Why We Run

Charlotte Leblang

Each foot hits the ground with increasing force, stamping resilience into the rest of the body. The hot, humid air is stifling the motivation that began with the run. My whole body begins to regret the decision to run today, but there is no choice except to finish the out and back. Two more miles until air conditioning and lying on the apartment floor with my feet up because a PE teacher once told me that was a good thing to do. I remind myself on the last hill that I chose to do this.

Why do we run? As a medical student, our days end with emotional exhaustion; our brains are yearning to quit, but we push them a few more hours to get that passing point on the exam. Then, we come home and go on a run, where our bodies are giving us every sign to stop, but we refuse. The mental drive we were born with, or we taught ourselves to have, doesn’t just turn off when we leave academia. As future doctors, we push ourselves in all aspects of our lives. We were asked in interviews if we have resilience, to which we said yes, but how do we truly know if we are “mentally tough?” This year I found the answer to that question – and I found it through running.

I never liked running. Even in youth soccer, I always played goalie so I wouldn’t have to run more than 18 yards. I took up baseball and ice hockey as my main sports, again avoiding running as much as possible. I couldn’t understand why my parents would voluntarily wake up on a Sunday morning and run for no purpose. That being said, my personal foray into running began as a necessary evil. I was finding a maximum of 30 minutes in my day that could be used for exercise, and my rational mind knew a quick jog was the ideal activity for that time slot – and so it began. But running seemed harder for me than the average person. Still convinced I have exercise asthma, or an undiagnosed disorder, each step around my regular three-mile loop was torture. The physical difficulty of it was what kept me at it and through my first half marathon, and my second, and my third… and three years later led me to sign up for my first trail half marathon, a new challenge.

Four miles in and my body was done. I had never felt so lifeless as I did then – I had nothing left to give. That was when I realized what resilience was. All my physical strength was gone, and for the next nine miles it was going to be my mind that kept me going. I created small goals: I can only walk on the uphills, I have to run on the downhills, I have to finish this in under three hours. These lasted until mile ten and then my only goal was to not die. I genuinely thought I was going to collapse in the middle of the woods with no one to come help me. I was by myself in a hailstorm, with supposedly three miles left, and nothing but my mental resilience to get me to the end. 

Mile 13.1 and I’m in a field, soaked to the bone in the sideways hail, dragging my feet through the mud and choking down vomit. Why is this race not over? My brain is fogged and I’m not even sure at this point what is keeping me going. I see someone running the wrong way. It’s a classmate who signed up for the race with me, though I hadn’t seen him since mile two. After running fourteen miles, he came back in the storm to find me and walk to the finish line. My resilience got me to mile thirteen, where I thought the race would end. But my friend, a classmate, a future doctor, got me through the unexpected fourteenth mile.

Why do we run? Well, as a medical student you’re always looking for another challenge to overcome, so a Saturday morning test on the trail is just part of the job. The resilience I found out there on the trail is something I knew I had, but I wasn’t sure of the extent of it. Despite the unrelenting difficulty of the race, and the fact I will never sign up again, I am glad I had the opportunity to find my true strength. You only truly test mental toughness when your physical fortitude is gone. So how do you exhaust your physical stamina? For me, it’s running. For you? Go find out, and bring a classmate. 

Charlotte Leblang

About the Author: Charlotte Leblang

Charlotte Leblang is originally from Swampscott, Massachusetts and had just enough thoughts and opinions to get her through four years at a liberal arts college. A washed-up athlete, she spends her free time pushing her physical limits, watching TV, and complaining about trivial things. She’s been slowly adjusting to the Southern politeness by adding “hope you had a nice weekend” to the beginning of her emails.

Struck By Lightning

I have wrestled with this blog post for months now. After the circumstances of this past year, many have asked me to write a blogpost… to tell my story… but frankly I have just wanted to forget this past year.

For the many not aware of what happened, let me tell you. I began medical school in July of 2018. As real classes began in August 2018, I was not able to adapt to the intense stress like my classmates were. My body began shutting down in response to the stress, and I was experiencing severe numbness on my right side. Our school placed an emphasis on preventative healthcare so I decided to see a doctor in October, at which point I had begun throwing up regularly in response to stress, as well as experiencing vision loss and intense headaches. After a lot of physical therapy, complications of care, and a second opinion, an appropriate diagnosis was made: an intradural lipoma that had caused a tethered spinal cord, with additional complications. It was not that I was weak and could not handle the stress, it was that the tethered cord had caused a Chiari, so my body physically could not handle any stress. 

