For the second year in a row, Charlie Engle celebrated his “sobriety birthday” by running for one hour for every year since he has beat addiction and remained sober. Starting bright and early Saturday morning in Raleigh, North Carolina, that meant 27 hours of straight running.
But he considered maintaining his sobriety just a big a challenge. So every year around this time, he does something special to commemorate the milestone.
“Everyone has been touched by addiction, whether yourself, a family member, or a friend,” Engle told Runner’s World. “For 27 years now, I have my sobriety birthday because I felt the need to celebrate far more than the day I was born. I didn’t have choice in the day I was brought into the world. I had a choice the day I became sober.”
He first decided to do the running challenge one year ago. That decision came three days before his 26th sobriety anniversary, but even with such a short turnaround, he was able to get the word out. A crowd of around 300 people turned out to support his 26-hour effort around a 3-mile loop to advocate for and support those suffering from addiction.
This year, he was able to draw a crowd of supporters once again. Former and recovering addicts, as well as patients at the local rehabilitation center, Healing Transitions—a nonprofit along the 3-mile loop which the run promoted—came out to work the aid station at the start line. They took shifts for the entire 27 hours.
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Many attendees also ran with Engle. He started with a large group at 8:30 a.m. and had no less than five people with him on each loop, ranging in age from an 8-year-old to someone in their 70s. Some even ran farther than they’d ever run before.
“I had one guy who had never run more than 12 miles in his life,” Engle said. “I met him last year when he did a few loops with me. He had a good year, got cocky, had a setback, relapsed, and is now three months sober. This time, he came fired up and said he was going to do 15. Then he just never left and ended up doing 60 miles.”
The day ended up progressing in six-hour spans. The first six felt like a breeze, the next six less so in the South’s humidity. After the sun went down, the next six were pleasant, followed by a rough early-morning six before the sun came up. Finally, the remaining hours were refreshing as the the next day’s sun was rising.
By the end, Engle had logged 114 miles—roughly 38 laps. Though it was less than his 118 miles in 2018 (as shown in the video below), he met his goal of running the entire 27 hours straight.
“The only thing I can control is my commitment and my effort,” he said. “These days, whether by social media or other things, we get caught up in the numbers. This is a personal commitment just like with sobriety. I’m lucky to have the support that I do for this because that’s not always the case in recovery or running.”
A couple days out, Engle is recovering with a few aches and pains, but he’s up and walking around. He plans to continue running again in the coming years, and keep his tradition of adding an hour to his anniversary run as long as he can.
“I hope I’m 80 and running for 50 hours someday, but regardless, I’ll be sitting somewhere someday telling the story that won’t be how easy it was. It’ll be stories of struggle, because those are what matter,” Engle said.