15 July 2010

Maybe Meta

This post is about training.

I like to train for events. I like making up my plan, defaulting on it here and there, and learning what to do better for next time. I had been training for an off-road 10K at a tough course here in Knoxville (Hastie Natural Area), but the last month has thrown me off my game, and it's a race put on by Kevin Mahan, so if I'm last, they'll call my name. Whee.

What's most interesting to me is not the event, though, because that's over in a single morning. I like the training, and I really like the learning-how-to-train-better parts. Recently, I've realized that as soon as training feels like work to me, I check out. Distance run? Meh. Intervals? I'd rather not. I've had to be more creative with my exercise while still maintaining the intensity. For the last month or so, I've committed at least one workout a week to sightseeing, by foot or by bike. I realized one day when taking a walk break that I've missed so much of what makes Hastie beautiful by running right past it. When I'm so caught up in my time or my form, I forget what I'm surrounded by. So two Mondays ago, we ran Hastie (in an almost PR time, which was strange), but we also explored the pond there, some of the course building that the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club has been doing, some of the flowers in bloom. We also saw a mother deer and her baby, who followed behind her bleating like a sheep.

Okay, pastoral blah blah, but here's the point: To train properly, the most important part is the consistency. To be consistent, it needs--for me--to not be miserable or boring or overly stressful. These excursions help with the training while also helping me focus on what's most important: does it matter if I cut my mile times down by 30 seconds? Only to me.

Segue: The dissertation process is exactly the same as race training. Make a plan, deviate here and there, be consistent, be intense sometimes. No one thinks the dissertation really illustrates your very best thoughts, only your very best thoughts up to that point and under duress. (A lot of duress, in some cases.) In the same fashion, training runs are never the same as race-day ones because there's something different when it's real, when it counts. So the dissertation is practice, though the result is more tangible than, say, a faster mile or better endurance. By writing the diss, I'm training for what life might be like as a junior faculty member while also producing an artifact that shows what I'm capable of creating (under duress, blah blah). Thinking about the diss in this way--as training for the event--has freed me up mentally to write it. I keep hearing that the "only good dissertation is a done dissertation." Now that I'm around 160 pages in, the book is starting to take shape *as* a book, and I can see how the daily attention (like cross training, keeping my food in check) accumulates in a product (like improvement on the trail, better times, comfort).

Just like race day. A measurable product.

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