I’ve run three marathons in my life (when I was younger). My first marathon was my best (Chicago in 2003). I had a game plan. I followed a prescribed training regimen. I followed the outlined runs religiously—despite the weather, small injuries, my work schedule, and time for my family. I kept going—the short runs, the cross training, the long runs, and then finally the “taper.”
The marathon went really well! I loved the crowds, I kept my mile-pace, I met my goals. The feeling at the finish was like no other—a real sense of accomplishment (even better than graduating from dental school, believe it or not).
My second marathon was in New York City a year later. This time around I trained better, I trained harder, I felt better prepared. On a cool November day in 2004, 36,000 runners gathered in Staten Island for staggered starts. Thousands of us set off in waves across both spans of the bridge. I could have sworn I felt the bridge moving to the slap-slap of shoes hitting the pavement. A fire-rescue boat shot rainbow-tinged plumes of water into the air under the bridge, the sky-scrapers of Manhattan in the distance. I went out faster than my regular pace, spurred on by fellow runners, the crowds, and the temptation of a “personal best.” And then coming over the Queensboro Bridge I felt a twinge, a twinge in my hamstring. The twinge turned into a toe-curling cramp that stopped me in my tracks. Aspirations, expectations turned to disappointment. Each mile was run, cramp, stop, stretch, walk, run-repeat. I was impatient, I wanted to quit. But then I remembered my wife and sons were waiting for me in Central Park. I remembered “Rich” whose name was inscribed on my shirt (Rich was a young periodontal educator and one of my dear colleagues who passed away tragically earlier that year). I picked up the pieces and went on. I made it to Central Park—joyful to see my family. I made it to the finish line. We will all make it to the finish line.
I mentioned at my leadership team meeting last week that we are in a “marathon” not a “sprint.” We are running a marathon with the COVID-19 pandemic and there are some differences and some similarities to a regular marathon. First of all, we haven’t had a chance to train for this event. There are no roadmaps, no regimens, no guides. We want the answers but they are hard to come by. We want clarity and resolution but none of us have dealt with a challenge like the one we are facing now. During a real marathon, in the first mile there is the “tendency” to go out strong—to want get to the finish, to get that “personal” best. With the current situation, we want our seniors (DMD and residents) to finish on time. Faculty are doing everything they can to gauge competencies in a shortened clinical year. They have a plan. Yet we await national guidance. We want to see our patients and to care for them. We search for new protocols and guidelines for practice. Yet we wait for new practice and infection control guidelines. We project, make plans, start to execute and then are presented with a new paradigm and we start over. We have only run the first mile. The problem we find ourselves in is that that there are still 25.2 miles to run, and around each corner, over each hill, over each bridge there are more unanticipated challenges. So, let’s keep the next 25.2 miles in perspective. One mile at a time, some stops, some starts. Always onward. I made it to the finish line. We will all make it to the finish line.
I remain inspired by all of your contributions (faculty, staff, students and residents) during this unprecedented time.
P.S. My last marathon was Boston in 2005. I finished.