About Me

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Runner. Nerd. Relentless reader and documentary watcher. Beer, vodka, and wine lover. Marathoner. Studier. Music Snob. Traveler. Chocolate lab owner.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why I Run

I have no idea why I'm still running, but I do know why I started. My decision to start running was two-fold. It centered around my job, and my career goals. I'll elaborate a bit on both.

I work in the Cardiac Cath Lab at St Louis Children's Hospital. We treat children with heart defects (congenital and acquired) and arrythmias. I have countless stories of tragedy, and just as many of miracles. My pager has gone off at 3 am to save a child that's being airlifted from Oklahoma, we've had babies rushed the hospital next door immediately after their birth, and had children flown in from as far as Nepal to be treated by us. In short, my job is amazing, and I'm lucky to have it.

This is what I look like at work. We aren't usually hooked up to microphones, but this particular day we were broadcasting a live case to China. That's Dr B., one of the best Interventional Pediatric Cardiologists in the world. He sometimes babysits my dog, refers to me as his surrogate daughter, and calls me "Ash-Hole." He's a hell of a guy and one of my favorite people on the planet.

I've seen plenty of codes, but there's one that really stuck with me. In early Fall of 08 we had a young teenage boy that received a heart transplant as an infant, and was coming to the Cath Lab for his yearly biopsy. I was standing next to him holding his hand as the anesthesiologist was preparing to put him to sleep. I can't tell you why, but something about it didn't feel right. I went to one of our nurses and I said, "something isn't right here. That kid gave me a look like I was the last person he was ever going to see." She responded by saying, "Ash, what is wrong with you? You never get like this." She was right, I never get like that, but something had me very uneasy.

When we were done with the case I was standing next to him again as the anesthesiologist was waiting to pull out his breathing tube. Again, I just didn't feel right. I looked at his monitors and saw that everything was fine. I looked back at the patient and said to the anesthesiologist, "he just doesn't look right." As soon as the words came out of my mouth is ECG flat lined and blood started shooting out of his breathing tube.
We immediately started chest compressions, coded him for a couple of hours, and ended up bringing in the surgeons to open his chest and perform surgery right there in the Cath Lab. When codes are going on it's my job to run around and grab whatever supplies the doctors are calling for, assist with compressions, hand off drugs from the pharmacist, hook up drips, prepare equipment, page specialists, etc. My hands were shaking so bad I could barely manage to open sterile supplies.

Another nurse said, "Ashley, what is wrong with you? Your whole body is shaking. You act like this is your first time." This may sound bad, but try to understand: I'm good at what I do because I can watch a child dying and still keep a clear mind and a steady hand. In order to be good at my job I have to be that way. You can't save a life if you're too frantic to hang an IV bag. That doesn't mean that I don't freak out a little once it's all over, because sometimes I do. That doesn't mean it doesn't affect me, because it always does. Regardless, I have to keep my cool in the heat of the moment.

With this kid, I had a really hard time keeping my head on straight. He was put on the transplant list, and luckily received his new heart within a couple of weeks. At his first post-transplant checkup, he came in the room, saw me, and said, "you're the one that saw me die." He comes back often for his post-transplant checkups and refuses to come in on a day that I am not working.

Very cool news stories done on our patients:
Dream Catcher
Camp Rhythm

Work isn't always crazy. Sometimes we have no cases and I get to play HORSE with the docs.

Yes, I shoot like a girl.
Sometimes I even get to put my feet up.

In terms of the things I have seen, that day was very mild. In terms of emotions, that day was off the charts. I'm normally very calm, collected, and low-anxiety. I left that day feeling very guilty. Here's this teenage boy that should be trying out for high school sports and helping his family on the farm, instead he's fighting for his life. Here I am, perfectly healthy and not doing anything to take care of myself.

That very day I decided that it was unacceptable for me to have a perfectly healthy heart and take it for granted. I was always an athlete, but I never worked out without a reason. I played soccer, swam and cheered, but outside of practice I didn't do anything extra. Once I got to college, I rarely, if ever, worked out. I'm not lazy, I just tend to get bored.

