The dark comedy of cholesterol

It’s amazing what the medical community can find once they stick a needle in your arm and suck a out a little blood. Turns out there’s a lot of pretty radical stuff flowing around our bodies.

white-blood-cell-amungst-redLet’s start with white blood cells. Because given the state of the current social dialogue in America, one has to ask: Do only white people have white blood cells? There are a few guys wearing white sheets who want you to think so.

Of course all human beings have white blood cells. There are red blood cells too. But they aren’t confined to just Red States either. Blood is the ultimate common denominator of humanity. There are subtle differences and blood types as well. But that’s all encompassed in the grand scheme of evolution. We’re all one species with blood so similar we tend to spill it just to prove the point.

More about blood

The list of bloody features goes on. Hemoglobin sounds like something from the world of ebonics, but in actuality it is (according to Medicine.net) “the  protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs.”

Now that’s some important stuff right there. Your ideal hemoglobin content is between 13.2 and 18.0. Mine is 13.9. Is that low? Should I know more?

“Each globulin chain contains an important central structure called the heme molecule. Embedded within the heme molecule is iron that is vital in transporting oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood. The iron contained in hemoglobin is also responsible for the red color of blood.”

Iron carries our blood around? Who really knew. And isn’t that ironic somehow?

Talk about art imitating life imitating art…ironic.

Wait, there’s more

By the time I got down to reading about Neutrophils, Lymphocytes, Monocytes and Basophils, my head started getting dizzy. The echo from all those terms sounded like I was wandering around a dark cave inside my body where the stalagmite and stalactites of existence all hung from the inner ceiling or stuck up from the very foundations of my being.

oxygen_hemoglobinIndeed, all that thinking must have sucked the oxygen out of my blood. I recalled telling the nurse that extracted the blood sample that I always fainted when giving blood. “It’s likely a volume issue,” she told me.

Volume? Is my blood turned up too high?

Thankfully my thyroid levels were good. That’s the measure of the output of the gland that helps regulate your metabolism.

I know my metabolism has slowed from when I was a hyper little monkey boy in my twenties. Back then I was so thin you could see right through me from the chest to the back. Big guys at the bar used to hold me up in front of Miller Lite signs to see my heart thumping inside my chest. They’d even place bar bets making me eat beer nuts and then counting how long it took for the food to go from throat to stomach. That’s how skinny I once was.

Blood lines

Now I’m not quite as skinny, and sitting at an age somewhere between middle-aged and dead. But I’m reasonably fit for a man my age, and can still get it up. Which means that my blood volume is good enough to accomplish that without fainting. So I think that nurse was just fucking with me about the whole blood volume thing.

But then came news from the doctor about my bad cholesterol count. It turns out that’s a little high. My family has a history in that category, and the multi-photocopied sheet the doctor gave me says that cholesterol comes from two sources, and: “Your bad cholesterol also has a lot to do with your family history.”

Hornet-vespaI have a theory about that family history thing. I believe my high cholesterol count probably started at about the age of six. That’s how old I was the night a hornet landed on the back of my neck at the dinner table. I felt a tickle and reached behind my head to scratch it and the hornet stung me so hard I let loose a wild howl.

That startled my father who pounded the table, which shook all the glasses and knocked a few over. One brother reached to stop a water glass from falling and instead knocked a glass of milk clear across the table, soaking my mother’s lap, who stood up in a panic and pulled the entire table cloth off, upsetting the casserole dishes, making my father even angrier. The whole family started hitting each other while I sat there bawling about the hornet sting.

Actually none of that happened all at once. I simply compressed a long series of family incidents into one dinner table scene that symbolizes the family history of most people who grew up in the 1960s. It was fucking chaos back then. Hornets were everywhere, for one thing. And you also never knew when your father might haul off and smack you with a butter knife covered with mustard. That really, really did happen to me. So I think that perhaps that incident was the start of the rise of my cholesterol, or maybe that was the start of anxiety and depression. It’s hard to tell some of our afflictions apart at times.

Life

Life became a battle and a trauma growing up with three brothers and two parents who were all trying to figure out their own shit in real time. But some things were simple. We ate what we wanted. And when I turned into a distance runner (it happened overnight, I swear) I continued to naively believe that I could eat anything I wanted, and lots of it, with no ill effects.

