The Mental Ultra

This is not a running story. It involves an ultra, but is actually focused on recovering from an “accidental mechanical burnout”. There was no warning, it was caused by doing too many things, it was not driven by any negative stress and I was completely done. Absolutely absolutely done.

So how did I respond? I actioned full recovery mode. 3 days in a row, I got 12hrs of sleep, 4 naps, 5 meals a day. Pizza in the morning? You bet. You’d think that that would have done the job, but no. My head was still kaput and so I schedule a vacation (or what I call rehab) for the following week to heal properly. I’ve never had this issue before and so this was all new to me. What surprised me the most was that my head would get worse on my first day off and it kept getting worse afterwards as well.

How did it get worse? Consciously I was doing all the right moves – not thinking about anything nor was I worried about anything either. This was the case for me in general and why I called it an accidental burnout. I was more or less always doing things that I enjoy or found important, though admittedly I was doing a lot of it. However, and this is where things got complicated, my subunconscioussness went bezerk by defaulting to a 110% max-gear-over-drive mode 24/7. After not taking any real time off in a very long time, my subconsciousssness got stuck on over-drive mode after the burnout. It wouldn’t stop. It was working as if it were in a crisis center, non-stop. I dont know what it was calculating but when I woke up during the nights I noticed my dreams were doing work like stuff (perhaps my brain finally solved the sustainability puzzle – who knows – with that much CPU anythings possible). No activity (e.g. reading, singing, sports, dancing) would stop it and would actually end up making it worse because the activities themselves would kick start the engine at the back (again, I have no idea what it was calculating). At some point, I ended up getting headaches by just going to the store to buy food or when someone put the TV on at the gym forcing me to leave. All of this was obviously super annoying, I enjoy everything I do. I wanted my old brain back.

How did I adapt? I went all full Buddha on this challenge, meditated a lot, did yoga with Adriene (dont get excited, I mean the youtube yoga channel), closed nearly all social media (e.g. whatsapp) and then left for Spain (I originally wanted to and almost got to go on a 8 day sailing trip, but thats another story). Overall, it was clear that the only way to stop the engine was by focused mindfullness which could be achieved by meditation, nature or by spending time with people close to me. Luckily, I got a mix of these. I ended up on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and running 105km with a friend. We began the journey in Sarria, talked, walked and ran throughout the night for 31 hours. There were a few interesting moments worth mentioning. For example, because my friend had a few sleepless months prior to the run, he took two 20 min naps along the route as he was about to pass out on several occasions due to sleep deprivation. Plus, he started hallucinating every now and then. I timed the naps and then woke him up. It rained during the night and it was pretty cold as well, so we had to keep moving. He also lost consciousness at a gas station at 7am, but luckily I was there to catch him before he fell on the floor (and I thought I was the one that needed help with mental challenges). Good thing the station had plenty of cookies to sugar him up. We then booked a hotel for a 3 hour nap and continued running (the hotel staff were pretty confused as we gave the keys back already at 1pm – they understandably assumed we’d stay the night). Others got good laughs before when they asked “where are you staying the night?” to which we answer “oh, we’ll just continue running”. To end, we run, walk and chat for another 12 hrs and then on the 31st hour, just 12km away from Santiago de Compostela, my friend’s ankle was done. There was nothing to fix it, and we wanted to be sure we wouldn’t cause any long term damage, so we took a taxi to the city and end the pilgrimage with drinks and laughs.

As relaxing as the pilgrimage was, my head was stilll kaputt. It was still calculating something in the background. So what do we do? We proceed with extreme relaxation. We take the train to Ribadavia to enjoy thermal baths, cold baths, dinners and massages. At one point, as I sat alone in the baths wondering aimlessly, I began closely examining the lines on my right hand with tremendous mind blowing awe. I thought “what a great hand” with the back engine turned OFF and voila, a real moment of relief! This was a simple first step showing that I was finally able to get my brain back. It’s a pretty strange feeling to lose control of your mind for weeks on end and then to finally get a glimpse of normality. We later head out to the coastal town of Vigo for more food and ended sleeping on a boat for 3 nights in the harbour. It wasn’t quite the sailing trip I originally had in mind, but close enough. I end the trip back in Santiago and did my best to keep eating, drinking, sleeping and calming the back engine by enjoying the town.

