“And if I don’t figure out for myself, like now, what I’m going to do about this, then, you know, I’m not going to have to worry about it.”- Charlie Engle
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Dr. Parsley’s sleep remedy was designed to help Navy SEALs to overcome some of the sleep challenges that they have as hard-charging individuals. Doc Parsley believes that proper sleep and recovery is absolutely essential to maintain our ability to perform at a high level. His sleep “cocktail” includes a number of supplements to provide our bodies with chemicals naturally produced by the brain to encourage sleep. Commander Divine is a huge fan and encourages members his tribe to try it out for themselves. Enter “unbeatablemind” at the checkout on www.docparsley.com to get 10% off.
Charlie Engle (@CHARLIEENGLE)is a world renowned ultra marathon runner who has endured some of the worlds most punishing long-distance foot races including his run across the Sahara Desert, documented in the film “Running the Sahara.” He is also a speaker and the author of the memoir called “Running Man.” In this wide-ranging discussion, he and the Commander talk about the personal difficulties with addiction that led to his career in running.
- How addiction manifests in different ways and doesn’t always have to be negative
- At first, Charlie’s running was an attempt to “beat” the addict out of himself
- About how Charlie became a kind of fitness coach for prison inmates
Listen to this episode to gain insight into the running lifestyle and how to be able to go to extremes to accomplish a task.
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Hey folks. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Welcome back. Thanks for joining me today. Appreciate your time, and your energy, and your support. And of course, you know, I do not take that lightly, so we’re gonna deliver to you another amazing interview today with my guest Charlie Engle. Super stoked to meet him and to talk to him.
Before I introduce him a little bit more full, last chance, if you’re interested in bringing out the best you ever. To upgrade yourself to Unbeatable Mind 2.0. Come to the Unbeatable Mind summit.
It’s the last time we’re gonna run this event. It’s November 30th to December 2nd in Carlsbad. It’s been an extraordinary run. This is the sixth year we’ve run this event, but just doesn’t fit our business model anymore.
We’re gonna throw all our energy into our three-day Unbeatable Mind Academy experience next year. Which will have some elements of the summit, but’ll be much more of a deep dive on all the principles. So this is an incredible opportunity to get the last summit. Where we’ll have all these great speakers come in and we’ll have integrated training experience, covering all five mountains. And you’ll come out of it with a plan to breakthrough and transform in 2019. It’s gonna be extraordinary. Check out summit.unbeatablemind.com.
And because you are a loyal follower of Unbeatable Mind podcast or you enjoy what I’m doing here and I appreciate that, then I’ll give you $300 off. So use the code pod300. “POD” in case you didn’t know, it stands for podcast. It’s pretty clever huh? POD 300.
The other thing I wanted to tell you–as I’m recording this, not necessarily when it’s published, but as I’m recording this it’s 2 days after our 24 hour world-record attempt not attempt but we just crushed it our world record bid for the most number of burpees done in 24 hours by a six-person mixed team. I know, I know. Whoever would have thought that they’d have a category for that at the Guinness Book of Records? But they do. And we crushed it so myself, Greg Amundsen, Melanie Slicka, Kathryn Divine–my stepdaughter–and Liz Fulop from Australia. And Jim Bro out of Rochester, New York.
We all came together and we had just this crazy strategy where for 24 hours straight we were just banging out burpees, just knocking him out.
The former World Record was 14,000 in 24 hours we did 35,393 burpees in 24 hours and we raised some great amount of awareness. We had a Facebook livestream for the whole thing. Many of you maybe were there participating and cranking out burpees yourself.
But all of it was to raise awareness and funds for the Courage Foundation so the Courage Foundation can support veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. By putting them through immersive training with 18 months of aftercare, and team, and mentorship and all that. It’s an extraordinary initiative.
So far this year–it’s part of the broader purpose for vets–we’ve done about 14 million burpees now. On our way to 22 million burpees. And we’ve raised over $200,000, so we really appreciate your effort. And if this is the first time you’re hearing about it and you’re going like scratching your head, well just go to burpeesforvets.com to learn a little bit more about why we’re doing this and how it all came about. Burpeesforvets.com. We appreciate your support.
All right. So I mentioned earlier Charlie Engle is my guest today. Charlie is an author. He’s a crazy runner–like extraordinary endurance runner. He’s been in jail. He’s run across the Sierra… Sahara… Not the Sierras. Probably run across this the Sierras too.
He’s had a lot of adversity in his life and running has been his recovery. So… The Sahara Desert was 4,500 miles that he ran across the Sahara. I think it took him like over 111 days or something.
And there was a movie made about it. So we’ll talk about that. And he’s the best-selling author “Running Man,” which is his memoir. So pretty cool stuff.
But it didn’t always… His life wasn’t always super cool. So interestingly enough, we’re gonna learn all about that. So Charlie, thanks for joining me today. Appreciate your time and super Stoked to talk to you.
Charlie: Hey, Mark. Thank you. I appreciate that so much. Thanks for the great intro and I was doing mental math as you were talking and trying to… I was putting my effort to your burpees and trying to figure it all out. So congratulations
Mark: (laughing) for you it’s putting one foot in front of the other…
Charlie: It is, it is. I have been known to do a couple of burpees though. So it wasn’t a foreign thought to me to like “hey, I wonder how many burpees I could do in that period?”
Mark: (laughing) the thing that wraps most people’s minds, they don’t realize that the actual–and nor would you ever realize this–but the rules are that only one person can work at a time. And so we had to have the strategy where it allowed us to have more output right? Because we could take a little bit of rest. We didn’t want to take too much rest, but we structured it so every minute, we were working for 15 seconds. And then 3 other people would work for 45 seconds. And so for those 15 seconds, you’re going all out. I was getting often times 9 or 10 burpees. And then toward after 15, 16 hours that kind of leveled out there like 6 & 7.
Charlie: Did that mean that you were taking–so were two people like off at a time for a little while–so four of you… Okay got it yeah
Mark: Yeah. That was our super-secret strategy. Two people got a little bit longer break, which is just enough to like completely recover Burpee-wise and to recollect your sanity.
Charlie: Even guys like… I’m sorry I just dove right into this… Even guys like David Goggins doing pull-ups. The strategy isn’t about… Obviously you can’t do pull-ups the entire time. So it’s all about doing enough of them and then taking a break. And then doing them again. And just continuing.
Mark: Yeah everybody is gonna be different, but once you learn your body and you learn where you’re… What point you’re about to go anaerobic. And what point you work just under your fail points. And when you learn how to recover really well, then you can sustain–like as you know, and we’re going to talk about soon–you can sustain an enormous amount of output for very, very long periods of time if you’re constantly kind of pushing, recovering and pushing, recovering and pushing recovering. And that recovery can come in many forms as you know.
I talk about recovery just from the mind, and the breath, and brief pauses, and stuff like that. So we had all sorts of fun recovery things that we were testing out. And it was quite an experience actually.
Charlie: No, it sounds like it. I’m fascinated by that kind of thing. And also by the very obvious setting a goal and going after it kind of a thing. And it sounds so simple, and so many people say it, but as I like to say–the question I get all the time is “hey, I’ve been a runner for a while and I’m thinking about running my first hundred miler. How do I do that?” and my answer is always very… I’m a smartass, so my answer is always like “okay, do you own a computer?”
