Thing’s I’ve learned running, but applied to my thesis.

I’ve learned a few things about running during the last year.  In that time I’ve read a lot of websites and magazines (I’ve even been in an edition of Women’s Running!).  Until this morning, however, I never thought I could actually apply all those rules to other areas of my life*.  Then, there I was – 4km into a 6km quasi-tempo run thinking about how much I was hurting and how, there was a time a while ago that I thought that hurting meant I should stop running.  Don’t misunderstand – there are many times when hurting should make you stop.  Immediately.  There are other times when hurting is just a part of running and you should suck it up.  Sometimes hurting means you should push harder!  And that leads me to this, the four things I’ve learned running that I need to apply to the writing of my thesis:

1. Hurting doesn’t necessarily mean stop.  Sometimes it means push harder.

Writer’s block isn’t nice but it is an inevitable part of writing.  It can sometimes strike when you least expect it.  The best way I’ve found to get over writer’s block is to write.  Sometimes the pain is indicative of something bigger that you shouldn’t push through – a shoddy, illogical argument, incomplete research, lack of reliable evidence, all these (and more!) are reasons you should stop writing and reassess where you are.

2. Train through pain to race through pain.

Put yourself and your ideas out there, even if it’s scary or you think you aren’t ready.  The only way you will become confident writing and talking about your research is by writing it and talking about it.  Every potential awful question at a conference gets you one step closer to confidently answering that awful question in your viva.

3. Three weeks hard, one week consolidate.

Training plans are often written around this idea, or something very similar.  Push hard for three weeks, then fall back in intensity and/or distance for a week to consolidate the work you’ve done.  In writing it doesn’t have to be so rigid but it’s a good rule of thumb to remember that every so often you should spend a bit of time going over what you’ve written, figuring out where you’re at in the greater scheme of things and consolidating the hard work you’ve done.

4. You need to train to your event, but that doesn’t mean ignore other types of training.

I’m training to run a marathon.  That’s a distance event (obviously).  That doesn’t meant that I shouldn’t do speed work, or strength work or work on my agility just because the main focus of my training is building endurance.  Similarly, the PhD is like a marathon.  It’s a long, slow event that you can shoot out of the gate and fizzle over the finish line or slowly build momentum over the course of the event and it doesn’t really matter because you’ve crossed the line either way.  But that doesn’t meant that you shouldn’t focus on other things – teaching, writing articles and reviews and conference papers.  These are all good things to add to your training program.  Because, remember, your PhD is the training and not the main event.  Your academic (or otherwise…) career is your A race.  This is just a warm-up.

So, that’s it – the four biggest running-related thesis rules!  Now, to apply them to my own work…

*This isn’t just a slight exaggeration.  It’s a downright lie.  But, for the purposes of this post, let’s pretend it’s not.


2 thoughts on “Thing’s I’ve learned running, but applied to my thesis.

  1. Rachel Hallett says:

    I like the idea of the 4th week – I tend to find I work a lot like that anyway, and I think giving myself permission for the ‘active recovery’ week would actually be quite sensible.

    • Neon Anonymous says:

      And I think it can also stop you from heading down an interesting-but-irrelevant path; I recently spent two months writing a chapter start-to-finish before realising that it doesn’t really add anything to the overall argument of my thesis.
      I like the idea of giving my(your)self permission to take these breaks. I do, (obviously not as regularly as I should by my superfluous chapter tale!) but I still feel guilty doing it!

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