Running my first half-marathon – 74

The results are in; I completed the half-marathon in two hours and three minutes – tell my knees that.

For the first time in my life, I have entered a physical event, a half marathon, and I have done adequate training. During my training, I took note of how I felt during each run and what meals I had eaten before. Salad sat it my stomach and felt horrible, as did any relatively large meal. Two hours post-meal seemed like the best time to run.

On the day I woke up at 7 am and had 50 grams of oats with a teaspoon of honey; I also had a black coffee.

I felt great for about ten miles, slowly running past all the people that had under-prepared in some aspect of their race, and generally having a pleasant time. One of the biggest surprises to me about the event was the number of people that came out to support the event.

Every few minutes someone would read my name on my running card and give personalised encouragement. There were over 15,000 people running, so the people who were standing at the sides shouting for hours had their own endurance challenge. It was one of those moments where you forget all the strange politics us humans can get caught up in and really appreciate humanity.

I would certainly be tempted to run another one, and if anyone is on the fence about doing something like this I would certainly encourage it. I will certainly be trying my best to complete a half-marathon in under two hours.

Completing such a big challenge at the weekend makes the rest of the week pale in comparison. There were two particularly contrasting days that I had this week.

On Wednesday I attended a training course in a town just outside of London called Stevenage. Most things in the UK are close to London, which is because this is where most people live, and therefore where events are most profitable. The knock on effect of this, for those that do not live in London, there is a relatively early start to the day.

I had to wake up at 5:45! This is not what the former twenty-year-old warehouse worker in me went to University for. In fact, it was to avoid situations like this entirely. And get meaning and purpose in life, but that is more of a side-effect.

The course was about the maintenance of HPLC machines. This is a standard scientific instrument that most people who study a scientific subject will be familiar with . I went on the course to improve my knowledge of how to use these machines, and, consequently, boost my CV.

In contrast to all of this, I spent all of Friday morning weighing out 50 mg amounts of ground Rocket powder and all of the afternoon grinding dried Rocket leaves. By the end of the day, I had powdered Rocket all over me. It is interesting that when you take a shower after doing this all day, the powdered that is trapped in your hair gets wetted and quite pungent.

I am not sure if there is any evidence out there with respect to the hair regenerative prowess of dried Rocket powder, but if I find any I will let you know!

For those of you that are runners, or have run in the past, what would you recommend for increasing speed?

Running a half-marathon – 73

I am going to be running my first half-marathon tomorrow. Before this year, the farthest I have run is eight miles, and that was six years ago. In training I have run ten miles; I am hoping that the adrenaline of the occasion will carry me to the finish line. It may well be the case that I tell you a tale of cramping up in front of a relatively large crowd next week.

With respect to work this week I have finished running several different experiments which means that next week I can relax a little. I even have a little trip on Wednesday; I am going to a town that has no value other than being close enough to London for easy transport links, but a much lower cost of residence – which is true for most towns the world over including the one I originate from.

I am going on a course for the maintenance of HPLC systems. I decided to sign myself up to this course for personal development. Typically, at least in my university, all the knowledge of how to operate scientific equipment comes from finding someone who knows how to use it and then persuading them to teach you.

There are relatively few opportunities for ‘structured’ training on equipment which I find rather annoying. If you want to become a better communicator, there are hundreds of opportunities for you in academia. If, however, like me, you enjoy learning how things work you have to fend for yourself. I am hoping that because there are relatively few opportunities for gaining this technology specific training, I will be more employable.

From the universities point to view, I do understand why this type of training is less prevalent, and that is because it is all too possible that you pay someone to train and then they never end up using the equipment. Often when you don’t use a new skill, you lose it. If I were in charge of training, I would implement the same policy.

Hopefully, it will be worth the early start!

Unusually, for partaking in such a big challenge tomorrow, I am not that nervous; I am quite confident that I will finish the race, but most of all I am excited to have it over with. I have enjoyed most of the training, but after 10 km it has been a struggle. I think going forward my longest distance will be 10 km it is long enough for a good workout, but not so long that I am hurting the next day.

To those of you that have completed marathons I now have greater respect for you; like Gimli, I am more of a natural sprinter. Back to the weights and shorter distance running for me!

Gimli sprinter

Do you know what you want to do with your life? – 72

Well, for those of you that have been following my recent posts, I have relatively exciting news for you: I remembered to order coffee this week.