They’re like “yeah.”
I like “okay, find a race that you want to do and enter it. That’s…”
Mark: Just commit to it right?
Charlie: Right. Because again, there’s no… Just like you, you can’t train to do burpees for 24 hours… I mean, you can be in good health. You can do some extra burpees. You could be in the gym. You can do all kinds of things.
But it does all boil down to just making the mental commitment to doing it. And risking looking like a fool. That’s actually the… Because if you took that away… If you took away the risk of embarrassment completely, or perceived embarrassment, you’d try anything. Because then what difference would it make?
Mark: Right. True that. And having a wide… Committing is certainly critical, but what really drove us for this burpee thing was the “why” behind it. It wasn’t to break a world record. We really could care less about that. It was just a rallying point. Something for us to… Some structure. That was the structure.
So like someone hosting a hundred mile race, it’s the structure. So you don’t have to go and organize your own race. Because that’s a lot of work to do all the support and stuff like that. So there’s a structure.
But the “why” is really the most important. To me, just to see if I can do it, is not a very strong “why.” but to raise awareness for vets suffering from post-traumatic stress… Wow. Now I can get behind that. You know what I mean?
Charlie: I totally do. And by the way–I never like to say the term “Happy Veteran’s Day.” that seems like an odd thing to say, but anyway, I appreciate people like yourself yesterday and today. It’s also weird that we mix it up now and it’s sort of like Veterans Day was technically yesterday, but then everything is closed today, so…
Mark: You know what? I’m glad you said that, because I was confused as to which was which. I thought it was yesterday and then people started wishing me “happy Veteran’s Day” today by text and email.
I’m like, “Oh, maybe I got it wrong.”
Charlie: Well I think it was… Yesterday is definitely the day. And for whatever reason–I guess, well, we know the reason… So that federal employees and everyone else can have a day off. Which I do not begrudge them. So, enjoy the day off all those people out there.
Although they won’t hear this until later…
Mark: True that. But we’re recording this on Veteran’s Day, so thank you all the vets out there for doing the work. Out there on the edge. On the serious edge of humanity. The edge of the earth. Doing the work in the hardest places.
And not getting a lot of thanks for it. So it’s a very internal motivated career path and… I know a lot about that because I did 20 years of that. But yeah…
Man, most people don’t take the time to appreciate. So it’s really cool that we have one day that people can stop and think about it.
And vets don’t need to hear “thank you.” they just want to know that people appreciate what they do, you know what I mean?
Charlie: I totally know. And I mean… Listening to what you said about mental health and I did a run across the United States in 2016 for… Bring attention to the need for greater mental health services. And there were there were six of us. That actually ran across. And it was all about PTSD and addiction recovery and just the fact that… We did highlight the fact that there’s so many veterans who, even on days like today, sadly, will take their own lives. Sitting on their sofa at home and not in any actual danger compared to what they faced in the past, yet they are unable or unwilling or it’s unavailable or something. For some reason they can’t get the help that they need.
And that has to change.
Mark: Yeah, exactly. Yeah I agree with you. And people who are listening know that it’s a big issue for me. And I don’t have the answer. I know that we can help people who find us. And I know there’s other nonprofits and other people out there who are trying to connect to these vets. But if I can’t find someone, that person sitting on their couch, and they don’t reach out for help… Then, man, that’s the hard part. It’s kind of like delivering mail the last mile with them in the Yukon. It’s the hard part, right?
How do we get to them where they’re at? As opposed to hoping that they knock on your door.
Charlie: You know somebody out there is… And not to say that you’re not smart enough… I know I’m not. But someone out there is smart enough to figure it out and I think it would take almost like an exit interview. It should almost be part of your contract in the military, that you are not just debriefed for whatever kind of information, but that you’re also required… I mean I’ve always said… And look, I’m provocative and I wasn’t in the military, so it’s not my right to say necessarily. But I have so many friends who served and I’ve always been like you’re almost better off having something blown off. Because then at least there’s like a tangible thing that forces you into care.
Mark: You can see the wound.
Charlie: Right. And if it’s just the things that you saw, and that live forever in your head, it’s so much harder to treat. But I think that there’s gotta be a way to get people to answer those questions.
Anyway, I know that’s not necessarily what we’re talking about today. But we’re…
Mark: No, you’re right. The problem is when you leave the military, it’s like kind of “Sayonara. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.”
They’re doing a little bit better nowadays. But still there’s… These symptoms don’t show up sometimes for years. And so you have a lot of vets leaving who are like “I’m fine. Onto the next thing.”
But then this stress build up continues and that has a deleterious effect over time on your mental health. And then they don’t have the team and they don’t have the structure of support they used to have. And all of a sudden the realities of the world where… And this is probably a good segue way for us… Where it’s just nothing but struggle, you know what I mean?
People who listen these podcasts probably think that life is all roses for a good percentage of people. And people watch look at social media. Everyone’s happy and fit. Eating perfectly keto diets. And working out. And doing burpees. Life is all good.
But it’s not. It’s a struggle for everybody. That’s the human condition.
Vets take it like full-on in the chest. They take moral wounds left and right. And then when they get out, they look physically healthy, and they’ve got a smile on their face, because it’s their last day, you know what I mean? And then months or years later they’re just suffering.
How do you keep a thread or a string kind of like lacing them to some network that can help them when they start their spiral?
Charlie: Yeah. Well, I think the camaraderie that you felt and that so many vets feel when they’re in… And there is camaraderie beyond service, because of course you were part of something and you encounter lots of other people who were part of the same thing.
But it’s different. It’s like leaving college, and then meeting somebody who went to your same college. It’s not the same as the guys that you were in college with. And I think that that’s what gets lost. And maybe requiring… Especially people that are in the VA system, that are actually using it… Requiring them to take brief psychological exams…
I realize that’s a big task in a system that already doesn’t do a good job–in my opinion–of taking care of people. Who have given such a big part of their lives to service.
(laughing) And this is a long topic. We won’t get into it. But politically I’ve always said, it’s a… Both parties have failed miserably in this in this respect. And they both give a bunch of lip service to taking care of people. And then that election cycle passes and it’s just another two or four years before anybody talks about it.
Mark: We’ve just basically… My opinion is that that’s not gonna work anyways. I mean, it’s okay for serious intervention. But the systemic approach is broken. And even with an intervention, if it’s going to be drugs, they’d be better off with some other type of caregiver who can be more nurturing, and integral, and holistic in their approach. Who can not just issue them the antidepressants and the whatevers… But also have a plan to get them off it. And to get them the health tools such as yoga, and breathing, and meditation and the somatic work that we know is going to work. And also hook them up with a team. And also hook them up with a mentor.
It really has to be a multi-faceted holistic approach to healing that the VA system just isn’t equipped… It literally would need to be completely overhauled. So you can’t keep doing the thing same thing and expecting different results. When it’s broken, it’s broken. Those systems… Most of the bureaucratic systems simply can’t fix themselves from within.
So that’s why we’re kind of picking up the slack. And a lot of others are picking up the slack and saying, “okay. That’s not working. That’s twentieth-century. We got to come up with an entirely new way of helping, and healing.” and that’s being picked up by nonprofits and private organizations.
