Mark Grealish

Cats and wizardry.


Running at the Madrisa T24

in me

Me running in Klosters at the Madrisa T24 trail race

This is probably the single photograph that best epitomizes the high points of the past six months in Switzerland.


Six Months in the Mountain Kingdom

in me

Today I ran the Madrisa T24 in Klosters, Switzerland, finishing 75/430 in 02:43:18. If past races have taught me anything, it’s that I get down. After Reykjavik I hit a deep low that lasted for weeks afterward.

So, yeah, this is the wrong day to write about the last six months. I talked about the context of how and why I came to Switzerland back in March, and I’ll try to pick up pieces from there.

Work has been soul-destroying. Every single person I’ve worked with at The Job has been anyhing less than professional, while my boss and my team support me (and me them) to the best of their ability. But as someone who comes from startups and itty-bitty companies, the restrictions and rules of the environment have turned every single day of work into a thing of frustration. X tool isn’t available because software restrictions. Y tool is available, but the latest version in the software repo is from 2016. Ideas wither on the vine as successive stakeholders find it easier to say no. For all the money that The Job pours into talent and consultants, it has proven remarkably difficult to get approval for any spend on software or services. Whatever tools you find to use, that’s what you’re stuck with forever more.

Despite that, I’m proud of what I’ve delivered in terms of reining in technical debt and improving processes. When I jumped in at the deep end by moving to Switzerland for a job at $big_name_enterprise, I didn’t expect to swim as well as I have.

I guess I’m deeply burned out though, at the end of things. This is the child of the burnout I felt at The Last Job. Then, the work environment was pretty great all around. Relaxed, progressive and with all the freedom I wanted over tools. At the same time though… At the same time, I worked on two every projects that ran on to take twelve and nine months respectively. Scope seemed to creep ever forward as we added this or that necessary feature, or I discovered that some other features had unexpected complexities.

And I was pigeonholed. Our stack of Ionic/Angular/NgRx was our stack. By the end of year two I had plumbed all the depths of Angular and learned all there was to know about building an Angular application. That pigeonhole is as much a problem in the new job, where the limits on tooling and knowledge lead to a necessary limit on the use of rich features.

And then and now I’ve been in a deep silo of isolation, in both cases effectively a sole developer in areas where my peers don’t have much overlap in domain knowledge with me. Like, every employer asks “What do you do to keep up with technology?” as though it’s my personal mandate to grind leetcode or courses online out of hours. What I say to that is that my workplace is where I have the greatest opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and interact with programming peers. Not having someone at work I can talk code to, bounce ideas off, or turn to for help… These have been difficult things to deal with.

I’m burned out. I do my job, log out and feel awful and depressed. Just the mere notion of looking for a new job after I go home fills me with such terrible anxiety. All I want to do is take a few months off on savings, pick up some new skills and otherwise do fuck-all else with my days.

Outside of work: foreign country, small town, global pandemic and little shared language. Friends and Instagram have gotten that sweet Swiss eye candy, the sweeping vistas of the Bernese Oberland, or lake views from Schwyz. My actual living schedule, though, has been twenty hours a day in the one room where I live and work and sleep. This is not a cell: my housemate and her cat are delightful and Affoltern am Albis is a gorgeous town at the crossroads of many trails.

Pandemic restrictions have kept me home and away from Z├╝rich. Although I have worked to pick up German (wie gehts?), language gets in the way of things, and if you know me, you know I have the social desires of a mossy rock. I miss Sarah something fierce. By itself, coming to Switzerland for six months just to sit in a room most of the time hasn’t been worth it. I haven’t set foot inside the door of the work office since February, or have met any of my team members in person. It’s lonely. I’m not at all a social person, and I’ll still call it lonely.

But look: Switzerland is gorgeous. The quality of living here is so high. Public transport can get me to almost any trail head, and I feel enabled in ways I never experienced in Ireland. If I could find a better balance of work and live, I would come back here in a heartbeat.

