There and back again: a commuter’s tale

The beginning of my commuter’s tale lies at the start of my academic career, with campus being an hour away, which means that developing an effective commute was paramount for me. Very early on in my first year I made the switch from daydreaming or listening to music, to reading or making notes. Over the course of my degree this developed until I counted the majority of my commute time as time spent studying, in an extremely focused “do not fucking disturb me” manner. It also had the added benefit of allowing me to progressively wake up and prepare myself for learning later in the day… strangely I did feel sorry for the students that lived nearer to campus; waking up fifteen minutes prior to a heavy 9 am lecture on physiology probably isn’t too facilitative to information retention. Silver linings, eh? So this continued for the next 3 years and added up to a significant amount of focused study-time, coming out my undergraduate course with a first-class honors degree.

Starting my master’s degree also marked the starting point in my current career as an applied sports scientist in London, which meant a large extension to my commute. Travelling to work by train was a source of great stress; with frequent delays, loud passengers, and long hours being the return for a significant portion of my income. I work in London but live way out along the north Kent coast, pretty much as far east as you can go, so the time requirement for getting to work was around two and a half hours. You would think that this would mean more study time, but with train changes and busier lines, it wasn’t the easiest. The greatest impact on this ability to study came simply came from the time at which I had to awake each day – around 4:30am to get the train between 5:30am and 6:00am. Even with a heavily caffeinated bloodstream, I wasn’t in any state to devour journal after journal. With this came stress and anxiety about not using this time productively, but not having the resources at the time to change the fact. This, along with some other factors which I’m not going to go into today, meant that the start of my master’s degree was quite a rocky one. However, following a significant amount of growth and learning I was able to get back into the routine of productive commuting.

Fast-forwarding to the present day, I always have a goal to complete on my commute, which is of course scheduled on my ToDoIst app (a post will be coming on this), and have converted the time constructively. I learnt fairly early on that sometimes it wasn’t always effective to force myself to read when my mind wasn’t receptive to the heavy literature; which led me to swiftly discover the joys of podcasts! There are plenty of podcasts on the topic of cycling, human performance, physiology, or other related topics, which meant that I had discovered a goldmine of information which I was able to process in the early hours of the morning. Listening to conversations about relevant topics and making notes seemed like such an obvious solution to the time-sink of the commute, I often wonder why I didn’t discover this earlier on. My current podcasts, for example, are serving the dual purpose of furthering my academic and cycling performance knowledge, as they center around planning, completing, and analyzing performance in cycling time trial events. Talk about dual-purpose!

With the start PhD looming around the corner, I am brainstorming ideas on whether my current techniques of ensuring commute time is effective are adequate, or whether I would need to adapt. I do intend to continue my productive use of the commute, but acknowledge that reading or data analysis may be better to complete during this time than listening to podcasts. I’m going to experiment with listening to these while completing my cycling training sessions on the indoor trainer, and thus expanding my productive time. The start date of the PhD is still being finalized, but I’m hoping to get underway around the start of February, so I am sure another update on productive commuting may crop up around then!

It’s the deep breath before the plunge…

With 2016 now underway the reality of starting a PhD is well and truly upon me; the contracts are being sorted out and I should be starting within the next few weeks. I set up this blog to help me document my progress through this journey from a personal perspective.

My field of study is related to the way in which the human body adapts and responds to exercise, specifically the causes (and hopefully solutions) of inter-individual variability in training response. So that may sound like quite a scary topic but inter-individual variability in training response is basically the phenomenon that frequently occurs when people complete an exercise training regimen; some people get better, others worse, and some stay the same. So, why does that happen; why does it matter; and what the hell can we do about it? Well, that is my PhD.

I’m doing my PhD at the University of Kent, UK, under supervision from Dr. James Hopker and Prof. Louis Passfield. My research is funded by Cadence Cycling Performance Center, where I complete work testing and coaching cyclists at a range of performance levels. I decided to complete my PhD at the same University that I completed my B.Sc. and M.Sc. for a multitude of reasons, but mainly because I enjoy working with my supervisors, have good knowledge of the lab equipment and protocols, and not to mention that I currently am living in a sleepy seaside corner of the country so extending a commute any further would be a nightmare!

The other aspects of my life involve cycling, where I am a pretty decent road cyclist; films, where I watch things on a screen pretty well; and being with family… obviously. I am going to maintain this blog by completing weekly updates on what I got up to that week. This is mainly for my benefit, in the way that it will get me to reflect on how I spent my time and evaluate what I completed that week. If this blog serves to help anyone in any way whatsoever, well that’s just a bonus.