Reflection on 2016, Part 1

2016 has been kind of crappy. World events and celebrity deaths aside (those happen every year, btw), I’ve had lingering problems with injury and mental health. Both of these have significantly affected my year and I want to talk about them. So, I am going to go through things that have happened this year, what I’ve learned and how I plan to deal with them. I hope this will be helpful to those dealing with similar problems. This post will focus on the negatives of this past year and the second part will focus on the positives

Things that happened in 2016

The first major hit to my cycling fitness happened last January 9, the day of my 21st birthday. Being able to legally drink alcohol is a huge revelation because you don’t have to worry about getting arrested if you hypothetically drink a hypothetical alcoholic beverage that you got at a hypothetical party. I also now understand why athletes usually develop before 21, because they don’t have the distraction of legal alcohol. I’m not a huge drinker so this hasn’t been a huge hit and in some cases has actually helped my morale (see Morale Training for my theory on that).

The second major issue this year was more of a chronic, overarching issue. After the UMD team spring training camp in Pisgah National Forest, I developed patellar tendonitis. My PT discovered a large amount of muscle imbalance between my left and right glutes. I believe this was caused by my crash at Duke’s Ninth Street Derby two years ago. Despite a lot of work to correct this issue, I’ve continued having problems. Achilles tendonitis developed in July and then IT Band Syndrome in November.

The third thing that I’ve been fighting has been myself. This is a fight that everyone needs to go through in their lifetime; this is the “why am I here” fight. As the realization that I would be graduating in a year hit me, so did this existential crisis. And it’s especially poignant when you have nothing to distract you, like I did this summer. Thanks to at times monotonous work and an inability to ride thanks to the aforementioned achilles issues, I was fighting my mind. And it made me really sad at times, trying to figure out what was going on up there. It can significantly affect your quality of life.

What I learned and how I plan to continue working to improve

Regarding the alcohol, I learned that you can’t go head on with your goals day-in and day-out without a break. You can work on your discipline as much as you want but at some point, you need a break. As Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” So, I’m planning to keep my discipline and continue working to improve it but definitely cutting loose every once in a while. There is so much to do outside of the auspices of my normal work and play and I plan to see a lot of it.

Thanks to the injury, I’ve really had to learn the hard way that solutions to big problems don’t come overnight. A lot of work and trial and error has already gone into fixing the problem of my glute muscle imbalance. And it will take a lot more work to get it to where I’m no longer having problems. But to me, this fight is something worth fighting. I can’t imagine living the rest of my life without cycling and so I’m willing to do whatever it takes to correct this issue. It will require more Physical Therapy and a lot of one legged exercise but that comes with the territory.

Finally, my mental health is the number one thing that I’ve been coming to terms with this year. The realization this year is that I need to keep moving forward to my goals in order to maintain sanity. I had to take a lot of side-steps and back steps this year in order to keep moving and that kinda bothered me a lot every time. But the important thing is that I kept moving even when it didn’t seem like it. Mindfulness meditation through the Headspace app really hammered that concept into my mind.

Spokes Out.

Morale Training

Today is Halloween and on Saturday, I did something that I have seldom done these past three years and made the mistake of going to a party. The details are a little fuzzy but I had a great night out with a couple teammates and relieved some stress. I am a huge proponent of the concept of slight edge, marginal gains and doing everything right for your body. As a cyclist, hitting every point of the slight edge for performance would reduce life down to training, eating and recovering (add work/school to the equation for the average competitor). But there is an aspect of performance that many people often overlook that provides a maximal gain: Morale.

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Morale Training as a concept was introduced to me in the book Faster by Michael Hutchinson (strongly recommend that read, btw).  The idea is simply that everyone once in a while, you need to get out and relieve stress and break the monotony of training.  That can be partying or just going out and doing something stupid that you wouldn’t normally do. As stated in the book:

It has the word ‘training’ in it, so it’s got to be a good idea

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Training!

