'Junkie' breaks marathon record

Coos Bay resident Chuck Engle races to a second-place finish in the Prefontaine Memorial Run last September. Last weekend, Engle won his 145th marathon. Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll, The World.

COOS BAY -- Chuck Engle's motto is 'Run more," and he certainly doesn't intend to slow down, even after breaking the world record for career marathon wins last weekend.

In fact, the self-named 'marathon junkie" drove to Washington this weekend to run yet another marathon.

The 41-year-old local marathoner raced to his 145th career victory at the River City Run in Folsom, Calif., last weekend, breaking the world record for career marathon wins previously held by Helge Hafsas of Norway.

It's a record he figured would come around eventually -- he's run 287 marathons since he first started in 2000 and won more than half of them. Last year, he finished his goal of earning a marathon win in each of the 50 states, but a world record wasn't really on his list.

'My original goal last year was to finish a marathon win in all 50 states (before I turned 41)," Engle said. 'Once you've won a marathon in all 50 states, you're kind of high on the stat sheet.

'I didn't think it was a question of if I would (break it), it was when," he added. 'So it wasn't just really, 'Hey, let's get out and get a record.'"

He stressed that many of the marathons he runs are small, mostly because travel is expensive and he enjoys them more than some of the bigger, more popular ones.

'I'm limited budget-wise, and I'm limited location-wise," he said. 'There's not that many big races every weekend."

And he's not breaking any records for marathon times, he added -- he runs an average 2 hours, 44 minutes, with his fastest being 2:31.01.

'I'm a mediocre runner at best," Engle said. 'There's at least 4,000 marathon times that have been better than me this year -- in the world."

But he certainly is running marathons often. Last year, he raced in 58 marathons and won 40 of them, and he didn't even enter a race until February.

'I'm very fortunate that I'm able to run as much as I do," he said.

He gets a lot of help to afford travel to so many races, as he gets paid to run in some marathons by race directors.

'I think race directors like to see ... a relatively fast time on their course, and I don't charge that much," he said. 'I'm happy to do it."

And sponsors also help him with equipment, travel (both airfare and gas), hotel and race entry expenses, he said. He's sponsored by MarathonGuide.com, Clifbar, Zensah compression clothing and Polar heart rate monitors, and sponsorships fluctuate each year.

'The cost is really high, especially with travel," Engle said. 'Probably every third or fourth trip is covered by SkyMiles."

Though the travel can be stressful, he lives to run marathons as often as possible. It's not uncommon for runners to race multiple marathons each year, he said, but he realizes it makes him sound sort of crazy.

He blogs at www.marathonjunkie.com, and many other racers affectionately call him 'MJ." While many people train the entire year (or their entire life) just to run a marathon, he's been able to run three marathons in three days, and can usually be found at a race every weekend of the year.

'If you sit on the couch for 12 hours a day, you kind of get used to sitting on the couch for 12 hours a day," he said. 'I've kind of just gotten used to running two to three hours a day."

He has set workouts every day of the week -- and each one includes at least one run, worked around practice times for Marshfield's track and field and cross country teams, which he helps coach. He takes great care of his body and pays close attention to the condition of his equipment to stave off injuries.

'I get rid of my shoes after a month," Engle said. 'I just don't take a chance on them."

He's carefully cultivated his abilities over the years. In high school, he wrestled and ran cross country and track, and he ran for University of Mount Union, a Division III school in Ohio. After that, he entered the military, and earned his master's degree at Mississippi College in biology and chemistry before coaching cross country for the same school for eight years.

He said running always made sense, since at 5-foot-8, he never had the stature of football or basketball players.

'I wasn't cut out to play basketball, I had no height," Engle said. 'And I wasn't cut out to play football. Running, you don't have to worry about that."

A high school coach described Engle as a hard worker, and it continues to motivate Engle.

'He said, 'Chuck's not the best athlete, but he'll work harder than the best athlete,'" Engle said.

He's held a myriad of jobs over the years, and he first found his passion for marathon running while working at a YMCA. One year, as Engle set the goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon, the CEO hired Engle to be his personal trainer.

'He saw my passion for trying to get to Boston, and he asked me, 'Hey, do you think I could qualify?'" Engle said.

They trained and ran marathons together until they both qualified for the Boston Marathon. From then on, they were bitten by the marathon bug, and started racing more often.

'He said, 'Hey, why are we waiting until April to run another marathon? Let's do some,'" Engle said. 'We drove through the night sometimes. You're changing tires and oil every two trips."

While Engle loves the challenge and can't stand sitting still, it's the social aspect of running that keeps him coming back.

'I was somewhere between the jocks and the nerds in high school," he said. 'I kind of marched to my own drum.

'Running seems to be an all-acceptable group," he added. 'Runners accept everyone."

He said he's tried cycling, and he's tried triathlons, but nothing compared. He recalled Mike Lail, who was the race director at the Tupelo Marathon in Mississippi after Engle had finished his first-ever marathon.

'I managed to pull off the win at my first marathon, but none of that mattered," Engle said. 'It was the big bear hug I got from the race director.

'He made me feel like I had done something really special."

But now, an important question has surfaced for Engle: Where does he go from here? On Thursday, he said he was at a crossroads of his running career.

'My goal is still to continue to run the rest of the year," he said. 'Now that the online persona of the marathon junkie is out there, and people think I'm kind of crazy, the short term goal is to run a bunch.

'As for my next goal, my chalkboard is wiped clean right now."

Sports Writer Rachel Finney can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 237, or at rfinney@theworldlink.com.

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