Run Song & Run Interview

King Without A Crown  By Matisyahu (RUN SONG)

I’M A RUNNER: WOLFGANG KETTERLE, PH.D.
The Nobel Prize-winning physicist from MIT talks about his 2:50 marathon and how running helps him stay at the top of science.
Why do you like long-distance running?
I like the challenge of endurance running. You’re one-to-one with your body, consciously pushing against your limits to overcome fatigue, to push yourself further. Running is a challenge for my body.
What motivated you to keep up such a hard pace?
Because I wanted to prove to myself that I am able to do it. You want to reach your limits; you want to show yourself that this is within your limits. When I was running in those competitions, there was always this thought on the last few kilometers, “Why am I doing this?” And you think, “I will not do it again.” But then after you recover, you feel so good that you do it again.
How else are running and science similar?
I think both running and science reflect certain character traits. I have endurance, patience, and ambition. I’m willing to work hard toward a goal, to push myself and overcome limits. Running and science both let me express these traits. Also, this is one set of skills that made me successful in both science and running.

 

How has running helped you as a scientist?
I think that running helps me to do science because it is important to keep a balance. Running is a way for me to relax. With one hour of intense running, I can get a lot of physical exercise. I can relax my body. I feel a tension in my muscles when I don’t run. In that sense, I need to get out a few times a week in order to do my work as a scientist, which involves a lot of sitting still.

Has running helped you solve problems in the lab?
While running, I usually don’t solve problems, but running helps me to look at problems from a different perspective. It helps you to loosen up and relax. If you felt so strongly about something or if you are disappointed by it, then when you are running, you feel that there is more in the world than the problem that overwhelmed you. Running is definitely a way to take a step away from your problems and the other world. That is often very healthy because, let’s face it, personal problems, professional problems, they are very different when you look at them from a little distance. Running creates this distance from your everyday spot.

Running immediately introduces another focus. You have to go fast, you have to keep up the pace. You see the horizon or the next corner, and you want to be there. Therefore, running prevents you from over-focusing or obsessing. Running challenges you physically but also lets your mind think through problems with a different perspective.

What do you think about while running? Have you made any big discoveries during a run?
When I run, I think about everything—physics, family problems, plans for the weekend. I haven’t made any big discoveries on a run, but it does give me time to think through problems. Some solutions are obvious, but they are only obvious when you are relaxed enough to find them. Running is like decompressing and cleaning up your mind. Your body is busy and your mind is free.

Actually, when you are running, it is exhausting, so you can’t work on hard problems mentally. You have to divide your energy between keeping up the pace and thinking. If it is a problem where you have to sit down and formulate intermediate conclusions, it’s too much for running.

day 1

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