The long-distance runner

I have been strangely silent on my blog, and I apologise. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say, it’s just that my time has been poured into research experiments, academic reading, and an attempt to write literature reviews on anything to do with playfulness.

So, from now on, I will keep my blog up to date with ramblings about the process of a PhD researcher on playfulness as opposed to the writing I am doing academically.

So, what have I discovered thus far on my journey? That the process is very much like that of a long-distance runner. It requires stamina, determination, grit, motivation, a willingness to push through stitches, climb over walls, recover after injury and faith that one day eventually I will cross the finishing line with a smile on my face.

I have three significant pictures in front of me. One stands in front of my computer and says: ‘Coffee in one hand, confidence in the other;’ the second is a card stating, ‘The greater the obstacle, the more the glory in overcoming it;’ and the third is a picture on my wall of runners moving in the same direction, with a verse from Hebrews 12:1 saying, ‘Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’

All three are relevant. Every run I do, always ends with a coffee. Well, you need to have a reward at the end, don’t you? I run in all weathers, rain, wind, snow, hail, and sun. The only time I don’t run is when it is icy underfoot so then it is a treadmill alternative.  I am not a fair-weather runner and I think that applies to a PhD researcher too.

So where do I see the similarities?

  1. A PhD is a long-distance all-terrain run. It is not a sprint. It takes time, it feels long and arduous at times, but there is much to see, enjoy, encourage, and explore along the way. There will be times when you feel you hit a wall, but as a runner, know that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, eventually you will get a second wind and be able to push through.
  2. It requires mind games to keep going. The only way I could run a 50k was to break it up into smaller chunks. I knew I could run 10K, so when I got to that milestone, I wiped it out of my mind and pretended I was just starting out on another 10K on another day. PhDs involve chunking it out, dividing it up into milestones, then pretending you haven’t done it and doing another one. You soon realise you have gone too far to turn back and so you know you just must keep going.
  3. There is always going to be faster stronger runners. I am not a professional athlete and do not pretend to be. I can only run as far and fast as my five foot fifty something frame will let me. If I start to compare myself with a fellow runner or researcher, I will quickly look at all my inadequacies and shortcomings. Remember you are running your race, no one else’s and no one else has your physique. Run the race that is suited to you – at your pace.
  4. Find those who will cheer you on. There will always be those who think you are mad doing what you do. But stay tuned to those who will clap your important milestones and landmarks, those who will wipe your knee if you fall on it, those who will cheer you on when no one else is around. When you run a long race, there is nothing like having a few people who shout out your name when you feel you have run out of steam.
  5. Be prepared to take rests and replenish your energy supplies. When I run, I take snacks – often jelly babies and electrolytes – to ensure I keep going. But I also stop to enjoy what is around me, whether it is a swan coming into land on the canal, a kingfisher on a branch waiting for minnow or a heron on the riverbank. These sights feed me just as the edible snacks do. I also don’t run every day; I make sure I have enough rest days. The PhD run is similar, we must stop, recover, and replenish otherwise we burn out.
  6. Remember why you are doing it. I love running. I feel alive when I do so. I enjoy being playful, it keeps my sense of humour alive and makes life more fun. When my sense of humour starts to slip, I know I need to take note and give myself some self-care. When my muscles ache, I know I need to stop and listen. Sometimes we can lose sight of what we are doing and why we are doing so. There is a bigger picture, and we often need fresh perspective.

At the end of the day, for me, every mile matters. It is not so much the finishing that is important, it is the lessons learnt throughout the journey. Doing a PhD was not something I ever imagined myself doing, but I am doing it, one step at a time, one mile at a time. It may stretch me, challenge, and push me in ways I don’t want to be pushed, but I am in it for the long haul.

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