The night before a marathon I get to pig out on pasta, wine, and dessert? And it's OK because I'm carb-loading for the marathon? Sign me up!
People say I'm crazy for running 17 marathons, but even I am not crazy enough to endure months of training and a 26.2 mile run for a plate of Italian food followed by a caloric confection. I love a slice of cheesecake as much as the next person, but running marathons to burn calories is like going into medicine for money. Like doctoring, running is my passion, and it doesn't come from my stomach but from somewhere deeper.
Running to Cope
I need to run. It's how I cope with the stress of emergency medicine. EDs don't have punching bags, so running offers a punching bag for my feet after work. Pounding the pavement releases angst and frustration that will fester without an outlet. Running is an escape from headaches, heartaches, and death. “People must have thought I was crazy,” confessed a runner friend who lost herself in her strides after her father died, not noticing that she ran 20 miles on the shoulder of an interstate. The reality is she was finding her sanity. Running gives us a way to get through hard times.
I feel peaceful and my mind is unburdened when I'm running. There are no kids, no patients, no emails. I achieve a pleasant state of suspended cognition, where the only reality is the pumping of my legs and the rhythm of my breathing. These days everyone fixates on mindfulness, but that is not the only way to be present in the moment. Engaging in a physical or creative challenge so that all sense of time disappears is known as flow, and that is as valuable to entering the now as the mindfulness exercises touted as a cure for nearly everything. The flow I achieve through running clears my head and puts me in the present.
Running for Adventure
I want to interact with the world rather than look at pictures in a book or on a screen. Running gets me out there in the mix, smelling the air, feeling the rain or sunshine on my skin, and getting dirty as I kick up soil or gravel onto my legs. I'm not the girl who wants to run in circles around a track. I'm the girl who plans destination races and flies by herself to places like Duluth, MN, because there's a great marathon there. Each race means a new place to explore, a new course to conquer, and a new thrill to experience. Before a conference in Berlin in June, I went running in Heringsdorf, Germany, and found myself inadvertently crossing the German-Polish border! I'll never forget that memory or many others I've made by lacing up and going for a run.
I enjoy the contagious buzz that enlivens a marathon weekend. People from different parts of the country with different goals, ages, jobs, and life experiences all play a part in the starting-line nerves and the finish-line elation. Chats with fellow runners and cheers from spectators are part of the excitement. From medicine to marathons, the people we meet are the whipped cream and cherry atop our sweet adventures.
Running for the Challenge
Just like working in the ED, running a marathon takes grit and chutzpah. It entails months of training, carving out time for runs in my impossible calendar, running farther than I'm often in the mood for, and sometimes battling overuse injuries. Behind each marathon medal are countless days when I don't feel like running but lace up and go anyway. I run in the rain, snow, and oppressive sticky Southern humidity. I've willed myself through runs so arduous that I ended up with my own emesis on my shoes. Marathoning is sacrifice.
All the months of preparation culminate in an exhausting trial of endurance that can take away your toenails and your ability to walk right. Mile 20 of a marathon is like 4 a.m. in the ED when I'm by myself with a full house, and an acute CVA patient and a STEMI patient arrive simultaneously. I wonder if I'll make it through. I ask myself why the hell I'm doing this. It's painful. I want to stop.
But I persevere because the biggest challenges are also the most gratifying successes. A marathon is a way of satiating my inner overachiever and directing my zeal into my own meaningful challenges instead of merely reacting to what life throws at me. The only thing between me and the finish line is my willpower. It is my own choice, not someone else's mandate for me.
Running for Empowerment
I run for that feeling of “I did it.” All of us in EM understand the satisfaction of walking into the ED, getting a desperate look from a nurse who begs, “Please clean this place out,” and then seeing 11 patients over the next two and a half hours, speaking with four consultants, sewing one lac, and writing several discharges. It's exhilarating to rise to the occasion, whether by crossing the metaphorical finish line at the end of a shift or by striding across a tangible one at the end of a marathon. Each finish line instills more confidence that I'll be up for the next challenge.
The high of the finish line after 26.2 miles makes me amnestic to the pain. My chest is up as if a guiding light has wrapped a hand around my heart to pull me forward, my lungs are full, my arms are celebrating, and my face is grinning as I stride to the exhilarating finale. I'm addicted to the rush. The exuberant surge of energy as I conquer a challenge leaves me feeling satisfied and empowered.
We all want the rush and satisfaction of doing worthwhile things. When I pour my time into meaningful passions that fulfill me like medicine and running, I'm making my time count. When I conquer a marathon or care for a critically ill patient, it means something. It defines me. Saying that I'm an EP and a marathoner says to the world, “I prioritize health, I seek adventure, I embrace challenges, I trounce adversity, I persevere.” That is who I am, and that is why I run.
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