Charlie: It is. Yeah. Or it’s being picked up unfortunately by… It’s also being picked up by jails, and prisons, and the justice system. Which is a terrible place for someone to end up who is suffering from a mental health issue based on…
Mark: Based on addiction or something… You know something about that right?
Charlie: I know a little bit about it, yeah.
Mark: Let’s go back. Use that as a segue way.
You struggled with addiction in your younger years. What was that about? And you were in jail and that was probably a wake-up call. What happened? Tell us about it.
Charlie: Yeah for me, it’s interesting… So addiction for me started I was your fairly typical overachieving high school kid trying to get attention from my folks. My dad in particular.
And so to do that I did try to overachieve. And be captain of every team. And make good grades. And I did all those things.
And I went to UNC Chapel Hill as a freshman when I was 17. And I got there expecting that I would continue to be special. (laughing) and when I got there, I basically figured out within like a week–if it even took that long–that I was actually pretty average. And that there were 4,000 other people there that were freshmen just like me. And they all had great skills. And they were smart, and athletic, and dynamic.
And I found out pretty quickly that what I was really good at was drinking. And that just kind of became an odd and very destructive path for me. And drinking led to dropping out of school after a few years. I made it three years and then started a basically a ten year battle with cocaine.
And look I always like to say I may not be the guy that you expected to see that from. I was always a top person in sales in whatever company I worked for. I ran fitness clubs in Atlanta for a few years. And I was the top salesman in the country for Toyota for a couple of years, out in Monterey, California…
Mark: You just did everything all out?
Charlie: I did and part of it was also to anybody that wanted to point at me and say “hey, that guy’s got a drug problem.” I’m like “screw you. Look the top salesman can’t be a drug addict.”
And of course that wasn’t true. And I also used to think that they never fire the top salesmen. And that turned out not to be true either. (laughing)
But I was at 29 years old, my first son was born. And I had grown up in a house with an alcoholic. And I knew I didn’t want my son to grow up that way. And so I was really counting on him to like save me.
I thought “finally. Okay, I’ve got this other person. And this love that I’ve never felt for another human being.”
Like as an addict I just thought I was broken. And so “surely I can stay clean and sober for my son.” and a couple months later I was working in Wichita, Kansas. And there I am sitting on the ground at the end of a six-day binge, watching the police go through my car that a couple of bullet holes in it from somebody trying to shoot me. This wasn’t accidental. And I just had this like incredibly clear thought, like, for the first time ever maybe. And that thought was just this that “my son can’t save me. And nobody’s coming to save me. And if I don’t figure out for myself like now what I’m gonna do about this then I’m not gonna have to worry about it.”
And so I like to say that I had to choose between living and dying and I chose running. And I went to an AA meeting that night, and I got up the next morning and I went for a run. And for three straight years, without missing a single day, I did those two things every day. No matter what was going on…
Mark: Were you a runner before this? Why running?
Charlie: I was, I was. And I had a history of running in my family. My grandfather had been the track coach at UNC Chapel Hill for like 40 years. And he died when I was a kid, but I grew up with… You know, the way families do… With legacy. I grew up with my family saying I was gonna be a runner, like my grandfather.
For no particular reason that’s just what was said. And I was a good high school runner. And frankly the girls weren’t nearly as interested in runners, as they were football players and so I should have just stuck with running back then and I’d have been better off, but I went to UNC Chapel Hill, actually, to play football interestingly. And never played a down. And ended up just battling my way there.
But at 29 when I finally made this decision… I began to… I think I used running initially as a way to like… I wanted to like beat the addict out of me. Like the behavior had been so destructive for me and for everybody around me that I thought I could maybe like take a scalpel and just cut that out. And what I figured out in those three years…
Mark: By suffering you mean?
Charlie: Exactly. Like I wanted to just like… I don’t know… It’s almost like sweating out a fever right? You think that if you sweat long enough, it’ll be gone. Or some other kind of disease. And I what I figured out during that three years… I ran 30 marathons during those three years and I figured out, I would say… Because clearly I had that whole addiction thing under control. (laughing)
But I figured out that…
Mark: You transferred your addiction to running?
Charlie: I did. I did, but my addiction as it turned out was all the good things about me. And I think, going back even to the beginning our conversation, the thing that’s lost on so many people is that this addictive nature of mine is a gift. If I choose for it to be. And it’s actually what makes me really good at things.
I mean, my suspicion is there’s an addict in you. And it doesn’t mean it has to manifest in drugs and alcohol. Or the negative connotations that come with it.
Mark: I’m obviously addicted to burpees this year.
Mark: I wouldn’t go so far, Charlie, as to say that everybody has addictive qualities or addictive tendencies, because that’s what the human adventure is all about. Is we have these desires that were drawn toward, and then we struggle against those desires to try to find freedom from them. That can be chocolate, or sugar, or alcohol or working out.
Look at the CrossFit world right? Talk about a severe addiction problem a lot of people have when they start getting into the high of the CrossFit workout. I’m going out on a limb there, but I agree with you, I guess, is what I’m saying.
Charlie: Yeah, I know I totally hear you on that. And I have so many I mean you probably have way more CrossFit friends than I do. And you and I sort of met around the Spartan world just a little bit. We didn’t manage to connect in Tahoe, but we were both at the same event and…
Yeah, but anyway, running just kind of took me down this path… What I figured out is that yeah some people did. Just like I would assume that every once in a while you get… Through your life, you’ve probably been criticized occasionally, for your maybe single-minded focus towards something. And what I–that may not be true–but what I figured out for me was that addiction was all about like hiding. And not having any feelings and just trying to be invisible.
And running of course and burpees are just the opposite. Like, there’s nowhere to hide. Like you just got to do it. And you actually feel everything even more intensely.
So I just continued to move and I reached this point where I really… Not that I got tired of marathons, but I did the Kona Ironman and I was doing… I did the Eco Challenge. A bunch of those. Which I don’t know if you know what that…
Mark: I know. I know about it well. I remember the early days of the Eco Challenge and Mark Burnett was growing that. And I was a friend of the guy who put together the Beast of the East. Do you remember that?
Charlie: Yeah, of course. Dan Barger? Don Mann, yeah of course. Don’s actually a great friend of mine.
Mark: He’s a good friend mine.
Charlie: And you probably also know Duncan Smith.
Mark: Very well.
Charlie: And he was… I worked for Duncan at Presidio adventure racing in San Francisco.
Mark: Just gonna say, I had a lot of interaction with Duncan when he ran Presidio. And then he yeah shut that down to go back into the Navy. And the seal teams
Charlie: Yeah. I worked for him, and we were close friends. And Ian Adamson. And that entire Eco internet group. And I’m still very much in touch with a lot of those folks and I was… I wasn’t nearly as good as Ian was, but I mean nobody was frankly–but Duncan and I, we were putting on Presidio adventure racing out of the garage there at the Presidio. And his wife was in medical school and all of that.
And then 9/11 happened and changed a lot of things. But, no I had a feeling we’d have some cross-over there, but so I loved being… All my teammates were adventure racers… I mean were military. All of them were seals and Rangers and just some crazy people. And they were so they were so tough, and I was sort of the… I always called myself the token civilian.
