September 22, 2022 by John Fernandez
Cath Lab Director and Marathoner: Hopefully, My Example Can Inspire Others
It takes commitment, focus, discipline and well-tuned teamwork to run Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute‘s Cardiac Catheterization Lab (Cath Lab), where patients undergo minimally invasive procedures to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease. Those characteristics can easily apply to the training required for running a marathon (26.2 miles) or half marathon, as the Cath Lab’s medical director, Marcus St. John, M.D., will tell you. (Dr. St. John is pictured above at center, with his Cath Lab team in February 2020, after they all ran the half marathon).
And he should know. He’s run several half marathons and he’s ready for his first full marathon, as one of the 15,000 registered runners taking part Feb. 6 in the 2022 Life Time Miami Marathon & Half. It takes months of training, gradually building up stamina and distance — fueled with calculated hydration, nutrition and muscle conditioning — to run the full or half marathon. And there’s the discipline factor, emphasizes Dr. St. John, an interventional cardiologist.
“As with many other endeavors in life, just sticking to training for a marathon is what it takes,” he said. “I follow a specific marathon training program. But no matter what you use, everyone needs a program they’re going to stick to. And it gives you the necessary framework.”
Baptist Health South Florida is a sponsor and the official medical provider for the event, providing assistance at the various first-aid and medical stations along the full route. Many of Baptist Health’s healthcare professionals take part in the event, either by helping distressed runners or by running part or all of the 26.2-mile course themselves.
As a physician who regularly guides patients on staying fit and healthy, Dr. St. John hopes he can inspire people — at the very least — to adopt a more active way of life. “I don’t think I’ve inspired anyone to run a marathon,” he says. “But I feel like I have helped some people change their lifestyles, and they’ve told me that.”
‘Mental Game’ of Training for a Marathon
The training program for a marathon runs about 18 weeks, and ramps up gradually with long runs on weekends — in addition to shorter runs during the week and some muscle-strengthening sessions as well. Dr. St. John says he has amazed himself by meeting the goals of his training regimen. “I did my longest long run last weekend (three weeks before the marathon), which was 20 miles — which I can’t even say without being stunned, like who runs 20 miles?” he adds.
Dr. St. John will be accompanied during the event by many of his Cath Lab team members, including Freler Castillo, Milkos Olaniel and Michael Rosquette.
Dr. St. John says that he’s been diligent about stretching and the hydration, but it’s the mental aspect of training that can weight the most on a runner. “The weeks when you have long miles ahead of you, at least for me, it colors my whole week. It is weighing on my mind that I have 16 miles or so coming up this weekend.
“It’s a mental game,” he said. “You have to realize that you can’t rush it so much. It just is going to take a long time. And boy, the mind is an amazing thing. But you’ve just got to figure out how to keep your mind in the game.”
Camaraderie, Hydration and Nutrition
There are several key physical components to training for a marathon, including establishing a routine for hydration and nutrition, including those carbed-up, pre-packaged gels for the longest runs.
“You have to focus on hydration, of course, and you have to figure out what you’re doing with your nutrition during the running because it’s a long enough way that you have to be taking in nutrition,” explains Dr. St. John. “Most of us are using the sports gels, and I’ve figured out what the frequency is. I think the stretching is important, and the strength training — not to bulk up but just to protect the joints and the ligaments.”
And the other major component of such a grueling endurance event — the feedback and support of fellow runners, such as his Cath Lab colleagues. “I do like the camaraderie,” he says. “We don’t always run together, but to have a cohort of people doing the same thing and that helps support you through the process. You realize the issues that I just articulated, every one of us is dealing with these issues to some degree.”
Motivating Patients in a ‘Careful Way’
Dr. St. John says he hopes completing the marathon will set an example to his patients “but in a careful way.”
“I would never push someone to run a marathon or half marathon – that is not necessary for heart health,” he says. “As a part of my job, I say these are important things to do — stay active, eat healthily, stop smoking, and start by getting off the couch. That’s part of my daily discourse with patients. If my example can help motivate someone, that would be great.”