Wednesday 16 June 2010

Endurance Running - the best training for modern air travel

I enjoy running for hours in the hills.  It's what keeps me sane (relatively).  But little did I realize that it has the added side affect of improving one's ability to cope with the modern air travel experience.  My latest trans-Atlantic journey wasn't going to be easy, but it was scheduled to take less than 24 hours door-to-door, including stopovers, security queues, and all the usual guff that surrounds flying.  For the sake of an easier trip back and an affordable ticket, the outbound leg included an extra few hours via Amsterdam.  But, we would get in at about 21:30, giving a good night's sleep and minimal jet lag.  Alas, had it been so simple.

The main leg of the trip was from Amsterdam to Atlanta.  A long-ish flight, but nothing too strenuous.  The KLM Airbus was comfy with plenty of legroom (even in the back row of cattle class, where we were).  The food was palatable and the crew were very attentive.  Unfortunately, just as we were preparing our descent into Atlanta, the heavens errupted with what would have been an awe-inspiring display from the ground.  For us, it was the cue for a diversion to Memphis to refuel and wait for the Atlanta airport to re-open.  Three hours on the tarmac and we were back in business, flying into Atlanta to see what waste had been lain to their flight schedules.

When we arrived, we confirmed that we'd missed our flight to Austin, TX and joined the long queue to re-book.  As it turns out, the plane we should have joined left at about the same time as we got our new boarding cards for the 21:30 flight, delayed to 01:00.  It had obviously been delayed a couple of extra times, which meant we probably would have been able to join it anyway.  Tip to airline groundstaff:  when tired people show up at your desk after a series of delays, including nearly an hour waiting to talk to you, it's really stupid to say "oh, your flight just left 2 minutes ago".  We'd rather have assumed it left hours before and we'd had no option to board.  As it is, we just had to wonder why on Earth the transfer hall can't have a departures board that shows us our flight so we can get to the gate on time.

So, what's this got to do with endurance running?  As background, let me say that Nic and I heartily dislike long trips, being in someone else's control, or repeated changes to the schedule.  Well, the 01:00 time became 01:20, then 02:00, then 02:30, and finally 03:00.  That meant arrival at 04:00 in Austin, with our car rental available from 06:00 (or, 05:00, if Avis had bothered to have a sign saying their little shed by the cars opened an hour earlier).  As the hours passed, we passed through "The Wall" (around the time we were informed that our intended flight could have been possible) - shaky, wobbly, ready to throw in the towel and lie on the floor. A drink of water later, and we entered that sort of dead zone where your body is moving, but you don't know how or why.  Then, following a short death-like sleep, all felt fine. It was easier for me to see in Nic, but I know I was the same - we were drawing on the mental and physical benefits of our training.  We had the same withdrawn focus on the back-up plans and next steps, keeping our bodies fuelled as though we were doing a long run (plenty of fluids when possible given the various security rules, enough food to keep going, but no overloading), and reached the eventual resigned peace that as long as we kept going, we'd get to the end.  In previous years, we would have driven each other crazy with the tension and frustration boiling over.  Instead, following 18 months of learning to push on regardless, we arrived with a relieved smile, no tension, no lashing out, and the ability to recover quickly with only a little rest.

So, thank you to trail running!

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