Eating habits like that come back to haunt you sooner or later. Your red blood cells get tired as shit carrying all that extra stuff around. Finally a pack of them say “Fuck It” and Hoardingdump off a sticky, smelly load of bad cholesterol at some sudden turn in your arteries. Before you know it, there’s a wall of slime building up inside your veins.

It’s like the house of a hoarder. The bad junk piles up like there’s no tomorrow. Cholesterol is like all that stored shit in your house that seems to mean something in your life but really doesn’t. Who really needs their report cards from third grade? Wouldn’t your life be better off if those embarrassing pictures of you in cut-off shorts from 7th grade did not exist?

Our bodies are cholesterol hoarders. If your particular “family history” shows a propensity to store too much of the bad shit and not enough of the good shit in your blood, your cholesterol goes up.

The joke’s on you

It’s like a dark comedy, you see. If you have a tendency to store bad cholesterol in your body, the jokes on you. Even if you eat well by many measures you can still have high cholesterol.

So then they tell you to make “lifestyle changes.” Eat better. Exercise more.

runnersworld_oct_2009_cover1For example, if you read a typical issue of Runner’s World (or is it Runners’ World, isn’t that better?) the cover will always say the same thing about your diet. “Eat Better. Run Faster!”

And then you open up the cover and it’s always the same advice rearranged for the umpteenth time since 1976 when the first running diet article came out. Seriously, nothing’s changed much in 40 years. Eat less carbs. That’s about it.

That so-called “balanced diet” containing vegetables, meats, some carbohydrates and plenty of fruit you’ve been lectured about? That’s not really safe either. Because here is where the Dark Comedy of Cholesterol really begins. This is what the sheet the doctor gave me said:

FOODS TO AVOID

Meats, Fish: Marbled beef, pork, bacon, sausage and other pork products. Fatty fowl (duck, goose) skin and fat of turkey and chicken; processed meats, luncheon meats (salami, bologna) frankfurters and fast-food hamburgers (they’re loaded with fat) organ meats (kidney, livers) canned fish packed in oil. And you’re not supposed to eat coconuts, either.

Nor should you touch avocados. Potatoes, corn, lima beans, dried peas and beans are out too. What the fuck? I mean seriously! What the fuck? Corn? We’re supposed to avoid corn?

Watch out for nuts

It also tells us to avoid nuts. Well, that could mean a lot of things and have ramifications for both sexes depending on your sexual orientation. That’s kind of sad, because in the scheme of awkward body parts, nuts are pretty funny. We all need a good laugh now and then, but especially if you have high cholesterol and low-hanging nuts. Sometimes that means you’re getting older, fellas. It happens.

mixednuts_nosaltBut it shouldn’t be that hard to avoid the kind of nuts you eat. They’re so expensive no one can afford to actually eat them. It used to be that you could stop at a fast food store and buy a decent-sized packet of Planter’s Peanuts (honey-roasted, thank you) for $.99. Now that same packet has shot up to $1.49 and the number of nuts you get in the packet has shrunk to about 15, total. Try to buy an entire container of nuts and it will cost you $15.99. At prices like that, it might be time to take up smoking because it’s cheaper than dying from high cholesterol.

The gift that keeps on giving

This whole bad cholesterol think really is a dark comedy of surprising magnitude. It turns out the best thing you can do to manage your cholesterol is to exercise, but even that doesn’t really help. So the joke’s on me in this case. I can’t even read the exercise recommendations on my over-photo-copied sheet because the screen behind the text has turned into something like an ominous grey cloud. I think the last part says “Vary your routine.” Yeah, fuck you too. My routine is so varied my blood should be composed of pure gold mixed with frankincense and myrrh.

chicken and egg

It seems like this cholesterol sheet was produced by the companies that manufacture cholesterol-reducing medicines. Their information sheet stacks the odds against you so badly with their indictments of normal dietary practices there seems like no hope for those of us with bad family histories and mustard still sticking to our faces because of that bout with dad and the butter knife.

The sheet concludes this way:

DO WHAT YOU CAN TO HELP YOUR MEDICATIONS WORK. 

“When diet and exercise alone are not enough, several types of cholesterol-lowering medications are available. Remember that medicines need to be taken as directed by your doctor.”

