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Taylor Chestnut on athlete inspirations, her favourite hikes, and what it’s like to get back into road running

We caught up with Taylor, one of Arbutus's physios, about why taking on a beginner perspective in her running is helpful in her practice plus why she loves hiking the west coast.

Tell us about road running!

I used to run a lot more, but in physio school, my training definitely took a hit. I just registered for my first marathon this year, though! It’s the Royal Victoria Marathon here in Victoria. I’ve only completed a few half-marathons, so this is a big jump. I’m kind of starting from scratch with my training, which has been a humbling experience. 

Did you grow up running?

My parents were both runners when I was younger and they’ve each run a marathon, actually, the same one I’ll be running this fall! So, I definitely grew up in a running family. I joined track and field when I was nine and I loved it, and then I joined cross country to keep up with running in the off-season. My coaches were the most loving and inspirational people!

What was your favourite track and field event?

I really liked the 800-meter race, because it’s a pretty intense race: it’s kind of a sprint, but it’s a long sprint. It’s one of the most strategic runs there is! And, I had a couple of favourite athletes growing up that competed in the 800 and they were fun to watch.

Who are your athlete inspirations?

One of them is Gary Reed, he’s a three-time Olympian in the 800-meter. He was the fastest male Canadian to ever run that race (back then)! The other is Melissa Bishop, who is semi-retired now (we’re hoping she comes back but she’s about to have her second child). She is just such a classy athlete: so respectful of her competitors and a really gutsy runner.

Taylor Chestnut poses with arms outspread in front of a mountain vista at sunset.

Why is starting from scratch with a training program a humbling experience?

Well, up until the age of 24, I was always very consistent with training, running and exercise in general. But moving to a new city during a pandemic and starting a very intense school program, I think my focus changed. I’ve been active, but I haven’t been training. So I feel like I’m starting from the beginning, getting back into the routine of speed workouts and long runs. 

I get a little impatient with the process sometimes, struggling up the hills or taking more walking breaks than I’m used to and thinking, “How long will this take?” But, it’s also good because it puts me in a good mindset as a physio. We’re often working with people who are going through the same experience. And, there are a lot of people who are just starting their fitness journey, so it helps put things in perspective for me.

Besides running, how else do you stay active?

I do a lot of hiking and overnight backpacking! That’s probably my other main thing. I did some hiking in Haida Gwaii after my placement in Prince Rupert, and I did Cape Scott last summer, which was amazing. This summer I’m hoping to get out more, maybe to Nootka Island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. I think hiking is such a nice hobby to have on the island because there are so many opportunities for it. 

The other hike I’d love to do is the Sunshine Coast Trail. You start in Lund and hike from hut to hut. The whole trail is over 100km. We’re so lucky to be on a mountain range and look down and see the ocean at the same time.

Taylor Chestnut poses in front of a glacier lake in Canada's Rocky Mountains.

How does having a different perspective help you in your physio work?

I’ve had a few injuries myself so it’s helpful to know what works best. Right now, I’m working through some shin splints and peroneal tendonitis, but it’s getting better. Maybe I’m jumping the gun on getting my runs going too fast! I’m working through my own exercise prescriptions and am grateful for all the expertise from everyone at Arbutus.

Tell us more about your placement in Prince Rupert

My last placement for school was five weeks in Prince Rupert, at the hospital there. It was a good experience and very interesting to compare it with hospitals in Vancouver or Victoria, as far as the difference in resources. 

One thing that was eye-opening was that in other hospitals, like Victoria General, there’s an entire floor with staff who are trained and dedicated to one type of patient, for example, cardiac patients. But in Prince Rupert, it’s all mixed: people are giving birth in one room and recovering from a stroke in another. As a physio, you treat everyone which requires a broader scope and constant refreshing of skills. Being in Prince Rupert was challenging because I was walking into so many different situations, but as a student, it was a wonderful learning experience because I got to take on a bigger role early on. 

I think being there reminded me that we shouldn’t take our healthcare for granted. In Prince Rupert, there are two physiotherapists for the entire community and most people can’t afford it. Many people end up being on an outpatient list and we were working through a two-year backlog. It was overwhelming.

What kind of physio are you doing at the clinic?

A little bit of anything! I’m still learning new things every day and right now I’m enjoying getting to keep my skill set quite diverse. When I started physio school, I thought I would come out specializing in neuro-physio, MS, or Parkinson’s, but I received some good advice to spend a few years working in a clinic and not specializing. I’m glad I’m doing that.

Lions Bay at sunset, as seen from the Sea to Sky highway on the coast of British Columbia, Canada.

Why are you drawn to the neurological specialties?

My uncle has MS, so I think that personal connection made me interested in the management of neurological conditions early on in my education. I was able to do my undergraduate thesis in the neuroeconomics lab at UVic which explored how the brain changes with age and exercise.

I really love how science is showing us that movement in general, especially cardiovascular exercise, can influence the growth of brain matter and neurons! When you’re dealing with MS or Parkinson’s or traumatic brain injuries, exercise can have so many positive benefits. It can improve connections between neurons themselves, and between the brain and muscles, plus it can improve the conduction of neurotransmitters. 

Whether we are treating patients with neurological conditions or someone with an acute injury, finding the appropriate dosage of exercise is key. We tend to err on the side of caution and under-prescribe exercise but research shows there is a strong positive correlation between  There are always exceptions (like acute sports injuries), but many people can improve with exercise. We definitely underdose exercise prescriptions. In these newer cohorts, underprescribing is just as bad as not prescribing at all. For chronic states of pain or chronic disease, you have to hit a certain dosage of exercise to see change. But once you do, the change will happen. That part makes me excited.