‘Focus, Persistence, Patience': Lessons From an Ultra Marathon Running ER Doctor

Sharp Memorial Hospital emergency department physician Russell Reinbolt credits his extreme past time for preparing him for the challenges of COVID-19

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In the first opportunity for a television camera to capture images of doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients inside the Sharp Memorial Hospital emergency department, NBC 7 tagged along with Dr. Russell Reinbolt to get his unique perspective.

Reinbolt walks fast from room to room, washing his hands regularly.

He's making rounds, checking on the 40 or so hospital patients who are confirmed or suspected to have the coronavirus.

On the outside, he is confident, calm, and collected, but after more than 20 years at the hospital, he'll be first to admit these are among the most stressful shifts of his career.

On the more intense days here in the so-called "hot zone," he focuses his thoughts and energy on what's immediately in front of him, not the distant finish line.

I think hope is on the way

Russell Reinbolt, MD

It's a technique he also relies upon outside the hospital during ultra-marathons, which are often hundreds of miles long.

He is a 54-year-old workout warrior who shifts between high-intensity workouts and long training runs.

His signature training run is a once a month continuous jog from Los Angeles to San Diego which he typically completes in about 30 hours.

"I just stop at 7-Eleven, gas stations, pick up food along the way, fill up my water bottles, sometimes I'll take a ten-minute nap in the bushes if I get sleepy," Reinbolt said.

Just before the first coronavirus cases hit the U.S., he was in the Yukon, Canada running the 300 miles long Yukon Arctic Ultra, a race billed as "the coldest and toughest ultra".

Reinbolt, who typically specializes in the shorter 200-mile races, wouldn't disagree.

"If you stop for too long your body temperature just plummets and you can get into really dangerous condition very quickly," Reinbolt said.

After three and a half days and 138 miles in the Yukon, Reinbolt missed a time cut and had to withdraw.

It was the toughest race of his career followed up by the toughest stretch of his career.

"I think hope is on the way, I would encourage people to be patient, continue doing all the right things, and we'll get through this," Reinbolt said.

Along with relieving stress, he believes his extreme hobby will keep him out of the hospital should he get the disease, something he actually expects to happen at some point.

"I think as a result of me taking really good care of my health, I'm more protected than most people my age," Reinbolt said. "But, I can certainly respect the concern of other people who are getting up in age."

Whether it's one foot or one patient at a time, Reinbolt is built to go the distance and unlike the grueling Yukon, this time he's confident he'll see the finish.

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