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27 March 2017

Yesterday I finished my twelfth half-marathon. I thought I was going to run it alone, but BB’s calf improved and even though she hasn’t been running, she decided to go out and make a go of it. And she did. We ran 13.1 miles through Philadelphia (we ran the Love Run) at a 10:11 pace. Take out the portapotty pit stop, and we nailed 10 minute miles.

I had originally been training to be hopeful at running about a minute faster. My training was ok, not great. I worked with a coach who had great plans for me, but I struggled to keep up my motivation. I didn’t get quite to the 9 min/mile pace fitness over 13.1 miles. But pace and other goals of that nature are all less important that running with my partner and having that connection.

I have run 12 half-marathons and two full marathons with BB. I have never run either distance alone. Every step of every race longer than 10 miles has been run side by side with my partner. I’m glad this one wasn’t an exception. I will run a half-marathon alone soon. I’m running one at the end of the Atlantic City half-ironman race in September. But the road races we do together and I’m glad.

The paces I’m putting up these days put me in the bottom third of men, and men my age. I am not fast. I am not especially fit. There are many things I cannot do. There are many peaks I cannot climb. I accept that. Some things I cannot change. But what I am doing is meaningful to me. I run, and I compete, and I do the best I can, for the most part. It allows me to stay healthy. If I weren’t doing these things I’d surely be diabetic by now. I’m teetering as it is.

The best I can do is the best I can do. I’m not ashamed of it.

The Phantom Job Talk.

23 March 2017

Today I gave what I’m calling a “phantom job talk”. I spoke at a health policy department, discussing my research and how engineering influences policy and can inform public health decision making. The talk was fun, the audience was engaged, and the discussion during and after was robust. It was well-received and I enjoyed it immensely. Really couldn’t have gone better.

I call it a phantom job talk because the department is currently doing a search for a new associate or full professor. Based on my career status, publication record, funding record, etc., it’s not out of the realm of possibility that I could be a tenured professor in a medical school. I feel reasonably confident that my status puts me in at least reasonably favorable comparison with some members of that group. Top tier? Of course not. But in the group of associate professors. Maybe.

I applied for the position. I already knew the group and had some contacts with them, and they had decided to invite me to talk before the position search was announced. But given that I am an applicant for the position, this gave me a great opportunity: I can give a talk before they decide to interview me or not. The director was in the room, and perhaps some other members of the search committee.

Now, if they’re only looking for people with active funding, I’m out. I have $650 sitting in a grant account that expires in July. But if I had any hope of being considered, I made the case today. People were excited, interested, and seemed eager to collaborate with me.
If I don’t get an interview now, I never had any hope to begin with. And that’s ok. I have a good job and I’m on hard money. I don’t know if I’d take a professorship if it were offered. Especially with the current funding climate.

But I do want to be able to make a different type of contribution than I’m making right now. I’ve grown a little stale with my current environment. I want to be studying larger problems and different types of modeling architectures. And this represents an opportunity to begin doing that, maybe.

Giving Talks and Career Musings.

21 March 2017

I am giving two talks in the next two days. The first is a simple little talk on process engineering and publication of process engineering in healthcare. The second is about using computer simulation to generate policy and public health evidence. The first one is pretty easy and I’m not at all concerned about it. The second is sort of a job talk, and so I need it to be good.

I’m speaking at a public health policy center, an invited talk at a local ECC institution affiliated with MECMC and VFU. They have a professorship posted and I’ve applied for it. This talk isn’t officially a job talk because they haven’t decided on a list of interviewees yet. But I can pretty much guarantee that if I bomb, I won’t get invited to give a real one. I probably won’t anyway. The position is at the associate professor level, and while I might qualify in a technical sense, I wouldn’t be bringing any grant money.

I’d like to be able to do more research and intellectual work than I currently am. I’d like to be able to explore my abilities to build new tools and models and generate broad policy evidence and not just individual clinical improvement. I’ve done some really cool things at the clinical level, but I’m missing grappling with the bigger picture. I liked that when I did it.

My body of work is probably worthy of a tenured position, maybe, in a school of health policy that doesn’t expect a ton of external funding. But VFU and MECMC are major research institutions that don’t extend tenure to people without major grants. I’ve had several minor grants; even ones that probably sound big to non-academics (three in the $100,000 range). But nothing in the seven-figures that R1 universities and medical schools expect.