And it was an interesting dynamic though. That having a civilian on the team actually, I think, made us a little more flexible. And a little better in some ways. Just because… I don’t have to tell you… That kind of SEAL training is very… It’s difficult for those guys to show weakness, because they’re trained not to.
Charlie: And man I learned so much. I learned how to suffer properly during those years. Mark: (laughing) you know, one of our terms at our SEALfit training–because we kind of leverage a lot of those techniques to teach people mental toughness and resiliency, but one of them is “suffer in silence.” which doesn’t mean “don’t suffer.” it just means don’t share your suffering with someone to the point we’re gonna bring them suffering. Or more pain, or kind of a negative…
Charlie: It’s so true. Some of those teams that I was on with a couple of seal friends it’s– and I’ll stop talking about it after this–but it was interesting because… And I look back on it and I think they benefited also, because being a civilian I wasn’t afraid to ask somebody else to carry my pack. Like, it was as simple as that.
Whereas… So for me, if I felt myself going downhill… Like figuratively not literally… I’d ask for help. I was more prone to ask for help. Because I knew that the goal was for the team to keep moving as fast as possible. And my teammates, some of them it was hard for them to ask for that help. So when they finally were in trouble, they weren’t just in trouble they were like face down on the ground. Because they just pushed themselves to that edge.
So it was an interesting dynamic to have people sort of a mixed team. And again I learned so much from these guys. And I think maybe they learned a little from me. And it was a good time.
I remember those days well. And it really did… I think again, it taught me to really never say no to an opportunity.
My first big adventure race was the RAID Gauloise French adventure race and that was literally the so I basically started my career by doing the Super Bowl of the sport.
Mark: So most people don’t know… I mean I know what the RAID is and that’s what Mark Burnett basically modeled the eco-challenge after.
Charlie: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: But so tell us about the raid…
Charlie: The RAID Gauloise was a more… Mark Burnett, out of course is a marketer and he is a producer. And it’s not to say that he’s not a tough, smart guy… He’s got some of that too… But the raid was very hard for American teams. Because out of maybe 60 teams there were to be only three or four American teams.
Whereas the Eco Challenge it was sort of the other way around. There would be 40 or 50 American teams, and then maybe 20 non-American teams. And so you didn’t have the issues of not having the language, or whatever.
And the raid was much more I think intensive on navigation. And they put you in situations where you really had to figure things out. Mark Burnett occasionally was more focused on liability. I mean, being an American company–even though he was a Brit–being an American company and doing a television product…. You really couldn’t have people dying. That wasn’t good for the sport.
And I don’t know that people died….
Mark: He also wanted to get the camera angles and the photo finishes and stuff like that, which changed the end geography of where he placed it.
Charlie: Totally. Absolutely. You nailed it, you nailed it. In the raid, the French just didn’t care. Like if they never saw you again, they just assumed you finally found your way out and went home. (laughing)
And it is interesting. I think you probably have a good perspective…
Mark: Borneo and crazy places….
Charlie: Yeah, yeah, so the raid I did in Vietnam… And when we went to Vietnam for the raid in 2000, the entire race was a thousand kilometers in North Vietnam.
Mark: Holy cow.
Charlie: Like, so it was just this beautiful amazing place. And you know, from your travels… People think they know what a place is gonna be or what it looks like in their mind and then when you go, you usually just find out that that people are generous, and kind. And they’re actually just curious, and fascinated, and interested.
Very few of them are actually dangerous. It’s not to say there’s not some… And so those experiences really taught me to go into like a place like North Vietnam. And we were going through little villages where they had never seen anybody that wasn’t from their village.
And anyway, it’s a great experience and what I loved about it is the fact that you couldn’t, of course, with adventure racing you can’t move… You’re only as fast as your slowest team member. And the goal always has to be to take somebody else’s weight or to make sure that they’re… That everyone is taking in the right nutrition. And that they’re looking out for each other.
Because it’s actually the perfect scenario, because you’re doing something completely selfish, by looking out for other people. Because you want to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. And if you don’t take care of your teammates then, of course, it’s not going to happen.
Mark: Right. And that’s such an important lesson for business people today. Because everyone is so focused on their own performance or their own aspect of the job.
But man, everything is a team effort right? And see if you can take your eyes off yourself and put them on your teammate, and your team, and the mission. And just know that that’s going to help your own performance, both energetically and also everyone else is going to be taking care of you.
It’s one of the core things we teach in SEALfit trainings. We set it up so you can’t get through our training as a Rambo, as a sole practitioner, so to speak. It’s an important lesson.
Charlie: Yeah, you might be the most talented and someone is… But that most talented individual, doesn’t–again, I’m preaching to the choir here–but doesn’t make for a talented teammate. Necessarily.
They can, if they choose to have the right attitude. But… And it’s funny you’re doing with your summit–and I absolutely love it in fact I’m gonna have to talk you into letting me come help someday–but your summit is doing an updated more sophisticated version of what we were doing back in the 90s.
Which was we were taking 25 people–most of them weekend warriors–sticking them in a kayak in Sausalito, and making them paddle over to Angel Island, and sleep in a garbage bag all night. In freezing-cold San Francisco.
And man, they had to find a way… You had to get close with strangers if you planned on staying warm that night. And that was just a big deal. So I love what you’re doing. And I think you’ve really… You’re filling a need that the needs to be filled.
Mark: Yeah, I think so. People have gotten really comfortable. And I have to say this comfort kills, right? If you get comfortable and all of a sudden you stop… You lose the very basic human instinct for challenge. To challenge yourself. And then it goes away and then that comfort leads to more comfort and then to fear.
And I think fear comes from not challenging yourself. Not facing pain and suffering and learning that “hey, that’s good.”
It’s not bad. It’s good.
Charlie: Mark you are so… Man I see we’re so on the same page. One of my talks that I give regularly is basically about I call it “comfort is overrated.” And I make a joke that somewhere in the 1950s, somebody invented the electric can-opener…
Mark: (laughing) and it’s all been downhill since then.
Charlie: Right, because somehow we decided that opening cans ourselves was just too damn hard. And we needed something else to do it. And it felt like…
Mark: Easier and easier again until where all of a sudden it’s like…
Charlie: Yeah. Well it’s like all the innovation for so many years during that time was geared towards making our lives more comfortable. As if somehow that was going to help us.
And that’s not how we got to the position we were in the world. We got to that position by being innovators, and inventors. And like if somebody could do it was an American. And that sort of attitude.
And yeah, I mean I guess it’s just human nature. We hit this point where we just wanted to have easier lives. And I don’t think our great-grandparents–was the word retirement actually even a word? Like did they…? I can’t imagine my great-grandfather in the eighteen hundreds like saying “yeah I’m gonna work hard for 50 or 60 years and then I’m gonna do nothing for the rest of my life. That’s my goal!”
Mark: Right. I mean, I’m sure this is absolutely foreign to them. Like why would they want to do nothing?
