourse about high highs and low lows. It’s about addiction, sobriety, service and spirit. It’s about perspective. Nine lives and third acts. What it means to touch the threshold of human endurance.

And then transcend it.

Specific topics discussed include:

  • Google Zeitgeist (check out his talk here)
  • perspective (& lack thereof) on life events
  • Charlie’s “federal holiday”
  • parent-child relationships
  • legacy and expectations
  • addiction, lies & codependency
  • running as penance
  • self-discipline in sobriety
  • prison etiquette
  • sub-prime mortgage crisis
  • shedding light on mental illness
  • power of spirituality in recovery

I sincerely hope you enjoy the conversation.

Peace + Plants,


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Charlie’s new book is available now: Running Man: A Memoir*

Background, Context & Reference

Notable People Discussed in today’s podcast:

  • Kerri Lee Walsh Jennings: American professional beach volleyball player, three-time Olympic gold medalist
  • Charles Barkley: American retired professional basketball player and current analyst on the television program Inside the NBA
  • Mark Ronson: English musician, DJ, singer, songwriter and record producer
  • Morgan Spurlock: American documentary filmmaker, humorist, television producer, screenwriter, and political activist
  • Catra Corbett: one of the most prolific and animated ultra-runners in the world
  • Sophie Kashurba: former collegiate cross-country runner, who gives credit to the power of running for helping her heal from a pattern of self-harm
  • Pam Rickard: recovering alcoholic and mother of 3, who has run more than 40 marathons and ultramarathons during her 10 years of sobriety
  • Chris Herren: American former professional basketball player who played in the NBA and several leagues overseas

Related Podcasts You Might Enjoy

Thanks to Jason Camiolo for production, interstitial music and audio engineering; Chris Swan for production assistance & show notes; Shawn Patterson for graphics.

*Disclosure:Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

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