Addict to Ultrarunner: This Is What Recovery Running Looks Like

Ever wonder what recovery running looks like?

There’s short, easy recovery running that makes sense after a long run or workout.

But it’s something entirely different to runner Keith Callaway, Jr.

He’s done things.

Seen things.

Made mistakes.

The kind of mistakes that send most people down a dark path with no return.

Without this unique form of recovery running, Keith probably wouldn’t even be here.

Running wasn’t part of his lifestyle a couple of years ago. In fact, his day-to-day looked a lot different than it does now.

Here’s how he went from addict to ultrarunner…

Before Keith Callaway, Jr. started running, he was addicted to drugs and alcohol.

The road to nowhere

Life wasn’t going as planned for Oregon resident Keith Callaway a couple years ago.

He knew it. But he didn’t really know what to do about it.

“My business was struggling, and my marriage was struggling” says Keith.

“I felt like my life was really kind of falling apart. I was running on empty in every sense of the word. I didn’t really have traction on anything in my life.”

And that’s when it happened...

“I switched seats in a truck and drank out of this other guy’s can of soda.”

But it wasn’t your typical carbonated beverage or even caffeinated energy drink. He took a drink, and...

“For the first time in a long time, I felt whole,” says Keith. “I went from feeling really dark and dreary to living in 4K high definition.”

And that’s all it took. The drink was laced with methamphetamine, only Keith didn’t know it. But he wanted to keep feeling...high.

For months, he had a one-hit a day habit, and the guy who drove the truck became his supplier. 

But when his dealer left for a couple of weeks, Keith finally realized what was in the drink...and he would do anything to get more.

For more than two years, Keith struggled with addiction. When he was arrested three times in 13 days, he was finally ready to change.

When you hit rock bottom

Keith lived in a fog for the next couple of years. For a while, he did a pretty good job playing the game.

You know...show up to work. Go through the motions. Collect a paycheck. Get high. And do it all over again the next day. 

At one point, he was spending $400 to $500 a day on getting high.

“When you become a slave to addiction, you’ll do anything not to feel how you feel when you’re out of drugs,” says Keith.

For more than two years, he played the game...

  • He stole from family and friends. 
  • He lied...a lot. 
  • He drained his savings and retirement funds. 
  • He sold every personal belonging of value for drug money. 
  • Then came divorce, foreclosure on his house, deep emotional and financial wounds, and homelessness.

“I was bankrupt emotionally, physically, and spiritually,” says Keith. 

“I was completely broken. And I knew there could only be two outcomes. I needed to get sober and stop using or this was going to kill me.”

The tipping point

Then it happened. Keith was arrested three times in 13 days. 

He spent two days in jail, without getting high for the first time in years.

“I’m laying on the concrete floor with a roll of toilet paper for a pillow,” says Keith. “I remember thinking, ‘How much worse could this get?’”

“I’m laying on the concrete floor with a roll of toilet paper for a pillow. I remember thinking, ‘How much worse could this get?’”

—Keith Callaway, Jr.

When he emerged from jail, exiting the one-way turnstyle, and saw his mom waiting for him in the parking lot, he was finally ready to change.

“My mom said, ‘Your dad and I think you might have a problem with drugs and alcohol,’” Keith recalls. 

“I was in this pitiful, incomprehensible, demoralized state of mind. And I was just broken enough to see the heartache in my mom’s eyes.”

“Maybe,” Keith remembers telling his mom. “That’s the best I could do.”

Keith started running after completing a drug treatment program to lose weight and improve his health. At first he could barely run a mile.

Addict to ultrarunner

Long before Keith was a drug addict, he was an athlete. 

He played soccer. 

He wrestled. 

He played sports. 

And when he started working for his family’s construction business, walking 25,000 steps a day was just a normal day at “the office.”

But before he could reconnect with the old Keith, he needed to get clean and sober.

Not long after Keith got out of jail, he went to rehab in California. And he did the work.