Charlie: Or why would that be your goal? Like, if you all of a sudden they’re wealthy enough to do nothing, then that’s the way it happens. But like, somewhere in our society that actually became the goal. Was to get to a place where you didn’t have to do anything anymore. And that just…
Mark: The irony there too with that point you just made us some of the wealthiest people actually I mean they’re working their ass off. And they’re doing amazing things for the world. Especially some of these… Today’s social entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff… These guys work their ass off, and they got a huge, huge big “why” driving them. The save-the-world kind of “why.” Just having the money doesn’t mean you have to be comfortable. In fact, I think it’s completely divorced I think into different concepts.
Charlie: Well we do. We need to take those examples to heart. And that even goes back to the beginning. And I know I’ve probably totally get you off track of what you asked me–but this idea of running a hundred miles and getting that question.
Part of the problem is with doing training at one of your summits or whatever… People think that they’re gonna take a certain amount of time and get ready for those experiences. And I think that’s such a mistake. I think that–I’m not saying that you… If you haven’t jogged a mile in ten years, don’t go enter a hundred miler. I’m not suggesting that.
Mark: You’ve gotta do some baseline preparation for sure.
Charlie: Yeah, but in general, to take that next step–but actually maybe more to the point if you haven’t run in ten years and you’re thinking about doing the local charity 5k, just freaking go do it. I mean, you’re gonna get through it, even if you have to walk or crawl, if you have the right mindset. And there’s something so powerful about getting a win… Getting something that you’ve accomplished. And so for me, I started looking at my own life and saying “okay, I want to see now just how far I can go.”
And that’s what actually led me to the Sahara Desert. I started doing races of like 50 miles, and then a hundred miles, and then hundreds of miles across the Gobi Desert and Atacama Desert and all these adventure races and triathlons. And I’m in a race in the Amazon jungle in like 2005 and someone actually just says to me “I wonder… Have you ever thought about running across the Sahara Desert? Like the whole thing?” and I literally looked at him and said “that’s the worst freaking idea I’ve ever heard.”
Mark: I don’t even think… I’d be worried about like being swallowed up by a sand dune or something.
Charlie: Yeah. Well, that was the thing…
Mark: Where’d he go? He was here last night, and now he’s not here anymore. (laughing)
Charlie: But do you know something? I know you relate to this–is I could not get it out of my head. And so I got back home and I researched it and I found out that no one had ever run across the entire Sahara Desert.
Mark: Of course. And why would anyone want to?
Charlie: Right. Go figure, right? But firsts are very hard to come by in the adventure world right? I mean…. So there’s just a really… They’re difficult so I started to tell people… I just started to say it out loud. I don’t even know if I believed it, but I started to tell people that I was going to be the first person to run across the Sahara, and I’d already done enough crazy things that… People told me it wasn’t possible, but…
Mark: Was there, like, a camel trail that you followed or something like that?
Charlie: Nothing, dude. This was open map and compass navigation. I mean, essentially, I knew I needed to head east. So I started in Senegal and every single step of this run was within the confines of the Sahara Desert. Or what’s known as the Sahel, which is kind of the transitional part of any desert that goes from scrub into full-on desert.
But I started in Senegal and crossed Mauritania, and Mali, and Niger, and became the first Westerner ever to run across Libya, Egypt and finished at the Red Sea. And it was… I basically ran about two marathons a day for a hundred and eleven consecutive days without taking a single day off.
Mark: And you have a support team with you obviously. You didn’t just…
Charlie: Absolutely. Yeah. We had Native Tuaregs that that were Outfitters that basically kept us alive. I had to 2 teammates I ran with the entire time. So speaking of only being as fast as your slowest person–all three of us ran every step–but that meant that we always had to… We had to help our teammates. And if one person wasn’t feeling well you had to figure out how to get beyond that.
And it was an amazing experience. I got a chance to run across six Muslim countries, across if the Sahara Desert… And having this amazing experience of just human beings out there.
And fortunately that was 2007 and today the vast majority that run would be impossible. Because of political and war concerns. And it’s really sad because like most regions, the indigenous people are fantastic, and it’s those that that come in and plant themselves there that’s not so good.
But the best thing that came from that run was…. The physical accomplishment was exciting and interesting. But Matt Damon was my partner in this project and we made a film together.
Mark: So he filmed it while you were running it? Is that how that worked?
Charlie: Yeah, so it’s a documentary.
Mark: And for some of our financing came from it? It wasn’t just you.
Charlie: All of it. Yeah, all of it. So all the financing came from Matt Damon’s production company. Matt is a smart enough business man not to… I don’t think Matt was writing any checks, but if that Matt Damon produces something, then sponsors like Gatorade and Toyota and all of these sponsors came on board.
So that’s how the expedition got paid for. And we co-founded something called h2o Africa. And so I actually spent not only the run, but about a year after raising money. And I raised personally a little over six and a half million dollars.
Charlie: For this water nonprofit. And today that water nonprofit is called water.org, which is the world’s largest clean water nonprofit. With over a billion dollars in holdings.
Mark: Good for you. By the way I want to shout out to that. Because I read a stat just the other day that… Remember water in Africa was gonna be what destroyed that continent right? Lack of fresh water.
And now I think it’s like 70… Between 70 and 80 percent of the country now has access to fresh water. So you’re efforts have really been extraordinary. I know other people have been involved, and other organizations including like Coca-Cola. To get fresh water out there.
But that’s extraordinary. So thank you for doing that.
Charlie: Yeah. My pleasure and thank you. And it means a lot. And I think part of the… I think what you relate to here too is that…. And what I love for listeners to think about for themselves is having some crazy, ridiculous idea that seems impossible. And then figuring out a way to do it, or to try it and attaching something that’s…
Look, I’m no frigging hero man. I ran across the Sahara Desert for one simple reason. I wanted to see if I could do it. And I didn’t do it for charity. I didn’t do it for money. I didn’t do it for anything other than the fact that I wanted to know personally if I had what it took to do this.
But, I got the chance to do the thing I was passionate about. This run. And to technically do a selfish thing. But also do a selfless act by creating a non-profit around it.
And you look smart after the fact when something’s successful right? I mean I had no clue when I set it up whether or not we’d raise ten dollars. I mean, there’s no way to know that…
Mark: What you just hit on is such an important point that I think I want to dive into a little deeper. I agree with you. I think it’s okay to be selfish and selfless at the same time. And those two aren’t like mutually exclusive right? And anything that we do… Like for me just recently my little baby thing of doing 24 hours of burpees non-stop… That was very selfish to me to do that.
But it was also very selfless cause I wasn’t doing it just for me and I was doing it for my teammates and I was doing it to raise money and awareness for the vets. But if I wasn’t also selfishly wanting to do that and wanting to see how far I could push my body, and how many burpees I can do, and bla bla bla bla. And get a world record out of it.
Then I wouldn’t have had the passion…
Charlie: Well if you’re not working on improving yourself, how can you possibly hope to help somebody else? I think it’s that simple and people forget, addiction recovery is selfish at its core. Because like I had to take time away from my family. And go to meetings, and do these things.
But you know what? I wouldn’t be there… I wouldn’t I wouldn’t be alive… I wouldn’t be a dad, I wouldn’t be all those things, if I hadn’t made those selfish decisions.
Mark: In my Unbeatable Mind training, we say self-mastery comes first, and then service. So self-mastery and service. First you got to work on yourself, or else you’re not going to be there.