Essentially, going out means that there’s a small chance (say 5%) that you can get sick or roll an ankle.  Then, there’s a 20% chance that you get too wasted to train the next day and potentially affect your fitness.  But, after two months with no morale training, there might be a 50% chance that you completely destroy your motivation and cease training for two weeks or more from burnout.  This would result in a huge loss of fitness and potentially being removed from your team.   It’s a balance between having some sanity and having completely optimal training.

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Not an option for people grounded in reality

Obviously, some people need less interaction than others in order to keep going since some people are just more suited to be lonely. However, as I learned in my “Psychology of Love and Money” class last semester, human interaction is an evolutionary necessity.  If you took high school psychology, you know that belonging/love is on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Personally, I am very big on the human interaction aspect: I love speaking to my parents, brothers and friends and I like seeing them in person as much as possible.

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This aspect of training is something that doesn’t really seem to be a problem for most people but it’s something to seriously look at.  If you’re having trouble improving, maybe look at your lifestyle and see if you’re being too strict with yourself  Don’t get too focused on what you’re doing to forget about your friends and your morale because a small routine change can give you that boost to keep you going.  Thanks to the party, I feel incredibly excited to tackle my next block and it’s a doozy.

The great thing is, this concept can be applied to nearly anything: academics, athletics, work; anything where you need to produce a result.  Make sure to get your dose of morale training in so that you can keep yourself going.

Life is not about finding yourself

Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the above quote from George Bernard Shaw but the principle behind it has strongly impacted my life over the past year. In that time, I realized that I have lofty goals that I want to accomplish during my lifetime and although the best time to start would have been five years ago, the second best time is now. I have a list of 4 goals that I want to accomplish in the next 5 years (by the beginning of 2021) and each one is time consuming and difficult:

  1. Win a USA Cycling National Championship
  2. Achieve Fluency in Spanish and Dutch
  3. Live in a foreign country for longer than 3 months
  4. Race the Tour of California (this goal was set before the recent addition to the WT calendar and will likely be edited)

I have set goals in the past but never really believed in what I could do since I just assumed that life led to what I saw all around me: career, family, house. And there’s nothing wrong with that, a lot of people live happy lives that way.  But, based on what I’ve read (at 21, my experience is limited), you need to continually improve yourself in order to be continually happy.

Every time I have accomplished something major that I worked really hard at like putting on the Route One Rampage (my team’s first major race), I’ve felt incredible.  Doing something big like that puts you on top of the world, like nothing can stop you (even if every other A racer in the ACCC is out there to do just that).

I go to the University of Maryland, a public research university with an undergraduate enrollment of about 27000. As you can probably imagine, not everyone at this school is doing exactly what they want to do in life. There are probably people on this campus who want to be video game testers, poets or safari guides.  But because of the way we have been influenced in our lives, we’re here studying subjects that we may not be interested in because the generation above us says that college degree=job=life.

After getting a degree, so many people get a job and walk through life without continuing to work on improving themselves or their family.  If you’re not making someone’s life better (even if it’s yourself), is that time really worth it?

Everyone has had something crazy they wanted to do in their life whether that be starting their own business, becoming an MLB umpire, moving to another country.  Even something as simple as becoming financially independent can be a huge leap for some people.  And it all starts with one step.  Working to continually improve yourself as a human being is so fulfilling yet very few people do what they need to do.

We fill our lives with activities that don’t put us where we want to be.  I am incredibly guilty of this: throughout high school and the first couple years of college, I filled my time with things that didn’t impact my life positively.  I wasn’t headed anywhere negative but definitely not somewhere I would have been 100%.  Now that I’ve turned towards that track (more on that in future posts), there’s no way that I’ll ever want to go back.

 

The real issue facing America

On September 11, 2001, the United States was the victim of a terrorist attack yet unseen in our nation. 2,996 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks and our nation has never recovered from the image of the WTC towers burning [1]. Since then, we have gone to extreme lengths and costs to protect ourselves by expanding surveillance and greatly increasing defense spending.  National security has become a hot topic in every political race since then, and probably will be for a long time.

