Don't Call Me A Master, I'm Just Writing A Thesis

By Crista Tappan - October 01, 2012

This is how I feel writing my Master's Thesis!

I have several books, articles and post-it notes strewn across my desk. I have papers with outlines, little arrows connecting floating scribbles of information. I am compiling thoughts and ideas from every nook and cranny I can find, and I wonder quite how big this Master's thesis will become.

To make my feelings even more validated, during my lastest visit with one of my mentors, the subject of expanding my ideas into a bigger project came up.

"You should write a book," He said, matter-of-fact-ly.

I stared at him, dumbfounded.

Ok, I mean, it's not the craziest thing I've ever heard. In fact, writing a book is top five on my bucket list. But I never thought about publishing a book about running.

"Like Born To Run?" I asked him, suggesting that the idea has already been done.

"You should definitely reference it, discuss how it sparked your interest to run again, made you start asking questions and researching," He said.

That didn't sound crazy. In fact, it sounded so exciting that I could barely contain my racing thoughts.

I still had one problem, though.

"So then what should my master's thesis be on?" I asked.

"Just the tip of the iceberg. Don't give all of your ideas into your master's thesis. It shouldn't be your life's work. Make it simple. Then, develop your ideas in your dissertation for your doctorate. Which you can later fill in with personal experiences and stories."

"--Hold on, let me get a pen, I need to write all of this down," I said, scribbling notes to myself.

 * * *

When I first started graduate school, I wanted to write my Master's Thesis on happiness. It was going to be titled, "Western and Eastern Comparisons in Happiness and Well-Being". I thought I had it all figured out. Until I discovered it had already been done and I was just blowing smoke up other researcher's asses. This left me feeling lost, finding myself in the middle of a Clinical Psychology program with no direction, and wondering what I was doing in the program in the first place. I came to a realization a few months back that working with a Clinical population (Schizophrenia, Bipolar d/o, Depression, ect) is out of my realm. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my classes-- while everyone else wanted to work with children diagnosed with Autism, or with Attachment Disorders, I'd find myself saying "I just want to work with normal people, who want to make their lives better." Let me tell you, I got a lot of confused looks back.

I just want to write.

Maybe even write books.

I want to help people discover their passions, pursue them.

In particular, running.

I think it's better than therapy.

* * *

So back to my Master's Thesis. It's a giant research paper to out-do all others (with the exception of a doctoral dissertation, or a book, of course).

I'm going to be researching runners.

Short-distance versus long-distance runners (Marathoners and Ultrarunners), in particular. This will be based on weekly mileage reported.

I want to compare the groups on Martin Seligman's PERMA Model (Overall Well-Being), Depression, Anxiety, Sensation-Seeking Personality Type, Optimal Experience, and Coping Methods.

I want to draw a connection between sensation-seeking personality types and long-distance running. I also want to investigate how running is a major psychological component of long-distance runner's well-being. I want to see if there is a major difference between short- and long-distance runner's on their anxiety levels and depression. I've noticed a trend in Ultrarunners-- many have experience major trauma, or have personal difficulties that have propelled them into long-distance running (myself included). Is running a basic coping method that many Ultrarunners have learned to use? Running acts as a cathartic experience for many-- giving them the outlet to release any pent up frustrations.

Here I am running with Maria Walton. I obviously am a very happy runner. Thanks to  Pat Sweeney for the picture!

A sub-hypothesis of my study will involve the personal changes and growth that occurs during a novice-runner's training for an ultramarathon.

Research on novice female marathoners has shown that women who completed their first marathon experienced a greater sense of well-being, better resistance to stress, reduced fatigue, and had an increased work-capacity.

During a conversation with an Ultrarunner, the topic of environment came up.

I asked many runners during a group trail run about their motivation for running. I asked whether it was intrinsically motivated (for the sake of doing it) or for external purposes (weight loss, ect). I personally believe that Ultrarunners run for the sake of running-- not for any other reason (imagine getting someone to run an Ultra who doesn't want to do it -- won't happen!).

"I may get the same workout when I'm on a bike at the gym or swimming," One runner told me. "But nothing compares to being out in the middle of nowhere, on the trails for a couple of hours."

"So hiking will give you the same feeling, but running on the streets through town won't?" I asked.

"Yes," She confirmed.

Another study on Ultrarunners found that the long-distance runners tended to be more extroverted, tended to like people, enjoy large gatherings, and were often described as assertive, energetic, and optimistic when compared to their peers. They also scored high on experience-seeking personality types.

My ultimate goal with all of my research is to encourage people to pursue physical activities based on their personality types. For example, in one of the articles I read, it compared cyclists with runners. It found that cyclists tended to be more introverted and less sensation-seeking. While long-distance runners tended to score on the same levels for sensation-seeking as rock climbers, rugby players, and mountain-bikers.

My original research focus was on happiness and well-being. This is kind of going in the same direction, but with a specific focus.

I believe that for most people, running will bring a greater levels of happiness and well-being.



Is running important to your well-being? Has another activity ever given you the same high as running? Do you think there is a major difference between short- and long-distance runners?

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