As a cardiologist, Dr. Kier Huehnergarth, routinely treats and prevents diseases of the heart. He also "practices what he preaches". This is why you can find Dr. Huehnergarth competing in various marathons in his free time. His most recent feat is conquering the Backcountry Rise 50k at Mt. St. Helens National Park in September.
The Backcountry Rise 50k was Dr. Huehnergarth's first time doing an ultramarathon (after completing numerous half and full marathons). He was initially interested in doing the race with a friend, but also to test his physical endurance. "The race was majestic and it was great enjoying the natural beauty of Mt. St. Helens National Park," he said. The ultramarathon included big climbs, sweeping descents and stunning ridgeline views of the surrounding Cascade Volcanoes, high mountain lakes, rushing creeks and abundant wildlife.
As one might expect, training took some commitment. Dr. Huehnergarth says runs between six – 20 miles, five – six days per week. He tries his best to run in the early morning to accommodate this work schedule and family time. To prep for his race environment, Dr. Huehnergarth trained at trails around the Snoqualmie Pass area. "I'll run up-and-down Mt. Si, Mailbox Peak and Tiger Mountain," Dr. Huehnergarth said.
Part of what he loves about racing events are the huge number of people in the cardiology and endurance community spreading the word about heart disease prevention. "I talk to so many people running to improve their health, it's really inspiring," Dr. Huehnergarth said. "Even the top tier athletes at these races are concerned about their heart health and it's a great place to spread awareness."
Marathons have helped Dr. Huehnergarth in the clinic setting as well. Patients will often ask him about his races (as he has various photos in his exam rooms). "It really helps me connect with patients who have serious heart conditions as I provide recommendations," he said. "In some ways, I think it encourages them to find their own ways to exercise."
When asked about tips for a healthy lifestyle, Dr. Huehnergarth said, "It's important to create a routine and prioritize/find the time to do it. It doesn't matter if it's a run, walk or hike or some other form of physical activity, just getting in the activity and working to improve on it is vital." Dr. Huehnergarth also said that listening to music, audiobooks and podcasts while running can be a nice distraction. He finds that for some patients healthy enough to participate in organized exercise events, it can be helpful motivation to mark an event on the calendar and then work to prepare for the event.
Dr. Huehnergarth is planning to run in the Seattle Half Marathon this month and he has qualified for his second Boston Marathon in April 2020.