Not only is this my first post on the new site, the first in several years, but it will also be my first "year in review" ever. Heck it, why not. Having read many such posts across the web, I've been inspired to write one of my own, particularly because it's been such an interesting year. Going forward, whether a given year is net good or bad, I intend to write one of these wrap up posts, even if it's my only post all year.
For 2023 I'm going to write about two major topics. The first, is going to be about a mental health journey I unintentionally took this year. The second, is going to be about what that journey enabled, my new obsession with running.
This section is a little a little hard to write about, especially publicly. Yet, with the hope that others like me find it useful, I feel like the value of this story being public outweighs the reputational or professional risk.
Going back to the start of my college years, I, like many of my peers, made alcohol consumption a regular part of my life. Drinking alcohol felt normal and ordinary. It gave me a way to lubricate my otherwise rusty social engine, and start friendships that likely wouldn't have otherwise been formed. Something else happened around that time though, it was the beginning of my own disordered relationship with alcohol. One which persisted unencumbered until just this year.
Facing yet another dreary hungover Saturday, which for most people is occasional and spontaneous but for myself, was planned, I was feeling somewhat ashamed. A common emotion in this state. I was re-experiencing a sense that had been growing for a while, that alcohol consumption, which I saw as an "outlet," a way to release stress and pressure that accumulated over time, may actually be a stressor and not providing any real relief. Indeed, there is scientific evidence to support this hypothesis, suggesting that chemical changes in your brain make it harder to cope with stress, leading to a compounding effect over time. Yet more consumption of alcohol creates a temporary escape of this consumption, but it comes right back.
During the following days, I was remembering a YouTube video by Paul the Punter a mountain biker who had recently quit his career as a MTB influencer. In the video, Paul recollects how his emotional state was anxious, how he was unengaged with his career and looking to make a change. During an evaluation, he was diagnosed with ADHD. He was subsequently treated reported feeling better, though still wanting to make a change.
The symptoms and feelings that Paul described matched several of my own. Particularly, a sense of unease and never feeling comfortable in ones own skin. The feeling like I don't belong in any given setting, and the associated shame of never being able to fit in. Perhaps I projected my own emotions onto the video a little. Regardless, I sought my own evaluation, in case ADHD was the cause of my own tormented emotional state. The video gave me a glimmer of hope that maybe I could get similar treatment to feel "normal."
My evaluation for ADHD was offered with a concurrent test for ASD as well as an IQ test, which rules out cognitive deficiencies. All in, it took over 4 hours and involved memory tests, attention tests, intelligence tests, subjective evaluation, and a bunch of other stuff. A few weeks later, my results were evaluated by a clinician and I was called back for a consultation.
The results were initially very confusing. My evaluation for ADHD was negative but to my surprise I was a strong positive for ASD Type 1--formerly known as Asperger Syndrome.
Over the next couple of weeks however, the results were less and less confusing as I began to unpack the past 30 or so years of my life. Particularly, my adolescent experience, college, and early career (which was very much like college, in Silicon Valley startups). The relationship to alcohol and how it provided the "social lubricant" which I relied on, made more sense than ever. The unease and stress around social situations and the sense of not belonging all began to make sense. I was able to come to terms with a lot of burden I placed on myself over the years for "not being normal." The bottom line: it wasn't my fault, and there wasn't something inherently "broken" - it's just who I am.
So that was Q1, perhaps a major turning point in my life, or maybe just a slight directional shift. We'll see. I will say this: it has provided me with a sense of, if not ease, acceptance, at how I normally feel. This gives me a path to reduced stress when I choose to take it.
I understand this part of the story could probably be a small novel if I gave it the depth it deserves, maybe that's a story for another time. If you are feeling similarly, like this could be you, do feel free to reach out to me. Happy to help anyone else along their journey.
This year's summer and fall were really great. With a bit of renewed sense of "self," in March I began working out again. Typically, this would be weight lifting and light cardio, but this time, I went running a lot, and sort of fell in love with it. Mostly, I just wanted to be outside. Over the next few months, I would decide to enter the 2023 Portland Marathon. It was a BHAG (big hairy ambitious goal) that I really wanted to have on the calendar for focus and accountability. For once, it was nice to have a project to work on that didn't involve staring at one of my small/medium/large rectangles.
As someone who has never been naturally athletic, and never run very much at all, a marathon 6 months out seemed like it would fit the bill as a BHAG, and indeed it was. The general advice you'd receive on the internet is "don't do it," which is exactly why I wanted to do it. From a starting point of less than 100 miles run in my life time, I didn't realize the hill I had to climb. There were (and still are) so many things to learn.
In the build to the marathon, which was October 1 2023, I went through what felt like an epic journey. During registration for the race, I was offered a coaching plan as an optional add-on, which I accepted and tried to follow as closely as possible. As a beginner, and targeting a 4-ish hour marathon, this put me at a peak of 48 miles per week during peak week, and included weekly combination of 1 workout, 1 long run, and a few easy runs.
What are a few things I learned during this time? Let's see...
- Trail running, while very enjoyable, puts very different stresses on your body than regular running on the street or sidewalk. The terrain, shoes, and paces are quite different. During a week long vacation, I decided to run most of my miles on trails throughout California. The increased stress on my lower legs meant that for the next couple of weeks I had to decrease training volume to recover.
- Sleep is the most important recovery tool. Early in my training cycle, having heard this, I didn't take it seriously. I continued to sleep my "normal" 5-6 hours. My body didn't like this much and I soon became injury prone and exhausted. Increasing sleep to 7-8 hrs helped a lot, but required a bit of lifestyle adjustment.
- Find shoes that fit! I had to try a bunch of different pairs, and learn a lot about my feet, before I found some fitting shoes. It turns out, I have wide, high volume feet, that not all shoe brands or models can accommodate. Once I found better fitting shoes, any shoe-related foot discomfort was mostly gone.
- Marathon training is no joke. The accumulated bodily stress over a 3-4 month block is immense, especially for a first timer. That being said, I loved seeing what my body can do, and look forward to doing it again.
- Don't skip the gym. I did maybe 5 strength workouts the entire training block. This led to minor injury and days where I had to pull back that otherwise wouldn't have happened if I stuck with the strength training.
So, how'd the race go? Excellently, I exceeded every expectation, set a course record, and have been invited to the 2024 Olympics!
Okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration. In reality, I showed up with a cold, and ran 20 minutes slower than my goal time. Yep. 4:20. It still felt like a major achievement and I am incredibly proud of finishing at all.
There are many things that I will try to do better next time. For example, try to not show up with a cold. In the weeks leading up to the race, avoiding travel and focus on recovery. Sleep better the week before. Eat better the entire training cycle, but especially the week leading up to the race. In summary, I had many rookie mistakes that led to me falling apart at mile 20. Lessons learned.
Later that month I ran the Gorge Half Marathon, and got 1:52 - still not fully recovered from my race or illness, but better fed and rested. So that gives me some benchmark for where I can set my next marathon target - probably in the low 3:50 range with some decent effort in the next training block. Seriously, I can't wait to get started again.
I'm not entirely sure what 2024 will hold. I have never set long term goals for myself. The things I would like to improve the most are being better at diet and mindfulness. Just generally being more present and less glued to my phone and healthier. I don't have specific interventions in mind, but something will likely come up. I've already started a few experiments that I hope to share later on the blog.