A runner's perspective …
When you are training for a marathon (26.2 miles), running through mile 20 is called breaking "the wall." This year I trained for the Chicago Marathon, until a stress fracture around week 18 of training and I quit training about week 20. I learned how humbling an experience training for a marathon is. Several times a week I would put my running shoes, pray that I would survive the run, and celebrate just being able to survive 14, 16, 18 miles of running. Saturday, which are my long run days, were consumed of running for several hours. As I would pound out these miles, many people would support me. I often received encouraging text messages, cars even followed me asking if I was alright (clearly only crazy people run 10+ miles from home), or people even threw occasional water/gatorades my way. This support made all of the difference, yet it was my feet that had to carry me. There were parts of the runs that were completely glorious, like running farther than I have ever run before in my life. There were also parts of the runs that were completely despicable. There were times that I was pushing myself so hard that I was completely delirious on the road or even running so slow that someone could easily walk past me. But, breaking the wall… this was a painfully wonderful experience. If you ever run 20 miles, through all the pain, you can't help but feel accomplished. Yet, if you make it 20 miles… you still haven't finished 26.2 miles. In fact, running 6.2 more miles with sore knees and cramped muscles is quite a challenge. Yes, you might have broken "the wall," but the toughest part of the journey still exists.
Kind of like finishing your dissertation.
This past week, I broke through the "academic wall." After a mentally exhaustive and exciting PME-NA conference (which even had an integer working group!), I defended my dissertation proposal the next day on Monday. As I broke through the wall and received permission to start working on my dissertation, I can't help but think about all the miles that I have ran to get this point. I entered the PhD program knowing nothing about math ed research. Yet, here I stand a seasoned runner in mathematics education research. I wouldn't have made it through the coursework without my professors feedback and classmates pushing me. Passing comp exams, finishing my professional project, completing the dissertation proposal draft, and defending the proposal would not have been possible without the support of my professors, my committee, and others in the field that have shared their passions/ideas/research. Yet, it's my feet that have to run the race and that have to carry me to the finish line. I've made it to the wall and I've broken through. I am proud and SO GRATEFUL for all of the support so far. But, I have so much work to do still! I am so excited that I can officially start working on my dissertation. The longest part of the race is before me. Like any good race, I'm sure that there will be many highs and many lows on this last part of the journey. I look forward to it. Because no matter how dirty or how rough a race is, crossing the finish line is always a beautiful experience. I am a tough runner. I will push through each mile to get to the end.