Hi everyone! I’m Rozlyn-everyone calls me Roz-and I’m so happy to be joining the RLAG community as a Street Ambassador! I’m an MD/PhD student at UBC, former varsity soccer student athlete, and long-distance runner. I’m originally from Edmonton, AB, but completed my undergraduate degree at Carleton University in Ottawa and have been living in Vancouver since 2015. I have been running for as long as I can remember, but I played competitive soccer for the majority of my youth and through university so only started running more seriously in the last few years. It is so inspiring to be joining a community of well-rounded, fearless like-minded runners showing girls, women, transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals that we are not limited by social constructs of career trajectories, societal views on what women are capable of, or gender stereotypes! We are living in unprecedented and uncertain times (in many ways), and I have found that our current circumstances have forced me to try new things; pause and reflect on my subconscious biases, goals, and values in life; and re-discover my love of running. I hope you are all staying safe, healthy, and finding some joy despite the ups and downs of day-to-day life as we all try to find a new “normal”. I know I have certainly felt the gamut of emotions on this roller-coaster that has been 2020 so far, especially with respect to running. Everyone’s experience has been unique and every response to the current situation-whether it be to take a break from running altogether or to try to get every Strava CR you can-is valid, but I thought I’d share a few of my experiences in case you can relate or just want a break from your own! Sorry in advance for the long post, but you will find as you get to know me that I am a wordy girl when it comes to writing!
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I was in the midst of writing my PhD thesis and preparing to return to medical school after taking a 3-year hiatus to complete my PhD. (The MD/PhD program at UBC is structured so that you start by completing 2 years of lecture-based learning in medical school and then do your PhD (which typically takes 3-5 years) before going back to finish the final 2 years of medical school in clinical rotations at various hospitals around the Vancouver area.) I was also training for the Boston marathon, doing everything I could to meet my goal of running under 3 hours. The plan had been in the works since last fall, after qualifying for Boston in May at the 2019 BMO Vancouver marathon-my first marathon ever-and while preparing for my second marathon-a last-minute opportunity to run as an elite at the Shanghai International Marathon in November 2019. It was a whirlwind fall filled with experiences that one might expect to see only in the movies, and I was hungry to see where else around the world running could take me. I found a coach and joined a running group to help push me and stay motivated. I felt a sense of urgency, as the last two years of medical school are notoriously grueling and jam-packed with clinical work that doesn’t leave much time for long runs or serious marathon training. I felt like Boston was my last chance for the foreseeable future to run sub-3 hours and prove to myself that I could achieve this ambitious goal if I put my mind to it. I was energized by my busy schedule and the possibility of taking my running to the next level; focused and all-in. Little did I know that the few cases of a “new flu virus in Wuhan” that made it into the news in October 2019 would lead to where we are today-or just how lucky I was to race in Shanghai in November (see previous blog post about the experience: https://bmovanmarathon.ca/top-canadian-finishers-travel-to-china-for-shanghai-marathon/2019/12).
When the number of Covid-19 cases first started increasing in BC in March and UBC moved to remote work, I felt for my clinical colleagues and fellow graduate students who had clinical placements prematurely curtailed and long-term experiments interrupted, respectively. I was lucky in that I was already doing a lot of my writing from home and the transition to remote work was relatively seamless for me. Working full-time from home also provided me with more flexibility in my training schedule, which I was grateful for at the time-if not a little naïve to think that April races would still go ahead despite the beginning of all the race cancellations. I wasn’t able to see my physio or RMT for some ongoing injuries anymore, so started doing daily yoga (which is something I never envisioned that I’d ever do but highly recommend!) to help with strength, flexibility, and stress.
When we first received the news that the Boston marathon was postponed, I was devastated. All that hard training, and the heart and soul that had already gone into preparing for the race felt like it was for nothing-and I wondered whether I would ever have the opportunity or chance to run at a high level again given the uncertainty of the future. I took a couple of weeks off from rigid training and just ran hard-I was de-motivated and felt like I was floundering, but still found that I turned to running as a way to de-stress, feel normal, and find calm. I was also disappointed that group workouts had been cancelled and I didn’t know when I would see all the new running friends I had made again-if ever-before medical school started again. I’d be starting school on a rural rotation outside of Vancouver, so it was unlikely I’d be able to join group runs once it started. All of this was compounded by the fact I was also unsure of if or when I would be able to return to lab work and see all my lab friends and colleagues to say goodbye before leaving for med school. I was being dramatic, of course, and my concerns were trivial compared to what was going on in the world-I knew this, but at the same time couldn’t help but feel the way that I did.
