Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The MCAT Ultra

Thursday, August 24, I completed possibly one of the hardest exams I have ever taken. After 7:03 tedious hours, I had ended my life long streak of #NeverStopStudying. For now...

The journey to the finish is never what we anticipate when we take the first step. It is fraught with obstacles and surprise hardships. However, we always seem to come out triumphant in our efforts and with more knowledge of our selves. And that is the ultra way.

Like most long races, we build a base of endurance and tolerance. From April until June, I reviewed every concept in science and math I had ever learned: psychology, sociology, chemistry both general and organic, biology, biochemistry, physics, and more. During this, I was working full time. I am actually grateful, in some ways, that I had torn my calf in March. For it allowed me to wake up at 4 am to study until 7, before working and to have time in the evenings to also take comprehension tests. I had been training to compete at Lavaredo but I simply underestimated the amount I would need to give to my books. All in all, during these months I would work & study about 65-75 hours per week, with no time for the trails. I also doubt the 50lb weight limit would apply to my books alone if I had travelled to Italy.

Quality WS cheerleading
Visiting Rory!
I eventually took June-August mostly off and only worked 1-2 days per week. Initially, when planning the year, I had aspirations of camping nearly every day, running long mountain miles, and studying my textbooks by the campfire under the trees. However, like most things in life, the reality is entirely different than what we expect. Given my injury recovery, I was barely running at all. And most of my studying lasted 8+ hours on days off of work, usually requiring cell service. For some time, I was getting out for "long runs" the Sunday evening after I would finish a 7 hour practice exam. When it got down to the wire, even this dissipated into loops around Seattle. I had deleted all of my social media apps except for Instagram, and I longingly followed my friends' adventures, experiences and excursions. It was frustrating at times, but I don't regret the sacrifice. 

Geting ready!
In the course of 50 miles or longer, it is almost inevitable that we have lows and doubt ourselves. This was perhaps my biggest struggle. I had days where I couldn't remember simple concepts for the life of me. Or that I just didn't understand what was meant by the information presented. The frustration by my lack of progress (and sleep), despite trying my absolute best, wrecked my confidence. This frustration created so much doubt and anxiety that I would struggle through my weekly practice exams. Unable to focus, I would score poorly and reinforce the doubt. It was almost cyclical and impossible to rid myself of. However, I armed myself against this and comforted my thoughts by knowing I was doing absolutely everything in my power to pursue this. I let the passion, desire, curiosity for knowledge guide me in my studies and fuel my determination. This was what I wanted more than anything and I was not going to be apathetic or complacent in my pursuits.

I found many new ways to study and really incorporate the MCAT into my life. I listened to Kahn Academy videos (Sal I love you) on my runs and would pause them so that I could quiz myself. Yes, I realize I must have seemed like a crazy person muttering about theta this times that is the torque of whatnot and gesturing wildly with my arms. I would find review sites/blogs and take notes on their notes and then make flashcards with the headers. With these flashcards, I would lie in my bed at night and try to discuss everything I knew about the topics. I took pictures of the comprehension tests or practice passages and completed these during any break I would have at work. I tried to relate patients and people in my life to psychology disorders/ stages of development. I lived and breathed this test.

The week of the test finally came, albeit much faster than I anticipated. Eerily, I felt calm. I knew I had done a great deal of work and exhausted my capabilities to prepare myself to reach my potential. I was emboldened knowing I had no regrets or "shoulda coulda woulda's." In a way, my test was like the penultimate ultra race. I tapered off of studying and just relaxed; reviewing the occasional notecards and sleeping lot. I prepared my "race kit" of my lucky T shirt, lucky Superman underwear, "Carpe The Fuck Out of This Diem" socks, slippers and my bag of goodies the day before. On test day, I woke up after a fitful night and ran in the dark to Meredith Grey's house for a quick adrenaline shake out. I drank my coffee, ate my breakfast and drove to the start (test center). I had packed all kinds of snacks and peppermint tea hydration for the allotted breaks. Each time I entered the test room, I had to pass security more stringent than TSA: I was fingerprinted three times, my ID checked, my glasses were inspected, a metal detector wand, and my "suspicious" friendship bracelet had to be cut off.

The first section is always my worst: chemistry and physics, and it was really, really hard. I tried not to let this shake my resolve and to remain calm. I exited the room looking like a stunned deer in headlights: wide eyed and difficult to collect my thoughts. I spent the ten minute break breathing deeply and meditating. I thought of my favorite Eminem/Sia songs and used them as a mantra. I went into the reading & comprehension section ready for more. That one was uneventful and I spent the longer 30 minute break after gearing up for my favorite and best sections: Biology & biochem and psychology & sociology. These flew by and buoyed my confidence. I felt intelligent and prepared with careful consideration for each answer selected. When I finally finished the test, 7:03 hours later, I got into the front seat of my car and cried. The sobbing was mixed with intermittent hysterical laughing; I do not know how to surmise the waves of emotions that flooded over me. It was indescribable. I quickly dried my tears and changed to my running clothes. I sprinted through 6 miles around the area on a local bike path. I kept trying to push faster, faster to help dissipate the building adrenaline. I screamed out at the halfway mark. I skipped around mile 5. I really just couldn't contain myself anymore.

post practice exam respite
I spent the rest of the weekend with my good friends celebrating a birthday in Disneyland. Making the trip down to LA was awesome and we had such a good time. Other than my excessive "nerd vomit" (ie calculating my gravitational potential energy and the max velocity on Splash Mountain or the centripetal force of the Teacups ride), I almost forgot that I will not have my scores for another month.  The waiting game will be difficult, but I am so happy that it is (sort of) over. I can finally relax and be a real person.

I am truly so lucky to have had the opportunity to study and prepare for this exam. My work has been super accommodating to let me take time off and still hold my job. My family, friends, previous classmates, the doctors I work for, and many people have all wished me the very best and tried to help in any way they could. I am so grateful to really have a squad stand behind me while I'm chasing my dreams. It's never easy and the journey is far from over, but I am very fortunate to have the kind of encouragement I do in all my pursuits. Now, happy trails!
I can finally Stop #NeverStopStudying... for now...

1 comment:

  1. Kelsie,
    Wow! I had no idea who that little girl in middle school really was. Your hard work is already paying off in so many ways. I am proud to know such a strong and devoted young woman. In addition to running and studying, and your career in medicine, you can add writer to your list of
    accomplishments. Great work!