I started working with a trainer just to get in the zone. At the start, I had no plans of running.
At some point, I decided that as a 23 year old, I should be able to run a 5K. I started forcing myself to run and I hated every second of it. I couldn't even run the entirety of my first "race." That was two years ago this month. I ran another one a month later and I was able to run the whole thing, but I still didn't like it. I ran every now and then, just because it was a good way to exercise when I wasn't with my trainer.


The reason I decided to start distance running has everything to do with my educational and career goals. I graduated from Iowa State with a degree in Biology and Psychology in '07, and started working at SLCH in '08. I have been working as a Cath Lab Tech since then. I eventually want to work as a nurse in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at SLCH. That's where many of our patients come from, and they are the sickest kids in the hospital. Working at SLCH is very good experience for me, and a great way to get my foot in the door. I was offered higher paying jobs with better hours (no 3 am pager calls!), where I would actually get to use the B.S. I worked for. I turned them down in lieu of the Cath Lab experience, because I knew that it would be better for my future as a nurse.

I was accepted to start nursing school in September of 09. I had a few pre-requisite courses that I needed to take, so I worked full time and took 8 credit hours in the Fall, Spring, and Summer until school started the next year. I have always been lucky that school has never been a struggle for me. I had 14 absences in first trimester of Senior year alone and still managed to graduate as a Salutatorian. It just wasn't that difficult for me. Again, I'm not lazy, I just get bored.

Becoming a nurse was really important to me, and something that I had been heading towards for a while. By the time Spring of 09 rolled around I was incredibly frustrated. It still seemed like it was so far away, and I wasn't accomplishing anything. Work was going well, but there was no room for advancement until I become a nurse.
I couldn't do anything to advance my education other than sit and wait for nursing courses to begin. I was just taking my mandatory prereqs at a Community College. I never had to do homework or study. I just showed up on test day.

I had started to feel really worthless. I knew needed to find a goal that I had to really work for.
I had still been working out with my trainer, but not towards anything specific. We were working together just to keep me in good shape. I heard about some friends that had ran a half marathon, and that's when it clicked. It was March, and I knew if I trained that I could do it by July if I wanted to. I chose to do it because I knew it would be really hard for me. I needed a challenge. I needed to work my ass off for something. Not only would it be a physical challenge, but for someone like me who bores easily, training for and running 13.1 (don't forget the .1!) miles would be an enormous mental challenge.

That first half (Joker's Wild at Westport) was pretty miserable. The course was terrible. Straight uphill, straight downhill, repeat. After that, I didn't run again for months. Eventually, I ended up coming full circle. A year later, I knew some girls that needed another person for a relay, so I agreed to join their team. It turns out they were running the Joker's Wild, the race that I vowed to never run again. I actually enjoyed it this time around, despite being late, the heat, the storm, and the ex encounter. I ran my second individual half a month after.
Somewhere in this dust, one of our teammates was still running.

The weather at the Joker's Wild. This was shortly after a tree came down on the mile 10 aid station.

My running career is still in its infancy. I've only got 3 half marathons under my belt, a couple 10Ks, a few 5Ks and my first marathon is quickly approaching. I have no idea why I keep upping the ante, but I do know that I won't stop. Even when those days come that I don't want to run, I always manage to pull myself out of the slump. Even if I don't always appreciate the challenge, I have accepted that I need the challenge. Unlike most things, running isn't easy for me, but it's not supposed to be.

We all have different motivation that works for us. I ran across the quote
"I run because I can. When I get tired, I remember those who can't run, what they'd give to have this simple gift I take for granted, and I run harder for them." That one really hits home for me. That's the reason I started.

I may not run fast, I may not run well, and I certainly may not always enjoy it, but I will always run with heart.


  1. Very eloquently put Ashley. You have taught us all a wonderful lesson. This story touched me. God bless :)

  2. I love this, Ashley. We all run for such different reasons...and every reason as just as important as the last.

    "I run because I can. When I get tired, I remember those who can't run, what they'd give to have this simple gift I take for granted, and I run harder for them." - what a beautiful quote.

    I'm honored to have you as my running buddy!

  3. Great post. One of the best I have read in a while. Thank you for sharing your story.