Going the Extra Mile: A Med Student’s Marathon

By Shoshana B. Weiner

“4 ounces water every mile, half an electrolyte ‘gu’ pack over 2.5 miles, ¼ energy bar every 6 miles.”  AKA how did you manage training for a marathon while in medical school?  The simple truth: I decided to run a marathon so I did.  Longer story: months of rigorous training, more moments of doubt than I care to recall, and insights already positively impacting my medical training.

Training for and running a marathon is a time-intensive commitment of physical and mental endurance.  Age-old lessons of “you can accomplish anything you set your mind to; hard work pays off” hold true and gained new meaning for me. 

My first lesson came from an unexpected place – a surgeon known for passionate focus and commitment to quality. During my surgery clerkship, I watched with awe as she meticulously repaired an abdominal birth defect in a tiny baby.  Afterward, I heard her telling the surgical resident about her long distance cycling during a recent vacation.  With the slight hesitation of a medical student, I mentioned I’d recently registered for the upcoming NYC marathon.  She turned to me, and with a twinkle in her eye revealed she had run the NYC marathon many times, and was again registered for the race.  “Got any advice?” I asked.  “You’ll learn to understand the way a human body works better than any physician could teach you,” she replied.  “It’s similar to doing a critical care fellowship! As you train, the physiologic needs and metabolic demands of your body will become crystal clear – you’ll learn fundamentals of hydration, electrolyte balance, carbohydrate needs, and thermoregulation.”  In other words, take heed, respect the body, learn, and enjoy.  Words of wisdom for both professional and personal wellbeing.

I gained additional wisdom along the course to the finish line.  I learned about my drive to succeed, and how to accomplish new feats.  I learned how my mind fights back when it wants to stop, and how to access the part that wants to endure.  Grueling early morning training runs taught me not only to treat my body with respect by sleeping, eating, and hydrating as best possible, but also to nurture my mind.  I could control my outlook by accessing certain thoughts and emotions.  Positive self-talk was my own internal cheerleader.  I connected to peers who provided encouragement and supported fundraising efforts, even joined me on training runs.  Reflecting on lessons learned has fostered mindful self-awareness and perhaps better equipped me to face life’s challenges on the wards and beyond.  Not everyone has to run a marathon, but taking care of ourselves within the high paced, goal-driven world of medical education and practice is crucial for our wellbeing and for quality patient care.

On marathon day, I hit the allegorical “wall” earlier than expected, at mile 17.  With knee pain and 9 miles remaining, my mind shut down.  I experienced anger mixed with exhaustion and a strong desire to stop. It was then that I saw a man with one leg completing the course on crutches. Something in me sparked back into gear as I was reminded of the ability of humans to endure, inspire, and fight on with courage.  Harnessing these thoughts to block out the pain, I pushed towards the finish line.

In 26.2 miles I learned how to accomplish a goal.  The experience is now part of my identity and I hope to wear it well.  As I look forward to residency training, I face the daunting prospect of long hours, academic rigors, and pressures of high-stakes decision-making.  A marathon. More than 26.2 miles. I think I’m ready.



Shoshana B. Weiner is a fourth-year medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a member of the Editorial Board of Reflective MedEd.

10 thoughts on “Going the Extra Mile: A Med Student’s Marathon

    • Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts! Medical training is certainly a test of endurance at times – hopefully one that pays off with resilient doctors and effective patient care. Good luck in your race!


  1. Sounds like you’ve worked hard to understand the need for balance — balance in many realms of life so that you can focus on the well-being of the patient (in part) by attending your own well-being. I wish you a lot of success in maintaining that balance. The effort required to maintain it is also very demanding.


    • Thank you for you comment and your encouragement. I truly believe that self care is the first step towards a healthy mind and efficient practice and it is nice to hear such thoughts expressed by others as well


  2. Great piece. Thanks for writing it. Training for my first marathon also taught me how to listen to my body and to respect it. Nowadays, my body is now telling me to stick to half marathons 😉


  3. Great piece. Thanks for writing it. Training for my first marathon also taught me how to listen to my body and to respect it. Nowadays, my body is now telling me to stick to half marathons 😉


  4. In 2008, a neurosurgical colleague and I published a critique on the institution of work hour regulations (the 80-hour work week), using training for long-distance running as an analogy to the time and endurance requirements in some medical specialties. Email me privately (cvcaldicott@yahoo.com) if you would like a pdf. Otherwise, here is the citation: Caldicott CV, Holsapple JW. Training for Fitness: reconsidering the 80-hour work week. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 2008; 51(1): 134-43.


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