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Triathlon Recap.

26 June 2017

Well, my friends, I am no athlete. I never was and I never will be. But I had a pretty good day for me out on the race course yesterday. But before you read it, I want you to pop over to my friend MC’s page. At 66 years old, she just had her first podium finish in a triathlon. Worried she’d finish dead last, she crushed her event. I’m so, so, so proud of her.

My day was ok. Sadly, the swim was canceled. Heavy thunderstorms Friday night and Saturday morning in ECC and north of us resulted in the river we planned to use for the swim being swollen, choked with debris, and with a fast current. There was no safe way to swim in it, and the race directors made the right call in canceling the swim.

So, the race was still broken up into three pieces. We did a 2 mile run, followed by the 24.8 mile bike, followed by the 4.2 mile run. I think the courses were a tiny bit short, but not enough to make much of a difference.

The first run I went ahead and ran hard. It was cool in the morning, I’d had a 4 mile ride to warm up, and I figured the day wasn’t going to be as hard as I’d planned given that the swim was out and the run was dissected. So I did the 2 miles at an 8:30 pace, pushing pretty good. It was a bit warm (about 70), but the humidity wasn’t oppressive. I felt good about that pace.

My first transition (to the bike) was uneventful. All I had to do was don gloves, helmet, and glasses. And my Japanese dragon bandana. The bike course was tough. It was much hillier than anything I’d trained for. The first mile included a 200 foot ascent. Three more steep uphill sections really challenged me, and that was only the first of two loops.

My goal going in was to keep up a 16 mph pace, in order to test my fitness for a longer ride. I figured if I could keep up 16 mph on a hilly course for almost 25 miles, then I ought to be where I need to be to do 56 mile at 16 mph on a flat course in a few months. (Depending, of course, on the weather.)

On the second loop, going up the third steep hill, my chain came off when I tried to shift into my hill gear. Because I was already in my hill gear. I forced the derailleur, the chain slipped between the gears and wheel, and shredded the plastic wheel guard. I hopped off the bike, assessed that it was something I could probably deal with, reset the chain, hoped the plastic guard wouldn’t catch on anything, and kept going.

It worked. I charged back into the race, up the hill, down the other side, and back into transition in 1:29 and change. 16.5 mph. I’m quite happy with that.

The final run was 4.2 miles. I did not try to match my earlier pace. I went out at a slightly sub-10 minute mile, and held that for four miles. I finished in 41ish minutes, at a 9:48 pace to finish in a total of a bit over two and a half hours. I was really happy with my pacing, and even had the energy for a little sprint to the finish line.

I didn’t finish last. I didn’t even finish last in my age group. Though I was down toward the bottom. Recreational triathletes tend to be a pretty athletic bunch. And so comparing myself with them makes me look pretty sluggish. Sixty-some men in my age group finished ahead of me. Less than 10 finished behind me. Overall, almost 600 people finished ahead of me, and only about 200 finished behind me.

I wish I were faster and better and stronger. But I only have what I have. I can only give what I can give. Yesterday, I did a weird franken-race of an Olympic Triathlon. I finished healthy. I’m proud of myself. When I compare myself against others, I am pretty damned piss-poor. But when I compare myself against what I used to be? It’s kind of amazing.

So I’m happy. And I think I’m on track for my half-Ironman.

Great Tune-up Run, and Jury Duty.

21 June 2017

I had a great run yesterday after work. It wasn’t fast, but I felt really good throughout. Well, not quite. I had knee and hamstring and quad issues. But that’s also probably just a case of the taper crazies. Right before a race, anxiety and anticipation combine to make many runners, including me, fabulate phantom injuries. I’ll be fine.

The run was really spectacular. Even though it was 88 degrees out. Even though I haven’t been training as hard as I feel like I should. I’ve gotten enough work in. I’m not in perfect shape, but I’m in “finish an Olympic triathlon” shape, and that’s all I need. I did 10 km, which is the distance I’ll have to run Sunday. I did the second 5 km faster than the first, and my fastest mile was mile 6.

That tells me I can pace well, and I can maintain. My fitness is decent for the distances I’m going. I’m a little nervous about the hills on the bike course. But the run course is dead flat and shaded. It’s not supposed to be too humid. It’s not supposed to be too hot. I think I’ll likely have ideal conditions. I’m excited.

The other thing that happened this week is that I had Jury Duty. I was not selected. I was impaneled for a murder trial (which was not a death penalty case), but when the time came to speak to the judge, she didn’t like what I had to say about my opinions of police biases. But the real bullet I dodged was the fact that jury selection that day was also for a major political corruption trial which would have dragged on for weeks.

