I'm a Runner: "Sully" Sullenberger

The U.S. Airways pilot who safely landed a plane in the Hudson River in 2009 explains why running is a lot like flying and talks about the eclectic mixes he listens to on the run

November 8, 2012
I'm a Runner: "Sully" Sullenberger
Nigel Buchanan

I'm a Runner: "Sully" Sullenberger
Pilot, hero
61, San Francisco

Sometimes I get recognized when I’m out on a run. I see it on people’s faces. I’ve never gotten used to it, though. 


In the early ’80s, I became an airline pilot and started running for fitness. That’s when you used to work an early or late shift. Now you work from early to late.

For a pilot, running is an easy thing to do. I didn’t have to carry golf clubs or take a bike, like some of the guys did.

I remember a layover in Boise, Idaho. It was icy and snowy, but my copilot and I dressed up in our cold-weather gear and went out. People looked at us like, “Where are you from?”

Run Your Butt Off!

I’ve run in many beautiful places. But I love Vancouver—its gardens, harbor, and proximity to the mountains. It’s such a cosmopolitan, civilized place.

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Landing on the Hudson was a life-changing event. I became known around in the world in a matter of seconds. As a public figure, I was too busy to run much for two years.

When I was younger, I was a cruising-around runner. Now my stride is not as fluid. If I worked hard, I might get back to where I remember being.

I’ve never been competitive. Never pushed myself to the limit. I would like to improve my times over short distances like three, four, five miles.

My Best Ideas Happen When I Run

When I run, I try not to think about work [Sullenberger is now a consultant on aviation safety]. What’s interesting is that in letting my mind wander, I’ll have ideas I might not have thought of had I been focused and engaged. It sounds kind of Zen.

My running music is eclectic. Back when iPods were new, I was flying with a guy and showed him my library. He remarked that I had Lynyrd Skynyrd next to Luciano Pavarotti. I said, “What do you expect? It’s alphabetical!”

For me, evening is a special time to run. The sun is lower, and the colors are so vibrant. 

I’m not a good runner, but I’m better than someone who doesn’t do it at all.

Running is like flying: There’s a sense of freedom and mastery. It frees the spirit. Not everyone can do it.

January marks the fourth anniversary of Sullenberger’s landing of U.S. airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River.

Stride Right