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How many countries can you see in one morning?

Costa Rica. Uruguay. Cuba. Puerto Rico. Mexico. Dominican Republic. South Carolina. Colombia.

Dr. López excitedly marked down the places of origin of each of the patients we had seen in his clinic that morning. It was impressive, like we were at the Olympics and there was a representative from nearly half the nations in the western hemisphere. But this was a family medicine clinic in Simpsonville, South Carolina – a state where 63.8% of the population is “White, not Hispanic or Latino”, and 27.3% of the population is “Black or African American”. It was beginning to seem like the entire 5.7% of S.C. that is “Hispanic or Latino” was a patient in this clinic. Of course that is not the case, but during my clinical rotations it has been a rarity to see this kind of diversity.

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Cognitive Dissonance

I have grappled with this post, both with how to articulate the words and feelings I felt and still feel as well as with the deep-rooted embarrassment regarding the event.

I have grappled with whether this would birth distaste from family, shock from friends, or portend a less than respectable reputation.

I have grappled with the idea of both revealing a flaw, nay, a hurdle that although in the moment was the reality of my worst fear come to light, proved to enlighten, strengthen, and provide me with what God has put on my heart as a story to tell to encourage others.

I have grappled, and yet, am finally letting go of that fear. Humbly exposed, I write today with the end result that although may be to my detriment may hopefully be to the benefit and encouragement of others .

Everyone makes mistakes, right?

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The History Will Tell You What You Need To Know

“Take the history.”

In medical school, I quickly learned this was the go-to answer that would always be right but also buy you a few more minutes to figure out which medical factoid your attending was really asking you about. Some clinical mentors would go so far as to say that a history was the only thing you really needed to make a diagnosis – forget physical exam, laboratory tests, imaging. Take the history.

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A Letter to New M3s

Dear Rising M3s,

First things first, congratulations! You have officially moved past one of the hardest experiences in medical school (the dreaded Step 1). You are now entering the best two years of medical school, your clinical years. These are the years where you can finally begin to put all the knowledge you have absorbed over these first two years to use. These are the years where you finally start to practice medicine (you know, the thing you worked towards in college, studied your butt off for on the MCAT, and sweated through the application, interview, and waiting processes)!

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A Familial Foundation

Leading up to Giving Day, I’ve been reflecting on how the generosity and sacrifices of others have influenced not only my decision to pursue a career in medicine, but also to persevere when things go south. My parents played a crucial role in making this reality possible, and I will forever be grateful to them. But last year, thanks to the UofSCSOMG Benevolence Fund (student emergency fund), I was able to visit two additional people in Mexico whom I respect deeply and were instrumental in setting the foundation for my medical career: my grandparents. Having the opportunity to spend time with my grandparents in the town of La Cañada Michoacán, Mexico, my birthplace, gave me greater insight into the chain of events that would ultimately lead to the start of my education in the United States.

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I wrote this poem during my internal medicine inpatient rotation about a cancer patient we rounded on daily. Although he was doing fairly well under the circumstances, the difference in his appearance and demeanor before and after losing his hair was striking. As a medical student, I have learned much more from my patients than any lecture.

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How Do You Have Faith in Medicine When It Failed You

One of my most scarring moments from my childhood was opening my plastic lunch bag at school and seeing carrots and apples instead of Cheez-its and Dunkaroos. I longed for white bread sandwiches with the crust cut off, but instead got whole grain “heel” pieces with something healthy stuck in the middle. We grew up privileged with the knowledge that eating healthy and exercising would bring us lengthy and prosperous lives. As long as I can remember, we did everything right. We exercised daily, ate balanced meals, went to the doctor and dentist regularly (and flossed!), and supported each other unconditionally. We had faith in preventative medicine and in return we expected it to look after us.

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True Love in Medical School

Today’s post is by two authors: Mandy Laney and her husband, third-year student Zegilor Laney. Their honesty regarding balancing marriage and family life is both great advice to future and fellow medical students and their spouses, and a realistic glimpse of how not just  students but also their families are laying down their lives for the future of health care. Thank you so much, Mandy and Zegilor!

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