Hackernoon logoMy $0 Biohacking Journey to Completing Ultra-Marathons by@michalk

My $0 Biohacking Journey to Completing Ultra-Marathons

The title and content of this article are inspired by — I’m 32 and spent $200k on biohacking. Here is my way. I became calmer, thinner, extroverted, healthier & happier. I am still learning and not content — I want to go further. Not just from unwell to well but from good to great, and beyond. I have run 100k ultramarathons, managed large distributed teams at international tech start-ups, and physically, mentally, and socially.
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Michal Kubis Hacker Noon profile picture

Michal Kubis

🤖 Biohacker & Ultra runner 🚀 Tech startup founder 💰 Crypto investor

The title and content of this article are inspired by — I’m 32 and spent $200k on biohacking. Became calmer, thinner, extroverted, healthier & happier. — by Serge Faguet, a tech CEO who uses a heavy combination of lifestyle, supplements, and detailed blood tests, to biohack his wellness and performance.

Upon reading this, I was inspired, though I also realized I’ve been doing the same for years now — spending $0. Here is my way.

My story

I was never a fit or an athletic child. I hated PE. I would get down easily with a flu and I remember getting stomach problems a lot and nosebleeds when I got nervous. I was terrified of approaching strangers. I didn’t know what to say to most people, in most situations. Despite being a top student, I was terrible at goal setting and I struggled to keep attention in class. I didn’t know what I wanted from life and I never felt good in my body.

When I got my first full-time job, it took a few months of pushing myself to hit my first burnout — before I knew what burnout meant. I would wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat and my body would itch too much for me to go back to sleep. My mouth would get constantly dry so I kept drinking water and going to the toilet every 30 minutes. Whilst sitting down at work I would be so restless that my legs would keep shaking under the table and all I could think of was getting out of there. I got my first panic attack whilst walking out of the train in the middle of a busy square one Sunday, and for a minute I thought I was about to die.

I finally went to the GP and — having run all the blood, stool, and urine tests he had in stock — I got my diagnosis: ‘You’re perfectly fine but you really need to manage your stress levels. It’s making your body go nuts. Let’s review your lifestyle together…’

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Fast forward eight years and many a failed experiment later — I am finally at a place where I feel good on most days and I have developed a playbook of tools and techniques to nurture that. I have run 100k ultramarathons, managed large distributed teams at international tech start-ups, and physically, mentally, and socially I have gone to places I never thought I could. I am still learning and not content — I want to go further. Not just from unwell to well but from good to great, and beyond.

Some call it biohacking, some just call it self-care. In either case, the goal is to live a better, stronger, healthier, more confident, more productive, and ultimately longer life. I’m not sure where I will draw the line yet (if any) but let’s start by listing a set of the most simple yet powerful tools and techniques I have tried so far. I will skip all the self-development I have done outside the health and wellness front (there is a lot!) — perhaps a separate post for that.

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Sleep

‘They’ say everything starts with fixing your sleep, and they are right. One of the first things I did was regularize my wake up time — to 7am, each day. The simple act of fixing the time does wonders for my wellbeing but also comes a long way towards simplifying my decision making, when it comes to questions of routine. Try it.

My bedtime ranges from 11pm to 1am (harder to fix) but on average I do make sure I get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, throughout the week. I also have a rule about closing all my browser tabs and switching off all my email notifications after work, and not thinking about anything work related or having to do with planning the next day, 1 hour before bedtime, to help me wind down.

Result? I’m more energized each day. I don’t sleep in until 10–12 on the weekend, as I used to. I have more time to do other things before work each morning. My sleep is well-balanced and restful, I take less than 10 minutes to fall asleep on average and I rarely wake up in the middle of the night.

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Above: sleep data from my Oura ring.

It’s not all due to the routine though — the results are closely linked to all of the following —

Exercise

I went from practically zero exercise (excluding walks) to starting each day with a 30 minute workout. The workout varies between strength, yoga, and cardio, but it provides me with 30 minutes of undisturbed clarity and a nice endorphin kick before breakfast, each day. Draining some of my excess physical energy before the day’s begun also helps me stay more focused at work.

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A study showing the effects of 3x / week 30 minute exercise on treating depression, versus Zoloft. I’ve never been prone to depression but my experience makes me believe it’s very similar with anxiety.

Last year I focused these workouts on endurance running and I completed a 100k ultramarathon after 9 months, as a result. This year, I am focusing on muscle gain — I hired a PT to assist and will post my progress as I go. It works well for me to have clear goals to work towards, whilst maintaining some variety in terms of what those goals are.

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This was the first ultramarathon I’ve ran — finishing 3rd to my own surprise. The longest one I’ve done was 106km distance, 5km vertical elevation. It took me 23h 30m to complete.

Diet & Nutrition

The third so-called pillar of health is diet and nutrition. What had the biggest impact on my performance and keeping my energy levels relatively constant was regularizing my meal times. I never skip breakfast. I always eat lunch around 1pm, no matter what. And my dinner is always around 7 or 8. Apart from the obvious benefit of keeping my circadian rhythm in check, this provides a nice added structure to my day and respite from stress — I have a rule about savouring the moment and not doing work, whilst I eat.

The next step has been the elimination of caffeine. I still drink green tea, but no black tea and no coffee. Cutting this has made me more alert and less jittery over longer periods of time (when I’m caffeinated I alternate between elevated states of mind with many thoughts racing through my head all at once, and slumps where I feel like crashing down). As with all the rest, it takes some adjusting for the body an mind, but the benefits far outweigh the short-run cost.

