How A Random Run Reminded Me How to Med School

Its been a pretty hellish week. Last week, I think I was operating on the fumes of a month long exhaustion situation and just got flat out sick. I was nauseous, my back hurt, I had a headache, I couldn’t eat, I had no energy and no amount of coffee was helping. I was falling asleep anytime I sat still. I went home early one evening for a dentist appointment. And oh goodie, I have TMJ! Guess what causes it? STRESS! I told my dentist my situation with medical school and all got the “bless your heart” look. He knows what it’s like.

Anyway, I had a huge Friday test in Histo and then another one on Monday in Anatomy that I didn’t do well on at all. I could blame it on many things: Not feeling good, having too much material, the awful Friday/Monday test situation, etc. But, I’ll take the blame for it and just say that I was not ready for that test. Still, I know myself well enough to know that I won’t get them all. So I took the good with the bad. I did pretty well on Biomed, I just didn’t get the anatomy one this time.

I stepped outside on one of the first truly chilly nights we’ve had this October. Some generic Pandora hiphop station starts up in my earbuds and I start to feel freedom in my very first steps off the porch. I didn’t bring a watch. Didn’t need one. This run isn’t for time. Its for clarity. By 16 seconds in- I guarantee you- its not school on my mind anymore. Sometimes its nothing on my mind at all. 7 minutes in and I might as well be flying. The wind is just cold enough to bite at my throat and ears a little, but I don’t care. Chilly fall weather that you can still wear shorts in- is prime running time. Especially at night when the street lights make the wet roads look like black glass reflecting it to twice the city lights.  I blow through cross walks and stretches of street without sidewalk. Up and down curbs, around bends, and mud holes. I cross the street but am sure to run straight down the double yellow line in the middle of the road a few steps because its where I feel the most free; like nothing can stop me- not even city ordinances and 2-ton hunks of metal.

In running, it’s never mattered to me whether I’m puttering and sputtering and choking and hurting just to keep putting one foot in front of the other, or if I’m in cruise mode, just chilling at a smooth pace, enjoying the view. I could even be gutting it out, leaving it all on the line grimacing with the speed of my own legs’ muscle memory out running my own lungs. None of that matters. I’ve always just been chasing that feeling. Maybe its runner’s high. I don’t know. At a certain point, though, the body takes over- if my mind will let it.

Its a place where my leg turnover carries me further than I thought I could go after not running for 9 days 16 hours and 21 minutes. Like pedaling a bike upside down. If you crank the pedals a few times,  the wheels won’t quit spinning for quite some time. Its just residual motion and it doesn’t require any thought whatsoever. It’ll just stop whenever it stops. That’s what my legs feel like.

Or that feeling I get when I give a little extra power in my hamstring to leap an extra-long stride’s length off a curb and head downhill, busting out the bass drum tempo to my song with my feet. It’s a feeling I would imagine getting when you go up a ramp and land on the other side of ten buses all in a row and land safely on the other side.

It’s a feeling when I don’t feel like my legs or lungs want me to keep going because they’re hurting, but I keep going somehow as if the act of running were involuntary. Like it comes naturally.

Its going so fast I feel my heart up in my throat. I know I can’t hold the pace for long, its just nice to amp up and feel my body working with me not against me for once. Its slowing down and feeling the tension come out, the adrenaline ebbs and flows and I get comfortable again.

It’s feeling comfortable on a run at all. Ever.

Who ever thought running would be my biggest comfort during medical school?

Running makes me powerful, joyous, competent, and aggressive, but yet, graceful. I feel loose and free and fierce and accomplished. I feel feminine and strong and not anything near weakness. I feel confident and beautiful and happy. I never feel like I don’t measure up, because its just me there and I am running and that is all I am doing. I feel like I’m doing something, because I am.

Every step is quantifiable, definite, appreciable, and proven. Every step proves something to myself- that I can go one more step. I look back at all the steps I’ve taken and can’t even trace the path I ran 8 minutes ago with my eyes. Do you know how few times that happens in life? Where you can work- and work hard- and then look at where you came from and where you are now and SEE- actually SEE- a quantifiable difference that can’t be argued with. Its an incredible feeling. When I study and study for 14 hours a day, I go home with nothing. I have no proof I can see. I have nothing to show for it. Only time and tests will tell whether that time was worth something- if I gained anything from that work.

On a run though, I come home with work I can see. The sweat on my face and shirt. The five miles of pavement I left behind me. Chewed up, spit out, burnt up asphalt that I conquered with my own two feet. Even the pain in my left foot tells me I’ve done work.

Running gives me things I don’t get to experience a whole lot anymore. It gives me a good dose of accomplishment, stands me back up, builds confidence, and makes me happy.

It’s the whole theme of steps that gets me and keeps me going in school. The runs carry me through in more ways than I can count. That even if its baby steps, slow steps, big steps, or steps where I flat out stumble and fall and get back up again, I’m still getting somewhere. I try not to forget that when I’m endlessly studying. Each powerpoint, lecture, sentence, note, drawing, and test is a step and I’m getting somewhere whether I see it or not. My steps aren’t always the best or fastest or more graceful, but they mean I’m working. And whatever else anyone around me is doing, I get a lot of satisfaction out of knowing I’m out on the road taking laborious, painful, glorious, work-for-every-last-one-of-them steps, and everyone is driving by fast in a car acting like they’re getting somewhere.

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