Running first appealed to Ilaaf Darrat, MD, MBA, in sixth grade, when she wanted to get fit and could run without needing to plan ahead of time or go anywhere specific. She liked that she could run from her house in Lexington, Kentucky at her own pace, on her own time. As she grew up and attended college at the University of Kentucky and later, medical school at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, running remained as both stress relief and a way to remain focused on her studies.
Explore This IssueNovember 2019
Today, Dr. Darrat, 39, is a pediatric otolaryngologist and the division head of the pediatric and general otolaryngology and neurotology department at the Henry Ford Health System and a clinical assistant professor of otolaryngology at Wayne State University College of Medicine, both in Detroit. She has run 10 marathons and is currently working on running all the world major marathons.
ENTtoday: How has running helped your medical career?
Dr. Darrat: While studying for the USMLE step 1, I wanted to exercise to help relieve the anxiety and stress of the test, and to help our community. In 2003, I signed up to run my first marathon, the Detroit Marathon, with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation Team in Training. In doing so, I raised $1,000, raised awareness, and made some new friends. After that, I was hooked. Since then, I’ve raised close to $20,000 for different charities while running.
Running definitely helps with preventing burnout and relieving career stress. It also has connected me with physicians both in and outside my field.
I’m also in a running group on Facebook with physicians/surgeons from all around the U.S. We meet up at different work and/or running events. Also, many of my patients’ parents, and some of my teenage patients run, and we are able to have great doctor–patient relationships due to our shared interest.
ENTtoday: How do you make time to train?
Dr. Darrat: You have to prioritize training just like you would prioritize any other important part of life. I do many early mornings at 4:30 am. If I have a small break in my work schedule, I will go for a run. Sometimes, I have my running clothes on under my scrubs so as soon as I am done with work, I can get the run in before I go home.
I have three kids: my daughters Rayyan, 13, and Layla, 10, and my son Zakariya, 6. They know running is an important aspect of our lives; running helps improve both physical and mental health. All my kids do the 5Ks or 1-miler races. One time, I ran a 5K race with one kid running with me, one in a stroller, and one on a bike. They all wanted to finish to get the medal at the end. We usually do two races a year together.
My focus when working with my community has been to show that no matter what you wear or what you look like, you can be a runner. —Ilaaf Darrat, MD, MBA
This year, I’ve done three marathons, which is more than usual for me.
As with other aspects of life, I believe in quality over quantity and do not run countless marathons a year. To try to stay injury free (as with all physical endeavors, injury is sometimes part of the sport), I do prioritize recovery. Besides making sure to stretch, I see a chiropractor and massage therapist once a month—I’m a big fan of both. I also see a physical therapist once in a while to ensure my gait is correct; I also see a podiatrist. I do not consider a marathon a success if I have not lost any toenails (ha ha).
ENTtoday: How did you become interested in medicine?
Dr. Darrat: I volunteered at a hospital while in high school and wanted to be a physician from then on. While in college, I was an anesthesia assistant but was always more interested in what the surgeon was doing. I had worked on a research project at the cancer center in college with a head and neck surgeon and went into otolaryngology from there. I loved the specialty’s diversity; with pediatric otolaryngology, I can combine my love for children and surgery into one.
ENTtoday: What marathons have you competed in?
Dr. Darrat: I have run 10 marathons and countless half marathon, 10 milers, 10K and 5K races. My goal had been to qualify for the Boston Marathon and I have been fortunate to have qualified twice. I am currently working on completing the World Major Marathons, which include the Boston, Chicago, New York City, Berlin, London, and Tokyo marathons. I just finished my fifth race in Berlin and have Tokyo lined up for February 2020.
ENTtoday: Any other running high-lights?
Dr. Darrat: I was fortunate to be able to be a part of the 2017 New York City Marathon opening video sequence on ESPN, as well as sit on a panel to discuss running and perseverance at the same marathon.
I’m Muslim, and I concentrate a lot of my efforts in my community regarding health and fitness. When I first started running, there were not many runners who wore a hajib, the Muslim head covering. A lot of people always asked me how I could run with all that clothing on, and so on, as well as telling me they couldn’t believe I could run and do well wearing it. My focus when working with my community has been to show that no matter what you wear or what you look like, you can be a runner.
Cheryl Alkon is a freelance medical writer based in Massachusetts.