What does running a marathon have in common with being a neurosurgeon? A lot more than you might think.
Functional neurosurgeon Robert McGovern, MD, believes that the amount of time and discipline it takes to be a good distance runner is akin to what it takes to be a good neurosurgeon. “The mindset is the same,” he said. “It requires preparation, planning, and pain.”
When McGovern talks about distance running, he’s referring to the 26.2188 miles of a marathon. He ran his first marathon in Philadelphia, PA. “The weather was perfect,” he said. “Although it was a fun experience, it was torture by the end…I definitely should have prepared better. At mile 21, I was looking for the mile markers to keep me going and ended up missing one. By that time, I was pretty much out of it.”
Can be grueling
Like marathoning, being a neurosurgeon can be grueling. The time McGovern devotes to running helps build his endurance for prolonged procedures. “My body doesn't seem to mind standing for long surgeries,” he said. It also keeps his brain strong and staves off dementia, which is a motivating factor for McGovern. “I just feel better,” he said. “I always took being active for granted. Now that I’m 40, I notice that when I don’t run, I feel sluggish.”
Marathoning is like being a neurosurgeon in another important way. “When a runner hits a plateau and has to figure out how to run faster, the same is true with neurosurgery,” said McGovern. “You hit a plateau sometimes and decide that you need to revitalize existing skills or go somewhere and learn a new technique.”
Qualified for Boston!
Achieving an important milestone in his marathoning career, McGovern qualified to run the Boston Marathon in April 2023 (he is pictured here at the race's Athletes' Village). “It was hard because it’s mostly downhill,” he said. “You must manage the race carefully. I was trying to do it in under 3 hours and came in at 3 hours and 49 seconds.” He added that 30,000 runners come to Boston for the marathon and everyone is “very into it. It’s the race that people want to run.”
The first one was held in 1897 making Boston the world's oldest marathon – as well as one of the oldest consecutively held sporting events, according to US News & World Report. 2023 was also the 10th year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings; however, because of where he had to be to start the race, McGovern couldn’t attend the memorial ceremony.
Every serious runner's goal
Having grown up in Providence, RI, the Boston Marathon is close to McGovern’s hometown. “It’s every serious marathon runner’s goal,” he said. “It gives you something to shoot for although it’s not easy to train for an April marathon while living in Minneapolis. The amount of snow we had this winter made training very challenging.” McGovern ended up doing a lot of treadmill running, which he freely admits he didn’t enjoy.
In addition to marathons in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, McGovern has run the Twin Cities Marathon several times as well as Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN. His wife, Amanda, joins him on his runs as often as she can. “We try to include it in our schedules to ensure that someone is with the kids,” said McGovern, who is pictured here before the race with Amanda and their children, Hayden, who is hugging her brother, Declan.