Meet a man with a powerful addiction — to running. Caleb Daniloff says he believes the sport saved him from addictions that were far worse, and he's written a new book, called Running Ransom Road: Confronting the Past, One Marathon at a Time, about his experiences.
Daniloff has run some familiar marathons — New York and Boston — but he's also been to a place not famous for outdoor running: Moscow.
"The water was rationed, when we were running," Daniloff tells NPR's David Greene. "What happened is that there was also a 10K race, and so, they didn't want the 10K runners drinking up the marathon runners' water, so no one got water until after the 10K ... until after six miles." Farther along, Daniloff passed a water station along the race course offering not water or energy supplements, but black bread, salt, and hot tea — not exactly what marathoners need as they pass the 22nd mile.
Greene and Daniloff met in a more domestic spot — Washington, D.C.'s Hains Point, a grassy spit of land near the Jefferson Memorial. It's a popular place for runners who are getting ready for the Marine Corps Marathon, another race Daniloff has run.
"One of the things that really stands out to me about the Marine Corps Marathon was the number of wounded veterans that were running," Daniloff says. "Young guys with no arms or one leg, or family members who had the iron-on dress portraits of Marines with the birth and death dates on them. There was sort of just this huge feeling of ... there was a lot of damage that had been done, and there was a lot of healing that had taken place ... it's just very nice to see running as a way to sort of move through that."
Daniloff himself spent 15 years — from the ages of 14 to 29 — struggling with alcohol addiction. "A couple years into my recovery, I sort of evolved into a runner," he says. "It became a major sobriety tool for me, you know, it allowed me to get to know myself again." Running, he says, injected a spiritual element into his recovery as he pounded along predawn dirt roads. It also allowed him the time to figure out apologies to people he'd hurt in his years of drinking. "A lot of my apologies were drafted in my head, at 6 miles an hour, at 5 a.m.."
"You really do need to have a process when you're getting sober," Daniloff says, and running helped him develop one. "A lot of people do turn to AA, but for me, running gave me all those things, and allowed me to sort of move through sobriety." Though, he adds, he has spent time in AA and drew on bits and pieces of its philosophy in his recovery. "Things like, you know, conducting a fearless moral inventory, that's something that you need to do, and that's something that ... I would feel that I could do at its most purest when I was running, just because when you're running you just can't deceive yourself, because it's so hard."
Daniloff says running gave him a sense of transformation. "I felt like I really cultivated an impulse towards humility ... it's a softening of who you are, an opening yourself up." It's the physical process of running that gives it such power, he says. "I feel like you meet yourself again when you run ... the purity of thought that happens when you are really exerting yourself ... it gives you a space to both escape who you are, and to burrow deeper into who you are."