The great thing to come out of that though, was that I made a new friend! Another jury member is an assistant professor at UHR, in health policy and economics. He’s also a runner, and a triathlete, and has an eerily similar background to me from a political and religious perspective. We hit it off immediately and are having dinner this Saturday.

I also learned about a local olive oil and vinegar shop. So so far, this week has been a major win.

Taper Week for the Olympic Triathlon.

20 June 2017

Sunday I go out for 51.5 kilometers of triathlony goodness. The bike course is hillier than I’d like. The swim has 250 m into the current (out of 1500 total). The run will be at about 85 degrees. It might be humid. I will do the best I can with what I’ve got. My fitness is so-so. My anxiety is middling. My bike is in good shape. I own running shoes. I can do an Australian crawl for hours at a time. I’m as ready as I’m gonna be.

I figure the swim for 40-45 minutes. 5-7 for transition 1. 95 minutes for the bike. 5-7 more for transition 2. And then 65-70 minutes for the run. So, I’m figuring 210 minutes total. Three and a half hours. I have to be done in 4.5, or I am not allowed to finish. There are intermediate cutoffs for the bike, etc., but I don’t think I’m at risk of transgressing those.

So I’m nervous but excited. It will be a solid opportunity to test myself, accomplish something new, and bring home a cool finisher’s medal.

Making Excuses.

16 June 2017

Being an alcoholic means being a practiced hand at making excuses. Both for myself, and to myself. There are all kinds of reasons I can’t do this, or didn’t do that. Why I failed or haven’t finished. I can come up with millions of them in an instant. And I used to believe them. Feeling stymied by life is a pretty universal condition, alcoholics have no exclusive claim to it. But we are usually really good at it; at declaring that we are unable to succeed because of forces allayed against us we cannot compete with.

There’s only one problem. It’s mostly bullshit.

In order to recover, we have to quit seeing these supposed nefarious forces – usually family, legal, cultural, educational, or bureaucratic – as impossible obstacles and start seeing them as the general condition of life that everyone has to deal with. When we drink, people stop helping us. People stop trusting us. We drop out of school. We don’t pay our bills. We get in trouble with the law.

Recovery means stopping fighting those systems and starting to engage with them. Clear our names. Regain our trustworthiness. Recover our credit. Pay what we owe. And stopping the excuses. We need to own what we did wrong. We need to own what we do going forward. We own our mistakes and our deficiencies and we need to correct them ourselves.

I wonder how useful this advice is outside the program. I see so many people who look at the world and say, “See, all the forces aligned against me, no wonder I can’t succeed.” And then they don’t even try. So much self-defeatism prior to even really engaging with an attempt. Or abandoning efforts after early setbacks.

But it’s also true that different people face different challenges and there really are forces aligned against some people more than others. Privilege is real. But it is not at all insurmountable. A glance at the rooms of AA will prove that. Healthy, happy, sober people from all walks of life who’ve achieved personal contentment and professional stability. People with far less privilege than I have.

In AA, we achieve that by taking on the responsibility for ourselves, and looking at those cultural forces which may thwart us as things we cannot change, but things we can confront. Personally, of course, I have little in the way of privilege deficits. But I am co-traveler of the road of recovery with many who do, and who succeed despite them.

Much too is about how we define “success”. Is that achieving a high-status job in an important field at a fine institution? Is that becoming a wealthy entrepreneur with our own business? Is that being out of debt and having a roof and three daily meals? Is that having children with college funds? Is that finishing a degree? There are many ways, and how we define it will influence how we pursue it.

But we have to pursue it. Step by step by step. Recovery – and this is among its greatest gifts – teaches us to be relentless.

Ten Days and a Lot of Anxiety.

15 June 2017

Well, it’s ten days until my Olympic triathlon. I do not feel ready. Yesterday I did a 4 mile run in 80 degree weather and 80% humidity. At least I tried to. I made it 5k before I had to walk, and do intervals the rest of the way home. Drenched and overheated and with a heart rate of 186. Of course I’d also been running at a 9:50 pace, which isn’t fast but is apparently too fast for the conditions.

It’s hard for me to slow down when I don’t have BB to pace me. I go too fast, and end up dying. I’m not in shape and I’m worried. There’s no time left to get into shape. I’ll finish, no doubt about that. But I’m going to be walking a lot of the 10k I think. I wish I wouldn’t have to. Last year I jogged the whole 10k even though it was 95 degrees and very humid.

