How running a 100K race helped me maintain work-life balance as an ICU nurse

By Brian Stewart, BS ‘19

You can still hear the noises after you’ve commuted home: incessant patient call bells, IV pumps and ventilator and monitor alarms. As a nurse, sometimes the sounds of the hospital still ring in your ears long after your shift has ended. 


On any given day, nursing can be as stressful as it is gratifying. You might experience multiple critically ill patient admissions in one moment. And in the next, you may witness the joy of an ICU patient reuniting with his children or beloved dog for the first time in weeks. You never know what the day may bring.  

If you’re like me, going for a run after work brings comfort and relief from a stressful day.

The sounds of rhythmic breathing and footsteps hitting the pavement help muffle the racing thoughts and beeping noises lingering in our minds. Running also offers time and space to feel gratitude for the awe-inspiring moments we all encounter in our work.

I started my job as a cardiovascular ICU nurse at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo shortly after graduating from UB School of Nursing’s Accelerated Baccalaureate of Science (ABS) in Nursing Program in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic began a few months later and opened a whole new can of worms — to say the least. As a new nurse during that time, I experienced challenges I could never have anticipated.

Managing stress and anxiety has been essential over the past few years. For me, running first started as a hobby and ultimately evolved into a lifelong passion. The pandemic and associated restrictions gave me more time to explore and expand my running efforts with new goals. Because I couldn’t travel or gather with my loved ones, I focused my free time on getting outdoors and exploring New York State on foot. I ran the trails at Niagara Gorge, Letchworth, Ellicottville and the Adirondacks. With each run, I felt lighter and more at ease. 

I regularly carved out the time to run before and after work and on my days off. I had already run a few marathons before COVID, but my newfound focus allowed me to run more miles than ever before. I knew it was the right time to challenge myself to run a distance beyond the marathon benchmark.

After assisting my friend run a 100-kilometer ultra-trail race last summer, I felt inspired and hooked. (For anyone keeping score at home: an ultra-race is any distance longer than a marathon—26.2 miles.)

Ultra-racing proved to be the challenge and positive outlet I was looking for, and I signed up for the 2022 Twisted Branch 100K Trail Run. 

And I was glad I did: I placed second in the 100K Trail Run 12 months later. I was thrilled with the outcome and that my efforts paid off.

But, more than anything else, I was grateful for the positive outlet and mental health boost the training provided. As a nurse, it was what I needed to maintain my work-life balance throughout the pandemic. 

Here are five reasons why you might want to start running or trail running, too: 

  1. Running allows you to turn off your mind and focus on the simple task of being in the moment and letting the day’s anxieties melt away. 
  2. Taking the time to go for a run allows for introspection and reflection on the events of your shift. You can appreciate what went well or work through what could have gone better. 
  3. Blowing off extra nervous energy from your day can help you maintain better sleep, and improve the balance between your work and personal lives. 
  4. Getting outside, exploring new places and meeting new people feels great after being inside for a 12-hour shift. We are lucky to have many beautiful places in the Buffalo area!
  5. Running is a fun way to stay connected with coworkers and former classmates. We help each other stay accountable and get outdoors, even on days we don’t feel motivated. Once it’s over, we’re always happy we decided to go! 

No matter your ability or experience level, going outside for a run, walk, or hike — or whatever makes you feel good — can help you work through and let go of daily stressors, recharging you for your next shift. 

Published September 20, 2022