#RunPhD: Belong

Bib number pick-up for Marys Peak 25K was in an elementary school gym. The gym was never a favorite place for me in school. It was the place of sit-ups, shuttle runs, locker room gossip, and praying to not be picked last (or even worse: to not be picked).

I had over an hour on my own until shuttle bus to our starting line, and lots of nerves to work through. For weeks I’d been running seven miles with a friend every Tuesday on Powell Butte. Those miles didn’t feel enough any more. All of my previous races on city streets didn’t seem relevant. I felt totally out of place and had to fight the urge to call the whole thing off.

One of my favorite scholars, Stephen Brookfield, wrote about imposter syndrome in education. It’s an experience where a person is waiting to be found out. For those around them to discover that they should not be there. The emotion was one I often witnessed in my adult students who could not believe they “got an A” in a course. I’d remind them that they earned that A. Sometimes that reminder had to be said a few times to sink in.

Standing on the playground, I felt like an imposter. And there was no one there to tell me that I wasn’t.

So I tried to focus on one word: Belong. It became the mantra, and sometimes the prayer, that kept with me for the hours ahead. As I stood in the parking lot, waiting for our bus, I got to visit with two other runners, Carl and Jessica. Their fears and goals echoed many of my own. I belonged there. And desperately needed to remember that.

During the race, I tried to hold onto my word and take deep breaths any time I felt unworthy of being on the trail. Daisies lined patches of the course, bringing little bits of joy into the mountains. And the two miles run with a group of others had me in a pack of runners who ran and walked and let me just enjoy their groove.

It was a tough race, I won’t lie about that. But the tough was more in my head than in my legs. Hopefully next time I’ll be even better at remembering that I, and everyone else on that course, belong.

I’ve survived 13 marathons and one Ph.D. program. So…now what? I’ve learned through the journeys that it’s not about intelligence, speed, magic beans, or waiting for it to get easy. It’s about strength and perseverance. This year’s blog series will be about #WhatsNext after crossing some major finish lines, and preparing for new starting lines as a runner and a (not that kind of) doctor. I am #RunPhD.

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