So, 2020 has introduced itself. Turning the clocks back to 2019, who could ever have imagined that the world would be completely paralyzed by an unknown virus? Covid-19 is scary, and it is affecting us all. Apart from the health aspect, it has changed the way that we all live and it has put strict limitations to what choices we are able to make. For athletes, it has put a stop to competitions, tournaments, and to races. For some, it has even put a stop to training.

In lack of race reports and exciting news, I thought I’d take this opportunity to introduce myself to those who don’t yet know me by re-posting a blog that I wrote 6 months ago. I work as a medical doctor and have a special interest in promoting physical activity as a preventative method and as a treatment method of some illnesses, with a focus on the pediatric population. In October, I was given the opportunity to go to Chicago and do a poster presentation on my research at the AACAP meeting – an annual global conference for health professionals specializing in child and adolescents mental health. The conference coincided with the Chicago Marathon, and I obviously could not resist starting the week off by running the race. The following text is a blog post that came to me during those 26.1 miles, and I wrote it before I fell asleep that same night. Enjoy!

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint” is a saying that is often used. I can still remember when I heard it for the first time. I had just started Medical School and we’d been handed our new white coats and personally engraved stethoscopes. We were sat in the huge anatomy lecture theatre listening to one of our most experienced and kind hearted professors giving her best advice. “Look to your right, and look at your left..” she said.. “one out of the three of you will fail medical school. Don’t let it be you!! Remember, being a doctor is a marathon and not sprint, and you will need to last to the finish line”. It was a sound advice, but difficult to absorb in the moment.

I have however, later on in life often reflected on these very words and how much truth there actually is to it. There are many parallels between a marathon race and life. When you run 42195 meters, and trying to do it as fast as you can, you will go through high highs and low lows. There will be moments when you will feel like you are flying high above the sky, high on endorphins. And there will be moments when you cry out loud of pain, ready to pull a DNF. The margins are always thin.

For me, being a medical student and a foundation doctor was very much like that, and I can imagine it being the same for many of my colleagues. I specifically remember a four month long surgical rotation during the foundation years being especially tough. I look back at that time as my lowest low, and the time when I was closest to pulling a DNF. This makes it even more remarkable that I can identify a memory from this very time when I suddenly realized what I wanted to do with my life.

There was a consultant surgeon who did not have his own team but relied on foundation doctors to take it in turns to help him out. I spent one week following him around the hospital, and one day we were walking to a ward on the opposite side of the hospital for a consultation. This opened up for some unexpected small talk, and the surgeon asked me what specialty training I was hoping to go in to. I can only imagine him expecting me to answer that I obviously aspired to become a well-known surgeon but I am neither that good a lying nor was I that quick to realize what I was expected to say.. Instead, I started to tell him all my thoughts about the challenges that health care systems battle in the western world.. I reflected on preventative illnesses being the biggest killers of today, and that much can be achieved by promoting and educating healthy lifestyle choices. I carried on by explain to him the theory of the “laffer curve”. In short, this is curve used in economics and describes the relationship between tax rates and total tax revenue, with an optimal rate maximizing total government tax revenue. Measuring the elasticity of income to find the optimal tax rate is a theory that can be compared to healthcare systems and society. I.e. the peak of the curve corresponds to the optimal health care system.

I had lost the surgeons interest a long time ago, but I carried on my monologue. I was talking about how the western world is becoming more and more sedentary and that the human body is not built for sitting still, and reflected on the consequences this has on health. “So..” I said “..I want to focus my medical career on promoting physical activity for children, because I believe that this is where we can achieve the greatest health benefits.” I realized that the consultant surgeon had been given a much longer answer than what he had asked for, and probably one that he did not approve of. I don't remember what he said to me, but I do remember that I suddenly realized for myself what I wanted to do. I just did not know how to.