I certainly needed the exogenous boost this week as it has been physically exhausting. It was a combination of long days working in the lab and extra training runs. I have added in an additional 5 km a week in my training as I have a half marathon next Sunday.

I have been accustomed to not having any breaks when I am working in the lab. Most of the time I don’t need them as I am only working for a few hours at a time, and then I go home and do some office work. This week, however, I have been running a few experiments at the same time which means I am working all day, and as I do not normally work all day in the lab, I am relatively unfit. This is my guess as to my tiredness; it could be something completely different of course.

I was so tired that last night I did not go out for drinks with my colleagues, I binge watched Ricky Gervais’ new Netflix series ‘Afterlife’. It was definitely worth a watch, and I felt as if there were lots of subplots I was missing – something that might be picked up with a second viewing.

Periodically, whenever I have a study going on – which is six months of the year – I have to go into the lab on a Sunday. I have to do this because the timings on one of my experiments mean I have to evaluate the results 48 hours after I set it up. As one of the days where I take samples is a Friday, I have to go in on a Sunday.

All I have to do is record the results, and it only takes a couple of hours, but It still means I cannot go away for a weekend during these six months. This is something that probably would not happen If I had a regular job; however, the fact that I occasionally have to come in on the weekend is a price I am willing to pay for a relatively free life. Every time I think being a PhD student is tough I remember the days where I worked in a warehouse, and am instantly reminded that my life is far better than it was, and where I could end up if I stop trying.

The reflection on where I could still be, the warehouse, is something that was brought up in a recent phone conversation with an old friend – yes, remember talking to people by voice? He has a 1st class degree from a good university, but is still struggling with that universal problem ‘ what shall I do with my life?’ I am becoming more and more convinced that for most people there is no answer to this question. Most of us drift through life choosing the best path we have available at the time, or at most trying to stack the odds toward a path we might like.

To those lucky few that genuinely know what they want to with there life from a young age and actively pursue it, I am envious. Although, I imagine there are negatives that I cannot see.

How do I do this? – 67

Sixty-seven weeks in a row and I still feel as if I don’t know how to do this. What the hell should I write here?

The problem that is incumbent on the blogger is that the format is for relatively small bits of writing to be churned out in relatively short order. Most of us, I imagine, are doing this as a side project and therefore, cannot commit the time required to produce high-quality writing.

Furthermore, if you’re anything like me, you have far too many hobbies and interests that compete for your time. For me, blogging is but one hobby of many; I would say that blogging is approximately 5th on my priorities.

My current method of writing is to sit down in the after-lunch, pre-gym slot and write from the top of my head. I occasionally make notes throughout the week if I have anything I want to include, but that hasn’t happened in a while. I am waiting for that breakthrough where I finally figure out how to write these posts.

Today is the 2nd of February in my timeline, and you will see this in a few months. My plan for the rest of the day is to do a 15k run and then watch the most important rugby match before the world cup. England vs Ireland in the six nations. Come on England!

I have just realised that this is supposed to be a blog about my PhD and I have just been rambling on like a generic lifestyle blogger.

So, at the start of this week, I spent two-days extracting sugars from lyophilised (dried) Rocket. This has become somewhat of a routine measurement, but it does not tell you that much about the quality status of the plant. Generally, after the plant is harvested, metabolism in the plant continues, and sugars are used up for fuel.

By-products from sugar metabolism are used to form various other compounds, such as those involved in defence. As plants cannot defend themselves physically, they often expend a lot of energy doing it chemically – mainly by producing compounds that don’t taste nice to deter predators.

But as I mentioned previously, it is almost useless when assessing the quality of a crop. What it does allow is for comparisons between crops grown during different seasons. Crops that are grown during the summer, generally have more sugar content and are usually of higher quality.

After I had extracted the sugars, I spent the rest of the week dong data-analysis and planning. Unusually, I have found myself in a position where I don’t have any short-term plans. By short-term, I mean to say that I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my week. This is highly unusual for me.

I ended up writing a list of all the events I had coming up, and this included two conferences at the end of the month. Now I have things to focus on and can fill my time. One of the skills I have not yet mastered is the ability to plan for the long term. I have got through life so far, by being what I can only describe as ‘micro-ambitious’. I decide what I want to happen in the next couple of years and try my hardest to achieve that. Most of the time I don’t plan any further than that.

For example, I had no plans as to what I was going to do after my bachelor’s degree. I got offered a job and PhD, neither of which I sought out. I chose the option I liked the idea of the most, and here I am.

