In addition to being a vet, I’m also a runner.  For runners, as the heat and humidity of summer winds down and autumn brings its colorful foliage and crisp, cool air, race season hits full throttle. As I put on my running gear and make sure I’ve packed my banana and Gatorade, I can’t help but be see the similarities between running and veterinary medicine.

Training Takes Over Your Life (And Your Facebook Feed)

When I was in school, my excuse for staying in on a Saturday night was that I had to study.  When I was training for a marathon, it was that I had to get up at 5 AM to run 15 miles.  In school my Facebook feed (actually back then it was a MySpace feed—my how times have changed) was filled with pictures of radiographs and oozing wounds and rants about exams and the complexities of the complement cascade.  During training, it was filled with MapMyRun posts, Runner’s World articles and complaints about the weather and bicyclists.

Either way, my social life dwindled to near extinction and the friends I did have that weren’t fellow vet students or runners, couldn’t bear to hear another story about the crazy thing some lab ate or how great my new running shoes are.

You Spend Most of Your Day Smelly and Sore

When I’m working I smell like cat pee and anal gland secretions.  When I’m running I smell like sweat and BO.  Sometimes my back hurts from leaning over the wet table doing a 2 hour dental, sometimes my calves are killing me from that hill work out. My feet are often covered in blisters and my hands are frequently plastered with cat scratches.

Why do I torture my body so?  No—really—why?

You Are Never Satisfied

As a general rule, both vets and runners are always trying to do better.  We’re aiming for a PR on every race.  We’re trying to be our own personal Dr. House and solve every medical mystery.  We tend to beat ourselves up over any perceived failure.  Our mile seven split was 9 seconds slow, we only got a B on our parasitology exam, our DKA patient crashed despite our best efforts.

We may not all graduate at the top of our class or finish first in our age class, but we are passionate about what we do, and we give it our all every time.

Sometimes You Hit the Wall

One minute I’m coming off the Queensborough bridge to the sound of cheers from thousands of spectators and I feel like I’m flying and could run forever.  The next minute—bam!  The dreaded wall.  I’m not sure I can take one more step but somehow I force one foot in front of the other.

Vet Med is no different.  You can feel awesome about it one day—you receive a nice thank you card from a client, you pull of a miraculous save, and you still actually manage to leave work on time.  Then all of a sudden it feels like you can’t satisfy anyone; your cases all seem to be developing complications, and you haven’t been able to get so much as 15 minutes for lunch all week.  You’re burnt out, exhausted, and maybe even suffering from compassion fatigue.  But somehow you soldier on.  You deal with a bad day or a bad week, by continuing to get up every morning and go to work.  Because as hard as it is some days, the high you feel when you make a difference is unlike anything else.

You Have a Great Support System

Of course we don’t get through the hard parts all by ourselves.  There’s a community backing us up.  When I hit mile 23 of the New York City Marathon, I was struggling.  It was only three miles to the finish line, but to me it felt like another 26.  The spectators with their inspirational signs and a few appearances by family members had gotten me that far.  There were also my fellow runners there to commiserate with me.  But when a girl in the crowd picked me out and started running with me and telling me how awesome I was and that I could do it—it gave me the strength to finish that race.

When I’m having a crappy day at work and I’m stressed to the max, I’ve got people running beside me then too.  I’ve got associates and former classmates and facebook veterinary communities that I can turn to.  I can text a friend or family member to vent or just get my mind off things.  And most importantly, I have a building full of teammates that can bolster me up, help me shoulder the burden and make me laugh with a well-timed joke. One of my assistants will even clap for me after a routine phone call just to make me smile.

Veterinary medicine is a marathon, not a sprint.

We devote ourselves to our training and commit for the long haul.  It’s difficult, and at more than one mile marker you’ll find yourself questioning your sanity.  But in the end, a runner’s got to run.  Now if only they gave out medals in vet med!