When pilots Jānis Krištops and Pāvels Timofejevs joined airBaltic seven years ago, they decided that it might be a good idea to train for marathon races. Since then, they have run nine marathons and 20 half-marathons between the two of them. This March, Krištops and his colleague Captain Jānis Kolontajs ran a marathon together in Portugal. And later this month, Timofejevs will try to complete the Lattelecom Riga marathon together with several other airBaltic employees. “We are running not for the sake of sport, but to keep in shape,” says Krištops with a laugh, adding that a three kilometre-long runway would be perfect for a collective run by airBaltic’s staff members. 

How did you decide to start running?

Jānis Krištops: I had started to run to keep myself in shape already before I met Jānis [Kolontajs] and Pāvels here at airBaltic. Then I began to run together with Pāvels when we both came to work for the airline.

Pāvels Timofejevs: I was still only thinking about running when I joined airBaltic, but Jānis [Krištops] was already deeply into the sport. He insisted that I buy myself a decent pair of running shoes, a pulsometer and all kinds of other gear.

And after spending so much money on equipment, you had no other choice but to start running, right? 

Pāvels: Exactly!

You both met as pilots at airBaltic. How did you enter the field of aviation?

Pāvels: I had dreamed of becoming a pilot since my childhood. Literally the day after I graduated from high school and received my diploma, I started training to become a flight attendant at airBaltic. Then in parallel to my job at the airline, I studied at the aviation institute in Riga. Two years later, I got a great opportunity to learn how to become a pilot and I took advantage of it without hesitating.

Jānis: Flying was a childhood dream for me as well. I am convinced that real dreams never die. If you really put your mind to something, then you can find a way to reach your goal. After finishing high school, I joined the local police academy. Then I took on all kinds of jobs, but the thought of flying was with me at every moment. As soon as I got the chance, I began a lengthy study and training process that went together with long work hours to make my dream come true. It was very difficult, but through a great deal of effort, I have reached the point where I am working the job of my dreams, and that is a tremendous privilege.

What was the first marathon that you ran?

Pāvels: My first was the Nordea marathon in Riga, while the first marathon that Jānis and I ran together was the historical circuit in Athens.

Jānis: By that time, we had drawn in a whole bunch of other pilots with us. We regularly take part in the annual Lattelecom Riga marathon, where we run together with other airBaltic staff members like a big international family. 

Which marathon stands out in your minds?

Jānis: Definitely the Athens Classic Marathon! The run begins in the town of Marathon and ends at Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens, the finishing point for both the 1896 and 2004 Olympic marathons. This is one of the most difficult marathon courses, and the atmosphere is fantastic! When we trained for that race, we drove to Sigulda, Latvia’s most hilly city, to get used to the uneven terrain in Greece.

Pāvels: The Athens marathon doesn’t take place on a circular course, which is usually the case in other cities, but goes in one direction along the approximate route that Ancient Greek messenger Pheidippides is said to have taken to inform the Athenians about a Greek battle victory over the Persians. The runners are taken by bus to the starting line, and all that I could think about was the fact that I would have to run that whole distance back to Athens again!

Jānis: And on top of that, about half of the race is uphill!

How do you choose which marathons to run in?

Pāvels: We aren’t Super G athletes, so we often choose interesting places that are also worth visiting in their own right. It’s a great feeling to run along the main street in Athens. In Las Vegas as well, we ran along the main street twice: first in one direction and then back in the other. When else do you get a chance to do something like that? The atmosphere is also positively charged, with spectators lining the streets and performances of all kinds along the way to boost the runners’ morale. There is also a fantastic feeling of togetherness that you would never get by running alone or with only a few friends. When you’re running together with a huge crowd, the feeling is amazing!

Jānis: The Las Vegas Strip is closed to traffic only twice a year: on New Year’s Eve and during the marathon. It’s cool when one of the most active streets in the world is closed to let a group of runners race through it! 

How do you manage to train for the marathons? I imagine that your schedules as commercial airline pilots impose some restrictions

Jānis: If we establish a joint goal, such as running in the marathons in Athens and Las Vegas, then we set up a training program and try to follow it. 

Pāvels: I didn’t run in this year’s marathon in Lisbon because I missed two weeks of training due to illness. I realised that there is no point in struggling through a race because you feel bad. You have to run marathons when you are physically fit and when you can actually enjoy running them. In any case, if you like a particular activity and set your mind on doing it, then you will find a way to do so.

Jānis: We don’t get the chance to train together that often because we have different flight schedules, but when we do, it’s a bit easier and more interesting. You have someone to talk to and it’s easier to keep on running if you start to feel tired. 

Does running long distances help or hinder you in your work as commercial airline pilots?

Pāvels: It definitely helps. After a long work day in the pilot’s seat, all I can think about is getting a good physical workout.

Jānis: Running is like a form of meditation. You hear the rhythm of your breathing and the songs of the birds in the forest. You clear out your head. 

How often do you run in marathon races?

Jānis: If you are not a professional runner and racing is not a source of income for you, then you can run the full 42-km distance once a year. You have to keep yourself in good physical condition all year round to do so. On top of that, you have to start preparing your body for the rigours of the marathon about three months before the race date. You go through an even more intense training program than usual to prevent yourself from being a total wreck after the race. Following the marathon in Las Vegas, we spent a few days travelling across the United States. After the marathon in Athens, we went out for dinner and just strolled through the city streets. The marathon is extremely gruelling, not only physically but also emotionally. I remember when we were running a marathon together with our colleague, Captain Normunds Dreimanis. We were standing behind the start line and suddenly this extremely dynamic music started coming out of the loudspeakers: Boom! Boom! Boom! Normunds took his pulse and said: “Listen, guys! I haven’t even done anything yet and my pulse is already at 145! What’s going to happen when we start running?” The body reacts to this positive form of stress by pumping out adrenaline. Another memory stands out from the marathon in Athens. We had already run more than 30 kilometres and had entered a tunnel where a group of percussionists was performing. After running that distance, you are usually quite tired. Your body is aching and you start feeling sorry for yourself. But when they started to play that catchy rhythm, I felt a new surge of energy go through my body. It was like pouring gasoline over a fire! 

How do you motivate yourself to keep on running?

Pāvels: I run to prevent myself from getting a beer belly! [Laughs.] If I haven’t done any physical activity for a while, I start to feel stiff and tired. Then I go out for a run and torture myself a bit. Things get easier already during the second run, when I feel that I have got back into the groove again.

Jānis: We run to feel good physically and to stay healthy. After a tough day at work, you can come home tired, sit down on the sofa and take the remote control in your hands. You’ll probably wake up the next morning even more tired than before. I choose a different method: I go out for a short run at a slow pace, boost my body’s metabolism and take in a healthy dose of oxygen.

Are you going to take part in this month’s Lattelecom Riga marathon?

Pāvels: Definitely! The Riga marathon is continuing to develop and is becoming an increasingly big event. And when else would I get the chance to freely run across one of Riga’s main bridges?

Jānis: I just took part in the Lisbon marathon in Portugal, so I think that I will probably run my next marathon only in the fall. BO