Which is where the Dark Comedy of Cholesterol gets a little scary. There are quite a few doctors on the dole from Big Pharma in this world. The medical and insurance world can’t keep up with good old-fashioned bribery, and so there are doctors who prescribe medications that aren’t even necessary for millions of people. Certainly that’s how certain anti-depressant pills got their own movie deals. The real star of this Dark Comedy of Cholesterol might turn out to be Lipitor, which sounds more like one of Godzilla’s genetically altered lizard enemies than a cholesterol medication.

The creature named Lipitor emerges from the ocean to terrorize the world.

The creature named Lipitor emerges from the ocean to terrorize the world.

Coming to a theater near you! “LIPITOR, CREATURE FROM THE DEEP!”

Actually, I don’t think I should go to the doctor anymore. My imagination tends to run away from me. I’ll just stop eating altogether and see how that affects my blood levels and cholesterol. Sure, I may die in a week or two. But at least my LDLs will be looking good on the next blood test.

werunandridelogo

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Triathlons bring out the beast or just the best of us

TriSuitThe starting line of the Naperville Sprint Triathlon is a zero depth pool covered with sand from who knows where. The association of sand with a beach is cliche to the point that we walk over the stuff taking for granted that it somehow got there and belongs in that place. It is funny how we grow to accept unnatural circumstances as completely natural. 

For example, we must consider that it is not entirely natural to go charging into the water four-at-a-time to swim 400 meters in a giant M shape with hundreds of other triathletes. It goes to show that it never pays to ask certain kinds of questions. Best let the inner beast rule respond when testing your animal nature in such endeavors. 

A questionable beast

There was one question that had to be answered as I stood on the sand pondering the pending first swim in a triathlon. The race director had declared wetsuits out of bounds given water temperatures in the low 80s. I was counting on that wetsuit to help me through the swim. The gift of a wetsuit for my birthday July 26 was something about which I was pretty excited. I had tried the suit swimming a couple times and it felt wonderful to have that added flotation. Swimming 400 meters seemed a lot easier wearing my wetsuit.

TriFeetsAs I stood there contemplating the real nature of the swim, it became obvious it was possible for me even without the wetsuit. Finally I walked over to where my companion was sitting near the Swim Out and peeled off the suit.

While waiting to make my decision I had turned to one of the other wet-suited competitors and asked, “What do you think? You still going to wear your wetsuit?”

“I panic in the deep end if I don’t,” she replied. Such honesty.

So I watched people without wetsuits circling the buoys at the far end of the pool and did some weak-ass geometry. My longest continuous swim in the pool was 400 meters, but that was with a float between my legs. However I knew that I could effectively swim 200 meters with no problem. That meant I could handle the turnabouts between shallow sections and do my great blue heron imitation in the shallows if need be. Sometimes you have to recruit the right kind of beast for the purpose. 

Admissions

Chris Swim OutYes, all this sounds pathetic in some respect. But it’s par for the course to be nervous about some aspect of the triathlon when you’re starting out. Some find the idea of riding a bike in traffic disarming, or find the run portion daunting. Yet as you train you eventually overcome your fears. Then come longer courses and challenges like open water swims, hilly bikes and hot runs. That’s the so-called “charm” of the sport. It never really gets easier. You just go longer, faster or grow obsessed in the process. 

Before the race start the race announcer asked how many people were doing their first triathlon. Hundreds of hands went up. Well, by the time the last waves of swimmers were huddled on the beach, almost 50% of the people standing in the sand were raising their hands when asked the same questions. A refining process had taken place.  

Finally it came time to line up and dive in. It was quite the experience out there in the water. Starting out at the back of the swim pack turned out to be an experience like swimming through the final scenes of the movie Titanic. There were people bobbing in place or paddling to who knows where and for what. By comparison my swim stroke felt comfortable and I did not spin off in some random direction as I had feared. Admittedly it was near impossible to keep momentum with so many people vertical in the water. It was a swim slalom. 

Creature features

There was also a bit of panic for some first-time swimmers by the time they reached the first buoy. One women was bobbing in place muttering the word “Goddamnit” over and over again. I could not tell if she was trying to reach the buoy or simply wanted God to pluck her from the water? If that was the case her strategy sucked.

Chris check timeI put my head down and kept swimming. That’s all you can do. Let the Lifeguards deal with the swim carnage. They kept asking people “Are you alright?”

I kept swimming and reached the shallow end of the pool.  Like everyone else in the race I put my feet down only to find a strange thing happening in the water. Enough people were tooling around the buoy by foot there was an actual current. All I could do is laugh. It reminded me of that 20-foot swimming pool our family had when I was a kid. My older brothers would run around the perimeter creating a whirlpool and we’d float around in circles on summer nights swatting fireflies as we went.

