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Bolstered by Community

You look so strong! What can I get you? Red vines? A brownie? Water or electrolyte drink?”

“WOW! Who are you? Do I know you? You’re so nice,” I said to the aid station volunteer as I fumbled to remove the sticky orange peels from my hydration vest.

I was running the McKenzie River 50k, a classic Oregon trail race, and was blown away by the camaraderie and kindness of everyone I met that beautiful fall day in 2015. Anyone who has been to a trail race or group run has been fortunate to sample this special mix of cooperation, kindness and shared suffering that comes with putting one foot in front of the other for extended periods of time. What I didn’t realize was that this same community would bolster me not only during trail races, but in life. A bonus new friend that day was a man named Tyler, who would eventually become my husband.

Two people in running gear standing on a rocky trail, with a large boulder in the background

After I first dipped my toes in the sport of ultramarathon trail running at McKenzie River, it didn’t take long before I was fully immersed in the sport. Of course, tracing ridgelines and exploring beautiful landscapes on my own two feet is soul-filling, and exercise endorphins are amazing, but what really kept me coming back was the incredible community. I felt so welcomed into the sport and with every interaction, however brief, my network of friends expanded. I moved to the Pacific Northwest from Minnesota for an MD/PhD program and didn’t have a community outside of school. I’ve since found the most incredible humans through ultrarunning, and they have become like family. In the case of Tyler, he really is family now.

Two people running in silhouettes in a desert landscape

In my first few years of trail running, my friend Chelsea sent me a video of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) trail race that circumnavigates Mont Blanc. I was completely enthralled. That next summer, I roped two of my medical school classmates, Beth and Audrey, into doing the 106-mile UTMB route (called the Tour du Mont Blanc) in four days. Sharing this adventure with my friends and classmates is still one of my all-time favorite memories.

I recently got to catch up with Audrey, eight years later, at the Canyons Endurance Runs this past April where she took on the 100-kilometer distance in the midst of surgery residency. Audrey and many others are true fountains of inspiration for me as I navigate my fledgling career as a physician and desire to continue pushing my limits in racing.

One of my favorite aspects of trail running has been how many people in my day job (medicine) are also integrated with the sport. On my surgery rotation, the trauma surgeons discussed continuing medical education seminars that involved trail running in the alps. The anesthesiologist on that rotation was running Western States 100 miler in a few months). There’s also no shortage of incredible international athletes who are also physicians. Multi-time world champion Blandine L’Hirondel is an obstetrician/gynecologist, and French start Thibault Garrivier is a musculoskeletal radiologist. We also have Anne Marie Madden, a stellar Canadian ultrarunner who is also a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist!

While I’m highlighting those that share my professional career path, of course physicians aren’t the only people that are love trail running. There are all kinds of professionals that find joy in the sport. There’s truly the most incredible array of humans that participate in trail running and that’s what makes it so beautiful. Trail running is also an antidote for loneliness, especially these days. It’s easy to feel isolated in our new virtual world, where face-to-face human interactions are replaced with virtual alternatives. Whether at races or group runs, trail running is a vehicle for forging meaningful relationships with other members of our community. This gives us all resilience that we can carry with us in our lives.