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An Audience with the Pope.

21 September 2016

Ok the title is an exaggeration. But I skipped the early session of my conference today to go walking through Rome. I was lucky that about 4 major sites: Fontana Trevi, the pantheon, piazza Navona, and Pont Sant’Angelo.

I didn’t linger because I’ve been to them all before. My intention was to get to Saint Peter’s Basilica. I missed that last time I was in Rome. I saw the piazza and the exterior, but not inside.

I didn’t see inside today either. There was a throng, which I expected. And a pope. Which I didn’t. Pope Frances was on the Basilica steps being serenaded by a massive and brilliant choir. I’m not Catholic, but I’m a big fan of this pope. He’s transformational and forgiving, and seems dedicated to the principles of mercy and charity.

I know there are still things to criticize and I don’t need to do that. I’m not Catholic. It’s not my place to tell them how to run their church.

Standing in front of Saint Peter’s and seeing the pope address the crowd, I couldn’t help but thing of Friend of the Blog MC. I know she’ll be jealous.

The he conference is fun and I’m enjoying myself. Rome is beautiful. Life is pretty good.

Checking in from Rome.

20 September 2016

Hello! Well the half marathon was a bust. It was 75 and 100% humidity. I couldn’t cool off and ended up running the third slowest half marathon (road race) of my running career at almost 2:24. It was pretty miserable. But I finished, side by side with BB, and that’s all that matters. I’m excited I can do those things even when they suck, but I’m really looking forward to having a good race after three tough ones in a row. They’ve all been hot and humid, but I’m starting to wonder if something isn’t wrong with me. I get dehydrated, overheat, and have to walk. Over and over again now.

My talk in Rome was reasonably well-received, and now I have the rest of the week to work on my presentation for Canada, see a few sights, and enjoy a few conference morsels that are interesting. But now it’s late, I’m tired, and it’s time to go to bed. I’ll try to check in again before I head home Sunday.

Final Tune Up.

16 September 2016

Yesterday was my last tune up before the half marathon on Sunday. I ran well. A one-mile warm up at 11:28, and then 5.15 miles in about 46 minutes, for an 8:56 pace. It was nice to run hard and feel good, even though my quads and glutes were burning the whole time. It was all helped by 78 degree weather and dry, breezy air. That always makes it nicer to run hard.

Now, 8:56, if I could keep it up, would destroy my personal best half-marathon time of 1:59:42. But I do not expect to be able to keep it up. I don’t even expect to start out at that pace. The race starts at 0730, and it is supposed to be 71 degrees and almost 100% humidity. It’s the humidity that kills me. If I can’t shed heat, the temperature isn’t as important.

This race is not about trying for speed. It’s not about trying to set a record or place well. This is all about just having fun, challenging ourselves, breaking up the monotony of marathon training, collecting a medal, and eating pancakes. I’m excited for the race and hopeful that the last seven weeks of serious training will have me ready to run well.

The last two weeks especially I have felt good. Fitter, able to challenge myself. Able to turn in some good times even in afternoon heat. Ten-minute miles at 90 degrees is indicative of pretty good fitness for me. Come marathon time, when I have to run for four and a half plus hours, it’ll be cool and hopefully dry. I should be able to run a long way at maybe 11:00 or 10:45. I hope.

I’m satisfied that my fitness is returning from a summer when I just didn’t get as much running in as I needed to to stay in peak form. That’s ok. I accomplished different things and I think it helped me avoid some burnout. I’m learning to set goals for my fitness that keep me entertained in addition to keeping me fit and diabetes-free. That’s the goal. Fit. Diabetes free. Able to do the things in life I love to do.

Here we go.

Next Week in Rome.

15 September 2016

I’m off to Rome on Sunday, right after my half-marathon. I’m in the middle of my 15 minutes of fame for a paper I wrote, and the European Union’s outfit on Peer Review is flying me to Rome for a week, to give a 20 minute talk. Of course, there’s a whole conference I’ll be attending, and that’s going to be fun, but I’ll have plenty of time to sightsee and run.

And work. I have a big talk to give, and then in a few weeks I have a pair of big talks to give at another conference in Canada. The fall travel season is crazy this year. But I’m excited to get all those new stamps in my passport. And sometime after November I’ll need to schedule an hour with a tattoo artist to update my arm with Argentina and Hong Kong (and probably Macau).

