Each day this week Jeremy Ardanuy has been at his computer in a lab at the University of Maryland School of Medicine assessing how well promising drugs work to treat mice infected with the coronavirus.
He puts in long hours as a postdoctoral fellow on a team of 12, investigating therapies and vaccines to stem this pandemic and prepare for the next one.
It’s something of a race, but more a marathon than a sprint.
Ardanuy may be uniquely able to understand that. The 28-year-old with the doctorate in molecular microbiology and immunology won this year’s actual Baltimore marathon, which took place last Saturday. He ran the 26.2 miles in 2 hours, 26 minutes, 49 seconds.
That was 27 seconds faster than his first-place finish there in 2019 but not his personal record of 2 hours, 22 minutes, 14 seconds at a marathon in Toledo, Ohio.
He fits in training before and after work, sometimes running the 3 to 4 miles from home to the university campus on the west side of downtown when it’s not too hot so he’s not too sweaty.
“The mice don’t mind,” he said, “but the humans do.”
Co-workers otherwise might not all know about this running habit, unless they caught sight of the television coverage of him crossing the finish line or noticed the old trophy in the student lounge. (He hasn’t yet retrieved this year’s award from a family member’s, house where he left it before heading out to celebrate last weekend.)
One would have to look for scattered hints from the unassuming guy in a collared shirt and mask like everyone else: the old blue Skechers running shoes and a need to regularly consume calories in a place with no candy jars. On post-race days, he might be seen taking the elevator instead of the stairs.
Ardanuy has been on the job since August when he earned the advanced degree at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and moved over from another university lab focused on whooping cough, a bacterial rather than viral infection like the coronavirus.
He spends 45 to 50 hours a week in the coronavirus lab and on the computer conducting tests and analyzing them.
He runs another 10 to 14 hours a week, much of it with local running groups called the Faster Bastards and A Tribe Called Run, plus another affiliated with the Falls Road Running Store. In addition to his own marathons, he often runs 26.2 miles just to pace fellow runners in his circles.
At one point during the pandemic lockdown, he ran 5 marathons in 5 days — unofficial and local, but two marathons more than Jordan Tropf, an orthopedic surgery resident who came in second behind Ardanuy in Baltimore and went on to run the marathons in Chicago and Boston. (Ardanuy said after the race Tropf motivated him and was “the fire under my feet.”)
The rest of Ardanuy’s time is spent lifting weights in the university gym and doing physical therapy. He adds that time spent stretching before runs and showering after runs is also not insignificant.
“I enjoy eating,” he said, before ticking off a list of places he frequents nearby.
He probably sleeps some.
Next he’d like to qualify to try out for the U.S. Olympic team in 2024. For that, he’ll likely have to shave 7 seconds off each mile of his best marathon time.
Thomas Neuberger is a fellow Faster Bastard and founder of the Baltimore-based marketing firm Big Run Media. He called Ardanuy “hard-working and disciplined,” qualities that transcend the road to the lab.
“He’s a smart, driven athlete that enjoys challenges and he’ll be successful in any endeavor he takes on,” Neuberger said.
Longtime coronavirus researcher Matt Frieman, who heads the lab, thinks Ardanuy should keep putting in the miles.
He said the work establishing the scientific basis for treatments and cures in medicine takes patience. It’s usually slow, and even heartbreaking.
Now there is pressure to do things far faster given the depth and deadly nature of the pandemic, pressure to which Ardanuy can no doubt relate.
Vaccines that normally take years have been produced in months, though based on years of efforts by people like Frieman and Adranuy in labs across the country and world.
Labs like this one get the drugs only from concept through animal testing, leaving human trials to others. And in this pandemic, one vaccine and therapy won’t be enough. There are next-generation drugs that could be more effective or easier to administer, or in this case, may target the next coronavirus variants.
Scientists need something “outside the lab to clear your head,” said Frieman, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the Maryland medical school who contributed research to the development of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, work he now shares with Ardanuy.
“This pandemic is stressful and we have much faster turnaround times,” Frieman said. “He should do whatever it takes to get him through. He should keep running.”