Charlie: Well, we also know people… We all know people… Everybody knows this person who spends all their time volunteering and stuff like that. And they’re just a mess.
Charlie: Because they’re so focused on helping others and you know, god bless them for doing it to a certain degree. But a lot of times that’s distraction. It’s deflection from having to do the hard personal work of looking inward and dealing with your own shortcomings before you can help other people deal with theirs.
Mark: Right. I’m not done with Sahara yet. My mind is still trying to wrap itself around that project. What was like the lowest point you had? Like what was the real dark night of the soul, or scary point, or actually dangerous thing that happened?
Charlie: Man, good question. I think what pops… I try to just go with the flow… What popped in my head right there when you asked the question was we were working with the United Nations and we had some very high up folks working on this with us. To get permissions and also have some safety as we cross these countries.
And yet Libya never gave us permission to come into Libya. And so we had to begin this run in November not knowing whether or not 3,000 miles later, we were going to be allowed to cross into Libya. And so we’re running all these miles, every single day just kind of having on faith.
And we get to Agadez, Niger which is… Agadez is like the geographic center point of the Sahara Desert if you look at it on a map. It’s dead center. And we had to make a decision there to either cut north, north-east, up to Libya…. Really there was no other “or.” to go straight would put us into the Sudan and Darfur and that was not a place we wanted to go. And the UN wouldn’t have…
Anyway the point was my teammates–and not to give them a hard time here, but I do sometimes–they both wanted to quit. They wanted to quit because we weren’t gonna be allowed in their mind, in their mind…
And this is all about fear. I was I was the oldest and arguably most experienced person with athletics. And I think my years of addiction and recovery taught me that there’s only one thing that really matters. And that is continuous forward movement. And if you can just keep moving and I basically had a knock-down, drag-out with them and said “f-you. That’s fine. Stay here. But I’m like taking this box of Snickers and one of these camels and I’m gonna continue on.
And here is the serious point of it is this. And I know you’ll agree. I could live with getting to the border of Libya and being turned away. I’d go the rest of my life knowing that I went as far as I was allowed to go, and there was nothing I could do about that result. Like that was out of my control and I could be okay with that.
What I couldn’t live with was wondering for the rest of my life, what would have happened if I had done that. And ultimately we keep going. I basically guilt and yell at these guys enough to get them to keep going.
And three days before we got to the border, we got word from the Libyans and they were gonna let us in. And I think some of it was, they didn’t… I don’t think they believed that we were really gonna get there, like…
Mark: They probably thought it was a joke. Like “yeah, let’s see if these guys are serious.”
Charlie: Yeah. They didn’t trust it I don’t blame them. They have their own history and they weren’t inclined to say “yes.”
But you know what was really funny is we finally get to the border of Libya. And it was 2 oil drums and some plastic flags and nobody was there. Once we got to the next village, of course, we had to check in. But it’s not like it was some heavily fortified barrier we had to get through. It was actually quite funny. And actually fitting.
But so to your question, I think the thing… The other thing that happened… So there was that, and then the other thing that happened in the Sahara time and time again… And I think this is life, never, never make a big decision at a down moment. Never make that decision when you’re in a tough place, because things are gonna look different if you just go to bed, get some sleep, and you get up the next day…
It’s like all of a sudden “well shit that wasn’t so…” I almost quit my job or left my relationship or whatever just because I was having a bad moment. And it doesn’t mean you’re not gonna still make those decisions down the road. But you should make them with a clear head and keep moving forward and good things happen.
Mark: Yeah, I love that. And we say in our SEALfit… Our Kokoro camp which is our 50 hour non-stop training, where we give people a taste of what you’re talking about… Never to make a decision, a quick decision in the dead of night. Like, let the sunrise come up. Feel the warming sun’s rays. What an incredible experience it is to suddenly see sunlight and it’s a new day and all of a sudden your entire consciousness shifts. And all of those thoughts of quitting go away and you can see the end of the road so to speak.
Charlie: It’s beautiful. What you said is beautiful. And not to put too fine a point on it, Mark: But I mean, if you could only say… I use that same thing with people that I sponsor in addiction recovery. I’ll get a call from somebody saying “you know what? I want a drink. And here’s all the reasons why.” a
And I don’t ever tell them “don’t drink.” I tell them okay, fine. I tell you what, I’ll come over and drink with you tomorrow. But just do me a favor, just don’t do it today. Just go to bed.”
In other words I give them permission, because people don’t like to be told “no.” and a lot of times they’ll use that “no” as fuel for their fire that’s already burning out of control.
And I think again on a sadder note, with the people who take their lives every day, if you could just, man… If you could just get to them and say “okay, don’t do this today. Wait ‘til tomorrow.”
And so many of them would see things differently the next day.
Mark: Right. Because they’ve come face to face with it. And if they can just push through, when they look back, they’re like what that wasn’t somewhere I needed to go yeah and now y’all know where can I get the help. It flips, you know, and then they’re done. The rest of the journey is about recovery and finding hope and meaning again. But just getting through that inflection point of that one moment is sometimes the hardest part.
Charlie: Well it’s not events we need to survive most of the times. It’s moments. I mean, it’s just that moment when everything seems hopeless. Again, not to be too Cavalier, cause I never had anybody… Other than in my drug days, I never had anybody shooting at me on a battlefield… But my suspicion is most of the time the worst moments were those short little periods of time, surrounded by lots of other hardship, but it’s those moments that you just have to survive and get through. And be able to look back on them and put some perspective to it.
I love your… The discussion about Libya that brought up something that’s really important to me that I want to highlight is regrets will kill you, just like comfort will right? It’s kind of like a cancer. Like a moral cancer. When you have regrets and you don’t eradicate those regrets. You don’t deal with them. You don’t learn to forgive yourself or figure out some way to see how to overcome the regret. Then that just will eat away at you.
So anytime you’re facing a commitment and you quit–you’re gonna create a regret. And so of course what we’re saying is “don’t quit.”
At least get to a point where you can… You have an answer right. A yes or a no. A clear delineator between go or no go. Get to that point. A
And if you have quit in the past, then to go back and find a way in your mind to basically appreciate the weakness and that you’re stronger now. Or appreciate that life isn’t fair, right? And to let it go. Because regrets will kill you.
Charlie: Man, that’s beautifully said, Mark: Really, really nice. And I think that it’s… People think too hard. We all think too much sometimes. And we try to figure things out. And the core of it is usually just that we’re afraid of the pain associated with whatever we’re dealing with. And instead of trying… In addiction recovery, I’m always telling people and myself… I’m 26 years clean and sober now… But early on if I’d sat around thinking “oh my god, I have to be sober for the rest of my life.” like that’s an overwhelming thought. And of course, we learn in those programs “no. You just have to be sober today.”
Like every day takes care of itself. You do it that one day at a time and not surprisingly they stack up and all of a sudden you put together some time so…
So Sahara happened and then, cause you asked me, I don’t want to run us over time, but you asked me earlier, or you mentioned like jail and I would be remiss… Although I will say… I always jokingly say… Jail is like County and I ended up in prison.
It’s interesting, after the Sahara I kind of like I was on the map. I did the Jay Leno Show and I did all the morning news shows. And NPR. And I became like a household name in the running world. And even beyond that in some circles. And certainly in my own little world in North Carolina. People knew who I was.
