PhD & Ultramarathons

It took quite a while of running, to see the sports compatibility and it’s so to say ‘translatable skills’. Or maybe I should not say ‘it took a while’, but rather ‘it took many runs’.

So also the idea for todays post was born during a 20km run last week. The PhD Ultra:

For both you have to find something that really, really interests you, as you will spend so much time doing it. Or you better find a race in an area that will keep you on your toes and absolutely inspired.

You will find that it will take enormous amounts of your energy and you will prioritise your life around it. In both you might sometimes wonder, if you’re actually making any progress. Both require you sometimes to just go on, no matter if you feel like it, or not. Likewise both need you to take a break, focus your mind/body on something totally different. You will sometimes re-run a route and find that you got so much stronger, or previously impossible distances suddenly feel totally doable (Ultra runners, how many marathons do you run per year, just in training?). You might suddenly feel your progress when you read a book/journal/article and it’s basically nothing new to you at all.

Both suddenly require more sleep to be sharp, or more sleep to recover from what you asked your body to do. You might find you end up prioritising your lifestyle around it. In both it is quite likely that you won’t get paid for it. You will probably find that there are as many versions of doing a PhD (funded, unfunded, part- & full-time, with teaching responsibilities or without, besides part- & full time jobs, external or at Uni, in research team or not, in a library/cafe/ or your kitchen table) as there are terrains you could run on. Your love for both will come and go and in moments you don’t enjoy it, just focus on that also this feeling comes and goes.

Both will push you to your limits in their very own intensity. Both are very lonely endeavours and you will more than once ask yourself, ‘why am I doing this’. For both the answer might be ‘because I can’. Through both you will meet people with a strong mindset and focus, and through both you get opportunities to travel and you can enrich your body & mind so much.

For both it will help if you don’t mind being alone, and you might need to accept that not everyone is as excited about you putting one foot in front of the other/your super special research specialisation no one understands, as you currently are.Through both you will get to know yourself physically and mentally very well. You will know how you run, quite literally, develop various techniques to lift yourself out of dark places, focus on the positive, sometimes simply push through, as nothing is permanent and you can rely on that no matter what, things will change for sure.

For both you have to break it down. Opening a blank word document with the intention of writing a book will probably make you cry before you have even started. Standing somewhere at a startline in the dark with your torch on at 6am, tired yet full of adrenaline, telling yourself to run the whole distance won’t help you either. Breaking it down to digestible pieces will make it so much easier. Paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, 10x 10km, rest stop to rest stop…

For both, some people might admire you, others will simply think you’re nuts. Most will probably ask you why the heck you’re doing this to yourself. I mean, what do you want to proof with it, or actually do afterwards with it (in case you succeed). Whilst with some you can take it easy, some will have very harsh cutoff times and might give a DNF if you’re too slow and won’t let you complete it.

Both have a high drop out rate… In Social Science the drop out rate can be as high as 50%, and I am sure some mountain races and tough terrains are close to that number. For both I read advice that mindfulness/meditation and yoga are a good combination and surely both benefit from a balanced diet.

Both are clearly doable, as many people do it right now and many have completed one, yet at the same time both are a little extreme and niche. Both might have been on your bucket list and something you always wanted to achieve. And in both there will always be someone apparently better than you. And in both I would say that speed isn’t everything 😉

Both wonder afterwards: and what now? And surely find themselves new apparently impossible challenges!

Do what you love!


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