An average week – Week 41 as a PhD student

What witty opening line can I come up with this week? I’m drawing a blank; perhaps you could suggest one.

Words are merely tools and if you use the right ones you can actually put even your life in order. Hunter S Thompson

I guess the first thing of note that I have done this week is sign up for a half marathon next year. The furthest distance I have run before is eight miles, although I regularly run five kilometres twice a week. Why did I do this? I needed a new physical challenge, and I have never had a running goal, plus it was a spur of the moment thing where I saw an advert and decided it we be a good thing to do.

I am looking forward to it, and hopefully, it will be a stepping stone to the full marathon someday. I am not a natural endurance runner, I am very quick, and was always the fastest sprinter during my youth, but as is normally the case, the talent for sprinting I was gifted was taken from me in endurance.

That was Thursday, so what did I do for the rest of the week? I set up the freeze driers for someone who was on holiday. We tend to freeze dry everything because plant material has a limited shelf-life, and it is difficult to measure everything you need to measure in that period; therefore, we need to preserve it. We remove all the water from the plant and then grind it up, so we have a homogeneous sample that does not degrade. Water is essential to life, and almost all biological reactions stop once you remove water, therefore once we dry our samples they are frozen in time, and we can study them in our own time.

It is quite an interesting process, and setting up the machines is relatively simple, but I keep forgetting exactly how to set them up as I use them so infrequently. Whenever I do these things for other people I feel as if I am getting in positive favour balance; being in positive favour balance is something I always try to achieve. I am sure I will need all the favours I can get very soon.

I will need the favours as I had my summons for my one year transfer viva; this is very important as it is essentially the only exam other than the final thesis that you have to do during a PhD. I have to submit a dissertation and sit a viva; it is very much like the end of a Masters degree from what I understand. If I pass, I continue as normal; If I fail, I change to a Masters program. It seems like a win-win situation, but that kind of thinking is a trap.

I came for the W and will not accept an M.

I got to spend a lot of time programming this week, which is my favourite thing to do these days, if I were starting my career again I would certainly study computer science. There is something that I find really satisfying about automating mundane tasks. I am actually considering trying to push my career in a direction to where I get to combine my agricultural skills with technology; this is something I will have to figure out how to do before I finish my PhD.

In summary: it was an average week.

 

Finding the peaks – week fourteen as a PhD student

This week I was running experiments for four out of five days, as a consequence, I feel as if I have been quite busy. The results I have been seeing are not as good as I had been expecting; I did find some compounds that were not in any of our libraries, which is an interesting peak in an otherwise flat-line graph. I have been trying to learn how to judge mass spectra, and I think I have some candidate compounds for my unknown peaks, so I have ordered some standards to test this: fingers crossed.

I have also been doing a lot of work on my script for analysing colour. I quite enjoy programming, and I want to keep developing my skills in this regard; besides continuously making programmes, I am unsure as to what the best approach is to improve, I think I need some sort of game/competition to force my hand. One of the main reasons I enjoy programming is that you cant test your creations as much as you want, over and over continually iterating until you get the result you want. However, this may be one of the issues as it is so easy to test and change, trial and error become the predominant learning force. I rarely think too hard about the program; I should think it through from first principles, what happens is, is that I keep changing things until I get the result I want. If anyone can recommend any resources for graduating from the beginner to intermediate/advanced stage, I would very much appreciate it.

In our lab meeting this week I got asked what papers I was thinking about publishing, this took me from left field, as I have not thought about this before. So I quickly pulled some words about papers from the nowhere and just about got through it. I believe one of my least favourable attributes toward being a good scientist is that I don’t care much at all about prestige. I have heard the words ‘publish or perish’ before now and this does not give me too much hope. I understand the idea in principle; you’re increasing the level of knowledge and progressing humanity in some small way. It does seem as if publishing is gamified, and we have managed to figure out the best way to progress, and that is quantity over quality. I suspect my view is quite naive and will change over the coming years, but also, that it does have some truth in there.

In non-academic news, it seems as if I have gained 1kg in weight this week. It could be just down to the fact that I had a huge meal last night – we got a free three-course dinner for Christmas, at Jamie’s. Either way, this week I will lead a life of much less excess. On a positive note, I have got my run pace back below 5min/km; I hope I can keep that pace up. Anyway, I’m off; I need to update my gym workouts as they have become stale!

Note from the future (4 months since this was written)

I can see the grammatical improvement in my writing which is encouraging (take a look at my earlier posts to confirm for yourself). Soon you should see some development in how to put a piece together.