I know this is weird, but I’ve always wanted to be a runner. Sometime around middle school I formed this idea in my head that runners were the bomb. They were these people who had their lives together; they were fit and active, and they just looked super cool. Weird, I know. Unfortunately, as I made my way through middle and high school, I never really “became a runner.” I wasn’t the most athletic student—don’t get me wrong, I was a decent player on the tennis team, but that was mostly a fun, extra-curricular activity, not something I took super seriously—my real focus was on school (read: pre-med since day 1), Key Club, and Student Council. There would be fleeting moments when I’d catch the running bug and suddenly become motivated to “go for a run”… but if you’re not actually really into it, running is hard. I’ll spare you the biochemical mechanisms behind the electrolyte and fluid shifts, but it’s painful. First, your lungs hurt because you’re breathing hard, and then your legs hurt, and soon, everything hurts. Not to mention, the mental obstacle I’d have to overcome of keeping myself distracted and occupied.
Fast forward to the end of my first year of medical school. One of my good friends had just run the half-marathon in Austin and I was in awe. I casually mentioned to her my “relationship” (or lack thereof) with running and thought it would be cool to be able to run a 5k someday. She laughed and asked, “Why someday? Why not next semester?” I didn’t really have an answer to that, so I made a weird, non-committal face, but that was all she needed. Just a few weeks later, while working abroad for the summer (read about that here!) I got an email from my friend letting me know we were signed up for a 5k in Houston at the end of August! Attached to the email was a pretty reasonable running schedule with days off in between so I could still go swimming, go to Zumba classes with friends, go play tennis, or just take a break. She even gave us wiggle room for exams! She thought about it all…which meant I kind of didn’t have an excuse anymore. I had a plan, encouragement, the pressure of a deadline, a running buddy, and the advantage of longer summer days.
And magically, it happened!
Just kidding! It was hard, but it did happen. I tried my best to stick to her schedule, not feel super bad when things came up and I couldn’t stick to the schedule, learn to push myself physically and mentally, learn when and what to eat before running, ask friends who enjoyed running to go with me, apologize to said friends for slowing them down, restrain myself from using choice words when said friends wouldn’t let me take breaks (their motto: slow down, don’t stop)-all while keeping up with school, clubs, and volunteering. (Interestingly, we were covering the heart and lungs, so it was cool to apply what I was learning to what I was doing.)
Slowly, I was becoming one of those people. A runner. I began to enjoy it, and then I began to look forward to it. I became a bit more productive in school, to ensure I had time to go running. I became closer to friends, by bonding over a new hobby. And I learned to push myself in a different way. I found it interesting that after the first couple of weeks, it was more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I had to learn how to translate the same motivation and mental stamina I employ with studying to running. Instead of telling myself “just a few more pages,” it was “just a few more streets.”
Running also helped me remember that I enjoyed (and missed) the outdoors. Galveston is actually quite beautiful, especially around this time of year, and running down Seawall is something I’ve become quite fond of. In addition to helping me explore new parts of Galveston, running also allowed me to experience things I wouldn’t get to normally. During our one-week fall break, I went to California to visit some friends from college, and I ended up running into a friend from high school. As we were catching up, we made plans to run a popular train on campus the next morning. The picture
doesn’t do it justice (or show you the hills and incline) but it was a really enjoyable experience. If you asked me last year, I never would have imagined that I’d have accepted his offer, but I’m so glad I did!
What I’ve found is that amidst the busy and stressful schedule of medical school, there is still time and energy left to dedicate to new hobbies. It’s easy to get caught up in the intricacies of the field or resign yourself to the idea that in order to succeed, you have to put your personal life on hold for the next 4 years, but that’s absolutely not true. During my medical school orientation last year, one of the presenters casually mentioned that if we weren’t keeping up with our hobbies, family, friends, and the things that made us uniquely human, then we were doing medical school wrong. I know some people might disagree with that school of thought, and I’m not at all saying it’s an easy balance to find. In fact, that balance changes with every day and every exam, but hearing that definitely gave me comfort and made me more confident about choosing UTMB. These 4 years are all about growth and becoming better: a better student and future physician, but also a better version of myself.