Thursday, December 8, 2011

Flying and Enduring

I do have a life outside of flying. When I'm not flying I volunteer and do Race Control ...think ATC for race cars... with the National Auto Sports Association (NASA). I also run a couple marathons every year.  NASA puts on a race called the 25 Hours of Thunderhill every  December. The race is held at Thunderhill Raceway Park.  Last weekend I "survived the 25" again in Race Control. I shared a link with some excellent pictures and stories with some of my flying friends. One pilot friend said quite simply... "Cool pictures, but I just don't get it."

So I tried to explain the draw in terms of flying that maybe a pilot could understand... so, for all of you pilots out there who just don't get why someone would do a 25 hour car race, or run a marathon for that matter, here is my explanation. And for those of you who do 25 hour car races or run marathons and don't understand why fly... this may bridge the gap for you as well. 

The best way I can try to describe the experience of a 25 hour endurance race, or a marathon or  running race control to you is to try to relate it to flying. I think there is a small correlation.

The reason why I enjoy marathons, endurance racing, and running race control is because each pushes me mentally, physically or emotionally or any combination of the three right to the edge of my capabilities. The fun comes from the realization that I can actually DO these things and do them well when most can't or won't. The fun comes from intellectual stimulation and challenge... All of these activities are mind games in the end. Mind over matter to get to the finish line, stay awake and manage chaos. I get similar stimulation from flying. At first I was fully challenged by just flying at all, then being able to fly a pattern and not be scared, then it was to gaining some skill, then maneuvers, then flying a cross country, etc etc each step challenged and stretched my capabilities ... The best thing about flying is the learning and challenge haven't stopped yet and I doubt it ever will!

For the people that do this particular race, some are professionals, most are amateurs. The pro teams come to win or to test for the 24 Hours of Daytona or verify the reliability of a new engine, etc. The amateurs come to push themselves ... to really push themselves in a way they probably never... ever... do.

For those of us "in control" it's the mental, physical and emotional challenge of controlling the chaos and boredom of 80 cars on the track for 25 hours. Handling car fires, rolls, life flight, passing under yellow, grouchy racers and crews all while listening to the course workers in one ear, paddock marshals in the other and race directors and event directors in both.  Pilots - imagine the busiest you've ever heard an ATC tower. That's probably close. Then do it for 7 hours straight from 11PM to 6AM after a 3 hour break after a 5 hour shift. Then imagine doing that paired with some if the most competent and compatible people you know. The combination of self challenge and teamwork is it's own rush... And reward.

The bottom line is when I push and challenge myself, mentally, physically and emotionally I feel the most alive. I've called it the Exhilaration of Exhaustion.. type E (for endurance) personality.. but now with flying I know its not the exhaustion that is the thrill necessarily, its the challenge and being up to the challenge. I get the same exhilaration from an hour flying that I do from a great run or a 25 hour car race. 

My dear friends I don't know if you would ever enjoy these things as I do. But I think if you imagine it in the context of challenging yourself and pushing yourself and finding yourself up to that challenge... You can understand.

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