Rebecca joined the team this last fall after her first year of post-collegiate running under her belt. As a new pro for Oiselle, she's learning to balance life as a medical student and professional athlete - an inspiring woman pursuing two dreams.
By: Rebecca Tracy
Tensegrity - Originally an architecture term (Google search Kenneth Snelson) for structures built with perfectly balanced tension between elements, in medicine tensegrity is used as another word to describe the connection between structure and function - how when one part of the body changes others must compensate to keep it stable. Every time the solid pieces (bones) move, the wires (muscles, tendons, and fascia) compensate to bring the structure back into balance. As I worked though my first semester of medical school, I learned to appreciate this word more and more. It was first introduced week one talking about osteopathic manipulation and treatment. 15 weeks later we moved into skeletal muscles and it came up again and again. In the mean time I got hurt and appreciated firsthand how when one thing goes, the whole structure goes down behind it. Now, after the semester has ended, I have a much better understanding of how a runner’s body and mind is a wonderful and intricate tensegrity structure.
Backing up, I’m Rebecca. I’m a middle distance runner, first year medical student at Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Indianapolis and in my first season as part of Oiselle’s Haute Volée. Fall was all about finding my point of tensegrity, mentally and physically. In August I joined the Haute Volée, migrated to Indy and began school and training. Despite my heart and soul being in the mile, my coach, Tim Connelly, likes to build my base work as if I am a 5k runner (let’s face it, one day I will have to convert, it wasn’t that bad…) and when we get to track, we start working a little more like a half mile/miler, right where I like to be. After running through undergrad and sticking around for one year as a volunteer assistant coach at Notre Dame while doing a Master’s on pretty much the same training plan, I somehow got it in my head ‘How much harder could it be to run while in medical school, I’m still getting faster so why not keep going?’ Yeah, it’s not the same.
When you are running for a university there is so much support you often take for granted that helps keep you balanced – academically, socially, physically, and balanced between all these aspects. Flying nearly solo in Indy I don’t have many of these things balancing forces, and I let some good habits fall away – like lifting at least twice a week and almost religiously getting 8 hours of sleep a night. Not that you should need someone else keeping you accountable, but it certainly makes things easier. I believe I have a lot left to accomplish. Being part of Oiselle and this team, even from afar, has definitely helped keep me going now that I’m in it. The stories of what the phenomenal ladies of the Haute Volée and Flock have overcome, are working through, and have accomplished, definitely helped me through the days when I felt like the universe was giving me the ‘I told you so’ on trying to pursue both dreams.
So what is running in medical school like? Well, I’ve learned a lot about flexibility, both good and bad - like you can’t beat yourself up if you have to move runs around or change when you’re working out because you’re already mentally spent for the day. I also confirmed, however, that running is still the best mental break I could ever take, despite being afraid to ever miss when my study group was meeting, I’ve accepted it’s perfectly alright to say, ‘I will study this later, right now it’s time for a run.’
Not having teammates around every day is a little different too; I recruit classmates from time-to-time, but not everyone likes taking time away from studying to, of all things, just ‘go run’. Our professors have joked that ironically med school is about the most unhealthy thing you can do to yourself, as you volunteer for years of not sleeping enough, often eating pretty bad (I swear the only food ever brought to events is pizza, which I love, but not quite that much), and often the first healthy habit students drop to make more time for studying is regular exercise. Pretty much the only thing I make time for, other than studying and family when I get the chance, is to chase my dreams of being a professional runner. Saying so generally results in a good number of looks saying ‘you’re nuts’ that yes, I do secretly revel in.
Being coached from afar is a little different too, though the weekly ritual of scrambling sometime Sunday night or Monday morning to email Coach my training log remains. It may sound silly, but the hardest part about the transition for me has been the lack of structure. I really miss rushing from 3:15 class to 3:30 practice and waking up at 7:30 after two hits of the snooze button to rush to the locker room to dress for 8 a.m. practice on the weekends. For the first 15 weeks of medical school our schedule changed so much week-to-week, I had a really hard time setting a firm schedule for when I was going to run. Totally my fault, but the lack of schedule played a large role in how I got hurt as I constantly felt like I was just doing things willy-nilly whenever there was time.
Getting hurt was a blessing, despite the funk it put me in for most of November – my body sat me down before I could do any serious damage and has given me some time to think about what I am doing, why I am doing it, and how to start over doing it better. As frustrating as it can be, starting over is probably the best way to get rid of the lazy habits you let yourself fall into. I got hurt because I was keeping up a schedule that wasn’t good for me. Not enough sleep, not enough recovery, getting lazy about the little things, and just not being smart about listening to my body and it resulted in a hamstring strain in mid October… that I ran on until nearly the end of the month. Once I let the inflammation quiet down and saw a doctor my recovery could begin. The new training plan isn’t perfect by any means, it’s still pretty flexible, but I feel much more like Coach and I have a schedule now. I am doing the little things again, and I am not afraid to say ‘I’ve put in good study hours, this is my time to go run and let my brain relax.’ I’ve also reconfirmed that running is the best study break I can take, I just think better when I get up and move – seriously, looking back at my grades I perform my best when I’m being as diligent about my training as I am with my studying. Anyway, in November I started PT and a lot of balance exercises, adding cross training as the month went on finally December 1st I went for my first, not exactly comfortable, 10 minute run. Alternating between short runs and cross training. My Christmas present was being given the okay to start building my mileage again.
So here I am starting from the bottom to begin 2015. I had my longest run without pain since early October (a whopping 40 minutes) to end the year and I’m looking forward to working towards a solid outdoor season this spring. The focus for me right now is on balance; keeping running what I love and what relieves my stress, and in doing so keeping myself in love with what I am studying. The goal is to focus on balance and appreciating the amazing tensegrity structure that is the body of a forever student-athlete.