Running for his life: Writer overcomes alcoholism, drug use
By LUCIA SUAREZ
STAFF WRITER | October 15,2012
The cover of Caleb Daniloff’s new book, “Running Ransom Road: Confronting the Past One Marathon at a Time.”
Caleb Daniloff took up running more than a decade ago.
And today he admits every step he takes — and eventually every marathon he runs — helps him to confront his life, his past, and reconcile his decade-long struggle with alcoholism.
“I was an active drug and alcohol user for 15 years,” the 45-year-old said during a phone interview on Friday. “I am 14 years sober.”
In his first book, titled “Running Ransom Road: Confronting the Past One Marathon at a Time,” Daniloff, a former Vermont reporter, candidly describes his descent into binge drinking and drugs at a young age and how he discovered his path to sobriety.
“Running had such a huge impact on navigating my journey into sobriety,” he said.
Daniloff believes he got his first taste of alcohol when he and his family were living in Moscow — he was 12 years old. They lived in the former Soviet Union for five and a half years, where his father Nicholas Daniloff worked as a foreign correspondent. In that time he adopted a handful of Soviet-style habits: smoking, binge-drinking, huffing.
“The first time I got wasted-drunk, I was 12 years old,” he said. “I was living in a culture that is very vodka-centric and alcohol-centric. ... Those were my formative years.”
His family’s return to the United States in 1986 did nothing to quench his vices — especially when they were not as readily available. While attending a private high school in western Massachusetts, alcohol and eventually drugs became his crutch.
Daniloff recalls a low point: His father delivered the commencement speech at his high school graduation, the same day he was expelled. But that did not deter him.
Alcohol continued to pour into his late teens and early 20s. Daniloff attended the University of Vermont and he took advantage of Burlington’s heavy-partying atmosphere.
“It took me six years (to graduate) and I was drinking heavier and heavier,” he said. “It was an essential part in my life.”
In his book Daniloff writes about his college years, ‘‘Drunkenness was my calling. I worked hard at it — at the bars, on the streets, behind the wheel. ... Needless to say, the only part of me that ran back then was my mouth, whether I was locked in a shouting match with a girlfriend, begging a couple of bucks for a shot, or pleading with a store clerk who’d caught me stuffing a bottle of wine down my pants. And those were the good years.”
His alcohol abuse left a wreckage of failed relationships, lost jobs and strained family relationships.
But in 1998, he turned a corner. His girlfriend (now wife) Christine broke up with him forcing him to choose his current path or change it.
“I was on the verge of losing that relationship. This one was important to me,” he said. “There is a life of deception that goes into alcoholism. I was getting sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Daniloff took the first steps to quit.
“I was about nine months sober when I started working at the (Rutland) Herald,” he said.
But it was vanity that led him to start running. About a year after he quit drinking, Daniloff was able to quit smoking — gaining about 35 pounds in the process.
While living in Middlebury, he took up swimming at a local gym, but when ear infections took their toll, he hopped onto the treadmill. It led him to a dirt road — South Street Extension — outside of town and to the emotional and physical reclaiming of his life.
“And there it clicked,” he said. “It returned this forward motion in my life.”
“You meet yourself,” he added. “When you are at that state of mind, you reconcile with the past.”
The 6-mile stretch of road became a spiritual path for Daniloff that eventually propelled him toward marathon running in the stomping grounds of his life as an alcoholic. Boston led to Moscow, Burlington, New York and Middlebury.
“I began running at places that shaped me as a person and a drinker,” he said. “Moscow, that was a little bit of a trip. It was completely different. The remnants of the Soviet Union, you had to look for them.”
Daniloff began writing “Running Random Road” in 2009. He’d write after completing each race. He said it was “the story that was meant to be written.”
“I asked why me?” he said. “I was not the ideal candidate to become an alcoholic. I had a stable family. I wanted to figure it out.”
The 256-book, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, was released last week.
Daniloff, now living in Cambridge, Mass., finds himself at peace with his sobriety. He said his past is what it is and he will continue to live the life he lives. His next marathon is in Philadelphia next month.
“Sobriety really opens up the world for you,” he said. “I feel like a calmness has been coming back into my life.”
“It has brought richness into my life,” he said.