All this has put strain on Sarah and I. You build a relationship on those shared experiences which we haven’t had since I moved. The Sarah-shaped hole in my life gets a little larger every day, and honestly, I’m counting the days (18) until I see her again. While we talk every day, but if my kids have taught me anything at all, it’s that it’s difficult to build rapport with a face on a screen.

And while I’m on the topic of kids, that’s a whole other dumpster entirely. The ex-wife lurches from one drama to the next, hurting the kids as she goes. The very hard truth that’s come out of talking to solicitors is that there’s almost nothing I can do until they reach majority and decide (or not) that they want to come here. It’s a situation that’s crushed me, because everyone else in their lives have their own agenda, while people were happy to dump everything on me, they were less happy when I finally did something about it. Fuck it. Really, fuck it.

Meh. This has been a down post. I’m tired. I came into Switzerland stressed. I’ll be leaving with even more.


So I Guess I’m an Ultra Runner Now

in running

Cooling my sore feet in the fountain at Urdorf
Strava record for the run

On Sunday last I ran a 54 kilometre loop from Urdorf to Sihlbrugg and back again to Urdorf, in a little over seven hours! While I missed my target time by an hour, I am so happy to have completed training and the run in grand style.


Swiss Scenery

in switzerland

Forest near Mettmenstetten
Sunset on Augsterberg
Blue skies over Affoltern am Albis
Jonental forest paths
Storm clouds over Zugersee and Wildspitz
Photographer in Hauptbannhof Zurich
Morning sunlight
Running track at Affoltern am Albis
Birch tree strand near Mettmenstetten

March 20

in me

My friend began to blog again, which made me feel guilty over my lack of attention here.

Everything in my head has become such a thing that Sarah joke “I am the night!” with me. Whenever I come back here the post I want to write tries to hijack the blogging space as another struggle-piece. But anyways. On top of that, I love to blog photographs from my life, yet I still have not set up the upload script on my use-laptop. These have become a “I’ll fix this next week” thing that’s run on for six months.

I’ll remedy this tomorrow in some form, I swear.

COVID-19

As I write, the COVID-19 pandemic dominates my life. Europe and Ireland have shut down in social distancing. If I had to describe the mood, it would be a sense of stubborn endurance. Businesses have pushed as many workers remote as they can. My WhatsApp groups are alive with everyone checking in or sharing information.

Only one friend of min (in Rome) has caught COVID-19. Nobody in my family or close circles has come down with the virus. Speaking as a lifelong atheist, I feel blessed that this is so. I can follow trends and curves as well as anyone, and I don’t want to imagine what the effects would be if the virus were allowed to spread unchecked.

Sarah and I are enjoying the extra time together before I move, even if we’re both feeling a bit of cabin fever from the enforced close quarters. It has been truly lovely to have her here, as I’ve made her the excuse I needed cook more. :D

My day-to-day already revolved around working from home, so I haven’t been too terribly disrupted. My heart goes out to retail and hospitality workers who’ve found themselves abruptly out of a job, in a financial hole, and facing an uncertain future as health authorities extend isolation and quarantine measures.

Work

So I’m supposed to move to Switzerland in two weeks. Notice this change in my career; I am at a loss to explain its presence! I am even more puzzled by the existence of the universe.

My frustration with my job came to a personal head in December during a week of planning meetings at the office in Dublin. My boss, my coworkers and the company as a whole are all lovely people. Despite all that, I couldn’t shake off frustrations over my role and the ways I executed it. Learning Angular was invaluable. Two years working alone in a silo writing Angular left me stressed and burned out. Another year or more of the same was too much for me to bear.

In January and February I interviewed for roles in London, Amsterdam, Dublin, and Gibraltar. Despite my best effort to stay detached, some of the interview experiences left a bad taste in my mouth.

Phorest in Dublin were horrible communicators. Their HR flack gave me to wrong technical test to complete, then rejected me a week later because I completed it to spec. Did I mention they are total shit at communication? I greatly enjoyed my initial conversation with Phorest’s technical lead, and the role they presented appealed to me. It hurt a bit that they jerked me around so.