I found an AA meeting in English about a mile from my hotel. There’s an American church that hosts them, and there are enough options that I ought to be able to make at least one. I’ve been to AA meetings in Bermuda, New Zealand, England, Norway. I’ve enjoyed them. I’m not worried about my sobriety on this trip, but being at a conference in Rome with a bunch of academics? There will be wine, and possible pressure to drink. Nothing I haven’t encountered before, but also worth taking seriously.

I always have an out. And my out on this trip is: I have to get up early and run, I’m training for a marathon. So I’ll be able to excuse myself from any situation where I feel uncomfortable and go back to my hotel. I have a lot of work to do while I’m there, and I have a lot of work left to do before I go. But all in all, I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully on Friday or Saturday I’ll have time to go out to Tivoli and see the gardens and castles.

Mostly, I’ll be sitting in coffee shops building an agent-based model of vaccine penetration for my talk in October.

Rock and Roll Philadelphia.

14 September 2016

Well, I have my second major fitness test of the season, after failing my first. This weekend I’ll be in Philadelphia for the Rock and Roll half marathon. I’ve run it before, in 2014. It was the second race I ever ran and I felt really proud of myself after it. I ran it some 20 minutes faster than my prior race, the Pittsburgh half marathon, and finished it in 2:17 and change.

This weekend the weather will be similar to a little worse than that day. A touch more humid, perhaps. A few degrees warmer. I’m certainly not as fit as I was for my last half marathon (road race) in April, when I ran a 1:59. But I suspect I’ll be able to beat 2:17. If I don’t, I don’t. I’m just going to go run with BB and collect a medal and get pancakes.

But I really hope that it’s not so bad as to need to walk. I’m really disappointed with that lately and feel like it means my mental toughness isn’t there right now. So much is purely mental. I’m not in terrible shape. I have run well on occasion, and I’m as strong as I’ve ever been. My core is in good condition and I even did six chip-ups in a row yesterday, for the first time in my life.

But I didn’t put in the miles this summer, and I’m paying for it now. When the temperature drops, I think I’ll be fine for the marathon. As long as Nov. 20th isn’t 70 degrees, I think I’ll be in position to run 26.2 miles and improve my time from last year. For now, this weekend, my goal is just to finish the race on my feet and see how it feels to run in race conditions.

Both last year and the year before I ran half marathons in September at 65+ degrees with 90% humidity. Two years ago I ran 2:17. Last year it was 2:04. If I’m anywhere in that range, I’m gonna be pleased. I don’t need to be perfect. I don’t need to set a new record. I just need to go out and do something I enjoy and give my best effort. That’s all I can do.

How to Succeed at Anything.

13 September 2016

When I was a child, I had a lisp. It wasn’t terrible, but it was noticeable and prominent. I don’t recall ever being made fun of for it, possibly for an embarrassment of riches on the part of my bullies. I could have gone on to have a long and ordinary life without addressing it; my speech impediment was not severe. But I recognized that I didn’t talk the way other kids did, and it bothered me.

If it bothered my mother, she never really let on. But she did arrange, once I was 10, to have me see a speech therapist. I was in fourth grade in a new school. I was getting into the ages where children more consciously and assertively separate themselves into cliques. It was apparent I was not going to be joining one of the more prestigious ones, and I think my mom wanted to make sure there was as little fuel for exclusion as possible.

And so several times a week, for many months, I was pulled out of class and went to a small room in a temporary, mobile structure, and sat down with a nice young woman and practiced my “s”s. She taught me about tongue placement and showed me videos. I had to learn to make a new consonant. Anyone who’s studied a foreign language knows how hard that is.

The way you make an “s” sound when you don’t lisp is really nothing at all like how you approximate it when you do. The tip of the tongue is lowered and tucked behind the lower gums. The mid-tongue hovers near the hard palette. The side edges press outward against the grinders. Learning, practicing, and adopting this was hours of frustration. I worked at school, and practiced at home.

The speech therapist had a buzzer. We’d have conversations and she’d buzz me when I lisped. And then she’d pretend to lisp and I’d buzz her. I liked her. She made me work very hard, and I cried several times thinking I’d never succeed. It was an incredible relief, sometimes, to leave that room and go back to talking “normally” – without having to think carefully and strain my mouth and my tongue.

