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Running Outside of the Pack

Quiet Revolutionary Antje Fiebig’s Story

During the last six months of my PhD, I was very stressed, worried, anxious, and anti-social. It was mainly because, even though I believed in my ability to get the PhD, it was very hard for me to deal with all the pressure. Sometimes, I just could not see the finish line.

To distract myself from all of it, I started running. With running, I suddenly found a finish line. One that kept increasing. I started with running 4 km, then slowly increased to 5, 7, 10, 12 km. After four months, I managed to run a half-marathon distance, though at a very slow speed. I’ve never minded that because the main goal was to get away from my computer and having to write that thesis. Running cleared my mind, and even though I wanted to have a break from the PhD, I usually had my best ideas for my thesis during my long runs.

I successfully submitted my PhD thesis, received my PhD, worked for another six months as a post-doc, and then traveled around the world for eight months. After getting back from my trip, I started running again. And suddenly I was thinking: Could I actually run an official half marathon competition? The main reason why I hadn’t thought of it before was because I love running alone. I’m a lab manager and students’ coordinator, so people come into my office all day long. I love running because it gets me out into the nature and because this is the time I can focus on myself—being an introvert, this is an essential part of my daily life.

I signed up for the Cologne Half Marathon, just to see whether I could do it and because once in my life, I wanted to experience a competitive atmosphere (even though it scared me more than the actual mileage). I continued with my training, and even though I had a few minor health issues, I always managed to get back into shape, mainly because I didn’t follow a strict training plan but rather listened to my body. I tapered, ate well, and was hoping to not get ill.

And then the race day came. I just loved it. When I lined up in my starting block, waving at my friends alongside the street, I was ready to run. The atmosphere was thrilling. I had chosen one of the biggest events in Germany (mainly because it’s close to where I live), and I didn’t regret it. Yes, I love running on my own, but it’s wonderful to have somebody cheer for you. It gave me such a kick, I cannot even describe it. My goal was 2:05:00—from my training, I knew I could do it. I finished in 1:57:38 and could not believe that there was a “1” at the front. I will never forget this day.

A few more things I would like to add: I don’t look like an athlete or a model. Most people would not think I am fit. But it’s not about appearance. I am also a vegetarian and have a gluten sensitivity. In addition, I never joined a running club—as I’ve mentioned, I just love running on my own. To me, the most important thing about training for the half marathon was my strong willpower. Running the half marathon was my dream, and so I did it, all because I listened to my body and my mind and because I never forgot how much I love running.

Don’t let other people tell you what you can and cannot do. Be proud of yourself and what your body and mind can achieve. Hopefully, my story can help motivate others to fulfill their dreams too.

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  • Anu Naik

    I think I can relate to what you are saying. One runs alone not just because that person is loner or lonely but because that person believes in having space and giving space to their thinking machine and new environment to think. It allows you to enjoy the surrounding. Such a beautiful way to say that we don’t need others to tell us what we need to do.

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  • Nakul

    nice story
    I too like running alone, and it does clears the mind.
    I had joined the Gym for a month, but I never liked that. I used to go for running early in the morning outdoor a year back. And I used to feel good. And now because of my odd working hours its not possible for me to do that. I really miss that.

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  • Nicky Imrie

    Running, walking, cycling, being active somehow is a great way to take a break from all the desk work many of us do. I’ve also found lots of ideas have come to me whilst running. Or my thoughts find good order! Congrats on gaining your PhD and the sub-two-hour Half, Antje! Schoene Gruesse!

  • Banks Peacock

    I agree on the getting great thoughts while you run. You’re in good company. When at NCSU, I got to talk to the great academic polymath Donald Bitzer. I don’t remember his exact numbers, but he said he got about two possibly really good ideas a week while running. Only about two percent panned out, but those he patented. Two patents a year for a 50 plus year career isn’t back, so keep running and thinking.

    I got a chill when you said you beat 2:00 hours. I usually have run/walked alone, but occasionally I’ll enter a “race”. I usually finish when the crew is checking their watches and packing up their gear, but that’s okay.

  • Gabriele Bonuomo


  • Statmom

    Wow that was such a positive wonderful story to start my morning. A story of triumphing over adversity. I love it. I am also a runner and started running first for vanity to stay in shape but it had so many other positive side effects – mental health was much improved and getting outside in the middle of the day broke the routine of sitting at a desk all day long, I too love running alone – no shame in that.

  • Lisa McGowan

    Thank you for sharing Antjge! I work in the financial services industry and am around people all day long. Though I love my work, I too found the joy of running – alone! Problem solving and creativity were both present during this ‘quiet’ time in nature. I would run on the University campus near my home where there were trees, hills, birds, squirrels and the river. Unfortunately I have gotten away from this practice and your sharing has revitalized my desire to lace up my shoes and start again. Wishing you continued peace.

  • Sandi

    I get my best ideas for teaching while on long brisk walks, simultaneously keeping fit and stress free!

  • Teto85

    I spent a lot of my time in med school on my bicycle. And that is not easy in Edinburgh. But the stress relief was worth it.