Photo Credit:Runner’s World
Craig Engels intends to bring his hair to world competition representing the U.S. this summer.
June 10, 2017
By the time of the final, Engels and his flowing light brown locks were well known enough to earn a big ovation from the crowd at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, when he was introduced. As he stood at the starting line, he stared into a television camera and slowly smoothed out his whiskers with his two index fingers. He tried to keep a straight face, but he couldn’t quite suppress a grin.
In the race, which started slowly before the 12-man field accelerated into a long kick from 500 meters out, Josh Kerr of the University of New Mexico ran 3:43.03 to win convincingly. Justine Kiprotich of Michigan State edged Engels, by a hair, 3:43.50 to 3:43.54.
“Maybe if I cut it, I would have gotten Kerr today,” he joked after the race about his voluminous locks. But Engels, who has graduated and has been taking classes toward an MBA, has no plans to cull it, the mullet.
Craig Engels and his hair jockey for position during the slow opening laps of the men’s 1500-meter final at the NCAA Track & Field Championships.
He expects to turn pro in the coming weeks, and the hair, which he started growing about six months ago (despite protests from his girlfriend and his mother), has helped him build a name—and a recognizable face. In other words, as he seeks a deal with a shoe sponsor, it’s possible a mullet could fatten his wallet.
“Here, let me fluff it up,” he said before posing for a picture. “I don’t use any product. It’s all natural.”
To be clear, his speed has distinguished him, too. Last summer, Engels finished fourth in the 800 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials, barely missing out on a trip to Rio. He was also fifth in the 1500.
It hasn’t always been so fun. Engels was a top runner coming out of Pfafftown, North Carolina, in high school, but he had a series of hip injuries that sidelined him for years while he was running for North Carolina State.
“I’d come back from one hip injury and try to train with the team, and on our easy days they’d be going six-minute pace and I couldn’t handle it,” he said.
“So I got hurt again. Same routine, two and a half years. I saw my friends partying at other universities, living their lives fun, you know? I’m sitting there chasing the dream like
He nearly quit the sport, before his high school coach called him and told him, in Engels’s words, “Hey, man, just give it one more shot.”
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He transferred to Ole Miss to work with coach Ryan Vanhoy, whom Engels knew from high school. Vanhoy held him back on the team’s easy days, putting him in the pool or on a bike, and brought him up to speed slowly.
It worked. And part of the fun has been the group of top distance runners he trains with. They run 70 miles a week, but they have plenty of time for camping, sleeping in the beds of their trucks, paintball, and canoeing. Letting their hair down.
Engels says he’s six feet tall. “With the mullet, probably six three.”
Weight? “Without the mullet, 145,” he said. “With the mullet, 148. It’s three pounds, three inches.”
He’s kidding, of course. But he says we haven’t seen the last of it.
He wants to make Team USA this summer.
“I fully intend on making the world championships team and representing the United States in London,” he said.
After a close finish, Engels and other competitors check the scoreboard for results.
Of course last year’s U.S. Olympians in the 1500—Matthew Centrowitz, Ben Blankenship, and Robby Andrews—might have something to say about that. But for the American middle distance running future? Engels is the hair apparent.
Sarah Lorge Butler is a writer and editor living in Eugene, Oregon, and her stories about the sport, its trends, and fascinating individuals have appeared in Runner’s World since 2005.
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