And I had speaking gigs and lots of opportunity…
Mark: It can be pretty heady can’t it?
Charlie: It can. And by the same token, I got the attention of one–I won’t make this a long part of the story, because it’s boring–but it is in my book. I have a book “running man” and it’s done incredibly well. And the audio book on audible has actually really crushed it.
But one single IRS agent actually decided when he saw “running the Sahara,” his question was how did I pay for it? Not man, you did a great job.
Mark: Of course so that was income to you even though you were just over there to run. Oh my god, I never even thought of that.
Charlie: Right. So you flash-forward… And all of that ended up coming up empty. 700 hours of Investigation, all this craziness and it’s all in the court documents. But ultimately I became the only person and this is in 2010–I was the only person in the United States to be charged with overstating income on a home loan application from 2005. It was a no-doc, ninja loan. I am the only borrower at that time.
So I was being held accountable for the sins of the country, basically. And there’s a longer story to this, but ultimately I mean I did not take a plea deal, because I wasn’t going to admit to something I hadn’t done. Because I didn’t even do it.
And I had a seven day trial in Virginia. Eastern Shore of Virginia and I was found not guilty of those charges. But on a technicality I was found guilty of mail fraud. Because I technically signed a closing package–a 200-page closing package–signed where the red sticky notes were and I attested by signing it I attested to information that was false within the package.
That I didn’t put there and it was income information. So the “not guilty” on providing false information clearly showed that nobody thought I put it there.
Charlie: But I still ended up being held accountable and kind of like ignorance is not a defense. And so I became the only person in the U.S. During the largest financial meltdown in our recent history–I was the guy that took the hit. And I was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison…
Mark: Good god.
Charlie: And on Valentine’s Day 2011, I reported to Beckley Federal Correctional Institute in Beckley, West Virginia. For a 21 month sentence.
Mark: Well that sounds like a lot of fun.
Charlie: Yeah. It was a great time. I highly recommend it.
No… But here’s the thing man… And this is the part of the story that’s actually pretty interesting. Being sober for 19 years up to that point and having run and put myself through physical challenges, I was–I like to jokingly say I was probably the most well equipped person in history to go to prison.
Charlie: Because I knew instinctively that I couldn’t get through this experience by being angry and bitter. And the day I got there, fair or unfair didn’t matter anymore. I mean, it just didn’t matter. I was in prison and I needed to figure out who I was gonna be in that place.
Mark: Could you run while you were there?
Charlie: Yeah. So I did what I always do. I started to run. So anytime I got out into the rec yard, I ran. And when I couldn’t run out there I ran in for six hours at a time sometimes in my cell in place.
And it made me look freaking crazy which in prison actually isn’t a bad thing. If you’re the middle-aged white guy, looking a little crazy is not a bad thing.
But here’s the cool part about it the other… And I’ll try not to do too many soapbox moments… But the worst thing about prison was the fact that almost 90% of the people are there for some sort of drug-related charge. Yet there’s zero drug treatment in prison. So we put people in prison when they should be… We’re the only country on the planet to jail and imprison our drug addicts. And it doesn’t work.
It also doesn’t work financially. It costs nearly ten times as much to incarcerate these people as it does to pay even multiple times for treatment. And to find an alternative.
Because a guy that does ten years in federal prison or longer… He gets out and guess what? He can’t get a job. So he’s thirty years old and he spends the rest of his life on public assistance.
Mark: Yeah, I totally agree. It’s a complete mess, that whole situation.
Charlie: It’s a joke and it doesn’t matter if you’re democrat or republican. The point is we all should care about our tax dollars. And we should certainly care about the humanity of it too.
Because nobody gets better in prison. And look–some people belong in prison. I was in there with some that… They need to stay in there for as long as they can hold on to them, because they’re dangerous people or whatever.
But that’s not the vast majority of people in there. Everybody kind of understands, it’s a business, it’s a machine cranking people through the grinder and paying the bills.
And just like all the other big industries, you’ve got lobbyists who are paying politicians bribes, basically. To build more prisons.
And a whole lot of service people end up in those places. Because, again the system ends up sticking them in there, instead of getting them actual treatment.
Charlie: Sorry, that’s my… So we just had an election and I always though continue to encourage people no matter which side you’re on… Is to realize that it doesn’t help any of us to keep spending money on putting people in prison.
So part of what came out of it for me, is I got a chance to see that firsthand. And guys started to come up to me… I started teaching addiction recovery classes in there. And I would run. And like the most questionable thing I did, was I started doing yoga on the softball field by myself.
Charlie: And I would tell you, I don’t recommend that in federal prison. Let’s just say I caught some heckling for that. And you know what? I ignored it. And by the time I left there, Mark: I had fifty guys in my running group, running with me. I had eleven guys that lost more than a hundred pounds. And I had like 25 guys doing yoga with me, three days per week, out on the softball field.
And it’s this idea of Attraction rather than promotion. You can’t always go out there and tell other people what to do. Sometimes you just got to do what you do, and other people will be attracted to it. And they’ll ask you “how do I get some of that? How do I lose weight? How do I get more…?”
I mean, you have this every single day. You just do your thing and yeah you make the information available so people can sign up. But ultimately what they see–because you share it with them–is they get a chance to see the results of it. And who doesn’t want to feel better and look better?
Mark: Right. I agree. 100%. That’s very cool.
Charlie: Including inmates.
Mark: Yeah, I’ve been in a couple prisons–not as an inmate, but as a visitor. Cause when I first started the Courage Foundation I was working with prisoners and wardens to try to bring believe it or not yoga and breathing in meditation. My Unbeatable Mind type stuff.
Charlie: Were you successful at all? Because it certainly is so desperately needed, man.
Mark: I didn’t–let’s put it this way–it’s an ongoing thing. Like I really didn’t have the bandwidth to do more than visit and also donate books. So I donated like 3,000 books through the Prison Fellowship. And I’ve gotten a lot of letters from people who just literally found the book “Unbeatable Mind” and started to do the drills and that had a profound impact.
But it’s a big difference than compared to what you did, which was being there as an example. And getting people involved.
But the other thing is we were trying to serve the prisons and then we’re also trying to serve vets. And also battered women.
But we couldn’t raise money for the issues of the battered women and the vets nobody really wants it’s kind of like has an icky feeling to it for people when it comes to fundraising, you know what I mean? People didn’t want to donate for those causes.
Charlie: Yeah, it’s tough man. And it’s about education just like everything else. Because I always ask people the question and I’m not… I’m actually minding my manners today… But I ask people the question, “Who do you want as your neighbor? The guy who got diverted into a treatment center?” and I don’t care…. Maybe he did something heinous. Maybe he stole his grandparent’s savings account. I mean, he did something terrible.
But what is the point of taking that guy and sticking him in prison for 15 years? I mean, is that punishment? It’s punishment for him to a certain degree, but it punishes all of society.
And we the taxpayers end up footing the bill. So why not take that person and give them a chance.
