In his open letter, Scott Waldrop starts with this jolt of a confession: “For all my adult life until recently, I’ve been a self-absorbed, somewhat misanthropic, functioning, closet alcoholic.”
Waldrop goes on to describe a lifetime of private decay: drinking Four Loko from a paper bag, alone in his car; pouring cheap beer into his coffee cup for the drive home from work; blacking out nightly at home.
He avoided some of the more typical wake-up calls that an alcoholic might face. He never got arrested. He never lost a job. He stayed married. Then two years ago, tired of three-day hangovers, grown overweight, Waldrop’s wake-up moment finally came.
“I’m sitting here with a paper bag and a can of Sparks at 5:30,” he told himself. “This is it.”
The man who wrote this letter, which landed in my mailbox a week ago, met me Thursday morning in a seven-story parking garage downtown, where he regularly spends an hour running up and down the concrete stairs, sometimes turning a shade a green.
Sober and cigarette-free at 41, he traded one addiction for another – a common inspiration among the league of ultra-runners Waldrop has joined. Starting out his front door with a pair of huskies, he logged longer and longer mileage until his runs grew so long that he had to stash food and water along the way.
And in August, Waldrop will attempt the Leadville 100 in the Rocky Mountains, an ultra-marathon that starts higher than 10,000 feet and forces more than half the entrants to drop out before the finish line. In doing so, he hopes to remind the world that addicts go to board meetings and hold down regular jobs – struggling in plain sight.
“They set the ‘deviant’ bar so high that I had nothing to worry about,” said Waldrop in his letter. “So what if I drink crap beer in a coffee mug every afternoon during my drive home from work? It’s not like I live in the woods.”
Google ultra-running and addiction and stories like Waldrop’s fill a screen. But he figures that if he can run to 15,000 feet, most likely with the aid of an inhaler, his accomplishment might speak to addicts navigating with the same “broken compass.”
“I don’t want to be preaching to anybody who enjoys their drinking,” he said. “Not everyone is me. Not everyone drinks Four Loko out of a bag in a parking lot everyday. If you find yourself in a similar situation, that’s who I’m speaking to.”
If he turns a lens on his life, Waldrop sees a kid whose mother ran off when he was 8 and whose stepmother died of cancer a few years later. He calls his father, a Marine, a “rock.” But he spent much of his teen years on his own on the streets of Washington, D.C., where he discovered the city’s signature punk bands but also hard alcohol by age 12.
Waldrop formed a band that won his sixth-grade talent show, and while he never found enough success to live on music, he still plays guitar 30 years later in the metal band Walpyrgus. After two years without alcohol or cigarettes, he manages to subsist in the excess that often surrounds musicians. When the late-night gigs are finished, Waldrop goes home to bed.
As part of the Herren Project – the nonprofit named for the NBA player Chris Herren, known both for scoring 29 points against Duke and for crashing into a utility pole while overdosing on heroin – Waldrop ran the Boston Marathon route backward. Watching him climb 14 flights of stairs in downtown Raleigh, you’d think he didn’t have an ounce of body fat.
The idea of running 100 miles in a terrain favorable to bighorn sheep frightens him a little. But he’s faced monsters before, and this one has duller fangs.
Scott Waldrop of Wake Forest is running the Leadville 100 in Colorado to raise awareness for mental health and addiction issues. He is active with the Herren Project, a nonprofit that assists people suffering from addiction through scholarships, clinics and camps. To learn more about Waldrop’s August race and to contribute, see www.ultrarunvegan.com.