I started my Ph.D. studies in 2010. Shortly after, I also took up running on regular basis. One of my secret goals was that one day perhaps I would run a marathon. At the time, the goal of running 42.2 km in one strike felt about as far away as the thought that I would ever finish my Ph.D. Now, three years later, I am still working on my Ph.D., and I am still running. I haven´t run a marathon, but this summer I finished my first half marathon. Still far away from the 42.2 km, but I´m making progress. And I am still far away from finishing my Ph.D., but I am making some progress there as well. On both fronts I often feel progress is very slow, and I wonder if I will ever reach the finish line. In fact, I have found out that running and writing have many things in common, and training in one activity can help with the other.
This weekend I had a wonderful 15 km trail run through the forested area close to Akureyri, where I am now staying. I did not pay attention to time, but instead just enjoyed the environment and allowed my mind to wander. I was thinking about my writing and I was thinking about my running, and started thinking about the many links between the two. And before the run was done I had composed most of this blog post in my head.
Revelation One – Keep Moving
Writing is a step by step process. You can´t wait until inspiration calls you to the computer, you have to sit down and keep writing, whether you feel like it or not. The same is true with running. You just need to keep going, step by step. It does not matter how fast or slow you are, if you don´t continue, one step at a time, you will not finish. And if you do endure, you will finish, even if it take you bit longer than the faster runners. There are no short cuts when it comes to writing or running. You have to go through the painstaking process of writing each word, each sentence, each page, each chapter etc. And no one else can take the steps for you when you run your marathon. There is only one way to do it, to keep moving one foot in front of the other until you are done.
Which means, for both activities you need similar qualities: Strong commitment, patience and the ability to endure.
Revelation Two – Let Go
I have been learning many things from my running that are helping with my Ph.D., but sometimes work on my research also helps shed light on something running related. One insight I had last week was related to the importance of “letting go” of the old to create room for the new.
The topic of my research is climate change and international politics. One of the questions I am grappling with is why, in spite of all the knowledge we have about the disastrous consequences of man-made climate change, we refuse to change our behavior. We still rely on fossil fuels as our main energy source, and a shift towards a new energy system seems far in the future.
I was reading speeches of our president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. The president is, without doubt, the single Icelandic politician that has most often expressed his worries about climate change. He has held countless speeches, both within Iceland and abroad, about the dangers of climate change and the importance of a transformation in the energy sector. In his speeches he has stressed the positive opportunities, and has tried to inspire other nations, by giving examples of how Iceland managed to transform their own energy sector in a relatively short amount of time, by utilizing geothermal energy instead of fossil fuels for space heating. When reading his speeches it becomes clear he has good knowledge about climate change and understands the big picture. Yet, when it comes to the Arctic, and discussions about oil and gas reserves, he does not take a clear stand against utilizing those resources. On the contrary, he seems to take it for granted that those resources will be used in the future. Which leads me to wonder: Perhaps, at a deeper level, he does not really believe his own words. How can you keep on arguing for the importance of a transformation of the global energy sector, if you at some level assume fossil fuels will continue to play a major role in coming decades? Sure, it will take some time to develop the technology for harnessing other energy sources. And the transformation takes place in several steps. But at some point you have to let go of the old to create room for the new.
And as I was thinking those thoughts I realized one thing that has been holding me back in my running. I am too heavy (this was not the realization, I knew that already!). No matter how much I train, as long as I am carrying extra 20 kg with me on every single run, I will always be slower than I could be if I was closer to a healthy weight. And larger goals, like a marathon, or trail runs with even longer distances, are out of my reach.
I have learned that beating me up about weight related issues only increases the problem, so I have to be creative in how I tackle this issue. Most importantly, I have to be kind to myself. This can be especially tricky for someone like me, who has a slightly addictive behavior when it comes to sugar and foods high in carbohydrates. Not to mention the tendency to eat over all uncomfortable emotions!
So rather than focusing on all the things I should not do when it comes to eating, I´ve tried to think of how I can improve my diet by adding something healthy. Creating healthy alternatives is important, but at the end of the day I also have to let go of the unhealthy foods. At some level, I have never really believed I could survive without bread, pasta and other high carb foods as the main stable in my diet. So I while I have added some healthy things here and there, and reduced some of the unhealthiest foods, I am afraid to make a complete transition.
But just as it is not enough for the world to start using a little bit of renewable energies here and there, as long as fossil fuels continue to be our main energy source, the changes I have made in my diet so far are not enough. They are not addressing the key issue. If I want to make a real change, I have to “let go of the old” to create the room for the new.
Revelation Three – Be the Change
The third revelation is only related to running in the sense that the idea dawned on me when I was running: How can I expect fundamental changes to take place with respect to transformation of energy use at a global level if I am not ready to make fundamental changes in my own life to reduce my carbon footprint?
I like to travel. And I like the freedom a car gives me. I live in a small town, and it takes me about 25 minutes to drive to work. It takes me one hour (the other direction) to drive to the city, where I often need to go for various services, shopping, meetings etc. On average I drive about 1500 to 2000 km per month. Not to mention the distance I travel via airplanes when I go abroad. Since I sincerely believe that climate change is a very real issue that needs to be addressed, I´ve tried to make some changes in my life to reduce my own carbon footprint. I choose products with eco-labels if they are available, I buy local products when I can, I try to be modest in my consumptions, and I cherish the fact that all the energy I use for space heating, and the electicicity I use domestically in Iceland comes from renewable energy sources (hydro power and geothermal energy).
As for the travels, I try to tell myself I am doing as much as I can. I have a small car that does not spend much fuel compared to larger cars. Since I live in a rural area, public transport is usually not an option. But as I was running this weekend, I suddenly realized: “I´m not doing enough”. I am not “walking my talk” so to speak. Yes, it is true; I cannot cut down very much on my driving in my current situations. But my current situation is a product of my choices. I chose to live in one place and work in another. I chose to live outside the main urban area. There were good reasons for my choices at the time, but during my run I kept thinking: “Can I really go on with my climate related research, trying in my own way to influence how we think about this topic, arguing we need to make some major changes to our life styles, if I am not ready to make any major changes myself?” Yes, I have put some effort into small changes here and there… but just as the example with the diet that I write about above, perhaps a major change is needed here as well?
There is some longing, deep within, to live in more harmony with nature. Our modern day society does not make this an easy option. But I might be at a point where I cannot ignore that longing any more. It might mean some drastic changes. I have no idea exactly what those changes might be, or when and how I would make them. But as they say: Everything starts with a thought.
P.s. This blog is in Icelandic, and is mostly about running and fitness related things. For some reason, however, I felt like writing this post in English.