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It’s shortly after 6 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, and I’m lacing up my shoes to go for my usual morning run. As I turn from Maiden Lane onto Fuller Road at the hospital, my pace quickens as I go down a small hill and over the Huron River bridge. Several hundred meters later, I climb a gentle incline, passing the VA hospital on my right. Just as I clear the VA, I accelerate down another drop-off. After a small bend in the road, the path drifts away from Fuller Road as the dense forest that had been hugging this route gives way to an open field of long grass. This is a place where I’ve seen countless rabbits, baby deer, and even a Gandalfian goose who fearlessly stood its ground in the center of the path as I approached, as if to say, “You shall not pass!” As I look into the horizon, the sun is beginning to peek out above the tree line. This is one of my favorite places to run: The natural beauty at this moment gives me reason to pause and reflect on how fortunate I am to be at the University of Michigan and experience this sight most mornings.

My favorite part of running eastward in the morning

I would not be able to tell my Michigan story without talking about running as it has been a focal part of my medical school experience. Running not only affords me the opportunity to break out of the library and spend some time in nature, relieving stress and reminding me of the many wonderful parts of life, but has also helped me form close bonds with many of my classmates.

First stop when (from left) Jonathon, myself, Jake, and Paige ran from Ann Arbor to Dexter: A pitstop at Dexter Cider Mill for donuts and cider. Next stop: Jake’s parents’ house for a homemade breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and sausage. Big thanks to Jake’s Mom for her hospitality—and the ride back to Ann Arbor

There is something special about two people running side-by-side, looking off into the distance while talking about any topic under the sun—or simply enjoying each other’s company. I think back to conversations with Michael, another M1, about Huntington’s disease or something completely unrelated to school such as blood doping in professional sports. While running with Chrissy, who serves on the UM Student-Run Free Clinic (UMSRFC) leadership team, I got to hear the story of how she met her fiancé Justin, a great guy who has been ‘adopted’ into the medical school family—along with many other significant others. Carolina, another member of the UMSRFC leadership team, and I, on the other hand, merely basked in an idyllic spring morning, with the crisp air, singing birds, bright sun, and cloudless sky as we ran through Argo Park. Moments like these give so much meaning to my medical school experience.

There are lots more people in the M1 class who run! Here are some classmates post-color run (From left: Carol, Sarah, Dema, Christina, Laura)

While all well and good, I think it is appropriate at this point to bring up the elephant in the room: the long, cold Michigan winters, presumably the archenemy of outdoor running. But with a little planning and the appropriate gear, running outside in Ann Arbor in February can be an almost magical experience. There is nothing like the soft “crunch, crunch” of footsteps on fresh snow piercing the silence of a still winter morning. Or the way light rays from a headlamp bounce off falling flurries, giving the illusion that one is running in the middle of a life-sized snow globe. Yes, I dare say winter runs were a positive surprise for this Houston transplant.

Water-resistant trail running shoes and a headlamp: Key running accessories for the dark, snowy Ann Arbor winters

And now, 30 minutes after I first saw the sun peeking over the treetops, I come to a stop on my driveway. It’s 7:00, and I have just enough time to eat breakfast, shower, and get ready for a full Tuesday including lecture, infectious diseases lab, and Doctoring. But thanks to my morning workout, I’m ready to hit the ground running.

Matt Carey is a first-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. When not studying at Taubman Library or Mighty Good coffee shop, you can probably find him volunteering at the UM Student-Run Free Clinic or running around Ann Arbor.