Monday, December 10, 2018

What Running Taught Me About Graduate School

Hi, friends.

It's been one hell of a semester.

As you know, I changed jobs last March, we bought a house in June, and I started my doctorate in September.

With the demands of a 40+ work week and taking two doctorate classes and training for the WDW Marathon, I have not had much time in my life for much else this semester, including updating this blog. In fact, this is the first non-academic thing I've written in about three months.

In my absence from the blog, I realized something; marathon training has been surprisingly helpful in surviving graduate school. I've long held the belief that training for and running a marathon is life-changing in a multitude of ways and this past semester confirmed it.

I've been anxious to post here again (it's amazing what time and distance can do for a hobby) and I thought this parallel between marathons and graduate school was worth writing about... and I might be procrastinating a little on turning in my final paper. 😜

What Running Taught Me About Graduate School

You can't train for a marathon overnight.

The marathon is not a race you can fake. You can't start training a week before the race and show up to the starting line expecting a miracle. You have to put the work in, day in and day out, for several months to prepare. Eventually, it will get easier. Same thing in grad school; you can't wait until the night before to start a paper. Doctoral work isn't a 5k- you can't skim your textbook and then cross your fingers that you'll ace the exam. You have to actually read the books and the articles. You have to write. A lot. You can't just expect to reach the level you need to as a doctoral student without putting in the time and work.

Run the mile you're in.

A marathon is 26.2 miles. It's easy to be crushed by thinking about how far you have to go- especially when you're only a mile or two in. So you have to run the mile you're in, focusing only on where you are now. If you look too far ahead, it will seem impossible; 'how the hell am I going to run 20-something more miles?' So you keep your mental energy on the mile you're in right at that moment. You'll never get to mile 26 without getting through miles one, two, three, etc. Similarly, I'll never get to graduation without getting through these first six credits. If I worry too much about what will happen next semester or next year, I'll never get through the classes I'm in right now. And I can't get to next semester without successfully getting through this one first.

Support is critical.

Running and training for a marathon require support. Maybe it's a coach, maybe it's family, maybe it's a random running group you met through the internet. Maybe they run with you, maybe they cheer you on from afar, or maybe they always have food and coffee waiting for you after a long run. Having people in your corner is what makes all the tough days bearable. And in graduate school, there are plenty of tough days. My cohort of 20 other doc students helps me significantly. They make me laugh, help answer questions, and just validate the wild experience we are having in class. And having Matthew as my cheerleader has been nothing short of phenomenal. He understands how demanding graduate school is and works so hard to make sure I feel supported. I could have never made it through this first semester without him.

IUP's DeD in Administration and Leadership Cohort 20.
My biggest cheerleader.

You have to keep showing up, even when it sucks.

Marathon training is not all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes I don't want to get up and run- I'd rather sleep in and drink coffee on the weekends than have to run 10+ miles in the cold. Sometimes life is busy and I don't have time to run. Sometimes my long runs are an absolute miserable slog and I can't wait until they're over. Just like with school assignments that I don't always feel like doing or classes that I don't want to sit through; I have to keep showing up. When it's hard, when it's boring, when it's not fun- I still have to show up.

Don't compare yourself to others; you do you.

In the world of social media we live in today, it's easy to compare yourself to others, especially when it comes to running. I often find myself looking at someone else's mileage or pace and wondering why I can't be that fast or run that many miles. It's depressing. When training for a marathon, you have to be insular. You have to focus on you and your training plan- and you have to trust that you have it in you to finish what you started. Same with school. I can't compare myself with other people in my classes or people who have already earned the degree. I can't measure my progress with someone else's yardstick; I have to focus on my path and getting to the goals I've set for myself.

Besides running a marathon, graduate school at this stage in my life has been the most challenging thing I've ever attempted.

But the marathon has also taught me the most important lesson I've ever learned: I can do hard things.

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