September 20 2017

Running into Myself

by Kimberly Carfore, California Institute of Integral Studies

Every morning is the same—my day begins with a trip to the coffeepot. On the way to the kitchen I pass a printout of my thirty-week marathon training schedule posted on the wall next to the refrigerator. With a fresh cup of coffee in hand, I glance to see what my body should prepare for later in the day—two miles, eight miles, 12 miles? I say “what my body should prepare for” and not “what I should prepare my body for.” This subtle distinction embodies the way I balance my work and life as a doctoral student.

As a doctoral student, I know what I should prepare my body for: hours and hours of sitting. I have disciplined my body (and mind) to sit and pay attention to hundreds upon hundreds of pages of academic material. When I am finished with my readings for the week, it is in my best interest, in order to better my career potentials, to pick up an unassigned book to read to enhance my area of knowledge and expertise. If I have reached my capacity to absorb more information reading, I choose another activity which also involves sitting: writing. If I am not writing for classroom assignments, I am writing an article for publication or a paper for a conference presentation. The more time I spend on these seated activities, the better my chances are of landing my dream career when my time as a doctoral student and the learning opportunity it provides has come to a close.

So then what is it about my marathon schedule that provides me with the correct structure, revealing the important distinction of what my body should prepare for the day instead of what I should prepare my body for the day? I will use the actual marathon to provide a metaphor.

At 6:00 a.m., a herd of people stands heavy in anticipation at the start line. The gun is shot and very slowly the crowd starts to move—at a fast-walk/slow jog pace which initiates the 26.2 mile course. With adrenaline pulsing through each and every participant’s body, it is appropriate and quite natural to sprint in response to the gun, especially since the event is timed. However, with 26.2 miles ahead, it is quite necessary to go against one’s natural impulse to sprint in response to the gun and instead preserve one’s energy.

The first few miles go by relatively fast. The excitement of the race and the novelty of the course provide a context through which one can get lost in the adrenaline. At around mile five or six the novelty wears off. Mental games—math, singing to oneself, and pattern recognition—provide entertainment. At mile ten, reality sinks in. This is what you will be doing for the next two and a half hours. It doesn’t feel like you are doing anything worthwhile, and you have forgotten why you signed up for the marathon in the first place, but it’s one foot in front of the other until the finish. Mile thirteen is the halfway point, but the idea of doing what you just did all over again seems impossible! At mile fifteen, everything hurts, you want to quit. At mile twenty blisters form and muscles tighten. Your body wants to stop and stretch but the clock is ticking and your mind tells you to keep moving. You don’t want to be a failure. Alas, there is something runners call a “second wind.” If you are lucky, the second wind kicks in and the last few miles are done in a meditational mindset.

The marathon is the doctoral process. The structure, training, and masochistic aspects of the events are so similar that marathon training helps give me a comparable program to follow—one that is focused on the body rather than the mind. It is this tension that keeps me grounded, focused, and attentive during the process. You know when you find yourself habitually leaning in one direction that tends towards your own detriment? This is how I am with overworking myself and buckling under the pressures of academics. The pressure of a running program assures that I get up and move my body even when I don’t want to. Keeping my body healthy helps me maintain a healthy and dedicated mind. The meditational mindset I enter into with running transfers over to my reading practice. In addition, some of my greatest paper ideas and inspirations come to me during my runs.


Kimberly Carfore is a doctoral student in philosophy and religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Image: "IMG_7627" (CC BY 2.0) by  jordanfischer