The last time ESPN.com caught up with ultramarathon runner Charlie Engle, he had just finished running across Africa's Sahara Desert with two friends. They ran the equivalent of two marathons per day for 111 straight days. Their concluding mileage totaled nearly 4,500 miles. They often ran in temperatures that exceeded 120 degrees and didn't sleep more than five hours per night.
As if that weren't enough, Engle, 45, and new partner Marshall Ulrich, 57, have their sights set on a possibly more daunting challenge. They're attempting to break the 46-day speed record for running across the United States and plan to run nearly 70 miles each day for 45 days. Their journey began September 13th in San Francisco and will conclude in New York City.
Here's our Q&A with Engle from before he set off on his historic run:
Question from Graham Bensinger: Charlie, we've spoke about this before. I enjoy risky challenges, have climbed some moderately difficult mountains before, and have interest in summiting Everest one day. That said, I see nothing even mildly gratifying in what you're attempting. It seems like absolute torture. Explain how you finding this satisfying.
Answer from Charlie Engle: When I'm out there some days, I can assure you I have the exact same question running through my head! I've thought for years about writing a book, and my working title has always been, "What the Hell Was I Thinking?" Really, though, what is gratifying is being able to force myself to get up day after day and run. It sounds crazy to a lot of people, but it is the ultimate test in self-torture with the ultimate goal of self-knowledge.
Q: Whether it's "Running the Sahara" or "Running America," as the ultramarathon nears, what are you thinking about?
A: [Laughs] Considering that's exactly where we're at right now, I'm thinking about a couple of things. I'm certainly concerned about my mileage and my body. You know, this run is much different than Sahara because, from Day 1, I have to run 70 miles [each day]. With Sahara, we had the luxury of being able to ramp up from 20 to 30 to 40 to 50 miles over the period of the first 10 days of the run. Because this is a speed record, this has to be 45 days straight of 70 miles per day every day. I've just really been trying to get as much rest as possible this last week.
Q: Since there's no time to gradually build up your daily mileage, how much more challenging does that make it?
A: Honestly, Graham, I think this is much more difficult [than Sahara] because of a couple simple factors. No. 1, I'm on a hard surface. I'm on asphalt for 70 miles a day every day, which is really hard on the body. Secondly, it is just the pressure of needing to run that many miles. If you do the math -- and believe me, I've done every possible calculation -- if I miss half a day on Day No. 5, that's 35 miles I have to make up, but I have 40 days to do it. Instead, let's say I miss half a day on Day No. 40. Then, I only have five days left to make up that 35 miles, and it completely changes the complexion. Look, it's not a question of if I'm going to have problems, it's when I'm going to have problems. The first 10 days are by far the most dangerous for having the possibility of falling apart. My hope is if I can get through those days, the body has an amazing adaptive ability. I think, then, I at least have a shot....