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Top ten reasons why grad school is like a marathon


Monday, April 08, 2013

Last week I presented and passed my dissertation defense for grad school. After, I was physically and mentally spent. I had a snack (a bagel), got changed, laced up my running shoes, grabbed my garmin, and went on a LSR to help clear my head. I ended up running 10 miles in about 86 min, about an 8:35 pace or so, which gave me plenty of time to think about what I had accomplished and had been through. Upon reflection, I decided that finishing grad school was similar to running a marathon in many ways.

I have done two marathons (Portland, OR in 2001 in 4:02 and Lincoln, NE in 2008 in 4:25). Each was challenging and I finished exhausted but with a feeling of pride and accomplishment.

Here are a few reflections on how grad school is like a marathon:

1. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13. A marathon forces you to tap into inner strength, to have faith that you can complete the training and the race. Belief in Christ and in His strength working in me helped me through the rough times. Also, as St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us…”

2. “If you believe you can or you believe you cannot, you are right.” I don’t know who said it first, and have seen it many times on SP, and have come to accept the truth in this simple adage. You need to go into marathon training or grad school knowing that you can and will finish.

3. Your performance and successful completion depend on your training. The miles that you log build up your strength and endurance, helping you gain the physical and mental capacity to complete the race. For grad school, the training is the coursework, the presentations, the reports, the pages and pages of writing. While it seems like much of the writing ends up in the digital circular file, the process of writing builds up your capacity to write, and you eventually find yourself writing material worthy of inclusion in journal articles and your thesis/dissertation.

4. You cannot neglect your health! Healthy eating is important to physical well-being and success. About half way through grad school, I realized that I was neglecting my nutrition, over eating and snacking too much. I realized that I needed to eat better to maintain my health and to fuel my efforts, both in physical exercise and in mental exercise. One of my friends who worked on a master’s degree in an evening program would drink a 2 liter bottle of mountain dew every night to get himself through his studies. As a result of the short term abuse he subjected his body to during grad school, he ended up developing diabetes. If you neglect nutrition during marathon training or grad school, you can develop negative (and lasting) side effects.

5. The goal is the goal. In the book “The non-runner’s marathon trainer”, the authors emphasize that realistic goals are important, especially for your first marathon. If you go into your first marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston (a goal one of my friends had for his first marathon), you will be disappointed (unless you are a genetic mutant). If you have a more realistic goal of completing the marathon, the chances of your success (and being happy or satisfied with your success) are greatly improved. I have heard a lot of folks disappointed with their marathon or HM times, when in reality they are doing something that many people do not and they should be thrilled to be able to say, “I am a marathoner!” In the same way, finishing grad school is the goal. Some people take longer than others, but getting to the finish line is the goal. There is a joke about what you call the person who graduates at the bottom of their class at med school. You call them doctor.

6. Perseverance. Sticking to the training day after day, when it seems like the race is far off, when it is raining, when your tummy feels rumbly, when it is too dark out or cold out to run, or through any number of other excuses is essential. Making your goal is possible through the perseverance you show during your training.

7. Rest and recovery. R&R are essential to any good training plan. Rest days and light weeks help your body recover from hard runs and long weeks. They help prevent stress fractures and overuse injuries. You work in cross training like swimming, biking or ST to balance the running miles you are putting on your legs and the stresses you put on your system. In the same way, grad school requires you to plan in some down time. For me, exercise has been a great way to get in some down time throughout the week. Sometimes I thought about the project step I was working on, but often I used the time alone to take a mental vacation from working. Also, when I got home in the evenings, the time between getting home and getting the kids in bed was a no-work time. I fully focused on my family during that time. Because they needed that, and, to be honest, I did too. Similar to cross training, I found that reading non-work related material at night was a healthy distraction from work. (I am partial to a good crime/mystery here and there) Additionally, taking vacations is important. A week during the summer to hang out at Lake Erie or a week in the winter for a family ski trip, completely unplugging from work/research/writing helps one refresh and refocus.

8. Support. It is difficult to go it alone. Even if many of your training runs are solo, it is great to have the support and encouragement of a training partner who supports you and your goal. In addition to support from my family, I have benefited from the grad students I work with (both on the grad school side and on the fitness side). Also, since I joined SP almost a year ago, I have gotten a ton of support from the SP community. The community has been a real blessing, providing support, advice, humor, and friendship. A good support network can keep you going when things get tough, reminding you that you can do it, urging you not to give up, cheering your milestones and getting you back on your feet when you fall.

9. Celebration. An important part of reaching your goal is recognizing your achievements! You just finished a marathon, you get your finishers medal, you celebrate, you get lots of pictures and snacks at the post-race refueling station, and you hang your bling on the wall with your other finishing medals. Same with grad school, you finish, you get your diploma, and you get lots of photos, you go to a post-graduation reception or party, and you hang your diploma on the wall. You have set a goal and successfully met it, you should feel pride in accomplishment and take a minute to pat yourself on the back!