But I think I might have a different “in” in the event that I’m considered. While I’d like to broaden my horizons with regard to policy and public health, I don’t want to give up clinical engineering entirely. I’m going to propose (if I get the opportunity to) that I be hybridized. Half a professor of policy, half a program manager of clinical engineering. That way half my salary would remain covered by the hospital, not the academic institution. I’d be able to continue overseeing the work I currently do, and add research.

My current work is also a publication machine. In four years with MECMC I’ve published nine papers on clinical and administrative work. And another three on “my own time” on research policy. I could easily keep that up, and add a paper or two each year on policy simulation and public health.

So that’s the current fantasy. A half-time tenured professorship in the medschool, half-time manager in the hospital. Churning out papers that maybe, one day, help people get better healthcare. Will it happen? Almost certainly not. And it might even be a very bad idea to go looking for a professorship where I’d be expected to get funding right now when there is no funding right now and what there is is about to get slashed.

So who knows. It starts with writing a decent talk. After that, the tomorrows will take care of themselves.

The Long Training Run.

14 March 2017

Some workouts are physically more challenging, but the long run is the granddaddy of bastards as far as I’m concerned. Doing a long run alone is mentally exhausting. I lie to myself constantly during the run: “I’ll stop in 30 minutes. I’ll quit after 10 miles. I’ll quit when I get to the bridge. I’ll rest in a minute.” But I keep going.

Yesterday’s long run was no different. It was the third or fourth longest run I’ve ever done alone, at 13 miles. And easily the fastest 11+ mile solo run. I turned in 13 miles in 2:04:25, not counting a pause to pull my jacket off. That works out to 9:34 min/mile. I’m happy with that for a long run, but it also means that I’m probably not in personal-record shape for two weeks from now.

Which is fine. I don’t need to PR and I am not sure how I feel about the idea of having a PR different from BB’s. But I also know she wants me to go out and do my best. So I’ll just go run and see what happens. Hopefully the weather stays cool and I’ll be in good shape. Today I feel beat. Quads and hip flexors are sore. And I chafed a bit in my butt.

I’m hopeful I’ll get another good run in this week. We got 6-8 inches of slush and freezing rain. And it’s going to be cold and I expect to see the slush solidify into razor-sharp peaks of death and mayhem. But we’ll see! I’ll put on the trail shoes and see what I can do tomorrow.

My First Solo Half Marathon.

13 March 2017

Sadly, BB has a minor leg injury that is going to keep her out of our half-marathon in a couple of weeks. Even if it clears up, she won’t have tome to get fit for it. And 13 miles when you’re not fit for it hurts like a motherfucker, and isn’t worth doing just to do. So I’ll be running this race alone. I’ve been keeping my fitness up, and obviously had some good runs this winter, but I don’t think I’m in PR shape.

My last few short runs my HR was up, most likely indicating dehydration. My fitness is pretty good, I think. If the weather cooperates I suspect I’ll be able to run a decent time. We’ll just have to see. I need to pace well and run well and get lucky and all of those things if I’m going to expect to have a fast race. But as usual, fast isn’t going to be my big goal.

I just want to be able to finish, be healthy, and be proud of myself for accomplishing a goal again. Running for two hours is hard. Running at a push-pace for two hours is really hard. It doesn’t matter if I run 1:58 or 2:05, if I’m anywhere in that range, I’ll have had a good hard race. And if I’m not, well, then I know something else about myself too.

Tonight I have a 13 mile training run, which is a long damned run for after work. I’m expecting it to take me a good two and a half hours. Which should get me done before the snow starts. The next several days are going to be UGLY here in East Coast City: Monday night into Tuesday should see a driving snowstorm coat my city with anywhere from six to eighteen inches of snow.

Hopefully it’ll be cleared enough for my little runs Wednesday and Thursday.

Little Bits of Progress.

9 March 2017

I have succeeded in surviving three days without cookies at work, bringing my change in diet to a nice round five and a half days. I did have a piece of banana bread I didn’t need yesterday, but overall I’m doing well. My body is reasonably responsive to shifts in diet, and I’ve lost about three pounds already. I fluctuate a lot, so that shouldn’t be considered a stable number, but it feels better than going the other direction.

