AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 29, Number 2, 2020


Why I Like Running Marathons

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When I finished my residency and started my first job in practice, I was eager to spend more time running and to begin participating in races. I went online and joined a runner’s group that gathered on the Chicago lakefront twice a week. Happy to be meeting new friends with a common interest, I laced up my trainers and headed out for the first run. 

Everyone was training for the Chicago Marathon. At the time, I was focused on training for a 5k race. However, when runner after runner told me, “Marathons are my favorite distance!” I thought I must have joined the wrong group. But their enthusiasm was contagious and long lasting. Plus, distance running proved to be an activity my husband and I could do “together,” even though he was still in his orthopedics residency and hundreds of miles away. We compared notes each night on terrain, splits and equipment. We slowly built our distances and endurance. It seemed to be a good metaphor for our lives.

There are several aspects of running marathons that will resonate with all neurosurgeons. Distance running shares several qualities with neurosurgical training, operations and careers:

  • Long-term goals: One cannot just decide to run a marathon – it takes months, or even years, of dedication.
  • Discipline: One cannot take much time off the training schedule. If the plan is to run a marathon, the training has to be worked into every day and week.
  • A sense of accomplishment: Like completing a neurosurgical residency or an especially difficult case, there is pride that comes from successfully completing something that is difficult.

Like many other running gear manufacturers, Nike (c) often advertises on billboards along the marathon route with motivating slogans. One of my favorites is: 

“All it takes is all you’ve got.”

There is no question that I feel completely spent after finishing a marathon. Another favorite billboard reads:

 “Some people won’t even drive 26.2 miles today.” 

That slightly smug message will likely resonate with neurosurgeons. We rather like the fact that our training is known to be long and arduous. The combination of physical and mental effort that goes into a marathon often translates into tearful, exhausted smiles and intense gratitude when a perfect stranger places a $2 bit of metal and a ribbon around your neck.

Both neurosurgery and marathon running also create stories of near-mythic proportions:


  • “My chairman was so difficult that …”
  • “I once was on call for ‘x’ days (or weeks) in a row …”

Running marathons

  • “Boston Marathon, 2018: It was 33 degrees and rained six inches. It was miserable. I can’t wait to tell you about it.”

Finally, there are increasing opportunities to do long distance runs to raise money for a cause, such as ThinkFirst or Boston Children’s Hospital. We even hope to one day run a marathon with our children.

Since that first year in practice, my husband and I have completed 17 marathons together and now I also proclaim that “Marathons are my favorite distance.”


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