It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

How grad school is like training for (and running) a race!

By SARAH SHIELDS

July 30. 2012

As most of you know, I have become an avid runner over the past few years (I'm running my first marathon in October for the Make A Wish Foundation!), and I am also entering my second year of grad school. On alternating days, it feels like I've been a grad student for a week, and others, it seems I've been at it for three years! While pushing through my long run this past Saturday (14 miles!!), I was thinking about the similarities of being a student affairs grad student and training for/running a race...

sagrad runners.jpg

Let me start from the beginning. Usually when I find a race I want to do, I get really excited and research everything about it- price, course, reviews, etc. I imagine what outfits I will wear on race day (especially fun when I signed up for the Disney Princess Half Marathon), look for fun things to do in the area, and calculate my training plan- making sure I have ample time to prepare for the big day. One of the most exhilarating parts of signing up for a race is finding friends to do it with you and connect with others training for the same one! It's always great to make connections with other runners, find out what they're doing to prepare, and perhaps even share a few long runs leading up to the race. Similarly, when I finally made the decision to attend grad school, I was almost obsessively researching programs; I asked everyone I knew to recommend schools they thought I should apply to. I compared faculty, course offerings, locations, and even climate. By the time I applied and was invited to interviews in the spring, I had probably researched over thirty schools (and yes, was giddy and excited the whole time)! Social media over the summer was a godsend- I was able to connect to my future cohort-mates, get essential questions answered about my new home, and calm my nerves considerably about the anticipated workload/assistantships, etc. 

After months of training, cross-training, and those wonderful rest days, it's finally time for race day! I wake up super early, eat a hearty breakfast, and get to the starting line with enough time to stretch and wait in the never-ending line for the port-a-potty. The anxiousness I feel while shuffling slowly toward the starting line completely disappears as soon as that gun goes off and all of the runners around me collectively pick up their pace to signal the beginning of the race. The first mile always flies by; I forget why I ever thought running was hard- "this is great! I could do this for hours!". The signs and cheers from the crowd send shivers down my spine, and I have to remind myself not to start out too fast even though I'm so excited I feel like I can probably sprint the entire thing! Around the halfway mark, though, reality starts to set in, and I quickly remember why I logged so many miles during training- running is hard. It takes mental concentration, strong muscles, and a heck of a lot of determination to make it to the finish line. I push through to each water station, picking up a little boost with every passing mile sign, until I come to the last stretch. When I know I'm going to finish, I get an automatic burst of energy. I know the end is in sight, and although my legs are screaming at me to just let them collapse, I know I have to keep going. "All of your hard work is going to be worth it!", I tell myself over and over. 

The first semester of grad school was, at times, both overwhelming and thrilling. Those first few weeks, I was optimistic and enlivened; I got to work early, met and talked to as many people as I could, and read every sentence of the textbook. I remember thinking, "Who said this would be hard?! This is fun!" The friends I had made helped ease the homesickness and I was enjoying thinking about all of the opportunities that lie ahead. And then reality did, in fact, set in. Writing twenty-page papers while simultaneously having pressing deadlines at work PLUS searching and interviewing for internships for the next semester- needless to say I was a tad inundated at times. I had to push myself to see the light at the end of the tunnel and keep reminding myself why I wanted to be there in the first place. There were definitely some metaphorical aches and pains as I got used to the ebb and flow of the program. But I persevered and eventually made it to the halfway point- one year down, one to go! 

Although I still have a few months (and a few hundred more miles) until I graduate, I am looking forward to it with confidence and a sense of optimism that tells me I really can do it. I know there will be many more sleepless nights, research papers, and sore muscles. There will be a point where I will want to just give up and sit down on the sidelines. But I can almost see the finish line- it's just over the next hill. And when I finally cross it, I know the countless hours of training, studying, traveling, writing, and working will all be worth it! I will bend down to accept my medal, celebrate with my fellow racers, and, as I sit down to take it all in, I will think to myself, "I DID IT!" 

 

Posted on July 30, 2013 .