With a PhD dissertation in the making, I stop to wonder why I want to run a marathon this year. I could certainly wait for another year. However, I have never been compelled to what it means to run a marathon as I am now.
First of all, I have to say that I am no pro when it comes to running. I enjoy running, for sure, but my favorite workout is still pure barre. If you had asked me several years ago if I saw myself preparing to run a marathon at one point, my answer would have been NO!
So, why I want to run a marathon now?
Well, I feel that doing a PhD is pretty much like a marathon. I am sure this analogy has been made many, many times, but I think you cannot truly relate until you go through it yourself. As I am training alone at the moment, I have had quite a bit of time to think during my training. This thinking has been mainly along the lines of how I see my PhD and my training, and how alike they are. Here are some of my thoughts so far:
In both, the PhD and training, you have to push yourself and your limits beyond what you imagined you could do, but, at the same time, you have to pace yourself. Yes, there are periods when you want (and need) to sprint, but, certainly, you cannot sprint forever. I’ve gone through periods in my PhD when I wanted to get as much done in as little time as possible. Crazy working hours, no exercise and skipped meals was the recipe. Just as running as fast as you can, you cannot last in that status for too long. And there comes my next thought:
As much as you need to train/work, you need to find time to rest. Your body and your mind need time to recover from work intensity. Let’s be honest, when the mind wanders is when we get pretty good ideas, just as we can enjoy a better run when our legs have had a bit of time to recover. In general, we need to treat our body right. I am not vegan, or vegetarian, nor do I follow any fancy new diet. I just try to eat as healthy as I can and avoid fast food. When training, I add things that help my muscles recover; but in all honesty, I think that the main reason I work out is because I don’t like dieting. Eating is definitely one of life pleasures for me.
Taking a general perspective, you have to enjoy every little step. In my training, sometimes I feel that I could go straight to a 6 mile run instead of that 3-miler. However, I have come to understand that those short runs are there for a reason, and when looking at the week totals, those 3-milers were part of a very decent amount of weekly miles. In the same way, the steps we consider “small” in our PhD, are contributing toward a larger goal. Everything teaches us something.
I read that running a marathon is not actually about race day. It is about all the intermediate milestones you hit while training. I think the same goes for the PhD: it is not about the dissertation defense, it is about all the steps we take, which lead to the final milestone. I think that our take on all these intermediate steps is what give us the perspective on our final accomplishment.
I recently talked to a friend who told me that his PhD period was the most horrendous time of his life. His life was pretty much confined to the lab and to his desk at home. He lived four years in a pretty cool city but he didn’t know much about it. Yes, he graduated in a somewhat short time, but his personal cost was incredibly high. After that day, I started thinking about how I evaluate my own 4-PhD-years. They are not all rose-smelling, pretty-pink memories. I remember days in which I wanted to give up as well as days in which I felt stronger and smarter than I had ever felt. My overall evaluation gets a pretty high score. The same goes for my marathon training. I feel stronger with every improvement I make; I evaluate my rest and recovery time and how they affect my performance while running. I’ve had dreadful runs as well as amazing ones; but so far, all of them amount to my perspective today.
Despite all the sacrifices that a PhD and a marathon training entail, I wouldn’t trade these for any other experiences. After all, rumor has it that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger 😉