If they screw up three or four of those chances, then there comes a point where yes, they probably need to be locked up for a while. But generally…
I’ll tell you what… Offline we’ll have to continue that part of the conversation. And who knows, maybe things have… I do think there’s a move afoot….there certainly was–and again, sorry I’m not gonna try to talk politics–there was going into the 2016 election towards a real overhaul of the criminal justice system. And it would have saved us hundreds of billions of dollars over the years. And that took a step backwards with some of the things that been going on the last couple of years. But I but I still think that even the conservative side of the government understands that… They understand dollars better than anybody. And if we can show that fiscally it makes good sense to help people rather than incarcerate, then we should do that.
So prison for me gave me a chance to like… I looked at it as an opportunity mark and I went in there with an open heart and a curious mind. And I just decided that I was gonna see what I could learn here. And I wrote every single day. I committed to writing and just like flexing a muscle I had already been a pretty a pretty good writer, I think. And I left there a much better writer.
And that allowed me to ultimately write a book Simon & Schuster published a couple of years ago. And it’s been a fantastic experience.
Mark: Like a 22 month retreat. (laughing)
Charlie: Exactly. Thank you. I actually call it all the time my federal holiday.
Mark: Right. You got three square meals. You had a cot. You had a place to write, and a place to run and to do yoga. That sounds pretty good to me.
Charlie: Yeah. Well let me just tell you the economics of it. They spent about two million dollars prosecuting me over about fifty thousand dollars. So I’m sure everyone would agree that was taxpayer money well spent. And I was on the front page of the New York Times a couple of times. And Jon Stewart on The Daily Show actually picked up the story.
And I kind of became…. Like I was the guy. Like somebody needed to be blamed for this mess and apparently it was all my fault. So sorry about that.
Mark: Yeah I can’t believe you did that to me. Geez Charlie:
Charlie: My bad.
Mark: Yeah, all right, we’ve been going on and on. We could talk forever. I love talking to you. This is just really interesting stuff.
But let’s wrap this up by just talking about what’s next for you. I mean you gonna go back to prison? Or are you gonna do something more adventurous?
Charlie: Yeah, you know it seems like going back to prison is not a…. Just from a career standpoint I think it was a one and done thing for me.
Well look, so I really appreciate you asking. Because I’ve had the good fortune to do a lot of speaking and be able to begin to flesh out this next big project. And I call it 5.8 so… I needed to start planning my biggest adventure of all time and I came upon this idea of 5.8. It’s a logical progression for me.
And what it what it means is I’m gonna go from the Dead Sea–which is the lowest place on the planet–you might be able to help me out with this first part–so I’m gonna swim out into the Dead Sea and actually do a free dive to the lowest place that I can reach.
Mark: Oh cool. Interesting.
Charlie: And then I’m gonna come back and yeah that’s where I need help from my SEAL friends to teach me some breathing techniques. But then I’ll come back up and swim to shore.
And then I’ll actually start running and I’ll run about 2,000 miles across the entire Arabian Desert. And when I get to the tip of Oman, I’m gonna get into a kayak and paddle about a thousand miles across the Indian Ocean. And when I reach Mumbai, I’ll get on a mountain bike and bike to the base of Everest. And from there I’ll climb Everest to the top.
And so this would be the lowest place on the planet to the highest. And I think it’s a pretty damn good metaphor for my life, your life, everybody’s life… We spend our time going from these low places to high points.
And I call it 5.8 because even though it’s about 4500 miles from point to point, it’s actually only 5.8 vertical miles from the lowest place to the highest point.
Mark: (laughing) it seems like that would be so easy to do.
Charlie: And we all live here, dude. We all live in it. And if you think about it every human being on the planet lives within this tiny, little 5.8 mile sliver of space.
Charlie: And I think when people kind of conceptualize that and realize that we’re all in this together. And we have to find ways to work together, and to pull together. And be selfish like we said but also find a way to give away… I always say to keep it you have to give it away. So whatever you’ve got to offer, you need to offer it up to the rest of the world to help make it better. And it’s a gift.
Mark: I agree with that. It’s selfish to hold onto it.
Charlie: So you’ll be coming along with me?
Mark: Hey, that would be a blast. I’m looking… The most sketchy part of that seems to be the 1000 mile paddle.
Charlie: You absolutely have that so right. And nobody ever… Your base of experience, I mean, because not only is it sketchy physically, but there unfortunately happen to be a lot of bad guys out there that aren’t…
Mark: No you can’t forget the weather, and…
Charlie: Yeah, there’s pirates and weather…
Mark: Interesting logistics. You’re gonna need a SEAL team just to protect you on that one.
Charlie: You’re damn right. Well, are you volunteering?
Mark: (laughing) I’m in if I got the time. That sounds like fun.
Charlie: Well, I appreciate you asking. Yeah, people can follow… There’s a couple of places for now just charlieengle.com is kind of the clearinghouse for everything. There’s a new website that’s gonna launch… Kind of taken all this on… But just my normal website has all my social media on there, plus the book if people are interested. And all these other things so it’s a…
Charlie: That’s it.
Mark: Awesome. Is this initiative 5.8 gonna be filmed like the other one?
Charlie: It is indeed. So I can’t say just yet, but I’ve had a series of amazing production meetings the last few months. And, you know, there’s a lot of interest in telling stories real time. And still shooting it for putting together a feature-length documentary, or a series of television shows. That kind of thing…
So what I like to do, Mark, is I like to tell stories. And I think it’s a great way to give information to other people, as anecdotal exchanging of information. Instead of always–and I know again from your program you do a lot of this. It’s not always about just telling someone what to do it’s telling someone how you did it. And letting them come to their own conclusions. And I think that’s really powerful.
Mark: Yeah, because people just want to try to identify. Everyone’s living a story. And so if you can help them upgrade their story through your story then you’re done. You’ve given them a great gift so well done, sir.
Charlie: Totally agree. Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks. Same to you. And I look forward to continuing this conversation in the future. I really enjoyed it.
Mark: Yeah, me too. And good luck with everything. Let’s stay in touch and let’s get together in person and if I can help you out with that freediving or the paddle across the Indian Ocean.
Charlie: Got it. I’m gonna take you up on it. I will be calling, so thank you for that.
Mark: All right, Charlie. Thanks very much. Great to meet you.
Charlie: All right man. Take care. Thank you.
Mark: All right folks. That was fascinating. Charlie Engle. You can check out his website charlieengle.com, his book “Running Man: a Memoir.” check that out. Of course, he’s got the documentary that he did with Matt Damon.
So interesting, man. Wow. What a great conversation. I’m definitely gonna hook up with him and try to do something in the future.
So that’s it for today. Once again I appreciate your time–little long today–I don’t know if I’ll have to break this into two. But great stuff and as always it really is… Try to find one or two things that really inspire you or you can use as a call to action to just change something or do something a little bit different or a little bit better. To serve a little bit more powerfully or to change up a habit or to just change up the way you think. So every day, day by day in every way we’re getting 1% better. And serving more boldly. That’s Unbeatable Mind. Thanks for your support. Stay focused, train hard and we’ll see you next time.
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What an awesome story!!! My favorite
An excellent discussion by Commander Mark Divine in a one-to-one interview with Mr. Charlie Engle. Many refresher points honed in from UMA, SEALFIT and Kokoro. Emphasis on teamwork and making sure to reach out, especially to help “the slowest boat in the convoy” to grow the business or ensure the success of the mission in exponential proportions.