The Endurance Mindset

When Oprah was training for her marathon, she quipped that “running is the best metaphor for life; you get out of it what you put in.” There’s an enormous amount of truth to this. Sure, freak things may happen but for the most part, what you get on race day is a sum of quality miles trained plus the benefits of all the extras like strides, core, strength, stretching etc.

When I started to prepare for Step 1, I didn’t even know where to begin. I’ve taken big exams before; after all, I managed to get into medical school which required the MCAT. The MCAT, however, was a half day test and although it ostensibly determined my entrance to medical school, a poor performance didn’t mean I could never go to medical school (I could retake) and didn’t represent an investment of over $100,000. The USMLE Step 1 exam represents two years of classroom knowledge crammed into a day long test with a total break time of an hour. The only way you can retake is to fail but the space between barely passing and being competitive for a residency is enormous. The more I thought about it, the more Step 1 resembled a marathon. You study for about 12 weeks. You start by building a knowledge base and as you get stronger, you add workouts that are more and more specific to your task. Finally, you work on the endurance to sit and focus for 8 hours. Once I framed it that way, the test preparedness paralysis lifted. I wrote a schedule the exact way I write one in running, with dates down the y-axis and specific domains across the top x-axis. I built in recovery days. I even built in a taper so that I’m fresh and ready on test day (March 2nd), not crawling to the start line.

Throughout medical school, people have asked how I keep training at a (relatively) high level, almost always incredulous that I can find the time. Some of the answer is that running is a top priority for me and I make choices that support my running ahead of many other things. I don’t belong to any student interest groups; I choose to believe that a long coaching relationship with MMU demonstrates my interests just as well. I don’t do many social things; almost all of my friends are runners, so I make that my social time. However, making running a priority isn’t the only reason I’ve kept at it during medical school. Being a runner has given me an endurance mindset and gives me a set of tools to approach any enormous challenge that life can throw at me.

How do the things you’ve learned from running carry over in your life?

2 thoughts on “The Endurance Mindset

  1. foxrunsfast

    I really like this. I’m impressed that you are able to balance that workload with running but not at all surprised. 🙂 I’ve found that folks who excel at running also put that “endurance mindset” to use in other highly demanding and competitive professions as well. I definitely think that my affinity for schedules/training plans translates well into my (former) role as a project manager. I liked that feeling of mapping out projects and deadlines and then putting my head down and doing the work to keep us all marching along on schedule and budget. Now that I’m home with my girls, I think that endurance mindset helps me on days when they are driving me up the walls. 🙂 Plus, if I’ve run early in the morning I have WAY more patience with them than I do on days that I don’t run. (which is why I run almost every day)

    1. runnerunderpressure

      I always find that when I do have a natural lull (between seasons or classes), I’m actually less productive than when I’m cranking along. Somehow I can get everything (ok, most things) done when I’m busy, but switch the laundry over when I have nothing to do? Impossible. And the patience thing…positive coping mechanism or not, I am a far better person when I run. 🙂


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