BetVictor in Gibraltar issued a crazy “but wait, there’s more!” take home that put me off the role. Even before I interviewed I worried about the effects of Brexit on working in Gibraltar from a residence in La Linea de la Concepcion. Spain tends to close the border whenever they want to make a point, and guess what happened. The technical test nailed it. Such take home exercises are wicked things that select for the desperate: I did not have to do that mountain of take home, so I passed on the role. Everyone involved there was really lovely to speak with, otherwise.

With the above experiences behind me I did not engage with recruiters with expectations of any given call panning out, so imagine my surprise when I received an invitation to fly out to Zurich for an interview with $big_name_enterprise! What a fucking crazy few days what was!

On the Sunday, I want a tough thirty kilometre through Connemara. Afterward I was too sore to really rest, so it was an exhausted me who caught the 2am bus to the airport on Monday for the 7am flight to Zurich. I enjoyed sightseeing and running through Zurich on Monday.

My interview was at 10am on Tuesday. It felt weird to walk in the swank main entrance of $big_name_enterprise and be ushered off to a meeting room. Afterwards, where I had wanted to go straight to the airport so I could check in and chill out, I instead had to dash back to my hotel because dumb me left my Kindle in my room.

I walked in the door at 3am and had the call offering me the job at 1pm. Like I said, a crazy few days.

Life

I am as a fish out of water when it comes to the move to Zurich. I do not feel prepared. All the way through 2019, my goal was “the Netherlands.” I learned the language (hoi vriend, hoe gaat het?), became familiar with the culture…and now Switzerland. While I do not doubt that I will adapt, the move has been a lot to take on. But sure look, I’m excited for the learning and travel opportunities.

COVID-19 has had simultaneously great effect and no effect on my life. For every run cancelled and trip (my move to Switzerland) pushed back, for every new restriction, my day-to-day hasn’t changed much. I already work from home and mostly stay here as a shut in introvert.

Running

The races I planned to attend have all cancelled the event or rescheduled for the Autumn. Connemarathon and the Beer Lover’s Marathon are both now scheduled for September 27, three weeks before The Full Dram in Glenfarclas. While the Xterra Gozo ultra marathon is still on in May, travel restrictions in place in Malta make it unlikely that I can attend.

Gaelforce Killary on March 7 was my last run before pandemic restrictions began. The sky run was a brutal fucking thing which showed me how much I have to learn still about trail running and climbing. In January I had signed up for the 23 kilometre expert event out of some dumb notion that I could handle it. Well, I couldn’t. I am road fit. I am not trail fit.

Bad weather on the day led Gaelforce to change the expert route to one loop of the intermediate race and one of the beginner. That intermediate route was a horrific challenge for me. Almost three hours to cover only 13 kilometres before I dropped out. This is my first (and proudest) race DNF. At the point that I crossed the line I could not see any event which would have led me to continue for the second easier loop. Not only was I exhausted, I have a deep fear of precipices. I have no problem with heights, none at all, but my skin will start to crawl out my back if you put me on the edge of some sheer height. Visibility on top was nil and crosswinds had me almost paralyzed with the fear that it would blow me off the mountain.

It was trying. For all that I felt then that I failed, I plan to go back next year better trained and equipped for this challenge.


Happy Dissonance

in me

My last therapist told me part of why I struggle to find words for my emotions is that I rationalize over them. It sounds a bit dumb, so bear with me for a moment for an analogy with endurance running. The farther I run, the father and faster I can run. While there are techniques and tips around running, there’s really no deeper trick to running more than “run more.” The more I allow myself feel, the more I am able to allow myself feel.

Every since the marathon I’ve danced around how 2019 was one of the great years of my life. I fell in love and travelled to Barcelona and Amsterdam with her, ran the marathon, left Dublin at last and made the best friends running. Like, I even went and started my own little trail running group, Trails and Blood. My son and I spent so much time together online. He’s a total nerd who adores me for some reason.

It’s been so great, yet I’ve been so afraid to come out and talk about how I have turned around my life. So here I am, happy!