Tonight I have a 25 mile ride, and then I’m going to do a run, even though it’s not on my schedule. I need the extra boost and ten days out is about the last chance to get it. After that your body just doesn’t incorporate what you do fast enough to make a difference on race day. At least, mine doesn’t. You fight with the army you’ve got. And this body is the one I have to race with. I’ll do what I can.

Managing anxiety is difficult. For races, it’s about setting expectations and making a choice to be happy with finishing, since competing is out of my realm of possibility. I can do well for who I am and where I am. But I cannot measure myself against those that are more talented, fitter, and better trained than I am. I simply cannot do what they do. I will never be able to. That’s ok.

The best way to manage anxiety is to work against the things that make me anxious. If I’m anxious about my weight and fitness, I should lose weight and gain fitness. I can do that. It’s hard but I can do it. I remain anxious about my house and the various water problems it had, but I addressed the known issues and I haven’t seen any water intrusion in almost 18 months. I keep reminding myself, like a mantra, “water always shows itself”. If it’s going to leak, I’m going to see it.

Currently the forecast for triathlon Sunday is pretty good: high of 82, low humidity. I can race in those conditions. There are supposed to be storms early Friday. Sometimes those kick up the river, and make it too polluted or impart too much of a current to swim in for the race. Hopefully it won’t happen. But it might turn into a duathlon. That’s always a risk with outdoor swimming. If that happens, it’ll be a 5k run, then the bike, then a 5k run again.

But the facts as we know them are simple: I will succeed or I will fail. Probably the former. It will be difficult. I will do the best I can. And that is all I can do. Hopefully the best I can will be good enough. If it isn’t, then I will work on improving what the best I can is.

Systems Theory Everyone Gets Wrong – or Why There’s No Trump Economy Yet.

13 June 2017

I am a Systems Engineer. That’s what I do for a living, and I’m at least reasonably good at it. I specialize in healthcare, so that’s where my general expertise lies from a subject-matter perspective, but at heart I am a methodologist: I have a group of tools I use to study how Complex Systems behave. Hospitals, from a mathematical perspective, are not different from factories, or airports. And they share remarkable similarities with other systems like traffic, economies, ecosystems, and climate.

All of these systems fall into the broad category we call “hybrid dynamic systems (HDS)” (except perhaps climate, which is pretty exclusively a continuous dynamic system – which is a subset of HDSs where the discrete portion is empty… more later). Sufficiently complex HDSs, as I’m sure I’ve written before, are provably intractable. What that means is, there’s no way to write a closed-form equation that will allow you to solve for the system state at any time in the future. This is true even if the system has no random phenomena. But they almost all do, making it even harder.

Most HDSs can be conceptualized as a series of tanks and flows between them. In the case of a hospital, the things flowing may be patients, and the tanks may be inpatient units. Flow comes from admissions, the emergency department, etc.. Patients consume some resources (which flow from a reserve like inventory) and then are eventually discharged. Depending on the granularity of our model, we may be interested in the volume of patients in a unit, or in the whole hospital, or in all the hospitals in San Francisco, or the United States.

Tanks and flows are also good tools to use for modeling climate. Heat and water flow through various tanks like oceans and lakes and the atmosphere. Heat moves like water does (though generally more slowly). Tanks and flows work well for ecosystems too; consider a simple predator-prey model. Two tanks, one of predator population and another of prey, which are related by rates of reproduction and predation.

And tanks and flows work reasonably well for economies too. Volumes of money in various governmental and private holdings which flow according to spending, regulation, taxation, supply and demand, etc.. Modeling economies as HDSs is really the only way to do it, and has been the standard approach under various names and approaches for many decades.

But having a good model of a system is not the same as being able to predict how that system will behave, or even knowing how to influence the system. Without having and using a good model, it’s entirely impossible. This is because despite the fact that all these systems superficially resemble one another, they are have fundamentally distinct underlying dynamics. And as you should recall from about the only thing Jurassic Park got right: the outcome of a system is dramatically influenced by its initial conditions. Small changes in how a system is constructed or managed can cause totally different outcomes, far afield from one another.

With large scale systems, there are a couple of basic tenets that few people appropriately consider when imagining how the system will respond. The most obvious is simply inertia. When it comes to things like economies and climate, the tank part of the system is a lot bigger than the flow part of the system. That’s exactly the same situation as having a massive cargo ship and a very small engine. It takes a long time to speed it up or slow it down. With a small rudder, it takes a long time to get the vessel to turn.

