Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dallas Marathon Weekend

In what turned out to be a great distraction from waiting on comps results, I ran my first half-marathon this past Sunday! I signed up in July for the Dallas MetroPCS Half-Marathon and started training shortly thereafter. Up to that point, my longest distance was a 10K (6.2 miles) so I definitely had a way to go. Thankfully there are some amazing resources online with different training plans and I have several other runners in my life to offer advice along the way.

Since the start was 8 AM Sunday morning in Downtown Dallas, about 30 minutes away from where we live, we decided to stay at a hotel downtown, the Dallas Omni to be exact, to make the morning of less stressful. They were offering a special discount to marathon runners so we were able to stay there for a reasonable rate. The amazing thing was our hotel was right in front of the start/finish line so we didn't have to worry at all about getting to the race early or waiting in the long lines for a Port-A-Potty!

Hello there, Omni!
We checked in Saturday shortly after lunch, headed up to our room, and was amazed at the view! We decided to upgrade our room for $25 and we were so glad we did! The room was very spacious and just look at the view!

Yes, that is a TV in the bathroom mirror.
Come race day, we didn't have to head down until 7:30 (corrals closed at 7:45) but I woke up before 6 anyway as that's just what my body's used to. Had my normal long-run breakfast of a bagel and banana. Stretched out. Tried not to freak out. Then eventually it was time to head downstairs! Matt walked with me to my corral, we stood around for a bit, then we decided he should leave so he could get to his first spectating point near mile 1. 

On Saturday at packet pick-up
Race day!
I'll spare you an in-depth race report, but I will say it was one of the most physically and mentally difficult things I've done, but also one of the most fun things I've done. The spectators made it. I think I would have hated the experience if it wasn't for the awesome spectators. From their costumes and signs to the things they would shout out at you as you were running by (including "Go, random stranger, go!"), their encouragement was awesome and helped me power through. I also enjoyed running through several parts of Dallas, from Highland Park to Greenville Avenue to Deep Ellum. 
Around mile 1
If I hit a wall, it may have been at about 10.5 miles in. At that point it became so mental, trying to convince myself to not stop, keep on putting one foot in front of the other. I was able to see the Omni at a distance, and I knew I only had 2 miles to go, so that helped. From mile 11-12, I was wondering why the heck I signed up this stupid thing. Then I saw Matt at about mile 12, which made me put a big smile on my face. At that point through the end of the race, there was a large crowd of spectators cheering and yelling us on, so that was awesome! Couldn't stop running in front of them, right? 
At mile 12, so close!
Hello there!
As I crossed the finish line, my eyes filled up with tears just from all the emotion I felt-- satisfaction, mental and physical exhaustion, shock, joy. One of the race volunteers asked if I was OK and I just nodded my head and continued on to collect my medal. Here I was, a girl who could barely run a mile a few years ago to running 13.1 miles. It is truly amazing what the human body can do!

Total time: 2:07:48. Average pace/mile of 9:45.

Now 3 days out I am definitely less sore than I was. Monday was pretty painful as I was really feeling it in my quads & hamstrings. I will be getting a foam roller soon because I know I will be doing this again. I'm not going to be doing a marathon next (had too many foot issues with just this distance) but I would love to do another half! The whole experience-- from the spectators to the course to running with 20,000 others-- was addicting and I can't wait to do another one and beat my time!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Comps Success

I will have a post recapping my half-marathon in a couple of days, but Matt has the pictures from that on his cell phone and I want to wait until I can get them to share that story with you. But as you may know, I passed all 3 of my comprehensive exams! 

Story: On Monday morning, I went to the gym to do a light work-out to help warm up my sore, tired muscles. Then I headed to the grocery store to get a few things for the week. After arriving home and setting all the grocery bags down, I glanced at my phone and saw I had an email from UTD. I was able to preview the message and saw it was from my department head titled "Comps results." My heart rate definitely increased as I opened it and saw this:

Jumping up and down, I called Matt on his cell phone. No answer so called his pager. After paging him, I realized I bought cold stuff at the store so I should probably put it in the fridge. Waited around about 1-2 minutes more before he calls me back and I share the great news, filled with laughter and more jumping. (I'm sure our neighbors who live below us loved it if they were still home.) After we got off the phone, I called my parents. Next I started sharing the news with others, from those in my bible study groups to other close friends and family.  

The bittersweet aspect was finding out that not everyone passed. That was probably inevitable, but it definitely dampens my celebration to know some of my friends are having such a hard time. 

Regardless, Matt & I still celebrated once he got home from work. We went to a local restaurant we have always wanted to try in downtown Grapevine, but were just waiting for the proper occasion. Over drinks and delicious appetizers and entrees, we finally got to relax and realize that so many of our prayers have been answered. We walked around afterwards and enjoyed the beautiful Christmas lights that had been put up in the area. And then of course dessert and coffee had to happen. 

Cheesecake with a chocolate swirl. It was every bit as delicious as it looks.
I am just so relieved to have it all done with. Passing all 3 exams the first attempt was never a guarantee. Something I now feel comfortable with sharing is that I even had a job waiting on me. Starting in Fall of 2015, I will be an assistant professor at a local university (if you know me in real life, feel free to ask). I interviewed for the position in October and was offered it a few weeks later. However since I wasn't ABD, I didn't feel comfortable talking about it until I knew I would be done in time. Now that I am ABD, I am confident I can get my dissertation done by July. We don't have to move to another part of the country. Matt gets to keep his job. We can stay in Texas where most of our family is. 

You can see why I feel so relieved and blessed! So congrats for living through comps with me. You won't have to read another post on the topic, promise! :)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Great News!