Best efforts

There were tons of rookies in the pool. The methods by which rookie swimmers get through a 400-meter swim course can be quite amusing. There were backstrokers and doggie paddlers, to be frank. I did my best to swim honorably and emerged at about 9:22. That’s almost exactly what I’d predicted in the self-seeding category

There was just one problem. It was surprising to feel some fatigue in my thighs from the swim. So early? Such is the sport of triathlon. There’s always something tiring you out no matter what you do. I jogged humbly to my bike and got ready to ride. 

Chris Bike standupThen I forgot my shades. And my gloves. Too late to turn back. Onto the tarmac I rode. The course was on smooth pavement, and Thank God for that. The wind was a differenct issue. It cooled your body but slowed you down. More choices to be made. How hard do you ride if you want to save something back for the run? 

My ride was not that fast compared to most. I gave away three to six minutes to everyone ahead of me in my age category. In fact it was the same story in every age category studied. It didn’t matter whether one was 25 or 55. The top 15 places were similar in time breakdowns. 7:00 swim. 33:00 bike. 20:00 run. Most top competitors kept their transitions under 2:00. That’s the formula for a podium triathlon at almost any age for the sprint distance.

Assessments

Chris Bike OutSo my 9:00 swim, 39:00 bike and 22:30 run did not quite cut the podium mustard. I finished 10th in my age group of 55-59. My transitions still suck.

To prove that point I even fell on my ass coming back through the bike transition. My cycling shoes are new and so are the cleats. Both are immensely slippery. On a slight downhill I went down in a slow drop onto my left butt cheek. It must have been quite dramatic to observe. 

It didn’t matter since I’d somewhat fallen on my ass while riding the bike as well. I rode with the cyclometer reading over 20 mph the entire way on the out and back loop. Hit it over 25 mph for good stretches. Yet my time wound up 39:00 for thirteen miles. All the guys that beat me in my age group were considerably faster on the bike.

I refuse to believe there is so much difference in my riding ability from everyone else in the triathlon. What’s responsible for the 30% difference in their riding pace?

Well, the answer comes from none other than lessons learned from watching the Tour de France. Basically the cycling portion of a triathlon is a time trial. There is not a single Tour rider that attempts to ride a time trial on their road bike. It comes down to simple wind resistance physics. The body position of a road bike is fine for drafting and climbing, but when you’re out there on your own, the aero position is the key to going faster. Riding in the drops does not even cut it.

So it is time to consider options for an aero bike. I have a plan that will not be revealed at this point in time. But I am tired of riding my ass off and finishing three minutes slower than everyone else in the bike portion of the race. That’s going to change. 

Beasts and bests

Chris thumbs upFortunately my run times continue to drop. I’m now down to a 7:00 per mile average and the fitness is coming round. Speed work is producing the necessary strength and ease. My goal is to run 6:30s on the back end of every triathlon/duathlon. That’s going to happen.

Take out an extra minute or two of inefficient transition time and my total effort will be down 4-6:00 the sprint triathlon. If I can take a minute out of my swim time we’ll be having some real fun and flirting with podium finishes.

Beast versus Best

Not that we’re not having fun already. I’ve quite literally had fun every time out this year. It’s nice to podium but we can’t be the lead beast all the time.

Yes, we’d love to think ourselves naturally superior beasts in the sports we choose. There are beasts on the bike. We admire them for the ability to hammer at speeds defying the natural laws of gravity.

There are animals on the run too. We respect their preternatural speed and pace per mile. Finally there are people who swim like dolphins in the water. They are perhaps the most exotic beasts of all, being half of this world of air and half under the water.

Chris Fun Pic TooBut even if you aren’t some kind of beast in natural talent, you can always get out there and do your best. Just forget about the “a” in beast and go enjoy yourself. 

werunandridelogo

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Trail running has a home, and it’s everywhere

Do yourself a favor today and expand your world…

Take a visit to the website for the American Trail Running Association. 

Perhaps you’re a trail runner and did not even know it? 

Nancy trailWRAR recently spoke with Nancy Hobbs, Executive Director of the association. She popped up on my LinkedIn feed and we connected. That was almost like meeting up with another runner at the junction of two trails in the digital wilderness.

