Elite Runner Juggles Medical School and Cross-Country Training

School of Medicine

Waking up at 4 a.m. to squeeze in a 10-mile run before a long day on her surgery rotation at Oakland’s Highland Hospital, Michelle Meyer, MS3, is nothing if not dedicated.

By logging hundreds of training miles each month, she has found success running races around the Bay Area and beyond. Meyer represented her all-women’s running club, the Impala Racing Team, at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012, where she finished 84th. She has also won multiple local marathons.

So, how does Meyer stay so motivated?

“I have awesome teammates,” she said. “I have a love for exploration and adventure, absolutely stunning views and intense races.”

Meyer is an exceptional example of someone who combines a passion for a career in the health sciences with a passion for running at a high level. However, she is not alone.

Though not officially affiliated with UCSF, the team includes staff, faculty, students, postdocs and residents. At least 12 women on the 100-person Impala Racing Team combine running competitively with careers or training at UCSF. Perhaps it is no coincidence.

“Running has instilled lifelong values of dedication and commitment, which are absolutely cornerstones for a medical career,” said Meyer, who ran track in high school, and competed in road races as an undergraduate at Stanford University.

Indeed, many women on the team have been running for decades. Dr. Sarah Tabbutt, a pediatric cardiologist at UCSF, regularly races cross-country. This year, she and the team’s 50-plus age contingent have their eye on the prize — defending their national title at the U.S. Club Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon. on December 13.

"The women on the team range in age from 17 to over 70, and those who are older than me have been wonderful role models,” said Alexa Glencer, an Impala member and second-year medical student. “While running is clearly very important to each and every one of my teammates, it is only one component of their very successful lives."

Erin Bank, a Research Development Specialist in the Research Development Office at UCSF, joined the Impalas in 2012. She qualified for and raced in the 2013 Boston Marathon, which was so tragically interrupted by a terrorist bombing.  

“I went from being devastated about having to walk the last five miles of the race due to a stress fracture, to being grateful to have legs at all, and that the many friends I had running and spectating the race were safe from the bombings,” Bank recalled.

Established in 1979, the Impalas are a women’s elite development running club based in San Francisco. Fourteen runners on the team qualified for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials, the most of any club in the nation.  

The Impalas are the largest competitive, female-only running club in the Bay Area. Members in all age groups run in road, cross-country, track and trail races in the Pacific Association league of USA Track and Field. 

The Impalas practice together on Tuesday evenings at the Kezar Stadium track, in the shadow of the Parnassus campus. While their colleagues head home for dinner, they click off laps on the weather-worn track in the fog and drizzle.

Most Impalas have no aspirations to win prize money at major national races such as the Boston Marathon (though Meyer did win her weight in wine at the Napa-to-Sonoma Half Marathon). Still, the camaraderie, thrill of the chase and the chance to test themselves is reward enough.