Running a Marathon Made me a Better Clinician
Recently I was able to run my first marathon. It was the fruition of seven months of training and preparation. To say that when I crossed that finish line I felt a sense of accomplishment is an understatement. Historically I haven’t been a long distance runner. In fact, when I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon I remember distinctly telling my friend that I had zero desire to run any farther than that. And yet there I was signing up for my first full marathon, less than a year after I had made that statement. To me, the marathon represented the impossible- something I said I would never do and felt I never could do.
When you work as a therapist, oftentimes you work with patients after a significant health event and they have had a significant change in status. Things that have been easy are now suddenly difficult. Things that they have always been able to do are now things out of reach and seemingly insurmountable goals. Patient after patient tell me all the time “I just want to get better”. To them, their recovery is their marathon.
Marathon training became my favorite analogy for therapy. If I had set out to run a marathon the day after I decided to do it, I would have been setting up myself for an intense failure. Running a marathon, like recovery, takes time and a lot of hard work and commitment. I didn’t start out running 26.2 miles, I started out running 3 miles and slowly progressed over seven months as I became stronger and my endurance improved to eventually be able to run a full marathon. It didn’t always feel like I was making giant leaps, most of the time it felt like baby steps. But as I found myself reminding my patients of, baby steps still get you to where you want to go, it just might take a little bit longer than you had hoped. Recovery, like marathon training, takes time, motivation, and hard work
Sometimes things don’t go as planned or there is a setback along the way. In the 18th mile of my race my legs started cramping. Other runners could tell I was struggling and gave me high fives to keep me going, or as they are called on the course “power-ups”. Spectators along the course called out my name or yelled “keep it up Texas!” (my shorts were a big hit!) These seemingly little gestures kept me smiling and putting one foot in front of the other until I crossed the finish line. We are the biggest cheerleaders for our patients. We need to celebrate when they achieve the smallest successes, and encourage them when they are struggling. That little bit of encouragement to keep going one step at a time can make the difference between giving up when things get tough or persevering to the finish line.