After getting over the initial shock, taking it in, and looking at my schedule again, I realized I was catastrophizing. I’m an MD/PhD student and long-distance runner; in the words of my program director, I’m becoming an expert in delayed gratification! I know I’m not the first to draw the analogy, but marathon training is like life; the greatest personal growth often comes not from when things are going well, but from how you handle the obstacles and challenges during training, and what you often remember most is the journey and not the outcome. This is a marathon not a sprint. Change is stressful, and while I eventually adjust after periods of change, I personally find that it always takes me a bit of time to wrap my head around big life events and changes. I also find that having goals and keeping busy helps provide structure and meaning to day-to-day life. Realistically, while it was disappointing that Boston wouldn’t happen as I initially expected, a September race would likely still be possible for me to complete. I talked with my coach and we re-grouped to plan for a fall race. I kept busy with thesis writing and preparing for my defense and then virtually defended my PhD in May. Although my defense definitely didn’t happen as I thought it would either and I would have liked to have been able to celebrate with my fellow grad students and lab colleagues, it was an exciting time and I was feeling ready for a hard summer training season.
Just a couple of weeks after defending my thesis, the dreaded news that Boston was cancelled hit my inbox at the end of May. I was again disappointed and knew that running a 2021 Boston was likely not in the cards for me; it just wasn’t practical to think that I could train properly for a spring race given my upcoming medical school schedule. Perhaps I knew on some level that this was coming and that this was the right thing to do for the health and safety of everyone, but I was still surprised by how I took this news in stride. I remember telling my coach at the start of the pandemic that I would never consider running a virtual marathon, thinking it would just be too difficult to motivate myself and mentally be ready to PB without the race-day environment. But with Boston 2020 now happening only virtually, and the fate of the few fall races left on the calendar in Canada uncertain, I was facing the very real possibility of either having to give up on getting my sub-3hr marathon in 2020 or racing it virtually. Everyone draws motivation for running from different sources and is driven by different factors, but facing this decision really forced me to turn inwards and think about why I was so determined to race under 3 hours, and why I felt such a deep desire and urgency to achieve this goal before starting medical school. What were my reasons for running? Why did I feel I needed a certain race time to feel accomplished? Are my motivations purely personal or was there also a larger reason I was doing this? During this time, I found that listening to podcasts and reading blogs from elite runners-especially after the US Olympic Trials-was helpful in reframing the situation and thinking about my values and purpose for running.
We all have different answers to these questions and I’ll just share a few highlights here, but over the past couple of months, I have realized that both personal and larger reasons motivate me to lace up and get out the door. As someone who has participated in competitive sports since before I can remember, I have learned that I am deeply driven by competition. I think one of the reasons for this is that I don’t feel like I have to hold back when I’m competing; I can be fearless-especially in team sports when the performance feels like it is part of something bigger, representing a larger group and community. Doing well at sports and the tight-knit communities and friendships formed through working towards common goals adds meaning to the work and gives me a sense of confidence, and I think this is partly why I wanted to show myself that I could run under 3 hours if I put my mind to it. I wanted to start my final segment of medical school feeling strong and confident, since I know that clinical clerkships can be very draining and at times disheartening. And I also wanted to benchmark my fitness after all the work I have put into training this year, to see just how far I could go with a single training cycle and use this to set future running goals. I wanted to know that there was a future for my marathon running career, even if it has to go on pause or be focused more on shorter distances while I finish my education. Having experienced all the ups and downs of this year so far, I have come around to accepting that being a runner doesn’t necessarily mean having a race on the calendar and training hard all the time. Sometimes it is nice-and even liberating-to just go for an easy run by feel without a watch, take a break from Strava and stop comparing ourselves to others, and to remember what it is that drew us to running in the first place and re-learn why we love it so much.
As women, I think we often feel that we have to quell our ambitions or hide our successes to fit in or to have other people like us, whereas men are celebrated when they have ambitious goals and achieve high levels of success. Stereotypes and prejudices against women in both sport and science are pervasive, and the imposter syndrome women often feel after achieving success in these areas is something I am deeply familiar with and work to challenge every day-especially as a shy introvert! In order for young women and girls to dream big, they need to know what is possible and to see themselves reflected in other women in these roles. Every one of us is unique and there are no “cookie-cutter” women in science or athletics. This is why I am so honoured and excited to be partnering with RLAG and to be joining your community! Let’s run fearlessly together to represent and increase the visibility of all women!
After all of these thoughts (thanks for staying with me!), I have decided to train to race a virtual Boston marathon in early September. Please join me as I document my training journey and feel free to reach out about anything running, life, or MD/PhD-related! I look forward to connecting with all of you and helping to uplift other female role models. I hope that together we can act as a source of inspiration for each other and for other women and girls. Let’s show them that adversity can be used as a source of strength and that we should never be afraid to be fearless, set ambitious goals, and reach for the stars!
Until next time!
Instagram and twitter: @rozzy_tb