To an observer on the outside, it is not at all obvious when the vessel begins to make a shift. The wheel is turned, but the ship proceeds lazily along its original trajectory. The engines are put in reverse, but the ship keeps moving forward for miles. This is true with economies too: what we call the “control surfaces” are far too small to make rapid changes in the system trajectory. A new tax, a new spending program, a deregulation, these take years to show their effects.

This is true for climate too: the massive tanks of carbon in the atmosphere, and especially in things like fossil fuels, take enormous amounts of time to be released, and once released to influence the behavior of the overall system. For more than a century we’ve been dumping carbon into the atmosphere on an industrial scale and the system is only now swerving into critical territory. And because our control surface to manage it back is so small, I have very little hope that we can do anything about planetary warming within my lifetime. Even if the entire human race was on board.

Trump is almost certainly going to shift the levers toward a worsening economy. Depressing governmental resources that allow money to flow from larger tanks to smaller ones. Deregulating checks that prevent the accumulation and hoarding of wealth into subsystems designed to extract it. Kicking supports out from education and social systems. But the effects of these policies will take a long time to have an effect on the system trajectory. The system has a lot of inertia.

So far, Trump’s worst ideas have been reasonably well-thwarted. He hasn’t implemented his repeal of the healthcare laws yet, nor has he implemented disastrous tax cuts in an already very low-tax country. I think those things are coming, but they’re not here yet. And even if they do come, they’ll take years to have their effect on the economy. Trump doesn’t get credit for the job growth or stock market yet, and he won’t have earned the blame yet if they sour in the next few months. Things just don’t move that fast.

What Trump gets blame for is being an anti-constitutional traitor, full of stupid and dangerous ideas. For being a racist and a hatemonger. For being a thief and a liar. And for being an incompetent, bewildered narcissist. But not yet for ruining (or having any other observable effect on) the economy though policy implementation.

An Eventful Weekend.

12 June 2017

This weekend had a couple of big events that were fun. Sunday morning BB and I ran our 13th half-marathon together. It was a deliberately slow run, because it was a planning race for the half-Ironman in September. I expect the conditions in September to be hot and miserable and humid, and that’s what yesterday was. It was about 75 at the start, and rose to about 85 by 9:30 am when we finished.

We decided on a run/walk plan, where we ran 0.8 miles and walked 0.2. That’s likely to be how I do the run portion of the half-Iron. I don’t expect to be able to run the whole way in heat after that long bike ride. So we did our interval plan and it was harder than I anticipated. Our first several intervals were fast, down around 8:30/8:45 pace. But as the day wore on, they slowed. Our last couple were up around 11.

Overall, we finished in 2:30:26, and got a medal and a t-shirt and a pint glass and that was fun. But I’m definitely not happy with where my fitness is at the moment. I’m overweight, under-trained, and ill conditioned for running in hot weather. I have to make some serious changes if I’m going to be able to achieve my goals this summer. the next big one is an Olympic triathlon in two weeks. I think I’m fit for that, for a slow one, but I am going to push hard this week to get ready.

The other thing that happened this weekend was that I got to hear my own music performed! By real live people. MECMC had a small benefit concert (and I do mean small, there were about 30 people there), and I had volunteered to write a little piece for it. One of our music therapists who plays the flute and a pianist from temple collaborated to perform it. It was a really wonderful experience.

Afterwards they asked me to say a few words, which I was totally unprepared for, and I mumbled out something like, “It’s very humbling to be able to contribute something to such a worthy cause, and a real honor to hear my own music performed so well.” But I think I used the word “flabbergasted” in there and so I’m kind of embarrassed.

I’ve never gotten to hear my own music performed in public, or by people other than me. I really felt like a composer, for a moment, in that setting. I had written a piece for people to hear, and musicians learned it and practiced it, and performed it for an audience, from a stage. It was really special.

Composing is another one of those things that I pretend to do. I know just enough to make things come together, but I don’t have much of an actual gift. Much of my composition is achieved through trial and error, or by improvising and deciding to explore themes I stumbled on quite by accident. I can’t hear symphonies in my head. I have to layer them together voice by voice.

If it weren’t for software that allows me to experiment and hear what I’m doing, I could never write music at all except for piano. I don’t have any special gift. Just a love of music and a willingness to occasionally bash some things together that never sound quite as good as I wish they did. I learned the basic theory behind chords and modulation and such, and that’s the best I can do.

But I’m ok at being mediocre at things. Sure I wish I were gifted. But I am glad to be able to do little things that make me happy, and this time it seemed to make some other people happy too. And I got to share the whole experience with BB. Which made it doubly wonderful.