Let’s look at another number of deaths: 610000.  That is the approximate number of people in the United States who die every year from heart disease [2].  It is the leading cause of death in the United States, with its only real competitor being cancer (in the high 500k/year) [3].  That means that we have the equivalent of approximately 2000 preventable 9/11 attacks occurring every year, and we are doing very little to stop it.

The most common form of heart disease is coronary, which occurs when veins and arteries are blocked by buildup of fat and cholesterol [4].  This buildup is caused when damage to the veins from high blood pressure or diabetes is repaired and fats/cholesterol are deposited.  As a result of the buildup, arteries can be narrowed which reduces blood flow and weakens heart muscles [4].  And if the vessel experiences a blood clot, completely cutting blood flow, it can cause heart muscle to die (this is known as a heart attack).

The vast majority of these cases are preventable since the behavioral risk factors of heart disease are poor diet (high is saturated and trans fats and cholesterol), physical inactivity and obesity, which the first two can lead to [5].  As you know if you know me or have read any of my other posts, physical activity is incredibly important to me because of my relationship with cycling.  However,  I have recently made some changes to my diet based on research so this aspect has become more important to me.

This TED talk by Brendan Brazier opened my eyes to the ideas behind a plant based diet (basically vegan) for sports performance.  According to the talk, eating less animal products and more plants increases the amount of nutrients you get in, which makes you more full.  In addition, your body is more easily able to fight inflammation since your food is not contributing.  In February, I went vegetarian and found that I was recovering from hard workouts faster (anecdotally), which has been enough to convince me to go mostly plant based now that I am cooking for myself.

So, where am I going with all of this?  The point is that food policy is an incredibly important aspect that affects every american yet it has barely been mentioned in this election cycle.  I did a little research to find out which candidate is going to do more in order to ensure that americans have access to the fruits and vegetables which the WHO says help prevent heart disease.  You can find the article I read here, it’s a great read.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to go vegan, far from it because I’m not even a vegan. But the fact of the matter is that americans eat a lot of meat and food policy has a strong impact on that since it has the power to make foods cheaper (see HFCS in the past few decades).  The average american eats 270 pounds of meat per year, double the USDA recommendation of 125 pounds, on top of large amounts of other animal products like cheese all of which contain a large amount of fats that can contribute to heart disease [6].  This has a huge effect on our health and as a result, our nation (we spend the most on health care in the world)  [7].

So, here’s what you can do: First, take a little break from the meat.  You’ve probably been told that it’s not that great for you so maybe just make one day or two a week where you don’t eat any.  Recipes are so easy to find online.  Second, be sure that you’re informed on this incredibly important issue that affects so much about our country: climate, health care, agriculture, business.  Third, get out and vote to make your voice heard.

Now, looking back at the number of deaths due to terrorism: 2001 was an extraordinary year.  The average number of deaths due to terrorism in the United States from 2002-2014 was just 4.7, with 5 of those years having no deaths at all [4].  The average number of US citizens killed worldwide over that time period was 12.1 [4].

Obviously the fact that people are dying at all due to terrorism is tragic, as no one should have their loved ones taken away like that.  But when we look at the number 12.1 compared to the number 610000, does it not seem that our priorities as a nation are skewed? Food policy also has the potential to affect the way that our climate is shaped, which as we all know affects every one of the 7 billion people on earth. There is so little attention paid to the issues of personal health and nutrition when we have so much more at stake.

References

  1. 9/11 Death Statistics. (2016, August 1). Retrieved October 13, 2016, from http://www.statisticbrain.com/911-death-statistics/
  2. Heart Disease Facts. (2015, August 10). Retrieved October 13, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
  3. Leading Causes of Death. (2016, October 07). Retrieved October 13, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
  4. Miller, E., & Jensen, M. (2015, October). American Deaths in Terrorist Attacks. Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. Retrieved October 13, 2016, from https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/START_AmericanTerrorismDeaths_FactSheet_Oct2015.pdf.
  5. “Heart Disease Behavior.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Aug. 2015. Web. 13 Oct. 2016.
  6. Davis, Michelle. Thug Kitchen: Eat like You Give a F*ck. New York: Rodale, 2014. Print.
  7. Robbins, John. “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: Where They Stand on Food.” Food Revolution Network. N.p., 20 Aug. 2016. Web. 13 Oct. 2016.