But time went by. I adapted. I adopted normal speech. I learned. I’m grateful my mother didn’t adopt the current prevailing attitude that “my child is perfect so your standards are wrong”. I had an impediment. I’m glad I wasn’t taught that my impediment was society’s responsibility to coddle, rather than something undesirable about myself I could change. Mom got me the resources to address it. She had expectations that I would succeed. I worked very hard for a long time. I succeeded.

That experience has helped frame a lot of what I do in life. Success depends on a lot of factors. People who teach you what it is. Difficulties to overcome. Willingness to work. Support from people who know what to do.

I learned, through speech therapy at a young age, that incredibly difficult work, focused on a particular goal, has rewards. Internal rewards. I never got an “A” in speech therapy; it wasn’t a class. It didn’t teach me any subject matter. I never got a ribbon or a plaque or a certificate. What I got was the ability to speak the way other people speak. I earned something internal: a skill others didn’t need to learn, and the ability to blend better with the groups that I wanted to join.

It taught me about fundamental unfairness. In two ways. First, that it wasn’t fair that I had an impediment and others didn’t. I had to work and learn and struggle and fight just to do what others could do naturally. This has been echoed throughout my life. And second, much later, it taught me about the unfairness of access to resources. Without being in a good school system and having a mother who could afford this specialized treatment, I’d never have been able to do the work in the first place. And I’d have been saddled with a minor social detractor my whole life.

It took me a long time to internalize the lessons from speech therapy. It is work that has been ongoing in my life, now, for 32 years. First the muscle, then the mind, now the soul. I learned a lot of things the way I learned to correct my speech. Piano. Cooking. Running. There’s a simple trick to succeeding at anything: work hard at it for a long time. Get a teacher. Let your emotions through. Accept setbacks. And then fight like hell again the next day.

And define success appropriately. All I wanted to was to be good enough. I wasn’t training in Shakespearean diction. I was just trying to be the best I could be. The best I could be, in speech, is normal. That’s all I was going for. I’m not even sure what “great” would mean there. But I learned that being ordinary is worth aspiring to.

And so, the best I can do at the piano is good enough to make music that satisfies me. The best I can do at cooking is make pretty, nutritious food that I enjoy eating. The best I can do at running is complete slow, agonizing long-distance runs. I’m happy with that. I’m good at that. I work really, really hard at all of that. And I have done, for a long time now. That’s why I’ve succeeded.

I’m not ashamed that my best isn’t better. I don’t mind that I’m not as good as you are. I line up for races next to elite athletes; I cross the same finish line that they do. It’s not important that it takes me twice as long to get there.

I can say my “s”s just like I should. When I learned to do that, I learned I could do anything.

Another Setback.

12 September 2016

My run this Sunday – 15 miles – was another setback. It was warm again, but not terribly. Humid. But I had to briefly walk at miles 10, 12, and 14. Overall pace was 11:39 – slower than my marathon pace last year. I’m not fit, and not mentally tough. I’m in real trouble for my marathon, and I have a week in Rome upcoming when I’ll likely not be able to train as much. So I’ll be set even further back.

I’m feeling malaise at work, overwhelmed with crap, so I’m not getting my actual work done. I’m lost and bored. I fantasize about finding a new job. The work I was hired to do and am theoretically supposed to be doing is interesting and fun. The day-to-day realities of my job are becoming stifling. I hate management. And that’s what’s expanding. To the detriment of my other duties, which I enjoy.

I’m feeling stagnant and immobile in a lot of parts of my life. I’m not sure what to do next. I’d like to make some kind of progress. I’d like to be somehow in a new situation. I don’t know if that means personally or professionally or what. I look around and I’m feeling sludgy. A bungler. I don’t know what I want and I don’t feel comfortable with the direction I’m being pointed by factors I’m unsure of my level of influence upon.

What’s to be done? I don’t know. I’m not sure anything is. Maybe this is just the doldrums. I’m not as good at anything as I’d like. I have an enviable life I’m dissatisfied with. I’m still and uncomfortable. Fat and soft and slow. Stupid. Angry. Useless.