Class of 2020
Alexis del Vecchio
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.
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.
Copyright 2014 USC School of Medicine Greenville