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August 12, 2016
NIDCR Director Hits Ground Running

NIDCR director Dr. Martha
Somerman prepares to run.
NIDCR director Dr. Martha Somerman prepares to run.

Ever have the urge to run from work? NIDCR director Dr. Martha Somerman does.

In any weather, no matter the season, Somerman regularly runs home. It’s a 3½- to 5-mile trip, depending on the route she chooses. On a typical workday, she leaves NIH at 6 p.m. and runs through several neighborhoods and local trails. In the winter months, she takes a more direct path but is out there nonetheless.

Somerman has always been an avid runner but never liked running on a treadmill. She prefers to exercise outdoors—running, biking and hiking— even on hot days and in the winter. Most weekends, she tries to fit in at least one 20-mile bike ride.

“Many people [contemplate] the best way to deal with stress,” Somerman said. “For me, exercising outdoors is an important part of my life.”

Originally from New York, Somerman came to NIH to head NIDCR 5 years ago, after a 9-year stint in Seattle as dean of the University of Washington’s School of Dentistry. But she was no stranger to NIH. She first came to NIH as a postdoc in the 1980s and, soon after, received her first NIH research grant. In those days, she participated in the annual NIH run and some fun runs with colleagues at NIH.

There was plenty of snow where Somerman did her doctoral work—the University of Rochester in upstate New York. While there, she took up cross-country skiing. When she first came to NIH, she remembers skiing on a golf course in Rockville after a big snow. Nobody at the course seemed to mind, she said.

Always an active person, Somerman also played tennis for many years. In fact, that’s how she met her husband.

“Once lodging is booked for Dr. Somerman’s travel, she will always seek out a park or other space nearby where she can run,” said Suzanne New, Somerman’s executive assistant. “Sometimes she’ll even send us photos from her runs. She’s taken some beautiful photos during runs at sunrise.”

Most days, Somerman takes Metro to work and runs home. On days when she drives, she tries to fit in a run during the day.

“Running relaxes me,” Somerman said. “And it’s a great alternative commute.” For more, visit—Dana Talesnik

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