Thursday, December 30, 2010

RunnerDude Chats with Chuck "MarathonJunkie" Engle

Ahh the marathon. It's my favorite distance to race. If you're a marathon runner, non runners think your nuts, even some seasoned shorter-distance runners think you're nuts. But, there's nothing quite like experiencing that first marathon. I was so overwhelmed with exhaustion and emotion after finishing my first marathon (NYC '97) that I cried. Actually it was a sob. Not ashamed one iota. I earned that sob. Once you experience that thrill, you want to experience it again and again.

Chuck Engle, has taken that "experiencing it again and again" to a whole new level. Nicknamed "MarathonJunkie", Chuck has just recently experienced his 100th and 101st marathon wins. Not, marathon completions, but marathon WINS! I've followed Chuck's racing over the years and when he participated in the 2010 NC Marathon in High Point, NC (just a town away from me), I became an even more avid fan. You see, Chuck overslept the night before that race and ended up leaving Columbus, OH and driving 8 hours to High Point, NC just barely making the 8AM start time. He even got a speeding ticket on the way, but somehow he still managed to run a great race, taking first place!

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Chuck and learn more about this marathon machine, I mean "junkie." Read on to learn more about this amazing runner.

RD: I see you’re in Dublin, OH. Are you originally from there? Where did you grow up?
Chuck: Born in Grant Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Spent my formative years at Cloverleaf High School in Lodi, Ohio running for Coach Todd Clark.

RD: How long has running been a part of your life? Did you grow up in a sports oriented family?
Chuck: Running was something I started doing to stay in shape for wrestling. I began wrestling in elementary school and running was always a part of building endurance. My family did their own things. My older brother played football, ran hurdles and sprints in track and wrestled. My older sister ran sprints and my younger sister was a pole vaulter. No one does much of any regular athletics these days.

RD: What got you into running?
Chuck: I credit a guy by the name of J.D. Skrant for getting me hooked at first. Mr. Skrant was an assistant coach in my junior high school and asked me to give cross country a try in my eighth grade year. It was the influence of my high school coach, Todd Clark, that propelled me further into running and provided much of the foundation for my success and my personal running philosophies.

RD: You work as a web programmer for one of my favorite websites, I think your official title is Marathon Junkie/Public Relations. Here’s a chicken/egg question for you. Which came first? Did you go to because of your running? Or did this running persona spring forth after coming to work for
Chuck: The running persona sprang forth from an interview in 2003 with an Omaha World reporter who coined the phrase that I was "a veritable marathonjunkie" after I completed 29 marathons in 2003. The title stuck as there were no other runners competing in as many marathons and running them as fast as I had done that year.

RD: You ran 44 marathons in 2009 and won over half of them. That’s almost one marathon every weekend throughout the year. What motivates you to keep going?
Chuck: I really enjoy the traveling that goes along with my running. The other part of running is the social aspect. My running family is close to me. Most of my closest friends are those who I have met during marathon races. Winning is merely a matter of who shows up on any given day. I have gone to races with as few as 17 people and been beaten by runners who were just passing through on vacation. And I have done races as big as 5,000 where I just happened to be the fastest runner on the course that day. Granted it does take hard work to run under 2:40 in a marathon, but winning any given day takes a certain amount of luck.

RD: Man with the 44 marathons alone, you logged 1,152.8 miles. How many miles total did you log in ’09? How many have you logged so far in 2010?
Chuck: I think I put in nearly 3,000 miles in 2009 with training and recovery miles included. 2010 saw a reduction as I took a bit of a break in the early part of the year.

RD: Are you going to break 44 marathons this year?
Chuck: My record for 365 consecutive days is 54 marathons. I would like to take a shot at running more than that. It's not the running that is the tough part. It has been the monetary side of things. I have heard a lot of people call themselves "extreme" for doing 50 or more marathons in a year. But guys like Sam Thompson ran 51 in 50 days. That is extreme. Those that travel to 50 or more in a single year are merely good at being a travel agent and nothing more. Most anyone can run 50 marathons in a year. It is merely a matter of planning and logistics.

