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On the Run: Gabriela Hobbs, MD

March 22, 2024

April 2024

Gabriela Hobbs, MD, describes the rewards of running and how marathons became part of her life. 

Linda Kossoff

Linda Kossoff is a medical writer and editor based in Los Angeles, California.

Keywords:

Gabriela Hobbs, MDDr. Hobbs is a hematologist/oncologist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. She also serves as the myeloproliferative neoplasms service director and clinical director of leukemia service at Massachusetts General Hospital.

 

 

When and where did you develop an interest in running, and how did it evolve into marathon running in particular?

I was part of a high school track-and-field group in Mexico City, where I grew up. I started running with my best friend. I remember my track days very fondly. After moving to the U.S., I ran on and off throughout my medical training.

Fast-forward a few years and, after I had my second child, I started to really get back into running. There is a nursing-led organization at MGH [Massachusetts General Hospital] called Caring for a Cure, and they have about 10 spots per year for charity runners to run the Boston Marathon, which is 26.2 miles. I slowly started building up my miles, then applied to run the 2020 marathon for the organization. But 2020 was not an average year because of COVID, and the marathon was declared a virtual race. I was running on behalf of one of my dearest patients who had endured so much during his illness, and I felt that if he never gave up, the least I could do was run this race for him as I promised I would.

Around that time, a work friend, breast oncologist Amy Comander, MD, was already running the Boston Marathon every year. She suggested we do our training runs together to get us ready for the virtual race. Little did I know that this simple act of friendship would transform my life. Running became my outlet outside of the COVID chaos of working and sharing a space with young children (and cats) in the background of all my Zoom calls. By the time of the virtual marathon, running most days of the week and long runs on the weekends had become ingrained into my routine and identity.

When did you run your first nonvirtual marathon?

It was the 2021 Boston Marathon. Although the virtual marathon was a fun experience, the 2021 marathon was incredible and so different! I had no idea what an incredible experience it would be to have people cheering from Hopkinton (at the start of the race) and through the famous Wellesley scream tunnel where the undergrads come out in force to cheer; or how emotional I would get when I spotted my little kids and husband cheering for me and saw the people I knew along Heartbreak Hill, including a group of female work colleagues from the Women in Oncology group. Lastly, there was the thrill of running the last third of a mile down Boylston toward the iconic finish line. I dedicated the run to the incredible nurses of Caring for a Cure, which was especially meaningful because of the pandemic. I was also finally able to test what it was like to run “faster” for a race, proving to myself that I could do this. Finally, I was just so thankful to run this famous course that I had been training for since 2019!

Dr. Hobbs and the patient she was running for (top left) pose with nurses from Caring for a Cure at the Boston Marathon finish line.
Dr. Hobbs and the patient she was running for (top left) pose
with nurses from Caring for a Cure at the Boston Marathon finish line.
 

How do you train for a marathon?

I generally follow a plan. I am a type A completionist, so I enjoy having a plan for racing almost more than the race itself. One challenging aspect of training is the time commitment because the runs get progressively longer. I’ll never forget the time my good friend Anna and I ran 20 miles before 8:00 a.m. rounds started. The run ended at the hospital, where I showered, then sat like a zombie trying to revive myself and pay attention in rounds. I’m pretty sure the residents thought I had lost my mind.

How does running fit into your daily life?

I try to run about five times a week. When I’m not running, I’m usually thinking about it! Running is an activity I love doing both alone and with friends. One of my favorite dates is running with my husband, especially on a trail or for a speed workout on a track.

In what ways has running benefited you personally?

First, the obvious: It’s a great way to exercise. I love starting my day with running. There is something very therapeutic about watching the sun rise while I run in the quiet hours of the morning, clear my thoughts, and get ready for the day. I love meeting Anna for a run. The two of us have run together for several years now, and our time before work helps us both talk through issues, both big and small, as we run. Running friendships are unique, not just because we runners have so much dedicated time to get to know each other while we run, but there isn’t another time in a working adult’s life to really challenge oneself physically and with a friend. The sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that comes from this is incredible. Especially for working physicians who are parents, the time away from the responsibilities of work and children is incredible for both mental and physical health.

After a hard run with Anna, I feel like I have this secret accomplishment fueling me throughout the day, and I’m better able to handle challenges. For me, running is like therapy and meditation combined. It’s also a huge part of my social life. I always joke that I would much rather meet a friend for a run at 5:00 a.m. than get a drink or dinner at 5:00 p.m.!

Dr. Hobbs (right) celebrates completing the 2023 Boston Marathon with friend and frequent running buddy Anna.
Dr. Hobbs (right) celebrates
completing the 2023 Boston
Marathon with friend and frequent
running buddy Anna.

How does running benefit your medical practice and vice-versa?

Running marathons for Caring for a Cure has been a very special way for work and running to converge, and I have run several of them. It is incredibly meaningful to run for patients and the nurses of the leukemia and bone marrow transplant service. Running for Caring for a Cure adds a more personal level of involvement to the care I give my patients and makes my work in the hospital feel more meaningful. I feel like I’m a better doctor for helping my patients not just while they are under my care in the hospital but also through their journey with cancer after they leave, thanks to the support they receive from Caring for a Cure.

What would you like your hematology colleagues to know about your passion?

I think many clinicians feel like life is too busy to run or exercise, but I strongly believe that we are better doctors (and parents and partners) when we take time out of our days to truly care for ourselves first. Many people find this advice difficult to follow because they think they need to commit hours of time to such care. Fortunately, not everyone needs to run (or to run marathons), but everyone has 20 to 30 minutes that they can carve out to exercise a few times a week. My marathon journey started with a 10-minute walk/run routine that ultimately turned into 26.2 miles. So if I could do it, why not you?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

 

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