Marathons and PhDs

I ran the Edinburgh marathon on Sunday and, as it was my second, feel like I can class myself as a marathon runner. As my mind was wandering (around mile 21 when I needed distractions), I realised that there are a surprising number of similarities between running a marathon and doing a PhD. So here’s my view on it, summed up by 7 words.


Running a marathon was a definite ‘bucket list’ thing and a PhD had been a long-standing dream too. Both take a bit of ambition and a glass of wine to apply for.


‘If I run three times a week and eat pasta I’ll be fine’.

‘If I read all these papers before I start then I’ll be fine’.


The unexpected ones, the people who have done it all before and those who just like to talk a lot.  They crop up more than you realise and are invaluable…because they know an awful lot more than you do.


The times when it’s cold and raining and the last thing you want to do it run around in it. Or the times when it’s warm and sunny and you’d rather be outside than inside sciencing. It feels like there is always something better to do, but in truth once you start there’s nothing better.


Runner’s tummy and lost toenails are both sadly real things that no one tells you about. Little surprises crop up in the lab too…bacteria not growing just because and throwing your week plans out of the window.


Running and PhDs are notoriously all consuming and an obsessive personality lends itself well to both. Split counting becomes the norm just as much as a colour-coordinated lab book does. And obsessive cleaning is actually quite a useful trait in microbiology.

And finally…


Not many things are capable of bringing a sense of calm to an anxious head. Running does, mostly because the internal cries of pain are louder than the normal ramblings and worries. And so does science – reading, working, talking it. Probably makes it all worth it.


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