Mongrels and ultra runners

Ultra running is apparently becoming popular in the UK. I don’t know up to what extent we can say “popular”, but I am a subscriber of Runner’s World and one of the latest issues was on long distance running. And by long distance they don’t mean the mere 26.2 miles of a marathon, but more like the 50 miles that most ultra events have in store. Don’t worry, this is not a post about running per se. It is about part timing on your PhD and how that feels like long distance running. In the past few days I have been thinking about it (particularly on Wednesday, when I did go for a run), and I thought I would write it up.

My theory is that doing a PhD part time is like running an ultra marathon. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Here are some points to illustrate this.

(Please note I am neither a marathon nor an ultra runner. My longest distance ever was 11.5 km and I thought I was going to die and my legs would fall off like a robot’s. But I do run for pleasure and I think I can relate to the topic. There goes my disclaimer)

1. It is definitely LONG DISTANCE, longer than a full time PhD. Full time PhDs have minimum of 3 years, maximum of 4 years turnout. A high percentage of PhDs finish at some point in between the 3 and 4 year mark, basically because most people that do full time PhDs are funded, and funding tends to be scarce, if existent at all, at any point after year 3. Hence there is additional motivation on finishing as close to the 3 mark as possible in the shape of not being able to afford life in general.

With part time PhDs, these times extend. There is not a golden rule in regards to how many hours a week a PT PhD needs to put to complete their degree in the stated amount of time. The data I do know is that a PT PhD can go up to as 60 months. That’s one hell of a lot of months. The distance to cover, so to speak, is the same, but the fact that you are covering it at a much slower pace for obvious reasons, surely makes you lose the will to live sometimes.

2. The rules of marathon running are useless when it comes to ultra marathon running. For what I can gather about this, running an ultra marathon can be a bit about body survival, rather than doing it really fast. Marathonians tend to try to beat their times. Ultra runners do too, but I can see how ten minutes here and there make no difference when you have been running for 9 hours. The point is finishing, after all.

This applies to my part time PhD because nothing I have even been taught in a workshop aimed at PhD students has ever helped me. They are only based on doing full time research: time management, beating writer’s block, writing in your second year, etc. With so little resources dedicated to part timers, you sort of have to make up your own rules, somewhat as you go along. This is also true for full timers, but the resources available out there are way more comprehensive and if you look for the right information, you will get advice on almost anything in a full time course.

3. You need the right gear and the right preparation for ultra running, which is way different from the gear and preparation for running a marathon. I suppose ultra runners are way more thankful for the invention of vaseline to control chaffing, and invest more money in water bagpacks and lasting shoes, and all sorts of layers, as well as fine tuning their training and their bodies’ survival threshold. Marathonians, at points, might actually be focusing on being faster and picking up water and gels from the refill stations, which can be a b**ch sometimes.

Same goes for part timers. Full timers tend to have an office, a certain daily routine (although some don’t and that is scary!), teaching hours and duties, and certain technology. Most part timers don’t have an office space, so they need to set up camp at home (or like myself, strategically set camp at the office and use every single bit possible to show people I need the space!), they need to establish routines in early days to try to stay on top of things, and their time management and organisational skills MUST be outstanding. If full timers need to come to grips with time managements (like marathon runners need to get a certain degree of body resilience and survival mechanisms), part timers must be on top of everything at all times in order not to lose continuum (much like ultra runners are, in essence, running survivors and their resilience is beyond outstanding).

I think I am going to leave it here and I will write another one in the next couple of days trying to encourage mongrels to be more like ultra runners.

As always, Be a Mongrel. #beresilient