Isobelle Smith | Doctor | Runner
Running feels just as much a part of my identity as being a doctor or even my gender or nationality. The way I talk about running you’d think I was a sub 3-hour marathoner, who regularly podiums at events. I’m not. Not even close.
I haven’t always been a runner. I was alright at cross-country when I was little, but then gymnastics took over my life until my mid teen years.
Gymnastics was all about short sharp bursts of power and required a lot of mental toughness, but physically was not ideal for long distance running.
Fast forward to 19 year old Izzy. She started medical school and learnt what anxiety was for the first time and started using running as an outlet. This was mainly on treadmills and to be honest for the first few years was a bit of a love/hate relationship because I looked at it as a way to burn calories. Most would agree that being corrupted by diet culture and thinking about burning calories is generally a negative thought process which made it hard not to draw negative associations with running too.
However thankfully all of that changed in 2012 when I did my first Point to Pinnacle. For those who don’t know it, Point to Pinnacle is a half marathon up Mt Wellington with a total 1270 meters elevation. Essentially, it’s a half marathon entirely up-hill on a chilly, foggy windy Tasmanian spring day.
This was the first time I properly trained for an event, trained with other runners, and the first time I raised money for Movember in memory of my Dad who died of cancer (something I now do every year). The event itself was amazing. Cheesy signs, cheering, a top 20 finish and that addictive first hit of crossing the line knowing you gave it your absolute all.
In the years following this I was still at University, had the luxury of time and essentially no real responsibilities beyond myself. I joined a run group and really started to amp up my training. In my last year of University I was getting alright for a rookie with a few top ten finishes in local events and a 1.35 half marathon.
Then disaster struck. I became a doctor and any life balance went out the window. Hello 14-hour shifts, never getting to run group, stress eating endless Tim Tams in the doctor’s quarters, followed by red wine when I got home. Unsurprisingly my fitness levels and training regime nose-dived. I was so disheartened that my new lifestyle wasn’t allowing me to be the runner I had been, I essentially stopped altogether for a couple of years. The frustration of not feeling my previous fast agile self, meant running stopping bringing the joy and exhilaration it previously had, and instead just felt like another chore and stress to add to my already full plate.
A few years later I came back. I was older, wiser and accepted running had a different place in my life now. I accepted I might never be as fast as I previously was and that that OK. Running was no longer about placing in fun runs or destroying myself in speed sessions but rather an outlet to manage the stress of being a doctor, be alone in my thoughts and appreciate my health and strength.
I re-joined a run group and since then (2015) running has been a constant in my life and I now love running more than I ever have. I think this new found appreciation comes from the fact that working in oncology makes you acutely aware of your own mortality, which in turn makes you want to feel as alive as possible. Nothing does this more than the feeling of your heart racing, muscles burn and lungs screaming for air. I no longer think of these hard sessions as torture, but more of an exercise in gratitude of what my body is capable of.
At times I’ve felt it was almost embarrassing or a little childish the way I place such importance on running in my life and it’s sense of purpose (when I am not a professional), but the last couple of years working in oncology has taught me to embrace and be proud of this passion. At the end of the day we’re all going to die, so we may as well do the things we love. For me and many others that’s running, and that love is no more or less valid depending on one’s pace.
The benefits to my mental health are endless and I am quite sure I wouldn’t have got through various specialist exams and maintained my sanity, if it hadn’t been for running. My training now bends to adapt to my work commitments and I’m OK with that. If I am already mentally and physically stretched, a slow 8km is all need and once I’m a bit more freed up, speed work returns with a vengeance.
I have also recently discovered the wonder of the running community and will never not be in awe of the support, kindness and camaraderie that it offers to people across a broad range of backgrounds. As Eliud Kipchoge aptly said “The Running world is a peaceful world” and I think anyone who’s done a park run or volunteered at a major event can understand what he means.
I have been fortunate enough to volunteer as a medic at several major trail events like UTA100 and the mate-ship, kindness and Aussie grit that I love so much is reflected throughout these events. Receiving emails from runners to thank “the short blonde doctor” (no one remembers names after running 100km) for helping with an injury or making a crap situation a little less crap such as a DNF are moments I really cherish.
In terms of my current running, I recently had the fortune of completing the NYC marathon for Movember. NYC was bloody amazing and if you ever get the opportunity to do it you must, however, I happily admit I prefer trails and the trail running scene.
Being 5’3 with legs that leant to run via Tassie mountains, I love hills and being in the bush. Combining my gymnastics background, I have also started doing obstacle course racing and recently came 3rd in the Perth elite True Grit event.
I have learnt the hard way that as we age our bodies get injured much easier and as a result have started incorporating swimming and cycling into my training for injury prevention. I can hardly believe what I’m about to say and as a runner it almost feels like blasphemy - but I now really enjoy swimming and have signed up for my first half IM in 2020.
Undoubtedly there’ll be more on the agenda. I have ambitions to do a 100km event at some point and am aware they take a few years to build up to, so I don’t want to overdo it too soon. As I get older and wiser, I realise that running is a long game all about consistency and as such you don’t have to try and do everything at once.
I want to be running until I’m 90 and respecting and looking after our bodies is imperative to that. For the time being, whether it’s a 5km park run or a 50-miler trail, I’ll just keep enjoying the fresh air and be grateful for every step.