RD: With that many marathons you must go through a ton of shoes. Good thing is your sponsor. About how many pairs of trainers do you run through in a year? Racing flats?
Chuck: MarathonguideMoines in 2002 and I have had some incredible experiences thanks to my sponsors including The shoes are part of a Nike sponsorship. I have been running in Nike shoes since 1985 and I thank Nike and Second Sole Ohio for their continued support as I trash one pair of Nike Vomeros per month and one pair of racing flats per month. My racing flats are currently Nike Lunar Racers. The new generations comes out in January and I am really excited to give them a go.

RD: What do you enjoy most about running? Is it the mental? Physical? Both?
Chuck: The mental side of running is mostly conquered. I can nearly always predict, based on training, mileage and nutrition, what kind of time I will run in any given marathon. What I enjoy most is seeing so many friends on the course and of course hanging out with good friends post race. Some of my best marathon memories have been post race with friends like Matt Manning of Kansas, The Little Rock Arkansas Crew, The Nashville Flying Monkey Crew and of course Jeff and Linda Venable from Texas.

RD: What do you think about when you’re racing? Is it all focused on strategy and racing, or does your body go on auto pilot and you find yourself thinking about other things?
Chuck: Depending on the race I am either calculating splits and finish time along the course. There have been races where I am just trying to hurt and push as long as I can and I do, in a somewhat sick way, like to blow up in a race from time to time. There is a rush unlike any other I have had when your body can no longer respond to what my brain is telling it to do. That is a limit that I love to find and try to push beyond. I think it is more interesting as to what the subconscious goes through when racing at a high heart rate level. The myriad of thoughts that come rushing into my conscious when I am finished racing are almost certainly due to the brain going into over time during two and a half hours of racing.

RD: You ran your first marathon back in 2000. Was that the race that hooked you, or did it take a few more before you decided this was “your” race?
Chuck: Tupelo will always be the race that hooked me. Mike Lail was the race director at that time and he was as shocked as I was when I crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 34 minutes. It was a hot day and I loved the total feeling of exhaustion. Mike Lail was there for me. He showed me that it is the people involved in the race that make all marathons more than just 26.2 miles. My experience at Tupelo every year I have done it, is one of the reasons I keep running. I love to find races like that with people like that. In this day and age of big time marathons with exorbitant entry fees and high dollar entertainment, races like Tupelo, Little Rock, Grand Rapids, Lake Placid, Flying Monkey and a handful of others stand apart.

RD: Since you’re a “marathon junkie” there must be an addiction in there somewhere. Is that addiction for the distance, the race, the crowd, the competition, the record-breaking, or all or some of the aforementioned?
Chuck: People who have never "won" don't know what they are missing. I like to win. But as mentioned before, you just never know who will show up any given day. That is a thrill for me. Thinking I could win a race in Dayton Ohio only to finish second to Josh Cox by more than ten minutes was a complete rush. I was the most fit for any race I had been and I wanted to win badly. Josh showed up and qualified for the Olympic Trials. I was crushed with second place, but elated that Josh had led me to a new PR. The addiction is and will always be to push my body to the breaking point and when it breaks, how much further can my mind take it. I set goals beyond just finishing races or running 52 in a year. For me it's about my personal race. I know how healthy I am at any given race and I like racing sick or injured or after two marathons in the previous two days. Racing...putting my heart rate up there as high as I think it will go without my heart exploding. Then, in specific races, seeing if my heart will pop before my brain says quit. That's the addiction. That's how I like to run.... on my personal edge. It's not about bragging to the world that I finished a billion races in one year. All I need to have to do that is money and a good travel agent. I will stick to running as fast as I can in any given circumstance. Take what the day gives me and run hard. The marathon deserves that much.

