Jeffrey Cope, M.D., sees many similarities between running a marathon and being in the operating room.
In both cases, he’s on his feet for hours without a break, and he has to stay focused.
Dr. Cope, of LG Health Physicians Cardiothoracic Surgeons, has finished two marathons since he returned to running in 2012 after a long hiatus. His next goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
“Running is a great stress reliever,” he said. “There’s nothing like it.”
Jeffrey Cope, M.D., shown with his son, recently completed the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Cope started running in middle school, following the path of his older brother and sister, who ran for Hempfield High School. “We were a running family,” he said. “All of us ran, including my mom and dad.”
Lisa Cope, a very accomplished runner, died in a car accident in 1979, at age 16. The loss of his sister further motivated Dr. Cope, then 13, to continue running cross-country and track at Hempfield.
Dr. Cope stopped running for a while when he got busy with college and medical school. He had been considering a return when he broke his ankle in 2010, after slipping on black ice in a parking lot. He attended physical therapy faithfully to regain his range of motion.
He also took a closer look at himself.
“I was probably 50 pounds overweight. I was feeling tired in the OR,” he said. “I realized I was too young to let that happen.”
Dr. Cope slowly returned to running. He runs outside unless the roads are icy, usually after work but sometimes between cases. His favorite routes take him along the trails in Lancaster County Park or the School Lane Hills neighborhood.
He doesn’t listen to music, preferring to be alone with his thoughts. He also runs Tuesday evenings with Dr. Jeff Kirchner and the F&M Track Club.
Dr. Cope, who has practiced locally for 14 years and serves as Chief for Lancaster General Hospital’s Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, said he is less lethargic and sleeps much better since he started running again. He’s lost about 40 pounds, and he’s more alert in the OR.
Changing his own lifestyle also helps him relate to his patients.
“It gives me more clout when I try to motivate them,” he said. “I practice what I preach.”
Dr. Cope finished the Philadelphia Marathon in 2015 and the Marine Corps Marathon last October. He hopes to qualify for Boston at the Harrisburg Marathon in November. (He’s within striking distance, about 10 minutes from breaking 3:30.)
Running a marathon is at least half mental, he said. Training requires running five to seven days a week for 3 to 4 months.
“It’s like a part-time job, if you want to do it right and not hurt yourself,” he said.
“Some days, after a long day in the OR, the last thing you want to do is go out and run 15 miles. But if you want to reach your goal, you have to get out there and do it.”