“About 1 out of 100 addicts make it to one year sober,” says Keith. “It’s hard to get out of the cycle of addiction.”

But he did it...sort of.

After completing rehab, he started smoking...three packs of cigarettes a day. And eating a lot of junk food. He gained a lot of weight. And he struggled with self-esteem.

But little by little he started getting his life in order.

And then one day he went for a run.

“That first day, I had someone pick me up and drive me one mile down the road,” says Keith. 

“It took me like 30 minutes to do a mile, and by the time I got home I was drenched in sweat. I kept running a little further every day. And after 75 days, I could run 4 to 5 miles in about 45 minutes.”

That’s how it started…

Earlier this year, Keith finished the Tillamook Burn 50-mile ultramarathon in Oregon.

From 5 miles to 50 miles

The phone rings.

“Hi Keith. I’m doing the Silver Falls 50K. Do you want to do it? It’s 31 miles. If you can run 5 miles, you can run this.” 

It’s an old friend who knows Keith is rebuilding his life, one day at a time. And without much hesitation, Keith agrees.

  • It’s probably not that hard, right?

Not long after that, he got his first taste for trail running with a group of friends on a five-mile run in Porland, Ore., climbing 2,200 feet from John’s Landing to Council Crest.

“I was miserable,” says Keith. “And I was scared. I had no idea running an ultramarathon meant running up mountains. I didn’t have the right gear. And I didn’t know anything about eating or drinking to go the distance.”

“I was miserable. And I was scared. I had no idea running an ultramarathon meant running up mountains. I didn’t have the right gear. And I didn’t know anything about eating or drinking to go the distance.”

—Keith Callaway, Jr.
When Keith started running, his brother Gabe Callaway decided to join the fun.

But just like staying clean and sober one day at a time, Keith followed advice from his friends...and his brother...and kept going.

His brother Gabe Callaway even decided to go the distance with him, and started training to run the Silver Falls Marathon.

“It’s been pretty wild to see him turn his life around,” says Gabe. “It’s been cool to watch. And I’m very proud of him for choosing a healthy lifestyle. He’s not a quitter. But, I have to say this...he’ll never beat me in a race.”

When Keith stepped up the starting line of the Silver Falls 50K, after a couple short months of training, he finished (and so did his brother).

And he’s still going.

Keith ran the Tillamook Burn 50-mile ultra earlier this year. He’s got a 100-mile race on his to-do list, and races like the Tahoe 200 and Moab 240 are on his bucket list.

Even better...he's still sober...6 years and counting...

The power of recovery running

“Running has become one of the healthiest outlets I’ve ever found to help me feel centered,” says Keith. “It’s a lot like meditation. It’s a way to calm your mind. It’s one of the things that’s helped me heal and stay sober.”

“I’m not fast,” says Keith. “But it’s something I’m always going to do. It’s become part of my coping strategy for addiction and a healthy way to manage stress.”

“If you feel like you’re going through hell, don’t stop.” - Keith Callaway, Jr.

Fun facts about Keith Callaway, Jr.

Favorite quote

“If you feel like you’re going through hell, don’t stop.”

Toughest race

Elk-Kings Trail Race. “This has a crazy-steep uphill. My hamstrings, quads, calves, and legs, and everything else was burning after the first loop.”

Longest distance

Tillamook Burn 50-mile race in Oregon

Favorite shoes

Road: Hoka Bondi

Trail: Hoka Speed Goat

Favorite running food/fuel

Pickles, gummy bears, Tropical Tailwind

Years sober

6+

Keith Callaway Jr. on Strava
https://www.strava.com/athletes/42091806?oq=keith

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Evan Jensen 318
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SANDY, Oregon
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I help RUNNERS reduce injuries, fix running form, run longer & faster by strength training without running ragged. I'm a NASM-certified personal trainer, and hold the record for the most finishes at the Mountain Lakes 100-Mile Ultra in Oregon.

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