I get asked this question often, usually by my mom, but also by friends who aren't spending every free second of time biking or running. My reason right now is that it keeps me going through medical school. Racing is my alter-ego; it's my secret that not many people in the doctoring world know or care about. Sometimes, when people are picking on me in the hospital, I stand there and take it without saying anything, but secretly, I'm picturing a zombie apocalypse where they would be devoured instantly and I would be able to run for miles and miles without getting caught!
Reason #1: Racing provides balance. Often, learning how to be a doctor is supposed to be your one focus in life, and everything else is sacrificed towards that goal. I am passionate about being a doctor. I love meeting new patients, caring for them, helping them understand their disease and working to get them better. But I have a second passion, which is biking and running. I like testing my physical limits and seeing how hard and how far I can push myself. Medical school provides an intellectual challenge and racing provides the physical counterpart. If I only had one passion, I would turn out lopsided.
Reason #2: Racing gives me a way to be good at something. Medical students are superfluous to the care of patients. We have no real responsibility and most of the time, we just get in the way. It's tough to spend 4 years at the bottom of the totem pole, bumbling around, being reminded constantly of how much we don't know. Running and biking is my escape from this hierarchy. In a race, if I work hard enough, I can be at the top. It's a huge relief sometimes to be out of the hospital; instead of feeling inadequate all the time, I feel like I'm free and strong and powerful.
Reason #3: Racing is a way to be active. As a medical student, I spend hours and hours passively following doctors around, watching them do procedures and surgeries and hoping for my chance to try. It's a great day when the resident lets me do a lumbar puncture in the ED or close an incision in the OR. In a race, there is no waiting around for something interesting to happen; it's go time from the start. You can make your own opportunities and take chances at each turn. Every second, I am analyzing trail conditions, thinking about whether to attack, and feeling my legs and heart and lungs pumping away. It feels great to have every part of my body actively involved in reaching the finish line.
Reason #4: Teammates. Medical students have no scheduling stability. We rotate on and off of services every 2-4 weeks. Just when I am getting into a good rhythm with a team, I switch to a new one and have to meet new residents, attendings and nurses and have to prove myself to them all over again. Working in this environment has made me realize how important my teammates and friends outside of medical school are to me. They don't change every 2 weeks. I don't have to prove them that I can bike or run because they already know. It's the best part about my days off, getting to go on long bike rides with them and talking about all the races we want to try and new places we want to explore.