From entering this program, to transitioning to the professional phase, and even now I have heard the same questions from parents, classmates, younger students and prospective students: Can you have life in PT school? Do you have time for hobbies and a social life? Do you have to study all the time?
This story starts in Madrid, Spain in the fall of 2009. I was a junior in the Program in Physical Therapy studying abroad as many of us did that semester. One day early on in the semester, I ended up at El Corte Ingles – looking for a pair of running shoes. I had decided that I was going to run a marathon; at this point in my life, the furthest I had ever run was 3 miles… maybe a little less. I began running all over Madrid. It’s a phenomenal way to learn the ins and outs of a city. This lasted about 4 weeks – until I developed what I now believe to have been a tendonopathy involving my fibularis brevis (pain to the outside of my foot). I didn’t run much for the rest of my study abroad experience – a fact I lament – because Madrid is an amazing city to run in. Despite my long lay-off, the fire was lit and it would smolder for quite some time.
Fast forward to February in St. Louis. I had finally chased the tendonopathy and had signed up for the Go! St. Louis Marathon when what some therapists refer to as ITB (iliotibial band) syndrome manifested as a sharp pain on the outside of my knee, just below the knee cap. As the ITB would occasionally force me to stop running to days at a time I sought the help of R. Scott Van Nest, one of the best set of eyes for gait analysis who I knew through a job at the Sports Medicine and Training Center. He pointed out a lot of problems in my running gait. While shortly after I ran a half marathon with my whacky gait at 1:58, I began to train for a half marathon in Minneapolis with a new plan and goal of 1:45. At this time I was taking Gross Anatomy and Kinesiology and running 4 times a week. I was able to complete these important classes as well as maintain my running plan. I beat my goal in Minneapolis (July 2010) at 1:40:15. By this point, I had a much better understanding of my own running gait and ways to manage injury – being a PT student has major benefits if one aspires to run distance.
In the spring and summer of 2011 I ran several half marathons and marathons that fine-tuned my abilities and understanding of how to train. I trained 4 times a week in the spring, still managing school well and taking 1:31:25 at the Go! Half Marathon as a result. I fought off injury from April to June, and ran a 26.2 mile trek while tutoring Gross Anatomy and working in the PT clinic. My okay marathon debut at 3:28:15 resulted in an inability to get around for a week, but I got out of my funk in early August and changed my training philosophy. I started researching training philosophy, food, cross training, and anything else I hypothesized might assist my running. I got injured – posterior tibial tendinopathy – running through a half marathon and bombing it, making myself angry. The fire blazed.
At this time, it was fall of 2011, and I was headed to Cleveland Ohio for the start of my first full clinical rotation. My rotation went well and I upped my training to 5-7 days per week. With increased biomechanical knowledge, I found that I was able to chase injuries before they became as problematic. I ran 4 half marathons in the spring of this year – 1:31:17, 1:29:50, 1:28:36, 1:25:02 leading up to Grandma’s Marathon. Keep in mind that throughout this period I was still carrying 18 credit hours, which is the precise amount of school work that existed in my life throughout this story (except summers – one summer with class, one with work and tutoring gross anatomy). I ran my second Grandma’s Marathon in 3:13:11 after backing off the pace at 14 because it wasn’t my day. It was disappointing, but I learned a lot from it.
There are a couple of things to be drawn from my (rather lengthy) story. The first important point is that in the PT program here at SLU, the class work is certainly difficult, but it does not prevent students from chasing dreams that require a substantial time commitment on a daily basis (though not the point of this post, add to that a pretty active social life). I peaked at 80+ miles per week, won local 5k, ran a bunch of distance races and maintained good grades. I won’t tell you that balancing everything isn’t difficult – I think it is for everyone, but I’ve been able to work, run and do well in school from the beginning of my running career until this point. The second point is that physical therapy can open a lot of doors; the example here is the fact that I’ve learned a ton about running from physical therapy and a ton about physical therapy from running. I wouldn’t be the runner that I am if I wasn’t first a PT student.
I will toe the line at the Twin Cities Marathon this October to chase the 3:00 marathon. I’ve backed off my rigid training program as a trial, still running 5-7 days per week but with a less obsessive attitude. Time will tell if this works. Racing times are measured in black and white, minutes and seconds. The joy that I’ve experienced from running cannot be measured or quantified. Never stop chasing your dreams.
Questions? Comments? Rhorstma@slu.edu
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