RD: Speaking of records, you have quite a few—the most sub 3-hour marathons in the world; #1 and #2 fastest 50 back to back official marathons; the fastest average for 52 consecutive marathon weekends (October 2008 - October 2009); the most consecutive U.S. marathon victories with 7 in 7 weekends in which you set 7 course records in each race (2006); running 3 days of sub 3 official marathons twice; winning back-to-back Saturday and Sunday marathons twice. Man, I’m pooped just listing them all. Those are some awesome accomplishments. I’m sure you’re extremely proud of them all, but is one more special to you than the others?
Chuck: I am reminded by others about these records. At this point in my life, I just want to RUN MORE! I don't want to spend time counting things when I could be putting in more mileage. People count things when the are finished and want to reminisce. I will admit, however, that when I won my 100th marathon race and popped a can of soda in Bristol New Hampshire that the Dr. Pepper never tasted more sweet.

RD: You race so frequently, that your racing is probably your training or is it? What does a typical week of running look like for you?
Chuck: I try to do one speed day per week and one long run in the middle of the week. I also do my own version of plyos to maintain strength and flexibility. The week can be as high as 120 miles or as low as zero when I am decompressing. I like the 120 weeks better, but the zero weeks are needed from time to time. However, even during the zero weeks I will still try to bike or swim.

RD: I stress over and over to my running clients the importance of good nutrition to fuel their training effort. Do you have a favorite training food that you like to eat? Pre-run? Post-run?
Chuck: I love steel cut oatmeal with fresh blueberries and brown sugar for my pre-race meal. During the week its a lot of whole grain pastas and just a bit of chicken. But you gotta figure that during the weeks where I am putting in 120 miles I can eat pretty much anything. The book "Once A Runner" had a quote that said "If the furnace is hot enough, anything will burn." I say eat what you like and RUN MORE to burn it off.

RD: Are you a lone runner or do you run with some buddies? What do you like about each?
Chuck: I run alone. When I do run with others I tend to get into a racing mentality and that can destroy a weekly training regimen.

RD: What’s the funniest or oddest thing that’s happened to you while on a run?
Chuck: There was a race in the Pacific Northwest that I decided to make a quick stop in the woods. It's a pretty crazy story. I still won the race. It was, however, the slowest winning time in that particular race's history. Didn't bother me in the least.

RD: You mentioned that Nike has been your running shoe of choice? Why?
Chuck: My shoes have been and will always be NIKE! I love the Vomero 5 for training and the Lunars for racing. They just work for my feet. Nikes always have worked for me. I encourage any runner to find the right shoes for their feet and not to wear what the latest gold medalist is wearing.

RD: Tell us something about you that might surprise us. Bake? Sew? Sing karaoke?
Chuck: I do cook a lot. I love to cook. I even sing....when no one is around. I am a pretty simple runner. I think I am down to earth most of the time. I just have an unusual addiction to the pain found at or near the finish line of a marathon. It's just a beautiful thing.

RD: If you were speaking to a group of non-runners or runner wannabes and trying to encourage them to run, what would you say?
Chuck: One mile at a time. Most runner wannabes look at the whole cheesecake and eat it with their eyes. I tackle it one slice at a time. You can finish it if you start with one piece and don't think about the next piece until you are ready for the next piece. Any race really is just preparing your mind for one mile.....and then the next.

RD: You've accomplished so much in the past 10 years since that first marathon. What's next for the MarathonJunkie?
Chuck: I have a few goals. I would like to run another 200 sub 3 hour marathons before I hang up the shoes. I would like to win 50 more. But I will be happy just running and running more.


Jen said...

Great interview. Very inspiring! Thanks for all your great interviews. You are one lucky dude!

Boris T said...

Great interview lots of inspiration.

RunnerDude said...

Thanks Jen and Boris! Happy New Year to you both!!

Anonymous said...

This is the Cloverleaf track and field MVP from 1988. I'm very proud of you, Chuck. Very proud.