If you can finish a dissertation

When I was in graduate school, there were a couple of students in my department who ran marathons. They were a few years ahead of me in the program, and I remember distinctly the advice one of them received from their advisor: “If you can finish a marathon, you can finish your dissertation.”

I’m set to run my first marathon tomorrow (the Publix Atlanta Marathon), and I’m going to use the converse of that statement as a mantra during my run: “if you can finish your dissertation, you can finish this marathon.”

Obviously the marathon requires it’s own set of prep work which I’ve done through training. I’ve followed a plan that’s given me a sense of how tough it’s going to be physically and mentally to finish 26.2 miles. I’ve gathered my gear and put together a racing strategy. When people ask me if I’m ready, I answer affirmatively. But I have doubts.

There was an occasion when I definitely wasn’t ready for the physical task at hand–during my first year of grad school when I went running with the marathoners. At the time, my regular running routine consisted of a mile or two in the flatter sections of Berkeley near the bay. I ran with the marathoners in the opposite direction–up into the hills behind Berkeley’s campus.

Less than a quarter mile into the run, I was already finding it difficult. I’d overdressed and was having trouble talking while the rest of them chatted comfortably. The incline grew steeper, and about a mile or so in, we came to a hill that looked like a wall. I excused myself while the rest of the group ventured forward on the trail.

I jogged back down to the department humiliated. I never tried to go running with the marathoners again although I continued to admire them from afar as they ran their marathons and finished their dissertations. I hoped to be like them one day, and perhaps tomorrow I will.

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