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It's a Sprint and a Marathon for This Pediatric Neurology Resident
He's Heading to the Olympic Trials

Article In Brief

A pediatric neurology resident discusses the trajectory that took him from his medical school studies to a life—off the clock—as a marathoner and potential member of the US Olympic track and field team.

When Duriel Hardy was a bookish boy, his older brother Dave, a basketball star, was the talk of the town. He tried soccer but failed miserably and turned back to his studies. On one fateful elementary school day, the gym teacher lined the kids up for a random challenge: a one-mile race. He was small and thin and sailed down the field. When he got to the finish line, there was back-slapping and cheering—he'd come in second place. He remembers thinking: “I am good at something besides school!”

Today, two decades later, Duriel Hardy, MD, is in his last year of a pediatric neurology residency at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Forever the bookworm, he hasn't stopped running since that first mile. By middle school, he shortened his time with a 100-meter dash, then 200-meters, and he progressively increased his distance. On December 8, he ran his first (and only) marathon at the California International Marathon and clocked in at two hours, 18 minutes, and 21 seconds. He had 39 seconds to spare to earn a spot at the Olympic trials in February. He made it. He will be one of 200 men competing for a spot in the Olympics.

His initial journey had been more of a sprint than a marathon, which is ironic since a professor at Duke University School of Medicine told him and his fellow medical students on the first day of classes: “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” But his sprinting days began so long ago, in middle school. And his marathon days, well, are just ahead of him.

“Running has taught me a lot about the value of hard work, perseverance, and patience,” said Dr. Hardy. “These traits are incredibly important in medicine, too. My residency training has required a lot of patience, and a lot of commitment to my patients.”

He will be starting a fellowship at CHOP in pediatric multiple sclerosis (MS) in July 2020. He had heard about MS since he was a boy growing up in West Chester, PA. It began with a great uncle, then a distant cousin. And another. In more recent years, a close cousin his age was diagnosed with MS. The neuroimmunology of the disease had settled in his bones. It was fascinating and familiar.

It wasn't until he started winning 100-meter sprints that he learned that his father was on the track and cross-country team in high school, and also delivered the hoops on the court. During Duriel's senior year of high school, his team made it to the regionals meet and then ultimately won the Pennsylvania State Cross-Country Championships as a team in 2005.

Duriel signed on to the summer track programs and made the National Junior Olympics by ninth grade. The summer after his sophomore year of high school, he went on to finish sixth overall in the 800-meter dash in the 2004 USATF Junior Olympic Outdoor Track and Field Championships. By the end of high school, he finished fifth overall in the Pennsylvania State Cross Country Championships individually and then fifth overall in the two-mile race at the Pennsylvania State Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

While his brother Dave had his basketball on display at their high school, his track team has a banner hanging on the same court where his brother played. There is also a plaque with Duriel's name for breaking the school record in 5k in cross-country.

Duriel was recruited to run at Brown University and again balanced his studies with athletics. He began as a biomedical engineering major but his first neuroscience class was enough to change his trajectory. He ran track and field, and ultimately became captain of the cross-country and track teams.

In his senior year, he qualified for the 10k at the 2010 NCAA outdoor track and field championships. He also made it to Brown's Top Ten Board with a 14:05 run in the 5k (currently eighth all-time) and 29:51 in the 10k (currently ninth all-time). He brought home All Ivy Honors three of his four years at the university. After college, he took a gap year in an immunology lab and then signed on to the University of Michigan for a post-baccalaureate and research in epilepsy. He also ran for the school's club team—M-Run—and that year they made it to the Nationals Cross Country Championship (sponsored by the National Intercollegiate Running Club Association) and won as a team; Duriel also won the individual title.

By the time he started medical school at Duke University, he was serious about putting running aside to concentrate on his studies. Competitions would have to wait. By the second year, he was aching to run again and started training for the 8k Running of the Bulls race in Durham. He clocked in at 24:02—a new personal best at this distance. He ran 70 to 80 miles a week, listening to medical lectures along his routes. He balanced his work in the clinic with his work on the track.

By his fourth year, he was settled on a neurology residency, and knew that he was leaning towards working with kids. He matched at CHOP, his number one pick. Again, he thought about putting running on the back burner, but it wasn't long before he was training for his first half marathon.

In the Philadelphia Half Marathon, there were thousands of men and women on every side of him. He ended up finishing in one hour, six minutes, and 48 seconds. He was the first person from Philadelphia to finish and came in 12th place overall in the race. He got in a few more half marathons and thought about trying to get a place at the 2020 Olympics, but he wasn't quite fast enough. A few fellow athletes suggested that he might try for a full marathon. His teammates thought the marathon qualifying standard was a bit more attainable and potentially better suited for his endurance capabilities.

And that was the plan. He was readying for another race last spring when he injured himself—with a stress fracture of the pelvis. (He said he is prone to injury.) With a nine-week hiatus staring him down, he decided that he wasn't going to give up on a marathon. He knew the time he needed to qualify. Now, he just needed to get his body well enough to inch up to that time. He began light core-strength training and aqua jogging to get into shape. The orthopedist was clear: There could be no impact-related exercise until his stress fracture was fully healed. At the nine-week stretch, he broke ground. A college buddy helped him train and by September he took off for the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. It was the fastest time he'd ever clocked at one hour, six minutes, and four seconds. “I felt that I was ready for a full marathon,” he said.

The California International Marathon was three months away. He'd wake up in the middle of the night to train early before rounding with patients. By December, the 5'7, 130 lbs. neurologist was heading west. His coach said that he'd have to keep up a 5:18 per mile pace. For the first 16 miles, he was three seconds per mile under and he felt good. By the 18th mile, he was wondering whether he would make it. At 20 miles, every muscle was screaming to stop. He held the pace at 5:18. He made it to the finish line with 39 seconds to spare. He was going to the 2020 Olympics Trials in Atlanta, GA.

“Everyone told me the last six miles would be the toughest, and they were right,” Dr. Hardy said. “I just kept telling myself, ‘I can do this.’”

Dr. Hardy said he hopes to always balance his life with medicine and racing. “My profession has helped me tremendously with my running. I have gained so much inspiration from my patients, many of whom are often battling difficult neurological diseases. Despite their challenges, they are so willful, strong, positive, and hopeful. This inspires me, particularly on days when I have a tough workout, or a challenging race, and think of how strong and determined my patients are. Thinking of their bravery gives me that extra push to work harder, run faster, and to continue to pursue my dreams both on the road to the marathon and to medicine.”

Every once in a while, he'll be counseling a patient on the importance of exercise. The question will always come: “Sure, but do you exercise?” And then, he says that he runs every day. And they take a long look at their doctor, and they remember that they have seen him in the local paper or on television or featured in Philadelphia magazine—running, of course.