Ben Payne and Patrick Smyth: Building Careers On and Off the Road

Not everybody in the professional athlete field at the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon is exclusively a runner.

Ben Payne and Patrick Smyth, both of whom finished in the top 20 at February’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials in Los Angeles, are devoted to their careers off the roads, too.

The former served as an Air Force pilot; the latter works for The Trust for Public Land.

Payne was an Air Force pilot for 10 years, putting in 3,400 hours in four different aircrafts, five deployments, and 1,200 combat hours. On his racing shirts, he often wears the names of friends and family who have lost their lives serving their country.

“Running has always been a part of my daily routine, so I’m going to find a way to do it, whether I’m in Afghanistan or Colorado,” Payne said. “I think resiliency is something you have to have in the military, and that’s something that’s come around as a positive thing for my running career—helping make it work no matter where I’m at.”

Payne graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in 2004, and then spent a year in pilot training before taking on two assignments in Mississippi and Florida. During that 10-year span, he had deployments to Afghanistan and Djibouti, yet still found a way to keep running competitively in less-than-ideal training environments.

In 2014, after a decade of active duty, he joined the Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program, and just last month Payne joined the Colorado Air National Guard.

“After 10 years of trying to fit running into my military routine, I was finally able to work my entire day around my running training,” he said.

Payne clocked a personal-best time of 2:18:37 at this year’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials, finishing 17th, and this summer he lowered both his 5K and 10K personal bests significantly for the first time in over 10 years.

“I’m running the fastest times of my life at 35 years old,” he said.

After missing out on racing the 2012 New York City Marathon due to Hurricane Sandy, Payne has been itching to return to the Big Apple.

On November 6, he'll be joined by Smyth, who placed eighth at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials in 2:15:26.

Smyth also works 40 to 50 hours per week as a Geographic Information System (GIS) Analyst for The Trust for Public Land in Santa Fe, NM.

Just this week, New York Road Runners and The Trust for Public Land announced a partnership to fund the transformation of New York City public school playgrounds into state-of-the-art, green, community playgrounds.

Smyth manages the web applications and geographic systems for the non-profit, and these programs serve as decision-support tools to help partners on the ground make quick decisions about where to place new parks, take on large landscape conservations, or initiate watershed protection or climate mitigation.

“It’s been kind of a blessing,” Smyth said of his full-time job. “I’m kind of neurotic in that if I have too much time on my hands, I’m going to overdo things, especially on the training front. So to have the 40-50 hour a week job is good in that I have a limited period of time to train, which keeps me from overdoing it.”

Previously a three-time Big East Champion at the University of Notre Dame, Smyth set his marathon personal best of 2:15:00 at the 2012 Houston Marathon, and he represented the U.S. at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in 2010 and 2015.

This year, Smyth was the top American finisher at the 12-kilometer Bloomsday Run in Spokane, WA, and was sixth overall at the Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth, ME.

On Sunday, November 6, thanks to his Trust for Public Land job, a “fresher, less burnt out” Smyth will be looking to finish in the top 10 overall and battle for that top American spot in New York City.

By Stuart Lieberman

GET YOUR STORIES ON. Read more inspiring stories from runners chronicling their journeys to the TCS New York City Marathon starting line.

TUNE IN. The 2016 TCS New York City Marathon will be televised live on Sunday, November 6, on WABC-TV, Channel 7 in the New York tri-state area from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. ET, and for the rest of the nation on ESPN2 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET.