Until the early 1990s the running industry’s philosophy towards women and running could be summed up by the phrase “pink it and shrink it.” This phrase was used in reference to women’s running shoes implying that they were the shrunken version of men’s and “feminized” by colouring them pink. Thankfully, largely owing to Nike and their recognition that women’s gait and biomechanics differ from that of men, this philosophy has since changed.
I grew up being that girl with untamed hair, ripped jeans, stealing my dad’s hats, and avoiding at nearly any cost the colour pink. In short, I was a tomboy. On entering the world of running I was overjoyed to discover that the industry had moved beyond the need to make all women’s running shoes pink. Nike had set a new and forward thinking trend and not only adjusted the shoes to fit a women’s gait, but also had decided to give women the choice about the colour of their running shoes.
Nearly five years later, with still not-pink running shoes laced, I am heading to run club on Sunday morning much like almost every Sunday for the last five years. When I first started going to run club I expected to find an all-boys club with only a few women – I was wrong. The room was packed and majority were women. Since moving beyond “pink it and shrink it,” more and more women have taken up running. I’ve really noticed the increase of women participating, as my running clinics are usually all women with one or two men. I usually start my new clinics with the opening remark: “running is more of relationship than a sport, and one that is sixty percent psychological and forty percent physical.” Running is more often a game of convincing yourself that you can do it and then pushing your body to do so. In this way, running is also the most freeing sport relationship. You decide how far, how fast, and how long you go. You set your own goals and if you stick to the training program you can achieve your goal. I wish I could say the same for academia.
Academia is the other major relationship in my life. Unlike running, there is no training program that I can follow to succeed as an academic. While my relationship with running has not always been straightforward due to injury or inclement weather conditions, there is always a sense of security because of the degree of control I have. My success in academia, however, I only partly control. I can pour over books, jump through all the program hoops, and meet all the deadlines with no guarantee that I will be able to advance to the next phase of my academic career. While both academia and running operate on a schedule, the biggest difference between them is bureaucracy.
Academia has become more about jumping through bureaucratic hoops than actually participating in scholarly exploration. When I started graduate school I was under the impression that part of the reward of succeeding beyond the undergraduate level was the freedom to research and study what interests me, but like my expectations for run club, I was wrong, and this time it wasn’t a pleasant surprise. The higher up the academic ladder you climb the more bureaucratic and unpredictable it becomes. I wish academia were more like running where if you set a goal and stick to a training schedule you have the security of knowing that you could succeed on your own merit rather than your success being determined by the subjective and often conflicting nature of academic bureaucracy.
While my love letter to running is ongoing, my letter to academia has become a little bitter sweet. It’s difficult to succeed in a discipline when the goals keep changing; when you’re cheering section and equipment are ill-fitting and change daily from “you can do it!” to “you’re just not good enough”. I am sad to say I am only partially in control of my academic career. The other part is controlled by the bureaucrats still making equipment that is a simple reduction and recolouring of the same flaws academia had a hundred years ago. In short, I love you academia, but you are still in the “pink it and shrink it” phase and make it hard for minds like me to show you what I can do.
Liz Tetzlaff is an MA candidate in English at Dalhousie University, and running coach for Running Room, where in addition to coaching, I give outreach talks around the city encouraging others to get involved in the running community. My research interests mainly focus on poetry of the female Great War poets and their engagement with radical pacifist movement. In addition to running and war poetry, I enjoy playing with puppies, listening to Sarah McLachlan, and watching BBC mini series.