Sometimes, progress is nonlinear

I’ve mentioned once or a handful of times on here that I’m a runner. Last summer I completed my first half-marathon. This summer I was training for another half-marathon, with the goal of finishing in 2 hours. Training was going fabulously—I was setting PRs in shorter-distance races, my pacing was great, running was fun…

…until I injured my hamstring in June.

When my typical strategies of RICE and ignoring the problem didn’t make it go away, I gave in and went to physical therapy. I’m healing, but it’s maddeningly slow. A 3.5 mile run feels awesome one day; a few days later, I’m walking at mile 2. I’m forced to run slower than I’d like. My PT says it was a matter of when, not if, I’d get this particular injury given my flexibility and strength imbalances, so in a warped way it’s good the problem happened now and not when I was further into training (and possibly increasing the damage). I’m lucky, though—it looks like I’ll be able to run/walk the half. I’ve had to adjust my expectations radically—instead of PRing, I’ll be thrilled if I finish with more running than walking.

My summer has paralleled my running woes. At the start of the summer, I had an ambitious project list, which included developing a new course to propose to the department and doing some preliminary work for a grant I’d hoped to submit by the end of the year. I did not have students working for me, so my time was mine, all mine! I set a blistering pace and expected nothing less than tremendous productivity on all fronts.

Except…I traveled. A lot. (Some fun, but a lot more work travel than usual.) And I had a perfect storm of substantial service obligations. I ran into a dead end on the new course development. And that grant? I’m not so sure my idea is all that feasible anymore—and the more I’ve tried to develop the idea, the less I’m enamored with it, and the more roadblocks I seem to hit.

In short, I feel like I’ve taken a ginormous step backwards this summer.

I know that the backwards steps are part of the nonlinear progress that is academic work. But as with my rehab, it’s frustrating. It’s hard to remember that the backwards steps are progress too. Every misstep, every dead end, every forced slowdown does eventually lead to the desired result, as long as I keep plugging away at the small stuff, whether that’s the stretches and strengthening exercises from PT or the daily writing/coding on the research problems. With tenure, I can better afford to have those nonlinear periods of (visible) progress too, without the hit to my career. So I continue to adjust my expectations, as I do with my running, knowing that things will eventually return to normal on both fronts…and that I’ll be a stronger academic and runner as a result.