Overall, it took nearly 12 days to get my mind (mostly) back. Along the way, I also started getting increased clarity on what triggers the subconscious engine (burnout or otherwise) and did come to the realization that phones remain a major issue (updated thoughts below). Even though I control my phone (i.e. use it only when I want to) and receive zero notifications, the mere ability to communicate and explore options on demand is a major deterrent for concentrated deep thinking and proactive mindfullness. I am certain that I will begin taking even more formal steps to control this in the future. There is very little benefit for the social media CPU to be switched on 24/7 and instead it would serve better to concentrate on deeper and more meaningful thoughts (though still at a high pace) instead. Phones are great for facilitating curiosity, e.g. whom doesn’t want on-demand access on finding an answer to “what’s the difference between subconscious and unconcscious” (I’m still not certain I fully get it and I want to know more) but having non-stop access to check apps of interest (work, sports, news, personal network, etc.) can be paced better by choosing allocated time slots instead of filling arbitrary gaps to check them during the day. By doing so, I can fill the those gaps (e.g. bus rides) with just books and wikipedia, which is much more rewarding.

I’m pretty much all good now and back in action. That was a tough mental ultra marathon for me, huhuh. Luckily, I’m getting better and I learnt a lot along the way.

Time to get absolutely insane again. I’ll just have to pace myself better this time.

Update on post above ( 2 weeks later )

I have learnt a lot from a series of post-rehab-recovery experiments. In short, the new hyper connected working environment created new (long-term damaging) norms that I had not realized. Here are the things I learned:

1) Conversational debt: Once I disconnected from social media, I had a near endless number of unanswered messages across platforms. This was the first time I realized the sheer extent of the live conversations I have was having. Once remote work increased our collective use of messaging apps, I had run into debt that I was unaware of.

2) Noise: I thought I knew how to focus, but that was no longer the case. I thought I was doing 10 things at once, instead I was reacting to 10 things at once. Once the brain broke, the effects of this on my cognitive load became more visible. When I tried focusing on work, sudden updates from messaging apps were now producing clear headaches. This was a cognitive load that was actually very damaging without me noticing it.

3) Reactive work: Even though I wanted to address arising issues across messaging platforms, I did not know this was creating a new reactive norm. Once I re-adjusted my work style by allocating specific slots to messaging platforms (e.g. answer e-mails on only X hours), I realized how I had normalized reactivity. My ability to focus on one item was almost completely gone. I had to re-wire my brain to be able to focus on dedicated activities without interruptions. I was no longer choosing what I was working on, I was choosing stimulus, whether I was being distracted or not.

4) For every action, there is a reaction: I had facilitated the cognitive loads above not just on myself, but also those around me. With all the new post-Covid tools at our disposal, many of us are working on a document, while watching a seminar, while answering 5 people across 2 messaging platforms. These are great tools for short-term needs, but these are not sustainable practices long-term. This is a larger problem and I need to become more aware of my actions on others first. I need to respond, not react. With our new interactive tools, it became increasingly more difficult to differentiate these two from one another.

5) Excessive uncertainty avoidance: We answer our colleagues and friends because we want to be there for them, help and in many cases avoid uncertainty. I had not realized that because of the breath of reactive conversations I was having, my uncertainty avoidance had grown. Did I worry about uncertainty? Not at all. But was I more driven to resolve uncertainty. Yes. Absolutely. Finding resolutions to uncertainty avoidance irrespective of the horizon had become a major underlying driver of the stimulus I was searching for without me noticing it.

6) Bandwidth did not increase, only the pace: On reflection, a lot of my problems were not only due to increased workloads (there is some of that), but a lot of it was facilitating communication channels with a pace that was too high. Instead of 5 separate back and for the e-mails, it should have been just one.

