Saturday, August 11, 2007

just a little further

I did my first Danskin Triathlon in 2001, and since then, have done at least one sprint triathlon (1/2 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 5K run) each year. Except this one. I just couldn't get into the training this year, and my focus right now really needs to be on getting the dissertation done.

I feel a little sad about skipping a year, though, and I need to keep my body healthy while I focus on my mind. So I've done a little training, just the bare minimum for me to feel like I'm staying fit. Mostly I've been running and walking. Those are the easiest exercises to fit into my schedule because I just have to lace up my shoes and go. Biking and swimming require getting more equipment together, so I've definitely slacked off on those. Don't even ask about weight training, which by all rights I should be doing to keep my injuries (shoulder, knee, hip) from flaring up again.

I've gone out on my mountain bike a few times, but today I finally dragged out my road bike, which requires special shoes and has a much narrower and more uncomfortable seat. It was an act of will just to decide to go out on that bike ride, but once I got started, I didn't want to stop. My original thought was to go out for an hour, but I ended up riding to the end of our trail and back, which took a little over two hours. I was dead tired by the time I got home, but proud of myself. The trick was that I didn't ever commit to going the whole distance. When I got to my turnaround point for one hour, I thought, "Oh, just a little further." And so on, until I was close enough to the end of the trail that I had to finish it.

I've often said that the only athletic talent I really possess is determination, or if you want to be a jerk about it, sheer pigheadedness. I don't want to leave something (a race, a workout) unfinished. Once I get moving, I don't really want to stop. It's the getting moving part that is hardest.

I've had the same experience with my dissertation work. The hardest part is sitting down to the computer to work. The second hardest part is staying focused and not checking out real estate sites, job sites, or looking at news headlines. I actually use a kitchen timer set to twenty minutes when I'm writing. For that twenty minutes, I'm not allowed to do anything but work on my dissertation. When the timer goes off, I'm allowed to take a break for up to twenty minutes. The funny thing is, I often just start the timer again because I don't want to stop working in the middle of something. "Just a little further..." I've found that I've had a lot of success this month, which I've dubbed "Write Every Day August," just doing 20, 40, 60, or 100 minutes at a time (for some reason, I don't like the number 80).

My proposal was the first 3 chapters of my dissertation. I have Chapter 4 more than halfway done, and then it's on to Chapter 5 after a quick review of Chapter 2. I also have to do some revisions on all the chapters I've done so far. Still, the goal for the end of Write Every Day August is a complete first draft. My advisor has been pretty happy with the drafts I've given her so far, suggesting only minimal changes. So if I make my goal, I should be able to actually wrap this thing up in time to graduate in December. Just a little further...


  1. i like your thinking! pigheadnesses is an invaluable skill, i reckon :)

  2. I think the computer/internet is such a dangerous thing for me too -- I can waste a lot of time instead of doing the work at hand. I like the kitchen timer idea and I've heard that being used for decluttering -- just spend 20 minutes and then quit if you feel like it.

    I'm sorry you couldn't do the triathlon but you're right to concentrate on the dissertation and just as importantly, take care of yourself. I don't think I realized how many injuries you have. But you also understate how much exercise you do get in each week -- folks, she's always walking or swimming or something.

    Keep up the good work; we're rooting for you!

  3. Good luck on the writing method...I struggled with a short attention span through both an undegraduate and master's theses.

    I just commented on Debbi's blog on how enjoyable a bike ride is as an alternative to running. However, I love my road bike...

  4. Determination (I like the word perseverance myself) is absolutely the most valuable quality ever, I am convinced. It's perseverance that will earn you a dissertation, get you fit, help you reach your goal weight, and many other things in life.
    If only we could fix a little timer on every tedious task we do in life and look at things in 20 minute increments. Days when I've had the best workouts have sometimes been when I don't at all feel like exercising and only get myself going by saying "just five minutes... just five minutes more..."
    AA has been really successful because a huge challenge is broken down to lots of little pieces (one day at a time). This is definitely the way to approach any daunting task. Thanks so much for your insight, Jen!


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07