I’ve also turned a corner in training with an eye toward the summer triathlons. My Tuesdays used to be a strength workout, and now they’re strength and biking. This week I did 10 miles and then a good 45 minute session with my personal trainer. It’s also getting light enough that I can stop bumming rides from my sponsor to the AA meeting on Wednesdays and start biking. That also means I less frequently go out for gyros after the meeting, which is a good thing and a bad thing.

The time with the men is important to me, and I will keep it up periodically, but I need to be healthy too and a 1500 calorie meal full of fat and carbs is less than productive and I can’t figure out how to eat differently at that restaurant. Which is fine. My sobriety taught me that it’s ok to change people places and things that interfere with the goals I’m setting for myself. I’m not hurting anyone by being more responsible about my food.

I did four miles at half-marathon PR pace yesterday, and it was hard. My glutes and quads are all sore from the bike and the strength, and pushing hard for 36 minutes was a definite challenge. Especially after losing some fitness last week skipping workouts. Today I have a one hour run, with a 15 minute “pickup” in the middle. I figure I should be able to get about 6.5 miles in.

I’m doing ok for the year on mileage. I’m up to almost 190 miles on the year, and I’ve had some good runs. I’m looking forward to the Love Run in Philadelphia in a couple weeks. I think I’ll be fit enough that the run feels good. That’s all I really hope for.

Hard Investments.

7 March 2017

I consider myself fortunate that I have a good mental makeup for long term achievement. I recognize that I won’t be good at things at first. I understand that mastery takes practice. And I connect in a satisfying way with getting slowly better at things. I don’t know if those things are learned skills, innate natures, or just plain random luck. But I have them, and so I’ve been able to achieve many sorts of things that don’t require me to be a prodigy but do require that I invest time and effort.

I think partially it’s also what I consider to be achievement. For example: I am a halfway decent cook. I like cooking, and I can generally turn a pile of ingredients into a meal worth eating. I’m not the best in the world. But I think I’m at least average, maybe a touch above. Especially when compared with other men living alone. I consider this an achievement. I practiced. I ate a bunch of crap for many years while I got better. I asked better cooks than me how they do things, and learned from them.

But I can totally see someone else looking at that and thinking, “Dude. It’s just food. We all need to eat every day. It’s not impressive that you can salt beets.” And that’s fine. We don’t all need to consider the same things achievements, and if I’m impressed with myself for climbing small hills, well, I’m ok with that. I don’t need the validation of other people.

But let’s not kid ourselves either. I like external validation. That’s why I play piano in public and not just at home alone.

Now I need to make another hard investment. Here’s the problem: I often get satisfied with middling success. Sometimes that’s fine. I have no designs on touring with an orchestra or opening a restaurant. Not my things. The one thing I’m really and truly an expert in, Health Care Engineering, well, that’s what I do professionally and I’m happy with that.

But I’m not happy with my eating. I’m making bad choices, especially at work, and I’ve been putting on weight despite all the running I’m doing. I’m back up into the 190s and I don’t like how I feel or how I look at the moment. So I can complain and whine about how staying trim is impossible and gets more impossible every year as my metabolism slows, or I can accept what I can’t change and change what I can.

There is plenty of low-hanging fruit to harvest when it comes to improving my diet (first of all, I should be eating more tree-fruits). I have been eating cookies after lunch at work. Dessert at home is miniature candy bars. Etc. There are a lot of easy ways to improve my diet that simply involve having the mental and spiritual fortitude to make good choices and be happy with the process.

That’s the key for me: happiness is a choice. I can choose to be happy about how I’m doing engaging in a difficult process to lose some weight. I can choose to be happy with long term progress rather than short term satisfaction. It’s a mindset.

There’s a general argument out there that “diet and exercise don’t work”, because the people who lose weight dieting and exercising tend to gain it back. Well, sure, that’s one way to look at it. But the other way is that “diet and exercise stop working when you stop doing them”. Diet and exercise are not going to make the weight melt away and never return. Whatever you have to do to get there is what you have to do to stay there. It’s a lifelong decision, and a permanent process.

One that will get harder and harder as we age. But it is simply a fact that if we consume fewer calories and burn more, we will lose weight. With some caveats: if we go too far, our bodies will enter a “starvation” mode and lower our metabolism drastically to compensate, retaining calories and making exercise difficult due to lack of energy. So we need a healthy balance.

So I’m going to make some small changes and see what I can do. That starts simply: no more cookies at 1pm. I’ve been through this before. I’ve seen what happens. I’m ok with this. I just need to recognize that my efforts will pay off slowly.