In rowing, teams search for the perfect stroke. If the rate is too high, it is both exhaustive and inefficient. I share above because one should inspect their own habits first, but this should not be done in a way as if to promote that everyone’s personal struggle to resolve. You shouldn’t be expected to be solely responsible to pace yourself in a team. Therefore, let’s get out of this trap by finding new solutions to new challenges, together.

Wales 100 Miles

Mario Schabus and I committed to run the 100 miles Brecon Beacons race, but little did we know of the challenges ahead.

What was it like? This short video of the weather should say enough. What great fun! https://www.facebook.com/100005990596710/videos/794006735285033/

Brief summary:

1) 37 hours of running, 6000 meters of ascent and 15 hour storm with winds that could blow you away
2) Totally not prepared, wore shorts the whole run. And, completely wrong (minimalist) shoes as well
3) At one point, we only had one device left for navigation. It was dark, windy, raining and cloudy. Much of the terrain was unmarked, i.e. barely any dedicated paths
4) Half of the participants dropped. Only 33 made it in the end
5) An absolutely insane adventure
6) This run would not have been possible without the support and help from Mario Schabus, Matthew Tyler and Kohby Poole. You guys rock!

300km, 310km & 320km

From one idea to another. The thought process of running a half-marathon per day for 15 days to a marathon per day for 8 days.

  1. 300km

The COVID lockdown cancelled all events and races for 2020 and my 30th birthday was coming up. We were still in near full lock down, but allowed to run in the parks. So how did I decide to celebrate? By running a half-marathon per day 15 straight days straight, while still going to work (apparently the work part is what many find craziest). Finished the final run totalling 300km on my birthday, had cake and drinks with a few friends and surprisingly, it all went rather smoothly. Small note, you have to eat A LOT of lasagnes and pizzas during such events, which is great of course. Beyond some minor calf pain, and not-so-exciting-audible-books, it was all good fun (the The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey was not as motivational during the run as I thought it would be).

2. 310km

COVID lockdowns are still on and there are no events. So how do I decide to celebrate? This time, 31km per day in 10 days. I believe one of the books I was listening to was Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky, which was clearly not fitting for the occasion either. Beyond sub-optimal book choices and a swollen foot that was giving me trouble (see photo), it all went pretty fine. Smiles all around.

3. 320km

Still no races, so what do you do? This time, 8 marathons in 8 days, while going to work (again, surprisingly it’s the work part that people find intense). Best reaction from an ultra friend: “What?! You went to work this whole time?”. I also donated to Ukrainian humanitarian assistance (this was a follow-up from an earlier 50km donation run). One euro for each km. I found this important wanted to begin connecting more activities with broader goals.

Overall, things worked out fine. BUT, on day 6, things got intensely frustrating. See minutes at the bottom of the post. The details are not exciting, there are no learning opportunities. Well, maybe some, but mostly just frustrating. Ended up barely finishing on day 7 at 11pm.

By day 8, 320km was done. We celebrate, have pizzas (for the millionth time) and drinks. When it was time to head back, there was no way I was going to take a taxi and so I run a few extra cheeky kilometres back home. Also, the day afterwards, I had to go dancing for 5 hours. I had to. The ultra ended up being a bit longer than I anticipated.

Running Minutes:

1) Evening of day 6 was the best run so far. 240km done. However, equipment is failing me and phone holder breaks while running. Other than that, it was also the fastest run to date and feeling great. Only one foot hurting due to blisters
3) Arrive home, major stomach problems (sneaking suspicion of food poisoning – had awful banana, but could have been something else)
4) Using Leatherman to try and fix worst blister ever. Blister covering what feels like half a foot, plus a deep deep blister, which needed a knife to fix
5) At 10pm, I begin shaking uncontrollably, I am barely able to move. Shaking for a full hour under the blanket with barely the ability to reach out for water. Shaking is virtually uncontrollable and I am close to pulling muscles as well. Luckily, the shaking resided after an hour via some chocolate bars, water and painkiller, but very high body heat remained through-out the night. Sweating buckets continuously
6) Somehow, my phone broke during episode 5) above, absolutely no idea why. So intensely annoying. Could not reach out to friends to ask for advice. Had to use Teams from my laptop instead. I also have no alarm clock. Argh
7) Morning of Day 7, still feeling high heat, no idea why. Spent the whole night sweating, sweating and sweating. Feels like poisoning, given I am not experiencing any flu like symptoms.
8) Covid test is negative. Run to the phone repair shop and called the owner before hand. Waited an an hour at the store, he did not show up. Ran back the same night. We spent an hour fixing it and by the time I got back home, it broke again. Argh. Still no phone and not feeling great. Eating double the amount of pizzas and lasagne now, it’s became clear that episode 5) was based on not fuelling enough. Still feel horrible, but manage to finish 40km by 11pm, in the dark, at the canals with no phone. Smart
9) Day 8. Wake up, run to the electronics store to buy a phone. Apparently, they had no dedicated staff for phones, which I was fine with. I said “can I just pick one anyway” and they said “sorry, we don’t hold them on stock, you’d have to come tomorrow”. Argh. Run to another shop. Luckily, they have a phone. I then run to another shop, buy a cover and then run to another shop to buy a running phone holder. Phew. Finally, it’s done.
10) After work, I head out with a few friends and finalize the 320 km.

Charity Football League

Step 1: Make an absolute epic save as a goalie

Step 2: Land on your right wrist, with your hand straight and have your body’s full weight dislocate your shoulder with your upper arm bone heading towards your chest

Step 3: Laugh with the good folks at Royal London Hospital on your Quasimodo lookalike attempt

Step 4: Laugh with the other goalie whom broke his arm too

Step 5: Get an X-Ray and enjoy more laughs when the personnel say “hey! aren’t you the basketball guy who broke his bones last year, stop doing sports!”

Step 6: Keep laughing. The pain gets worse

Step 7: Put some weights on your right arm and have the staff pull it back into place away from your chest, where it didn’t belong in the first place

Step 8: Take a taxi straight to McDonalds and get some McFlurries

Step 9: Question your decisions after your friends tell you they still lost the game that night

ES-Ski

Me: I should probably ski the letters “ES” and begin the 11 hour, 90km journey on Friday at 7pm

Why? After a month of interviewing Finnish financial institutions on their sustainable investment practices, I was surprised to learn along the way that Finnish savers were not as aware of these developments as they could have

Idea: “ES-Ski”

Full Disclosure: this stunt should not be confused with the pre-existing well known Finnish energy drink “ES” meme


More fun details:

1) Water bottles froze & with no shops around, I had to hydrate by eating snow
2) I got a brain freeze from eating snow, it hurt
3) I saw a mini aurora borealis, that was nice
4) Ran out of music, had to start singing a Finnish classic “So Good Wood” by Vesa Matti Loiri, spirits were lifted
5) Phone nearly ran out of battery due to freezing temperatures. At risk of losing my only map – I had to put my phone somewhere warm. Side note: why don’t boxers have pockets I wonder?

National Ski Meme

News: Snowstorm ‘Valtteri’ to hit Finland hard by Friday evening

Me: I should probably go skiing in the city centre

News Saturday morning: Storm brings 20 cm of snow, chaos was avoided. Videos show swerving cars and a skier in front of Kiasma 😅

https://www.hs.fi/kaupunki/art-2000008573814.html

Broken Bones Basketball

The Cambridge dictionary defines heedless as not giving attention to a risk or difficulty    

I on the other hand, would call it being an imbecile…

This story begins near the end.

I wake up, I head to work, finish some tasks and at 10am I have a pre-booked call with my GP. After explaining, in full detail, what, why and how my left wrist has been hurting for the past three weeks, she abruptly stops me mid-sentence and says “you should have gone to the hospital, immediately, three weeks ago”. After a brief pause she then states “go to the hospital, now”. And, on command, I close my laptop, leave the office and head out.

20 minutes later, I arrive at the A&E. From the reception onwards I continue laughing with staff about my silly adventures and then finally end up getting an X-ray. I meet the doctor and before she has the time to tell me what the deal is, the nurse comes by and says “we’re getting the cast ready” after which the doctor says “soo.. as you’ve now heard, you have a broken bone”. And that, is how I found out about the first bone that I ever broke.