More details to come, I promise, but wanted to let you know 2 things:

1) I successfully ran my first half-marathon yesterday! My only goal was to not stop running and I'm happy to say I met that goal. Total time- 2:07:49, so not too bad for a first half! Looking forward to more :)

2) I PASSED COMPS! I received the email this morning that I passed all 3 exams so I am officially ABD (all but dissertation). 

Thank you to everyone for their support and prayers during this time. It's been crazy and I'm so relieved and grateful to have had such successful results. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

So. Comps.

The fact that comps are somewhat over feels rather surreal. I have been studying for these exams for more than the past 6 months, pretty much full time. I started collecting and organizing my cites in January. I started reading and synthesizing the literature in May. I started memorizing in late October. We didn't travel for Thanksgiving so I could study and keep a relatively normal schedule. I am sure there are other sacrifices that have been made, but you get the point. My life has revolved around these exams for a LONG time. 

This image and others courtesy of google
To be fair, the stakes are relatively high. You get 2 chances to pass all 3 exams. Fail at least one of them 2 times in a row, go to jail, go directly to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $100. You get the point. No comps, no PhD. 

In talking to most people, I have had a really difficult time explaining these exams and how difficult they are. The amount of information is immense and you have NO idea what questions are going to pop up. You are expected to be able to answer any question about any theory, talk about policing or courts or corrections, and be familiar with all the intricacies of research methods. I had over 500 citations memorized for all three sections when it was all said and done, and that was after cutting a lot of material out. You have to hedge your bets at some point because you simply can't know everything. 

Additionally, these exams are written. I wrote 17 (double-spaced) pages for theory, 13 pages for policy, and 10 pages for methods. We were given 4 hours for each exam, and they were typed, fortunately. 

The way it works is we show up to the testing center on campus, we put all of our belongings in lockers, and then we are escorted to the computer. We get a piece of paper that lists 2 questions, regardless of which section it is. We pick one question from those 2 and answer it to the best of our ability. 

For theory and policy, I knew what question I was answering simply by process of elimination. I couldn't answer one of the questions for each exam at all. One of them asked about feminist CRIM, a very rarely studied topic, of which I had 1 cite memorized. Fortunately I felt relatively comfortable with the questions I could answer, so answer them I did and that was that. 

For methods, I didn't feel comfortable with either of the questions. Each prompt had multiple parts and I felt I could answer some parts of each. However, there were some sub-sections I wasn't completely confident about. Regardless, I still had to pick which prompt to answer, so I gave it my best shot. If I had to identify an exam I feel the least good about, it would be that one. 

Me on the couch last night at 7 PM.
The way the grading process works is there are 3 faculty committees, each made up of 3 professors. One committee grades all the theory answers, another grades policy, and the other grades methods. Each professor will read the answer, decide if it is a pass or fail, and then they meet together to discuss them. The faculty say there are answers that are clear passes and clear fails, so those don't require much discussion at all. Then there are those that are borderline; those they do discuss in greater detail. 

In the past this grading process has taken anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks. Since there were so many of us taking it relative to past semesters, we were told to expect them by 2 weeks, for sure by Christmas. The results will come by email, so if you see me anxiously staring at my email inbox or my phone, you know why.  

Included for no reason at all except it made me smile
At this stage in the game, I'm not sure which was worse-- studying, taking them, or waiting for the results. None of them were fun. Taking those exams was especially stressful. Trying to figure out the best way to present an argument, being mindful of the time you have left, plus the emotional strain of just knowing this is it, well, it made us all very exhausted by the end. 

Several of us got together for drinks Wednesday afternoon when it was all over. It was great to relax a little, but it was also hard even then not to over-analyze what each of us had written. Did we interpret the question correctly? "Oh, you took it to mean this? Well, I thought it meant that." Ultimately though, I'm learning how to just let it go. To trust God that the results will come out as He wants them to. Much easier said than done, but it is a lesson I'm actively learning.

I also want to say a big thank you to Matt. He took off work so he could come be with me during the breaks and stay in the hotel with me so I wouldn't be alone. That meant so much to me and I know it wasn't easy for him to do any of that. I am very blessed to have him as my husband!

On a related not, I also felt very encouraged through several people that reached out to me, let me know they were praying for me and thinking of me. If you were one of those people, know it meant a lot to me and I really appreciate it. 

Finally, if you got to the end of this very long description of comps, kudos. Hope you have enjoyed the fun and at times random images along the way :)

It is Christmas season after all!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

They're done!

I will probably write a more detailed post later, but I wanted to drop in real quick and let the world know I finished my last comprehensive exam yesterday. At 11:40 AM, I left the testing center, having saved my Designs comps exam answer. 

I'm not sure when we'll get our results back. I have been told about 2 weeks or so, so we'll see. I'm definitely having a hard time not thinking about everything I wrote (40 pages in sum) but it is a good exercise in trusting God. 

I appreciate everyone's prayers and encouragement through this time. I am still recovering from the process, both emotionally and physically. Who knew stress could take so much out of you? My sleep cycle is all sorts of messed up and I am having a hard time concentrating on some tasks. Hopefully that will get back to normal as time progresses.

Anyway, got to get back to wading through emails and all other tasks I put off! 

Comps + Target = impulse purchases. We went for the travel
shampoo bottles and left with a few other items. This occurred a few weeks ago...
This was yesterday, my post-comps celebration lunch. That is
only 1 bacon cheeseburger that has been cut in half, promise! I
couldn't tell you the last time I had a burger and boy was it good!