Running from Addiction

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by Screedler on September 24, 2015

SB Nation has an interesting longform article on Ultramarathon runners and the high percentage who used to… get high.  The article focuses on Catra Corbett, a former meth addict who is now part of an ultra elite group – one of only only five people in the world who has run one hundred 100 mile races.  That’s right, a hundred runs, each one a grueling length of 100 miles.

What caught my interest, besides knowing an ultra runner, and the picture of 50 year old Catra, was the fact that she estimates that 50% of ultra runners are former addicts of one kind or another.  While that number is impossible to verify, and seems a little high, ultrarunners agree that addiction fits with the sports extreme nature.

“You do have to have an obsessive personality to do this sport,” said George Velasco, who has run many races, crewed many others.

There is anecdotal evidence to support Catra’s claims –

Charlie Engle, one of the sport’s most well-known extremists, was a crack junkie who spent time in prison. Timothy Olson, who holds the course record to the Western States 100, one of ultrarunning’s most prestigious events, was a drug addict. Ben Hian, way back in the 1990s, possibly pioneered recovering from drugs through ultrarunning and won several 100-mile races. There are many others.

The rapper Eminem, whose “Lose Yourself” was recently voted as the most popular running song in a Runner’s World poll, claims he ran 17 miles a day on the treadmill to beat an addiction to alcohol and painkillers, stating that his “addict’s brain” led him to get carried away with running.

“It’s easy to understand how people replace addiction with exercise,” Eminem said recently in an article for Men’s Journal. “One addiction for another, but one that’s good for them.”

Actually, many who treat addiction say Eminem is wrong, even those who emphasize exercise and sports to help others recover. Trading addictions, which is what many assume addicts do when they turn to ultrarunning or other extreme sports, does not ensure sobriety.

Todd Crandell, the founder of Racing For Recovery, an organization that promotes a healthy lifestyle and fitness to help addicts overcome substance abuse, started his nonprofit in 2001 after getting sober in 1993. Although Crandell is proud of his many accomplishments, including finishing more than 20 Ironman races, recovery, Crandell said, takes love and family and support and self-esteem. For many, it may even require belief in a higher power and a 12-step program. It requires a lifetime of work, a race that never ends.

Too read much more about Ultra marathon runners and Catra’s story of addiction, recovery,  and redemption – go to SBNation :

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