I’ve done both.*
And I’ve found that there is some truth in the analogy. Writing a thesis, like running a marathon, is a long process that requires a lot of commitment. It makes you feel excited and virtuous at first – you are building strength! You are going to achieve something! You are going to impress all your peers! You work towards your goal, training hard, getting ever so slowly closer to achieving it. Then one day, you find yourself near the finish line, and it can be absolute pure agony. Everything hurts. You’re exhausted. You can’t imagine ever wanting to do this again. (Then you finish, and all memories of that pain fade away until doing it again seems like a good idea.)
So the marathon analogy is pretty solid – if we imagine that this marathon is one where instead of following a single path, you have to loop back, repeat bits, and frequently get lost.
But there’s one similarity between thesis writing and marathon running that I think is very important, and rarely mentioned.
Putting on your shoes.
You can read runners’ magazines, analyse your stride, stock up on nutritional goo,** and measure your aerobic capacity until your friends think you’ve gone mad – and those things will all help you to run faster and further. But the most important thing you can do as a runner is put on your shoes and actually get out there to train.
The same goes for thesis-writing: you can read books on academic writing, attend workshops, optimise your desk, talk it out with your supervisor, and brew coffee – those things can all be very helpful to improve and facilitate your writing. But the biggest gains come from simply putting on your shoes.
Getting up every day. Going to your workspace. Picking up your pen. All writing starts with these simple steps.
And procrastination stops with these steps, too. The days when I get the most done are the days when I wake up, lace up, and head straight out the door. The days when I don’t get much done? They are the days when I think oh, I’ll just do the dishes… I’ll just phone my sister… I’ll just go through my mail. In other words, they are the days when I stay in my slippers a little too long.
Of course, once you’re happily ensconced in your writing, it’s quite understandable to fling your shoes off under your desk and get comfy. (Desk socks, anyone?) But by that time, your shoes will have done their work. They will have gotten you started.
*Actually, I only ran a half-marathon, but don’t bust me on that please. It was a big deal for someone who got consistent Cs in PE at school.
** A disgustingly real thing, as I learned.