PROFILE: Covid-19 OR nurse Robin Venick has been running for 50 years

(Apr. 2020) Robin Venick is a prolific runner, having completed 68 marathons, including Comrades in South African, and 5 Ironman Triathlons. She loves a challenge, and that's what she facing now as an OR nurse at Manhattan's NYU Langone Medical Center during the Covid-19 pandemic. "I always try to remain calm and positive in these crisis situations," she says. "I’m a glass half full kind of girl." Venick, 57, lives in Manhattan with her husband, Jeff, also a runner. Both are also art lovers, so after every marathon in a new city, they visit local art museums.

Career-profession? (See above.) In normal times I do all types of open-heart surgery and specialize in congenital heart defects on babies. Also, we do a lot of heart and lung transplants. I grew up in Maryland and attended Johns Hopkins Hospital for my nursing degree.

When did you start running and why? I started running as a little girl, probably around 7, with all the boys
in my neighborhood playing a game called “Kick the Can.”  Then in grade school, I would always run the 50-yard dash, and come in 1st or 2nd.

Early inspiration? Not really. I started running because I loved how it made me feel.

How much did you run per week in your peak years? Now? I never really ran more than 40 miles per week during my peak years due to my crazy work schedule. I have to squeeze all my runs into just 4 days per week. My coach, Gordon Bakoulis, created a marathon training schedule for me tailored to those 4 days.

Top performances/memorable ones? Wow! They are all memorable in their own way.  My first race was the Legg’s Mini 10K in ’89. I ran it in 47:00. I remember feeling like a million bucks when I crossed the finish line. So that has a special place in my heart. This year will be my 29th. (Note: The race was recently canceled due to the COVID virus)
1) June of ’94, I ran an Elk’s Club Father’s Day and won it! It was about 95 degrees out.
2) The 1993 New York City Marathon, my first. I ran with a stress fracture of my fibula and still managed to break 4 hours (3:58). 
3) The 1994 London Marathon. Improved my time to 3:33 and BQ'd. Seven days later I ran the Paris Marathon (back then you could sign up at the last minute).
4) 1995 Boston, Wow!!! I did a 3:37. To this day Boston is still my favorite event. I’m a streaker and this year (postponed till September) will be my 17th.
5) I completed the first five “B2B Challenges” (Running Boston and then, 6 days later, running Big Sur). In between the two races, I worked a 13-hour shift and was up all night doing emergency heart surgery.
6) The 2012 Comrades Ultra Marathon 90K. I was battling a foot injury, so I did all my training on my exercise bike. Comrades is a magical event. Hot and hilly. I had never run further than 26.2, so from 26 to the 56th mile, it was all unknown territory. I finished in 11:33, good enough for the Vic Clapham medal.

Something else I’m proud of is that in 2017, I completed the Marathon World Majors and got my Six Star medal. Last but not least was the famous 2017 Athens Marathon - the original marathon course. I was in the last mile of the race when, miraculously, I heard Jeff calling my name. He was coming up behind me and we finished together in the glorious Olympic Stadium. Loved it!

Estimate of total lifetime miles? I’ve done 68 marathons so all that training plus my other events ... well, I’m guessing 45,000 but that’s probably on the low side.

How did you train differently in your younger years?  I was a lot more serious about training in my younger years. I joined Personal Best at the NYRR, and that’s when my competitive streak began. I did a lot of NYRR races and started placing in my age group. I was breaking 40 minutes for the 10K and 20 minutes for a 5K. Soon, the Elite Women’s Running Team Moving Comfort approached me about joining. I was very flattered. Moving Comfort conducted intense speed workouts, which really paid off. That’s something I don’t do anymore.

How do you train now?  Now I pretty much run for fun. I always do a minimum of 6 miles when I go out. I don’t do any coached workouts anymore.

Cross training?  When training for an Ironman, I swim and bike. Not easy with my hospital schedule, as I do a lot of “heart call’ and overtime. When I was desperate, I swam in my parents’ pool (360 laps, which is the Ironman distance of 2.4 miles.)  I also have an exercise bike in my apartment. It’s my savior when I’m injured because I’m definitely addicted to working out. I also use ankle weights and arm weights.

How important is social running to you? It’s not. I don’t like running with people. It is my meditation time. My friends all know that. We wave when we see each other, but I keep on going. At work in the OR, we are pressed up against each other for hours on end. Running is my alone time and gives me a sense of freedom.

Obstacles along the way:  I’ve had my share of injuries over the years. Running the Paris Marathon one year I developed a sacral stress fracture. I finished but it hurt so much I had to be taken to my plane in a wheelchair.
While training for one of my Ironmans, I had a bike accident. A windstorm came up and blew me off my bike in Lake Placid. I was going down a six-mile steep hill with lots of turns. I fell going while going over 50 miles per hour. Fortunately, my helmet saved me and I didn’t break any bones. I did have abrasions all over my body, which were terrible. My bike stem gouged a big chunk of flesh out of my tummy. I had to take a month off of work but eventually I got back on my bike again. I even rode down that hill again.

A favorite quote?  Shosholoza! It’s a word we learned at the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. It’s also the theme song of the race. Roughly translated it means, “keep moving forward no matter what.” 

What three tips would you give a younger runner who wants to run for life?
1) Be consistent.
2) If you’re feeling pain, back off. I’ve tried to run through injury, and it only makes things worse.
3) To finish is to win.

How has running helped you in the aging process?  It definitely keeps me feeling young, healthy and happy.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned from running? With running, as in life, you get out of it what you put into it. Running is my greatest stress reliever. It gives me such a sense of normalcy. I find myself relying on it now more than ever with what’s going on. Also, it keeps me positive, energized and sane during these scary strange times with long, intense days in surgery.