After graduating from medical school or completing their residencies, it’s not uncommon for new physicians to treat themselves to that new car they worked so hard for. Or finally take that trip to a destination they haven’t had time to visit. For Dr. Autumn Ray, all she wanted – was a treadmill.
So, she bought it.
It wasn’t so she could be sure to get in a little exercise during her busy days as an emergency physician at TMC. It was so she could continue to train for marathons during the hot summer months in Tucson’s triple-digit heat.
The 34-year-old was a triathlete for many years and transitioned to marathons when she started medical school. “I run marathons because I consider myself slow,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of great underlying speed, but I can go long distances. The longer I go, the better I seem to do.”
And boy has she done well.
The St. Louis Marathon she won in April 2013 marked her fifth marathon win, with a time of 2 hours, 51 minutes. Her best time so far is 2 hours, 49 minutes. Translation: six-and-a-half-minute miles.
But she’s not satisfied with that.
Dr. Ray has her sights set on the 2016 Olympics in Rio. In order to qualify for the Olympic trials, she needs to shave six minutes off her fastest time and finish in 2 hours, 43 minutes. That’s six-minute, 13-second miles. She has three qualifying races to improve her time between now and February 2016, when the trials are held in Los Angeles. “I’m not getting any younger, and I don’t have a lot of shots left,” she said. Dr. Ray runs between 80 and 100 miles a week during marathon training, and often envisions herself at the trials when she’s trying to get through some especially tough workouts.
While the pressure of Olympic training is enormous, running has also provided her with an outlet that she said – without a doubt – helped her survive medical school and residency. She often woke up at 3 a.m. just to have what she calls “her hour of the day.” Her hour where she didn’t have to be on somebody else’s schedule. Her hour to spend doing whatever she wanted. And oftentimes, it was running. Even now, she says running helps her deal with the stress of being an emergency room physician. “I like to go out and turn off the world and push my body,” she said. “I love just exploring on foot for a couple hours.”
Dr. Ray doesn’t consider herself genetically gifted or ultra talented, rather she credits her solid work ethic and ability to make really hard choices for her success. Her family remains her biggest cheerleaders. “When I go visit my family in Florida, my mom gets up with me at 5 a.m. and drives around to make sure I have enough water,” she laughed.
She was self-coached until a year ago when she started training with a running coach and a group of elite runners who are just as dedicated – and just as fast – as she is. They’re also shooting for the Olympic trials. Their physical and emotional journey is detailed at sonorandistanceproject.com.