One week after Match Day, the Class of 2017’s Michael Krouse headed into difficult terrain — a 50-mile run in the frigid cold and sweltering heat of Monument Valley, located within the Navajo Nation in Arizona. He completed the ultramarathon in 13 hours and 45 minutes and shares his experience of training and inspiration below.
The Monument Valley 50 Miler included a 1,000-foot climb up a mesa via a boulder-laden, single track mining road; a 10-mile stretch through deep, loose sand; and, for me at least, a pitch-black, headlamp-lit game of hide-and-go-seek with trail markers to finish.
Before medical school, I’d completed numerous marathons as well as the Bethel Hill 50 Miler and relished the thought of returning to ultramarathons. There isn’t a lot of time to train during both the pre-clinical and clinical years but I have been fortunate to run with a diverse group of friends who all share a passion for running.
VCU School of Medicine does a terrific job of admitting students with a wide range of backgrounds and interests — Division I athletes, researchers, teachers, businessmen and businesswomen, aspiring cardiologists, emergency medicine physicians, pediatricians and surgeons. Running brought many of us together on early morning 4-mile runs before class and Saturday morning long runs during the pre-clinical years. This awesome group of friends kept my spirits high those first two years and kept me in maintenance-shape for this 50-mile run.
As the clinical years drew to a close and the residency interview season started, I began toying with the idea of running another ultramarathon. I’ve always enjoyed pushing my limits — doing the Mile Swim as a Boy Scout, cycling the shores of Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans to Kenner, Louisiana, as a middle schooler and hiking Half Dome in Yosemite as a high schooler. Running ultras was perhaps a natural progression.
So I ran at every stop on the residency interview trail as a way to see each city through a unique lens and keep up with training. When I traveled to my hometown of New Orleans for Thanksgiving, I accomplished a homegrown marathon with, of course, a portion along Bourbon Street. The hardest part came when the interview trail ended and I began my ICU rotation at VCU Health.
Knowing there would be no time to train on this rotation, in which the team is caring for medically complicated patients, I chose to run to school in the mornings, shower and eat in the medical student on-call room, help the team, and run back home. There were some mornings, especially in early January, when the roads were slick with ice and I had to don YakTraks — spike-attachments for shoes — to run. That was an adventure in its own right!
As the race grew closer and the ICU month ended, I relied on my roommates — the Class of 2017’s Claire Lauer, Adam Sadik and Cameron Sumner, as well as Camille Hochheimer, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biostatistics — to keep me safe on training runs lasting 30 and 40 miles up and down the James River, Pocahontas State Park and the Virginia Capital Trail.
We would check in via text periodically and I’d also turn on the Find Friends app on my iPhone so they could track my progress. I could not have done this run without my roommates and Camille.
Paying it forward
Training for the race also highlighted the need for adaptive sports in the Greater Richmond area. Following my acting internship in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, VCU Health’s William O. McKinley, M.D., put me in touch with Sportable, a Richmond nonprofit providing adaptive sports and recreation opportunities for people with physical and visual disabilities.
I spent a month-long internship with Sportable. Part of that internship was assisting with wheelchair basketball practice. After watching the kids practice and talking with them about their stories and the challenges they have faced, I wanted to do more for them and for the organization which adds so much quality to their life. If some good could come out of such a difficult task, in addition to completing the race, I would feel content.
So I started a fundraiser for Sportable and began raising awareness about adaptive sports via social media. I’m a member of the International, Inner City, Rural Preceptorship Program in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health and it’s encouraged me to remain committed to my patients even outside the hospital. So much of our patients’ health status is determined by what happens outside of our clinics and hospitals. Making sure our communities are primed to maximize their health and quality of life is an important reason why I went into medicine.
I’ll begin my residency at the Ohio State University in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in mid-June and I’m already eyeing the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon.
Maintaining a sense of balance — physical, mental, spiritual — remains a primary focus in my life. I want to bring the best of who I am to my patients every day and I think that one means of doing so is making sure that I am taking care of myself, too.
By Michael Krouse