10. Life is full of many different challenges that we can tackle. While it is good to take pride in your accomplishments, don’t let it go to your head. Remember that finishing a marathon (or grad school, or ranger school, or the Appalachian Trail, or anything else difficult that you can think of) doesn’t make you better than other people, but it does make you a better person!

Thanks for reading! Spark on!



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Member Comments About This Blog Post:
DOUGDC 4/22/2013 9:57AM

    Bump

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DOUGDC 4/20/2013 10:11AM

    Well said!

And congratulations!

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SPUNKYDUCKY 4/19/2013 3:42PM

    Fantastic blog!!! Reflecting on how we get to where we are now is always worth the time and energy spent.

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VTRICIA 4/12/2013 11:40AM

    So true. Losing weight doesn't make me better than other people, but it has made my life better. And while I read your blog, I decided becoming a rock climber totally makes sense. I'm working on pull-ups, what am I going to do with them?

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OPTIMIST1948 4/12/2013 6:27AM

    Congratulations on your victory!

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CLWALDRO 4/11/2013 7:32AM

    emoticon for sharing what you learned in training for a marathon and tips for surviving grad school.
I whole hardily agree with all 10 points you list. emoticon

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LMB-ESQ 4/9/2013 9:13AM

    This is great. Perfect timing for me, as I'm about to graduate from law school and start prepping for the bar exam. Every one of your ten points fits me spot on. (Except maybe the first one, because I don't do scripture, but the point is well taken about faith and inner strength)

I think I will save this to my favorites and come back to it when I feel doubt and like my strength and faith are wavering, as they surely will.

Congrats on your dissertation! What's your field of study?

BTW... we have the same joke in law school as the one about med school. Finish at the bottom of your class and you're still a lawyer.

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JESSIKA_56 4/9/2013 7:55AM

    Good insights, thanks for sharing!

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ROXYZMOM 4/9/2013 7:54AM

    Congratulations on completing your goal!
Nice analogy!

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GETSTRONGRRR 4/8/2013 9:19PM

    Congrats on all counts, the running and the grad studies!

Nice analogy....and for both events, there are times when you need to kick it in high gear and sprint a little too!

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WILSONWR 4/8/2013 7:53PM

    Great analogy and very well written! Congratulations again on passing the dissertation!

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SLENDERELLA61 4/8/2013 7:28PM

    Congratulations on your dissertation defense. Very impressive! Loved the blog, too. A lot of truth in it, very nicely presented.

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BROOKLYN_BORN 4/8/2013 4:36PM

    Congratulations on your successful defense. You deserve to be very proud of yourself.

“Some people take longer than others, but getting to the finish line is the goal” I love this statement
Also as Timothy said
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”




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JULIA_RUN2SMILE 4/8/2013 1:42PM

    Fantastic blog! I particularly like "the goal is the goal!!!" ... and sticking to a training plan is the key to reach a realistic goal... It worked for me each time and I am planning on doing it again. I really like the fact that you point out something else here - that what we learn from training can be transposed to work or a big project like your PhD... With a training plan you can get great accomplishment!
I personally from time to time neglect the R&R - or when I should be recovering I feel guilty for not pushing... This is very important if you want to reach the goal! And your point number 7 is a good reminder that work can mentally drain you and taking a step back can increase your productivity!

Awesome!!!

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LINDAKAY228 4/8/2013 11:58AM

    Great comparisons. So true I a lot of things in life. Congratulations on passing the defense of your dissertation!

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NATPLUMMER 4/8/2013 11:43AM

    emoticon

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VISUALLYRICS 4/8/2013 11:31AM

    emoticon on your successes! I love how you can shout out emoticon that 'You did It!'
I love that about SP. emoticon emoticon
I really enjoyed your blog....:::thank you for sharing so much wisdom with us. For giving God the glory! You inspire me to greatness. You are certainly an Opportunist.

emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

Comment edited on: 4/8/2013 11:32:16 AM

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COOP9002 4/8/2013 11:26AM

    Great insights. Thanks for sharing.

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STRIVERONE 4/8/2013 11:18AM

    Congratulations. You should feel proud.
Feel proud of this SparkBlog entry too. It can't help but inspire anyone who reads it.

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GOING-STRONG 4/8/2013 11:00AM

    So happy you and what a great accomplishment. You my friend are a wonderful example of how much can be accomplished in life with balance. Spark on!

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CHEMCHIC2006 4/8/2013 10:46AM

    "There is a joke about what you call the person who graduates at the bottom of their class at med school. You call them doctor."

I used to say that all the time! Very nice post. Congrats on your accomplishments!


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ANDY_54 4/8/2013 10:44AM

    Congrats on getting it done! Great blog!

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LIGHTNINGRUNNER 4/8/2013 10:21AM

    Congrats on your defense

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MESEATURTLE 4/8/2013 10:18AM

    very well written !!!!

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MBEHNKEN 4/8/2013 10:16AM

    Nice post, thank you.

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BIGPAWSUP 4/8/2013 10:16AM

    Awesome! That's a great way to look at many of life's biggies!

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KELLIEBEAN 4/8/2013 10:16AM

    Excellent and inspirational blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I totally agree!



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