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I think this chart is self-explanatory. I bought and implanted a continuous glucose monitor and will be running a structured experiment on this soon, stay tuned!

Next, I’ve eliminated alcohol — yes, I went from having a glass of whiskey on the rocks to wind down each night and the usual weekend party drinking — down to zero. Together with stress reduction, I think this is what has had the biggest impact on boosting the quality of my sleep, and I’ve got data from my Garmin to support that. It has also saved me a lot of money and generated extra time — by replacing the Friday night partying with Saturday 8am running club.

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My body battery peaking quite low (about 60%) on Saturday morning, after just a few drinks the previous night (data from my Garmin Forerunner 945). After a good restful night, I should wake up at 100%.

Finally, I went vegetarian, about 6 months ago. The benefits of this are a bit harder to prove than caffeine and alcohol, as the results are not immediately obvious. I’m expecting the effect to yield more health benefits in the long run — akin to not smoking, though less extreme. Even though the opinion of experts on the effects of an entirely meat-free diet vary, being fuelled by a prevalence of plants is an advice in most playbooks. And even if the benefit of cutting meat entirely is negligible or non-existent, I think the environmental and ethical reasons alone justify this lifestyle choice.

Note: none of this elimination has lead to me reducing my calorie or individual macro- or micro-nutrient intake, neither am I planning to do so.

Mind

The fourth and final textbook pillar of health is stress management. Let’s call it ‘mind’. It’s perhaps the least measurable and the most elusive one. Nevertheless, the impact of stress has a very tangible effect on the quality of both sleep and waking life, as shown above, in my first-hand experience.

Doing the above-mentioned tweaks to sleep, exercise, and diet go a long way towards managing stress levels already. Other than these basic lifestyle factors and good social hygiene, there are coping mechanisms I employ. The most obvious and perhaps overhyped one these days is meditation. I used to meditate each day for 10–30 minutes before going to sleep and I do believe this was beneficial. It’s a bit like micro-therapy — allowing me to step back, savour my triumphs, name and examine my worries and fears (which alone makes them seem somehow more acceptable), and get some headspace to let ideas, memories, and sensations mix and settle into new patterns.

I like the feeling I get when I meditate and the lasting effect of being kinder, calmer, and more open to things — even though I currently don’t have any hard data to prove this. That said, I stopped practicing daily about a month ago — as I feel I get similar benefits from other structured reflection opportunities I create — including my morning exercise and my 20-minute solitary walk home, at the end of each day. Most teachers say mindfulness is something to be practiced at all times and in all forms, and I like to think so. I may revert back to daily mediation practice, if I feel the need to.

Lastly, most often at work, when I get stressed and filled with anxious thoughts, I make sure to get up and walk or stretch for 5 minutes, which goes a long way towards releasing the stress and calming my mind. It also helps with snapping out of the ‘tunnel vision’ this propels. With constant practice, this has become mostly automated — and though I’m a person high in anxiety by nature — I catch myself and intervene this way before spiraling in.

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My average daily stress trendline, over the past year. The average has been trending down from the peak of 43 in March ’20 to the low of 29, in February ’21 (a 67% drop). This period coincides with going through covid lockdowns, having to quit my previous job to launch my own startup whilst relocating to Singapore, and not being sure what the heck I’m doing, all the while.

How You Can Get Started

Don’t try to do it all at once. Set clear goals, pick your battles one at a time, and identify the right metrics to measure what works for you and what does not. Learn from each experiment. The beauty of this is that — although what I said above might sound like a lot — each new routine becomes automated after a few weeks and you don’t have to think about it, in order to keep good habits alive.

As you may also notice, all of these interventions are free. The only things I’ve spent money on were smart devices (Garmin, Oura, and Muse), to help me quantify some key metrics and monitor progress — but progress is definitely also achievable without these. Other than that, I’ve spent some money on gyms and yoga classes when I wanted to work out outside of my home — I spent $0 though when I was training for ultramarathons. The beauty of an elimination diet is that it also costs virtually nothing — plus it has saved me substantial amounts of money on Starbucks and alcohol.

Going forward, I will be running more structured diet-related experiments, in order to smoothen out my daily energy level fluctuations. I have not gone down the supplements route yet, though I am curious to explore whether this is something that can take me further, once I feel I have approached the limits of what I can do using these simpler and more holistic, and free techniques. I will probably start by running a series of blood tests, in the next few months to see where I’m at, then I will decide.

The art and science of biohacking is still in its infancy and we don’t have a good understanding of many of the factors that drive both performance and the aging process. If I can stay in good health and minimize my internal and external wear and tear, in the next few decades there should be exponentially more technology coming onto the market allowing me to extend the quality and length of my life.

Some believe the first person to never die has been born already. Who knows. And perhaps that’s besides the point. What I care about most right now is that I am turning 30 next month and I feel better and am achieving more than I ever did. That’s a good start.

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The only aging metric I currently have — cardiovascular fitness. It’s just a single indicator but it’s a start. Judging by how often I get sick over the past 2–3 years (almost 0) versus before, it seems to be a good marker of immune system functioning at the very least apart from, obviously, performance.

My upcoming #biohack experiments

Biohack #1: Weight, body composition, and range of motion (in progress)

Biohack #2: Energy levels, glucose, and afternoon slump (in progress)

To see more and track my progress, follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

Michal Kubis Hacker Noon profile picture
by Michal Kubis @michalk. 🤖 Biohacker & Ultra runner 🚀 Tech startup founder 💰 Crypto investorRead my stories

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