The loneliness of the long distance academic

I have the build of a middle to long distance runner. At school I was pretty good and represented the school at 1500m and the district at cross country (was doing OK at the county championships until I took a wrong turn in the woods…). These days it’s a major mental effort to get me out running, but I do enjoy it when I go, and I go once or twice a week. But the best part – and my forte – was the home straight sprint. Nothing really beats letting the centrifugal pull of the last bend (well I can feel it, even if I’m imagining it) whip you through the gears, lengthening your stride, trusting absolutely in your legs and your lungs to open right up and become an unstoppable accelerating momentum. For those hundred metres you feel like Roger Bannister, Seb Coe, Hicham El Guerrouj, like a God, and they are unquestionably what the previous three and a half laps were all about. Without them, this is just a dash to the bus; with them, it’s running.

At the start of September 2006, I am precisely one year and one month away from completing my PhD. According to the note in my diary made at the start of this year, on Monday 2nd October I start writing my thesis. This is underlined, and therefore set in stone.

The parallels between long distance running and writing a PhD are numerous and cliched. But with such a short time to go before I start writing – I’m coming up to the bell, presumably – I’m finding it very difficult to gather the necessary energies to push through. The final lap, when I put finger to keyboard and begin to write I can’t wait for. But in this approaching period, when I should theoretically be completing my research, seems impossibly dull and has little appeal for me. There’s still tons to do, and I’m gradually chipping away at it, but not nearly enough it seems to me – as I sit here and blog.

Perhaps that’s some of the mentality of long distance running coming out in me too – by holding back like this, I’m guaranteeing a glorious final sprint that absolutely pushes me to the limit. Part of me would like to have failing eyesight, sleep deprivation and fingertips worn down to stubs come September next year – that’s not simply reporting on your research, that’s a real thesis.

Either way, it’s going to be an interesting one year and one month.


5 thoughts on “The loneliness of the long distance academic

  1. actually, I’m sorry to say it but it’s a bloody nightmare. I’m submitting tomorrow or Friday 15th. I wish you all the best but I’ve really been drained by my thesis (in New Media Studies), especially the last year. Also, for me there was no sprint at the end – it’s just one endless long-distance run. I would say though that once you’ve reached the point of no return (which it sounds like you have), you should definitely stick with it and complete it. It’s not pretty though, and it’s no fun. The end should be worth it though 🙂

  2. Thanks Lenina (I think ;)). I’ll certainly stick it out to the end – I have a friend who has basically given up having done all the research but without finishing the writing, and that makes no sense to me. But I’m lucky in the respect that I have job that pays all my bills, but only requires me to work three days a week, so I should be able to motor through the first drafts relatively quickly (that’s the plan, anyway).

    Nice blog, by the way – I’ll no doubt be checking through the archives to compare experiences…

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