Sunday, March 7, 2010

HOW RUNNING IS LIKE A DISSERTATION

Today was probably the most difficult run I have even done in my life -- and if you give me a minute, I will try and relate how or why I think this run has anything to do with my dissertation.

As many of you may already know, I am a huge fan of running -- 14 marathons so far and I can't tell you how many half-marathons, 10K's, 5 K's, and assorted other races (in the last month, I have added two triathlons to my "athletic resume"). But, as many of you already know, I have been dealing with severe Plantar Fasciitus on both feet (mostly the left heel though), making running painful and not nearly as much fun as it used to be. I started running in 2001 as a way of losing 80 pounds and somewhere along the way I got terribly addicted.

So here is the deal -- there is this cool trail run called "The Quivering Quads" -- a half-marathon that is a "trail run" (i.e. through the paths of Cuivre River State Park about an hour and a half north of downtown St Louis). If there is anything that makes my heel hurt more than anything else, it is uneven terrain. Here is the description from the Fleet Feet Web site: "The race was regularly featured in Ultrarunning Magazine and earned mention in Kirk Johnson’s 2001 book To the Edge, which documented the world of ultramarathoning. The race went into hiatus after 2003 ..." and now it's back! How could I NOT run this?! I knew the race was going to open up entries on a certain day and I knew those 400 slots would be filled quickly. So I signed up.

Today was one of the two familiarization runs so that folks could get a feel for the trails. Oh. My. God. My foot only lasted about three miles before every stone and every twig under my shoe was reason for shooting pain (along with a new pain on the top of my left foot that I have never felt before!). I had wonderful company the first couple of miles and met some new -- super cool! -- people. But by about mile 3 I was running completely along. Almost everyone was in front of me. This is a trail I have never run before -- and the trail was hard to follow (thankfully there were blue pieces of tape here and there to help us figure out the path which seemed almost unmarked at times). So there I was, grimacing in pain every few steps, tripping over rocks on a regular basis, a little scared because I was running all by myself.

So this is pretty much like the dissertation process, right? I have this wonderful support group behind the scenes (including a fabulous graduate advisor and a husband with more patience than anyone I know), but really I am pretty much out there all by myself. Sorta like me and those woods. Danger lurks -- i.e. students keep me busy so my research doesn't happen, I can't keep up with the readings I need to get done -- or the writing. I keep finding blue pieces of tape every now and then, guiding me in this whole process, but a lot of the time the path is NOT marked. I stumble, over and over. I trip over everything in sight (including a packed schedule that I pretty much did to myself) and the pain of being stressed out sometimes feels like the sharp physical reminder in my heel when I run.

So in two weeks, I get to do what I did today but more than double the distance. I have no idea how I am going to pull this off (my a** and my heel are both throbbing and I can only master a hobble at this point). But I often don't think I can get this research done and the dissertation written either. I am just not one of the smart people. So maybe gettting through to the finish line will give me a boost. Or maybe I will pass out before getting there!

So that's what is on my mind tonight. I promise to get back to documenting the research tomorrow. My students in both classes are busily working on essay #2, a media analysis in which I asked them to focus on race, class, or gender. These are what I will be reading during Spring Break (which starts at the end of this week!).

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