Charles Ray Bell loves detention time. Why? Because that waiting time helped save his life. So did delivering to big cities, too.
Bell had a tough time growing up. He was homeless at age 15, taken in by missions and friends in the Cincinnati and Indianapolis areas. At 21, he got married and began his career as an over-the-road driver.
That's when his life became even harder.
By age 39, he was drinking too much, snorting cocaine, eating bad food on the road, suffering from high blood pressure plus sleep apnea – and to top it all off, he weighed 300 pounds.
Then, one day, as he thought about his parents, he had an epiphany.
"My father had passed away at 41 years old in 1983 from a sudden heart attack. I lost my mother in 2009 when she was 60 years old, from emphysema and diabetes, so I knew I had to make a move because of my family genetics. I was creeping up on 40, and I was getting very concerned."
What really scared him was getting up one morning and trying to wake up an arm which had become numb.
So, on his 39th birthday – which was March 28, 2007 – Bell set a goal to lose 100 pounds and lower his blood pressure. Previously, he had gone back and forth with doctors to find the right blood pressure medicine and lose weight but nothing worked until he found a single answer to both of those issues: changing his diet.
"It seemed that meat was keeping my blood pressure elevated," Bell noted – and he decided to go vegetarian as a result.
"It's not as difficult as a lot of people think. You just get rid of meat,” he explained. “This morning, for example, I had a bowl of cereal with a banana and a piece of whole wheat toast with some peanut butter on top and a half a cup of a smoothie. I don't think it's that difficult. It was intimidating at first, but after you get into a routine, it works. Consistency is the key."
However, his health quest wasn't over. He needed to exercise more to lose weight – and that's where detention came into play. While a lot of drivers kill time during loading and unloading, Bell put that downtime to use by exercising.
"I always found time to park at a truck stop and go out for a run,” he said. “That's where I found most of my favorite beautiful runs; at the truck stops."
Since Bell became an independent driver, he has gained more control over his schedule. "Being an independent operator has its advantages and perks,” he explained. “I can plan my runs, my routes, and my stops. For example, if I pick up a load here where I live in Cincinnati and drive to Florida in the winter time, which I do quite a bit, I can give myself two or three days extra time just to make that delivery so I can plan my marathons."
"That's how my marathons accumulated so quickly, because of my advantages and perks of being able to plan versus the company driver who's pretty much on a tight schedule,” Bell said. “But I would also say that a company driver can do it, too – if he or she is determined enough to get that exercise in. There's plenty of time while you're loading and unloading at the truck stop. There is all kinds of time available to you."
Bell started losing weight in 2007 and ran his first marathon in 2008. "It took me about a year. I really wasn't in shape to run a marathon at first, but because of my determination I just jumped into that marathon and ended up walking the last ten miles of it," he added.
(Bell's marathon regimen was recently featured in a recent issue of Runner's World.)
He is looking forward to his 46th marathon this month. "I've also run a 100-miler in the Florida Keys, and two 50-milers in the Florida Keys as well as a bunch of other 50-milers," Bell pointed out.
On average, he runs about 80 to 100 miles weekly when he's preparing for a marathon.
Has he met other truckers on the road who are marathoners?
"No, I haven't," Bell laughed. "It's a very rare thing, although I do follow a runners' group Truckin' Runners on Facebook. They seem to have quite a bit of followers and are growing very rapidly."
His advice for other truck drivers who want to use detention time to get in shape, maybe even run a marathon: determination.
"You have to make up your mind what you want to do. Be determined and consistent,” Bell stressed. “You've got to pull up to that shipper or receiver and go in. After you make arrangements with how you're going to get unloaded or loaded, you've got to go out and plan your activity. I carried a bicycle on my truck, so that when I wasn't running, I was biking. There was always something for me to get into. I visit quite a bit of YMCAs and different gyms around the country, too."
Bell added that if he could take advantage of parking somewhere else other than the truck stop, he would do that.
“Sometimes I dropped my trailer and bobtailed it to get in somewhere that was suited for better parking,” Bell explained. “I lost the bulk of all my weight over the road while I was driving. It wasn't while I was home. Most people thought, 'well, you could be more focused and more established when you're at home.' But it didn't work that way with me. I lost it all on the road."
Bell also goes where other drivers dread to travel.
"One of my favorite places in the world to deliver is New York City. Of course, no trucker wants to go to New York City, so I always got paid double or triple to go,” he emphasized. “I would park over in New Jersey and bike into Manhattan, or I would run over the bridge to Manhattan. There's all kind of benefits, perks, and pluses about being an over the road truck driver and to get healthy. I know it's like an oxymoron to think of something like that. But it was such a huge asset for my weight loss."
At five foot eight, Bell is down to 150 pounds, half of what he used to weigh.
In addition, he no longer drinks alcohol and says he turned his life over to Jesus Christ. "That's been maybe 12 years ago or so," Bell said. "He is my refuge."
Bell concluded that what really helped him stay active while traveling to a new city was meeting different running groups.
“Over the years this has become routine and something I love to do,” he explained. “Of course, this routine takes lots of planning like figuring out where to park a big truck but, again, that’s where my bike comes into play. Atlanta, Cincinnati, Portland Oregon, New York, and Miami are just some of my favorite places to visit running groups. Truckers' life spans are around 60 years of age; I would love to see that change."