The visit continues. We laugh and I get a nice cast on my left arm. By 12.15, we’re done, I head out and pick-up some pita falafels for lunch. Arrive at work and just in time, make it to my 1 o’clock meeting when my colleague then shouts “you did NOT have that in your arm when you came in this morning!?” She was right.

So what exactly happened 3 weeks ago? Nothing too wild actually. I was playing basketball with a few colleagues. After a few hours, at one point, I make an objectively excellent defensive manoeuvre, i.e. shift in front of the player, with both feet on the ground. Unfortunately, my friend’s body no longer operates under the same speed as he thinks and therefore he ends up charging right at me. I fly across the court and fall on the ground. Unfortunately, as an imbecile, I had forgotten to take off my large metallic Garmin watch before the game started. I land on my wrist and the watch ends up braking one my wrist bones.

Like an imbecile, I grunted a bit, got up and continued playing for another two hours until we all headed out for dinner and back home.

Three weeks pass by and I continue being an imbecile. Not only do I not reach out for professional help, I decide to continue playing sports to the best of my abilities, with the complementary wrist pain of course. Can’t do push-ups with my wrist? No problem, just do push-ups with your hands in a fist position. Can’t swim normally? No worries, just swim with your hands primarily in fist position as well. Can’t go cycling? No worries, just run 50 km with your friend in the forests of south England. No biggie.

I know, I know. I’m an imbecile. But, it gets worse…

Two days before the eventual hospital visit. What do I decide to play again? You guessed it, basketball. Same friends, same place and like an imbecile I tell them “my left wrist still hurts” and therefore, like an imbecile I suggest “I will just join you guys by playing with only my right arm”, because that of course is the normal thing to say and suggest. After a few hours of playing, the same guy from before whom had lost his youthful speed, same defensive position and same charge. I fly against the wall, grunt out loud and like an imbecile, we decide to continue playing for anther few hours. We then have dinner, laugh and go home.

So where is the second broken bone?

Lets go back to the start. On the day of the hospital visit, I leave work, go home, with a cast on my left arm. I sit on my sofa, watching my hand thinking “huh, I have a broken bone”. And as I wonder about it, I am reminded about my deep rib pain that I’d been enjoying since the basketball game few days ago. And then I laugh as I realized, I had a rib fracture as well. In total, two fractures and all just in time one day before the new London November lockdown. Excellent.

And like an imbecile, I google “what exercises can you do with a fractured wrist and / or rib”. Turns out, both injuries work against each other. The exercise one can do with a broken wrist, cannot be done with a fractured rib and vice versa. And so, I sit, for six weeks and for the first time, try to not be an imbecile.

30 Hours of Work-Life Balance

It started chill. Had a few drinks with friends 🍻 and ended the night at 12pm

And then it really started…

1) 0200 – 0700: Woke up two hours later and ran 37km 🏃

I had to. I was preparing for the upcoming Bangkok marathon 😅 As I ran endless circles in Lumphini park, it was interesting to see how a local running event had organized itself after I’d arrived and ended before I’d even finished.

Got home at 7am, showered and put on my university uniform. Btw, why don’t all universities have uniforms?

2) 0800 – 1700: 9 hours of lectures, back to back 📖

I had to. Admittedly, combining quant lectures with Buddhism economics was a lot to handle. Btw, I believe meditating is possible while napping.

3) 1800 – 1900: Thai massage 💆

I had to. I promised a friend I’d go. Having someone stomp my back after 37km and no sleep was surprisingly nice. Btw, I did not believe napping in this situation was possible.

4) 1930 – 2100: Family Dinner 🥣

I had to. Family were in town and I promised. Food was great.

5) 2200 – 0500: Clubbing 🕺

I had to. I promised my sister I’d show her the town. Drinks and dancing on top of all the activities certified the whole day as an ultra event.

All in all, a great day to connect work, sports and family time 👍