MSTPastimes: Joey Elsakr Qualified for Marathon US Olympic Trials
Recently MSTP student Joey Elsakr (G5) qualified for the Marathon US Olympic Trials! We asked him to speak with us about this MSTPastime. Good luck to Joey at the Olympic Trials race in Atlanta, GA on February 29, 2020!
When did you start running? What made you decide to start running? What led you to keep running over the years?
I started running right before high school when my best friend and neighbor invited me to come run with him and his dad. Then the same friend convinced me to try cross country my freshman year so I did that and loved it. By my senior year of high school I was getting pretty serious about it and wanted to run in college. Unfortunately I wasn’t that fast, so I trained mostly solo my freshman year of college and improved a good bit, then walked on to my college team as a sophomore. Sometime during college I realized I loved running and improving for its own sake, whether I was doing that on a team or by myself. So I kept it up in med/grad school and ran my first marathon as an M2 which went really well. As someone who has zero sprinting speed but reasonably good endurance, the marathon is where I do best. So it’s been fun training mostly for the marathon over the past several years and seeing some nice improvement.
Do you see any parallels between running and being a MSTP student?
Absolutely. The marathon is all about being patient and knowing how to play the long game. Training for the marathon is a six-month-long buildup that all culminates in one day. But even on race day, you’ve got to be patient and level-headed, and only really turn it on when it matters (i.e. after mile 20!). I think that’s a lot like being an MSTP student. It’s a long process and you’ve got to take both the highs and lows in stride. In both cases, consistent hard work will produce results. Even though it’ll probably be a bumpy ride.
What have you learned from your experience? Will you carry any of it forward, if so, why?When I reflect on the various aspects on my life, there aren’t many areas where I can honestly assess my performance and say “I did that really, really well”. But running is an exception. I’ve wanted to qualify for the trials since roughly 2014. Since then, I’ve put in thousands of miles, dealt with injuries that included hours of cross training, chosen sleep over social activities, and basically done everything I can to improve. Even if I hadn’t qualified (I only made it by 3 seconds, after all!), there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that you really gave something your best. Now that I’ve gotten to experience how that feels with running, I really want to apply it to other, more important areas of life. It would be great to reflect on my career as a physician scientist one day and say, “I really gave that my best.” Because that’s a great feeling.
How are you training for the trials in February? What have you learnt from this experience? The good, the bad and the ugly?
It’s kind of an interesting feeling accomplishing this huge goal and then basically going right back to work a few days later. I’m going to train very hard and do as well as I can at the trials, but in a sense it’s way lower pressure even though it’ll be the most competitive race I’ve ever run in. The trials course in Atlanta is hilly, so over the next few months I’ll be doing a lot of longer runs over rolling hills, as well as some hill repeats and other things to get my legs used to the pounding of going up and down hills for 26.2. Overall, I’ve learned a few things from this experience. One is the value of working hard and doing something as well as you can as described above. Another thing I’ve come to realize is how much help I’ve gotten from so many people. Running competitively is kind of a selfish endeavor. I’ve gotten tremendous support from my family, my girlfriend Dr. Jennifer, friends, coaches, training partners, doctors, physical therapists, etc. So I’ve learned to be grateful–to God for the ability and also the fact that running is a real thing that we get to do, and to all the people who’ve helped me get here. As for “the ugly” I’m not sure, but some of the photos of me running at the end of the race look pretty bad 🙂.