Low points

Dejected and overheated, I sprawled near the edge of Fagervann lake. I looked over at Pål, whose body language said he felt something very similar to me. We were three hours into a long run on the trails of Oslo forest, and the suck was real.

An actual image of me considering bailing on a long run.

On paper, everything was laid out for a great day: gorgeous weather, nice trails, a good group of people. I was having a rough go of it though. For whatever reason, I had a nasty stomach ache I couldn’t shake, and that in turn left me feeling lackluster and slow.

Pål finally voiced what I had been thinking for a couple of hours: “We could just quit and take the bus home from Skar.”

You’ve had a good go of it, I thought, Go home. Relax.

“I’ll keep going as long as anyone else wants to,” answered some evil part of me was in control of my vocal chords. I secretly hoped everyone would agree to bail at Skar, but Oscar wanted to continue, so we did.

Pål on beautiful Oslo trails.

As we began descending towards Skar, a gear shifted inside of me and suddenly I remembered that I do, in fact, love to run. I gradually felt better and better, and by the time we reached the final climb of the day up to Barlindåsen, I was flying.

It gets better if you run for long enough, I optimistically titled my Strava activity. Sometimes pushing through the suck is the point of the entire workout.

Oscar, Pål and Vegard enjoy the hard-earned view from Barlindåsen.

I mostly do two things these days: train for long distance trail races, and write my PhD dissertation. Both processes have me figuratively (and sometimes literally) on my knees, begging to quit, more often than I care to admit.

One chilly February afternoon, I submitted a scientific article to a journal. There was no fanfare, no finish line. I got my umpteenth cup of coffee, and opened the draft of yet another article, and felt bile rising in my throat. I felt as though all the work I did was disappearing into a void. Why did I even do all this research? Who is actually going to read these articles anyway? Does anyone even care? It was all just another hurdler to jump over, trying to earn a PhD.

PhD life.

In running, progress can be slow, but it is usually measurable. One more kilometer. Just get up that hill. Sometimes writing scientific papers is like competing in race where the course changes as you run. You can spend hours making a figure, only to decide to remove it entirely. A rejected manuscript has to be reformatted and rewritten for another journal. Or, in my case, I abandoned a paper I had spent weeks working on entirely in the interest of finishing my dissertation on time.

At the same time, doing a PhD and running long distances are similar in that you sometimes just have to embrace the suck. Like giving a toddler a time-out, you have to package all the unpleasant emotions and put them in a corner and say: I know you’re there and I don’t care.

That’s the ridiculously grown-up response anyway. But who am I kidding? Obviously sometimes you call your significant other, or your mom, and you whine. And that’s OK to. It's all good as long as you keep going.

The good news is there is a finish line to every race, and a deadline for my PhD dissertation. We’ll get there, one step at a time.

...and there's always coffee!

- The Wild Bazilchuk