Grad students finish their educations with the marathon of writing projects: the dissertation. In the year or two (or more) it takes to finish this monster, advisors remind writers not to take on too much outside the project. But what happens if you’re in training for an actual marathon at the same time? Both projects are physically and mentally rigorous, but if done right, they can actually complement each other. Here’s how anyone with a hefty writing workload can balance a demanding running schedule.
- Let running add structure to flexible schedules: It’s easy for a project to expand to fit the time you have; writers procrastinate, keep strange hours, and find it difficult to hit on a regular schedule. And yet consistency always makes a writer more successful. Different schools of thought advocate a daily word limit or “15 minutes a day.” Basing your schedule on the runs you have to complete for the week allows you to envision a more regular work routine. One professor I know recommends scheduling runs exactly the way you might a meeting and keeping those dates just as firmly.
- Treat your body like a runner first and writer second: When we sit at a desk for hours at a time, we tend to forget that there’s a body attached to the brain doing all that thinking, writing, and editing. Prioritizing your body’s needs encourages you to eat healthy meals, even on a budget, get enough sleep, and cut back on the alcohol and caffeine, all things that are notoriously challenging for students.
- Don’t overdo it: Even when you’re balancing long writing and running schedules, be generous with your expectations for the day. Avoid scheduling your week’s longest run, for example, on the day you’re planning to churn out a seminar paper.
- Dress the part: By now, it’s a well-worn mantra that people who work from home should change out of pajamas before tackling work. The change helps your brain shift from relaxation to writing mode. If you’re planning a run after a writing stretch, why not change into your gear first? Being dressed for a run will keep you more comfortable at the computer and will help with a quick transition from chair to pavement.
- Give silence a try: Being less-than-tech savvy and on a grad student budget, I didn’t bother replacing my iPod when it broke a few years ago. Instead, I started running without a soundtrack, and I haven’t wanted one since, even on my longer runs. I pay attention to my surroundings in a different way and even stumble upon a new idea or question for my project from time to time. Running without Kelly Clarkson to cheer you on may not be appealing for every run, but it’s a great way to escape the sensory overload of the computer.
- Build running support networks: I was surprised by how many fellow runners came out of the woodwork in my own program. I scheduled weekly shorter runs with a mentor, and when I moved to a new neighborhood, a nearby classmate shared all his favorite routes. Meet a classmate for a quick run instead of a beer or plan a jog together around a new part of town.