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On the job...Sabrina Grogan busy on another shift at Timaru Hospital. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

by Chris Tobin

Focusing on keeping fit outside her demanding junior doctor’s job at Timaru Hospital during the worst of Covid-19 provided a welcome mental break, Sabrina Grogan says.

Before the pandemic shutdown the New Zealand mountain running champion was coming back from injury by doing some fitness training in the hospital gym and pool.

Once the lockdown took effect, the gym and pool were shut but what training Dr Grogan could do provided a welcome balance along with her work duties.

“I was confined to the bike and a little running. Coming to work was huge for me – everyone needs more than one thing,” she said.

But work was challenging. Patients suspected of having the Covid-19 virus were isolated and strict Ministry of Health protocols were enforced, including medical staff having to wear special protective gear.

“Outside every room had coronavirus protective equipment, which took a long time to get in and out of.

“The hardest thing was not being able to have visitors. It was very hard on us and the visitors. We didn’t want patients to be alone but it had to be done to stop any possible spreading.”

From the outset she realised how serious the coronavirus outbreak could become.

“But we got off very lightly – we didn’t experience it like overseas. I feel we have been very lucky.”

Dr Grogan (26) has lived in Timaru for 18 months, having spent her final year of med school at the hospital before taking up a junior doctor’s position there six months ago.

Growing up she had not been enthused by running and only became serious at the age of 20.

“I come from a running family but I was always the lazy one.”

Among the clouds…Sabrina Grogan contests a Central Otago mountain race. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Her mother, Glenys Kroon, was a New Zealand representative runner and her father, Eddie Grogan, achieved success as a middle distance runner when he was younger.

She was studying at Otago University when she decided to get fitter, which led to running and then mountain running.

“I was incredibly unfit when I started and could only go for 20 minutes. I’ve gone from hating it [running] to loving it. It’s not easy but anyone can do it and unlike cycling you don’t need a $10,000 bike to win races.

“I do want to promote running in New Zealand. I think it’s a cool sport.”

Dr Grogan rises at 5.30am and runs up to 100km a week when at peak training. It has been difficult to find hills to test her around Timaru, so she has to venture further afield.

“The closest decent hill is Mt Horrible, which takes about eight minutes to run up. Mt Studholme is a bit better – it gets you up pretty high.”

Hard slog…Sabrina Grogan battling it out at the 2018 world mountain running championships in Andorra. PHOTO: CAM EDWARDS

Why mountain running?

“I like the challenge of it and it’s quite a mental battle and usually you get a reward when you reach the top.”

Her love of mountain running soon paid off. Dr Grogan placed third in her first outing at the national championships, then claimed a hat-trick of titles over the next three years, adding the national half-marathon road title to the list last year. This year’s mountain running championships have been cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She has competed at three world championships, her best placing 28th out of a field of about 100.

Her last world championship outing was in Argentina at the end of last year, where she placed 39th. Pre-Covid 19 she had been aiming for the 2020 world championships to be held in Lanzarote, Spain.

“I’m not sure if they will go ahead. If restrictions are in place it would mean you have to be there two weeks before and two weeks after. I think it won’t happen this year.”