PHD...Marathon Race...No Difference...KNOW THE 5 Ps!

I ran (and survived) my first marathon in October 2008 in Akron, Ohio (the city where NBA superstar Lebron James was born). It was a roving 26.2 mile race, in Akron, Ohio, tailor-made for the best runners in the world and challenging enough for thrill-seeking amateurs like myself. The origin of this race comes from a legend that states how Philippides, a Greek messenger, was sent from the Battlefield of Marathon (490 BC) to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. It is said that he ran the entire distance nonstop, burst into the assembly, and exclaimed victory before collapsing to his death. While there are some disputes about this legendary story, today’s marathons are a tribute to Philippides’ heroic feat. However, there is a difference between Philippides and today’s runners. . . preparation! I refer to it as my “5 Ps of any Marathon” (Plan, Pace, Pain, Presence, Progress). These 5 Ps not only helped me complete a marathon, but will assist new PhD students beginning a Ph.D. program.  


1. Plan: Knowing the Blueprint. Establishing a comprehensive race plan is key for a marathon. The race plan includes: Initiating a four month race strategy, establish a support system of family and friends, understanding the race course, outlining an exercise and nutrition schedule, and having a coach or fellow runners for accountability. The race plantakes the anxiety out of the race and gives the runner a road map for success. Whether a race or a PhD program, a plan is needed for success. A PhD plan is similar to a race plan. It must be comprehensive and not exclusively writing and research. It should include: supporters, exercise, nutrition, an intentionality for family, spirituality, health, well being, and an actual plan to accomplish the objectives of the program.

2. Presence: Enjoying the Present. Being present each day is critical for the enjoyment of the entire process. When I ran my first marathon I was so consumed with reaching the finish line that I was unable to fully enjoy the 4 month training process. After the first month, I changed my perspective and began to see the beauty of the journey. For PhD students, the visual of walking across the stage is the dream. However, the journey to that moment must also be valued and appreciated. God will reveal many miraculous and beautiful things along the way.

3. Pace: Finding Your Rhythm. A race plan includes a running pace that must be kept during each workout. If the race plan calls for a ten mile run at an eleven minute pace, running faster could compromise the race plan and lead to an injury down the road. The pace is designed to prevent burn out and help the body build up the kind of endurance and strength needed to complete the 26.2 mile run. The PhD plan should embody this mindset. A pace that is not overwhelming or cause burn out, but fosters the kind growth and development one would expects to see throughout the program.

"...don't wait until graduation to celebrate. Celebrate every milestone that is crossed."

4. Pain: Knowing the limit. It is inevitable. There will be pain when training for a 26.2 mile marathon. However, the training is designed to reveal pain so it can be recognized and handled appropriately. For example, my training revealed that around mile twelve I would experience pain in my right shin, but if I continued running it would subside by mile thirteen. The PhD is also a journey that will reveal things on the road to graduation. A journey filled with some pains that may include: disappointments, anxieties, time crunches. Understanding this dynamic is key to pushing past the pain in pursuit of the PhD degree.

5. Progress: Celebrating the small victories. I did not run 26.2 miles on the first day of training. It was a slow process that developed each day of training. However, celebrating each milestone is essential. Improvement fuels training and is the reward for hard work. The PhD journey has a wealth of gradual steps toward improvements. Celebrate those small milestones with a family outing, movie night, special treat, or simply an acknowledgement of positive steps taken in the right direction. Don’t wait until graduation to celebrate.  

In closing, the similarities between a PhD and a marathon is measurable. They both take time, can be frustrating, and offer a great reward when complete. However, There must be a Plan to follow, Presence to enjoy each day, a Pace that is manageable to ensure longevity and completion, the inevitability of  Pain and disappointments, and the willingness to celebrate the small progress along the way. If these 5Ps can be followed, then the likelihood of achieving of PhD degree and enjoying the journey is likely. On your mark, get set, go!


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