If the surgical rotation during my foundation years can be compared to being close to pulling out of a marathon race, then the opportunity to go to Chicago and the AACAP conference to share my thoughts on physical activity and children’s health AND running the Chicago Marathon, can be compared to the feeling of flying high above the clouds.

”If you’re losing faith in human nature, go out watch a marathon.”

I had been told that I needed to be at the race area by 5:30 am on the Sunday morning and the receptionist at the hotel had warned me for heavy traffic and said that it would take me a minimum of an hour to get to Grant Park, so I had booked a cab for 4:30am. It took me 12 minutes. I was jetlagged and wide awake, but it was pitched dark and freezing cold. The driver had let me out a couple of blocks from the park, and I was walking down Michigan Avenue wondering where the other 42000 runners were. I saw a couple of homeless people sleeping on the streets and some security men who were blocking off the roads from traffic. I asked one of them for directions and continued walking, trying to keep warm. After a while, I finally saw another person who looked as if he were there to take part in the race. He was wearing running gear and had the same see-through plastic bag that I myself was carrying. We started talking and it turned out that he had also been told to be at the race area early. We kept each other company and together we finally found where we were supposed to be. It was a high security area and it felt like walking through customs at an airport. The idea of metal detectors, heavily armed security guards and tickets to be able to enter the area was a bit daunting. It made me think of what my mum had said to me before leaving: “ careful, remember that there are crazy people doing crazy things”. It had not occurred to me that running a marathon could be dangerous, but I suddenly remembered the horrible events at the Boston Marathon a couple of years ago and it made me scared. I was also told that I could not run with my Camelbak as I had planned to. Yet again, a security measure that should not have to be necessary.

Another remarkable thing were the mountains of clothes that decorated the corrals. I had bought a cheap and ugly beanie and was wearing an old anorak which I put to the collection. They had kept me warm in the freezing hours but I had no longer any use for them. Later on, I found out that all these clothes were collected and given to the homeless people of Chicago. I absolutely love this gesture, but it also breaks my heart to think that there is a need for it.

Did I mention the sunrise? It can only be described as “magical”. Suddenly, the tremendous skyline of Chicago broke out of the pitch dark and I have never felt so small. Standing there together with 42000 runners waiting for the start, while listening to the American National Anthem was incredibly powerful.

That running would be an individual sport is a myth. A marathon is, if anything, a platform for solidarity and community. It is a journey of 42195 meters full of cheering, high fives and patches on the back. I was wearing a Sweden top and spent a large part of the race sick sacking to all the people on the sidelines who were waving the Swedish flag. ”Heja Sverige!” and ”Let’s go Sweden!” were some of the cheers that I heard people yelling.

Similar to most marathon races, there were people out and about with funny and ingenious signs and rows of children giving high 5’s. I even got a high 5 by a nun who was standing outside a church cheering.

Running the Chicago Marathon was an incredible way of getting to know the city and its citizens. The race took us around multiple communities, each providing its own unique style and charm - greektown, Chinatown, Chicago River, Old Town and Goose Island, the business quarters and little Italy, to mention a few.

I ran the entire race worrying that I was going to fast. I had deliberately put myself at the very back of my corral with the intentions of waiting for the 3:50 pacers from the corral behind me. For each mile that went past I realized that I was running to fast and tried to slow down a bit. I was worried that I would not be able to keep going all the way until the finish line. I kept trying to slow down but the pacers never came. And I kept going all the way. I got in at 3:45; a new personal record by 14 minutes and with that I had cut 25 minutes in a year. And, with an incredible feeling in my body! When I think back at the race, I can still feel the endorphins and experience the highs.

It was not a clear choice to study to become a doctor. And it was not a clear choice to specialize in child and adolescents mental health. However, when I look back at my choices and reflect on my journey so far I can not stop wondering if perhaps this is the path I am meant to go?

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Lotta Kockum

Leg Specialistläkare från Stockholm

Mina discipliner
Traillöpning 10 km Halvmaraton Maraton

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