TORONTO August 28th 2014. Digital Champion Mike Thornton started running a little more than three years ago. Like many others, he started to run to better himself physically and mentally. After getting into the best shape of his life, Mike decided to take on his first 10k. Pleased with a top 10 finish in a local race, he continued on to take on several half-marathons and even a 30k course. The 2013 edition of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon was Mike’s first full 42.2k race. When he is not running, Mike works as a commercial pilot. Fitting marathon training around a busy work schedule while travelling can be tough, but it keeps him sane. Mike also enjoys running as a member of the Brant Death Racers Running Club. Connect with Mike on Twitter @MikeThorntonCA and on his blog.
Flying And Running. By Mike Thornton
What does it take to run a marathon? A lot of guts, a plan, and the time and commitment to that plan. Any marathoner will tell you that the hardest part of the marathon in fact is NOT the race itself. The hardest part of the marathon is the training! Training consists of months of long workouts, sweat, tears, recovery meals, icing all the sore bits… you know the drill. All of this happens while you try to carry on with your daily life. For me, this is where marathon training gets a bit challenging.
I work as a professional pilot for a cargo company in Southern Ontario. We operate daily flights across the province and into the United States. For the most part, a pilot’s schedule is usually to operate for days at a time away from home on what is known as a “pairing” where they fly to other places usually for overnight stays. Luckily, with my job I have the luxury of being home every night. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be as successful in planning marathon training around a flying schedule. Having said that, there are some challenges that do come up when balancing flying and running. Here is what a day looks like for me along with some challenges and advantages to marathon training on-the-go.
Daily schedule: So, what does a standard day look like for me? When I’m working I wake up at 5:00am to be at the airport by 6:00. By 7:30am we are flying and on the ground within 1-3 hours. After unloading the freight, we have downtime until the evening. This is so the client can do their pick-ups for the day, and we can bring the cargo back to base to be sorted for the next day’s delivery. In the 6-11 hours or so of down time, I can get my runs in. Usually after we leave the airplane for the day I eat breakfast, go for a run and depending on the workout will also hit the gym for weights. After working out, I legally need to rest to reset my duty time to be able to operate the evening flight so a nap is mandatory (Yes, my job includes naps *thumbs up*). Depending on the flight, between 4:00 and 7:00pm it’s time to head back to the airport, load the returning freight and fly home. This gets us back to base around 9:00pm. Sounds like a long day, right? It can be, but if properly balanced with rest, exercise, and eating properly it’s manageable.
Challenges: The hard part about being so mobile with marathon training isn’t so much the running itself, but complementing that much running properly. It’s easy enough to find a decent spot for a run but how about recovering? Each day, because the time away from home is so long, I have to strategically plan out each meal. I plan not just what I’m going to eat but how I am going to transport it. Will what I want to eat keep fresh? How much food do I need? What if I need more? I’ve been working the cargo gig for almost a year and a half now and I’ve got the food problem well thought out. I know what works for each meal and depending on mileage, how much food I will need. I find taking fresh fruit and veggies easy but they need to keep fresh too. Usually I can accommodate that with a hotel fridge or find a nearby grocery store at destination for other things that I need. I also bring my foam roller with me everywhere. It usually makes my co-worker for the day ask “What the heck is that?”
Furthermore, I need to stay completely organized all of the time. Every night I pack the gear I need for both indoor and outdoor runs just in case the weather is bad or we have mechanical issues and get stuck for an extra day. There is a little bit of unpredictability in the job. Sometimes you’re needed at another base or on another flight because of a maintenance issue or to fill in for someone. When that does happen and I am caught without my running gear, I take it as a rest day and never stress about it. I try not to let running ruin flying for me and vice-versa. Balance is key to success.
Lastly, sleep can also be an issue. Since I work multiple days in a row, it’s sometimes hard to come home and automatically wind down and go to sleep right away. This leads to less than the recommended 8 hours per night. Usually I end up with around 6 hours of sleep per night and take a nap from 1-3 hours, sometimes even 4 during the day following my workouts.
Advantages: My job takes me to several different places since we have bases from coast to coast, and there are lots of cool things to see. I’ve discovered amazing new trails in several different locations all across the country. This keeps marathon training interesting when things can get tough like right now at peak build. I can be in a different spot almost every day of the week running on a country trail near Kingston, a conservation area in Sault Ste. Marie, or running alongside the Detroit River. If you find yourself lacking some motivation, I suggest you take a new route or explore a trail maybe in another town. The change of scenery will keep you motivated.
The biggest advantage in my situation is that I have both a sport and a job that I absolutely love. Every day I get to enjoy my two most favorite activities, running and flying. I consider myself very fortunate to have this balance and fully embrace the challenge of managing the two. The early wake up calls during the week for work also make it a little bit easier to haul myself out of bed early on Saturdays for the long run. I should add that I get all weekends and holidays off since mail isn’t delivered on the weekends. This is a very uncommon thing for a pilot!
The balance of running and flying is about give and take. There are sacrifices made on both fronts so that I can do them harmoniously together. The match may not be perfect, but both are a work in progress that I enjoy. I have plenty to learn in aviation and marathon running and feel lucky enough that I can see lots of new things both in the air and on the trails every day. The days are long, the miles are longer but I love it. Hopefully you’ve found your balance too. See you all soon at STWM!