“People Think I Just Pop Out of Bed and Do This.” How a Doctor Fits 5 AM Runs Into an 80-Hour Work Week

All photos courtesy of Kelly Orzechowski.

Most mornings, Kelly Orzechowski wakes up at 4 AM. By 5, while the city is just starting to percolate, the 42-year-old Northwest resident has parked her car near one of the wooded trails snaking through Northern Virginia to set out for a run with a group of mostly women who not only help with pacing, but also accountability. “When the weather turns south, it’s easy to hit snooze,” she says. Orzechowski gets in anywhere from four to ten miles before starting her work day at Virginia Hospital Center, where she’s a maternal fetal medicine physician with a focus on high-risk obstetrics. Here’s how the nine-time marathoner and Ironman finisher gets it all in.

I get to work at 6:45 AM. Because labor and delivery is obviously a messy business, there are showers for physicians. It’s like a locker room. I’m usually seeing my first patient at 7:15 AM.

For the last year I’ve been working 80-hour weeks. On average, 60 is my normal. The 80 has been just an exception. There have just been outlying things that have been getting in the way for the last few months.

I love obstetrics. I think there’s something extra-challenging and fascinating about having two patients at once.

If I’m not training, my average base is 8 minutes, 30 seconds a mile, and I’m running 30 to 35 miles a week. That number will go up to 55 or 65 if I’m marathon training. If I’m working hard, my best marathon time is 3 hours and 35 minutes.

If I’m in the throes of training, I’ll run 15 to 16 miles before work. There are times I’ve gotten up at 3:30 to get the mileage in. People say, “You’re crazy,” but that’s how I get it done.

The one thing that makes it a little bit convenient is I’m not married and I don’t have children.

Trust me, there are mornings when I think, I do not want to do this. But I’ve never gone on a run and regretted it. It helps with stress reduction. My whole day is better because of it.

I always regret hitting snooze.

Because I did a full Ironman last year, the swimming was a big part of the training regimen. I was swimming about three times a week and doing an open water swim in the evenings. I did that out at Lake Barcroft in Annandale.

I do not come from an active family. When I was marathon training, one of my goals for my mom was to get her to start running. She started in her 60s. At her first marathon ever, she qualified for Boston. 

I ran Boston with her and we thought, What are we gonna do to top this? So we decided to hike Mount Kilimanjaro.

They say sitting is the new smoking so I try to stand as much as possible. I frequently stand on a Indo balance board while at my standing desk.

I try very hard to be in bed by 10 o’clock. Doesn’t always happen, but I really aim for a good six hours.

People think I just pop out of bed and do this. It’s not that this is naturally easy for me. It took years and years of training, because naturally, I’m a night owl.

Kim Olsen

Kim Olsen ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Alexandria.