Craig Engels, the new face to know in the running world
Craig Engels attracted a lot of attention at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships last week. Engels, who transferred from North Carolina State University, finished seventh in the 1500m at the NCAA outdoors last season and came back this year after recently winning his second straight Southeastern Conference championship in the event. He won the 1500m heat Wednesday with a time of 3:40.07 seconds. In the final, Josh Kerr of the University of New Mexico ran 3:43.03 to win. Justine Kiprotich of Michigan State University edged Engels, 3:43.50 to 3:43.54. We sat down with Engels to learn more about his running career and why he does what he does.
Can you give a little bit of background about your running career? When did it start? What inspired you to be a runner?
I began running in middle school to kill time and energy after classes. I heard the team ran to the local gas stations and got slushies and junk food whenever the coach told them to run, so after I heartbreakingly didn’t make the school soccer team, track was an easy second choice. I was never good, nor cared, I was just happy to not be bored at home. I continued to pursue my dream of becoming a professional soccer player in high school and after high jumping 5 feet freshman year, and not making varsity soccer sophomore year due to behavioral issues, I decided to try running again. This time it was different; I had grown, and when I raced that first time, I beat some good people. I still wasn’t convinced running was a long term option for me until coach Chris Catton kicked me off the team for hiding on the activity bus while we were supposed to be running. I sat at home that week bored out of my mind and decided I wanted to try and be good at something other than Call of Duty. From then on, winning was the only thing I wanted to do and I would focus all my efforts on being the best I could, no matter the task.
When did you feel at your lowest point with running? What got you through those hard times?
Injury is the toughest part of running. You can ask anyone who runs if they have been depressed when they were injured and they will spill you the saddest and most pathetic running and personal logs you could imagine. Winter of 2015 I was either going to quit running and stay at North Carolina State and live in an RV or transfer to Appalachian State to party my last semester and a half of college. Little did I know Chris Catton, my high school coach, wasn’t done mentoring me (which is a story in itself). I was at one of the lowest points in my life and I surrounded myself with as many activities and people as possible at every point in the day. At the time, this depression was all consuming and hard to deal with, but looking back, those memories I made with my NC State and high school friends will stay with me forever. It is so easy to seclude yourself and feel sorry, but these tough times in life are what make the highs so high. I could go on about how much this shaped me as a person and runner but everyone who is struggling needs to find who they are their own way.
Over your years of training, what are some important lessons you have learned?
- Always wear your running shoes to meets or you will forget them
- Never pee in the underwater treadmill
- Always listen to your body and talk to your coach
- Leave your phone at home
- Be your own person
- Enjoy every moment you spend, race, travel and train with the team
- Always know what poison ivy, oak, and sumac leaves look like
- Do not mountain bike, snowboard, or do any extreme sports during season
If you had any advice to give to a high schooler who wants to take his commitment to the next level, what would it be?
Be realistic. If you go into the process of choosing a college thinking you’re the next Steve Prefontaine, I’m sorry, but you’re going to be disappointed and laughed at. On the other end, do not sell yourself short — contact every school possible and exhaust every resource available. I get direct messages on Instagram sometimes from kids who want to run in college. If I think they have potential, I let coach know their name and he takes it from there. Be creative in the way you approach everything.
What are some of the ways you deal with stress right before a race? What is going through your head an hour/10mins/30secs before the race starts?
Everyone gets nervous; that is a fact. The way people deal with it directly correlates with their success. I turn all my nerves into positive thoughts, whereas someone else may think negatively and have doubt about their fitness and training, and I guarantee you I will beat those people.
One of the most stressful parts of a race is the hour leading up to your warmup, where you’re sitting around the team tent with faint smells of icy hot that bring butterflies to your stomach and making multiple trips to the port-a-potty where you will inevitably see your competitors doing the same exact thing. Once again, positive thoughts are the only way to go. If your competitors see you smiling and joking around right before a race, they will get even more nervous because you’re so relaxed and they’re so strung up. Just don’t take anything too seriously. There is much more to life than the race you are at, even though it may feel like you are the center of the universe. Just make it simple and beat everyone so you’re confident and they’re scared of you.
What does your typical day look like? What about your week?
There are no typical days or weeks — that is what makes the Ole Miss program so successful. We may get into a routine for a month or so during cross country and track, but Coach Vanhoy runs a program here that prepares us for any situation whether it be collegiate, professional, or international. The way coach Vanhoy runs the program also allows us to live a normal life where we can go camping, go to football games, go on short trips, go canoeing with recruits, or hang out with friends and teammates on weekends.
What is your next goal to beat? What are you working towards, both long and short-term (both running and normal civilian life)?
As I am completing this interview I am on my way to Eugene, Oregon for the NCAA Championships. Obviously, I want to win. That is my goal for anything I do in life. I want to win until there is nothing else to win.
When running is over, I want to make the world a cleaner place for future generations to come.
Without delving into politics too deeply, I strongly believe that humans are affecting the global climate. What I also understand is that when humans are gone from their own mistakes, the earth will be fine and recover. It may look different and harbor different species, but it will be fine. What humans need to understand is that global climate change directly affects US and will destroy US. I want to work with alternative energy and provide communities with knowledge and resources to live the way they want, using as much energy as they want, from a clean and renewable source.
Why do you do what you do? What makes it all worth it?
I want to win. Being in a sport where you push your body to its limits so often is tough and complicated. That being said, it makes off-season and enjoying the simple things in life so much more fulfilling.
Who is another athlete you know that you’d like to see us feature on the Modern Athlete?
Someone who has the opportunity to change the sport: Nick Symmonds, Sam Parsons (NC State Alum), Andrew Colley (reebok athlete), Matt Sonnenfeldt (agent), Ian Milder (retired runner.)