Stay in drugs, eat your school, don’t do vegetables

Over the summer, the reality that I would be facing the real world after I graduate in May hit me square in the face: “I barely know how to cook, how am I going to do other adult stuff?”.  Thankfully, college is kinda like real life practice and I have the best housing to accommodate that practice this year (aka a 1920s house with crickets and no A/C).  So, I’ve been cooking pasta while sweating and killing a lot of small insects on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  It’s close enough to practicing living as an adult.

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Despite all that, this is going to be a pretty amazing semester.  I am currently three weeks into my senior year at the University of Maryland, I have 4 classes, none of which start before 2 PM and I like all 4 topics.  To finish out my major (materials engineering), I am taking polymeric engineering and finite element analysis.  One of my professors rushed us through a topic because we “lost” a class on labor day but I’m not bitter.  As an elective to keep myself full time (#scholarships), I am taking spanish literature.  Essentially, we dissect every possible symbol like in high school literature but in spanish.  After 1.5 years with no spanish, it’s been a little tough keep up but definitely interesting.

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Imagine this but in Spanish

Since I’m a huge dork, I’m going to go into a little more detail about my last class.  Hands-On Systems Engineering is a technical elective for my major.  In the class, we’ll work to design and model a system that can be used in some real-world application.  At the end, each group’s project is going to be judged by real systems engineers from Textron and the top three groups receive a cash prize. One of the professor’s former students works for the Goddard Space Flight Center and suggested one project could be a power control system for the NASA TiME project.  So, I came up with two solar energy projects: one based on the submarine’s power collection and one involving power utilization in remote areas.  Safe to say that I’m very excited about this class.

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   Picture of Kraken Mare, one of Titan’s liquid methane lakes          *Insert nerdgasm here*

But most exciting to me is the fact that I have a healthy amount of free time this semester.  After two years of 15 credit semesters plus administrative responsibilities to the cycling team and lab work, it’ll be nice to have some me time.  With this time, I’ll be able to train, sleep, recover, work and eat in the amounts that I want to.  I haven’t really had that opportunity since taking on an officer position for UMD Cycling in Fall 2014.  My current plan is to spend a month or two in Belgium next summer and the better my fitness at that point, the more I’ll be able to take advantage of the racing there.  In order to get my fitness, mental toughness and language abilities to the points I want them at, I have started a habit board.

It’s both as easy and as hard as it looks

De puede ver, uno de los habitos para mi semestre es a escribir uno parrafo en ingles y espanol cada dia. Ambos parrafos necessitan ser demasiado cinco frases substantivos. Tambien, tengo que hacer 10 minutos en “Duolingo” cada dia para aprender holandes.  Este va a ayudarme cuando voy a Belgica el proximo verano.  Tambien, he fijado una meta a tener fluencia en 5 lenguajes en mi vida.  Aprendiendo una lenguaje se convierte mas dificil con edad asi voy a aprednder con mucho velocidad.  Estoy emocionado para este meta porque communicacion es tanto importante a mi.

This idea came to me through r/theXeffect on reddit.  In order to ensure that I’m doing the right things everyday, I need a large visual reminder of the steps required and of my goals. Without being constantly reminded of our goals, it’s easy to let the small things that you need to do everyday slip by.  I’ve tried a couple systems before, including the BASICS notebook but I found that something that has to go in a backpack sometimes doesn’t come out enough.  I always knew it was there but it was too easy to forget.  Having a visual reminder in my face has worked so far, now all I have to do is stick to it and work hard. Seems pretty easy.

Spokes out.