We all know that algorithms these days rule our lives to some extent. But that seems to be one of the driving forces behind becoming a trail runner.

Get off the beaten path and choose a path that beats day to day running hands down. 

Nancy Hobbs became a trail runner many years ago, during the early 80s to be exact. She now lives in Colorado Springs, which is quite a place for trail running if you did not know. Nancy guy runningPretty much anywhere you go in Colorado is a decent place for trail running. Or any of the mountain states for that matter. But you don’t have to be in exotic locations to enjoy running on trails.

“It’s a great choice to run on trails because you can get away from traffic and cars and roads,” she notes.

If that seems basic, then it might help to understand that trails for running were not an automatic assumption 30 years ago. Movements like Rails-To-Trails have converted thousands of miles of former railroad bed into great running environments. The running trail movement has at the same time reached far into the hills and woods and along rivers to create exciting opportunities to run where the scenery tends to be interesting and the running is challenging.

So how is trail running defined today? “It’s different depending on where you are in the world,” Hobbs explains. “That perspective describes the fact that trail running truly is an Nancyinternational pursuit. There are organizations that lead trail running and destination trips. There are thousands of races and events in which to participate. “Some are competitive,” she observes. “Some are not. It all depends on what you want out of the sport.”

The recent White River 50 Mile Trail Run in Greenwater, Washington sounds rather interesting. Plenty of climbing and all in a location where the scenery is beautiful and the trails are challenging.

The opportunities are endless. But everyone starts somewhere. “We find people that are starting from scratch,” Nancy Hobbs observes. “They’re ready for something different. We recommend that they find an experienced trail runner if they’re going to take on something challenging in the mountains. It helps to learn a few things about what to wear, your shoes and how to hydrate.”

“Most people start out with groomed trails,” she notes. “And shorter events if they’re looking for competition and such.”

Nancy canyonThanks to the many tendrils of social media linked to the American Trail Running Association (there are nearly 8000 Fans on their Facebook Page and 3000 followers on their Twitter account) it doesn’t take long to become immersed in how trail running works, or how to connect.

But it doesn’t always take a national association to embark in search of great running trail finds. A triathlete friend discovered a wonderful trail system in Middleton, Wisconsin that winds through the Pheasant Branch Conservancy, a preserve that includes prairie restoration, sweeping vistas of oak woodlands and a boardwalk through deep oak forests. My friend discovered these trails while training for the Ironman Wisconsin a few summers ago. It is now a tradition to spend a weekend swimming in Monona Lake, biking the triathlon course and running in the relaxed atmosphere of beautiful Wisconsin countryside.

Even nearer to home, our local triathlon club uses Herrick Lake in the Winfield area of suburban Chicago for Saturday Run Club. The five mile main loop is crushed limestone. It

Here is a runner practicing the art of going fast. This is not what you want to do.

also connects to trails in other adjacent preserves and the broader system of bicycling trails now connecting multiple counties in the greater Chicago area. In winter the trails at Herrick are groomed for both inline and skate skiing. It’s an interesting relationship to have with a set of trails in winter, spring, summer and fall.

That’s what trail running is all about, connecting back with nature and using running to do it. The thrill of completing an event where you are challenged to negotiate the environment as much as you are in competition with other runners is a great way to go when you’re exploring the next step in your running career.

Coming up: How to go off-road on your bike as well!

werunandridelogo

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Doctor, doctor, gimme the news…

Fluorescent ChrisI admit it. For the most part I’ve always liked going to the doctor. You step on that scale and find out how much you weigh. The nurse takes your blood pressure like some fifth-grade prank where they make your arm tingle by squeezing it. Then you sit around and wait for the doctor to come in the room.

It hasn’t always been good news of course. That enlarged prostate that led to an infection back in my 30s was not much fun. But we figured out that caffeine was the problem and that fixed that.

Of course there have been visits to the doctor for a variety of sports injuries over the years. There was a bad concussion when I was in 4th grade. The older brother of a friend pushed me into a rough cement ditch during a pickup football game. I wandered home seeing double with a big bloody gash on my head. The doctor stitched me up and finally I could see straight again.

Then came the twilight line drive in baseball that knocked out a front tooth and gave me another near concussion when I was thirteen.

1978to2013In college I developed a sore Achilles tendon from running and the campus doctor prescribed a painkiller and steroid treatment that left me wandering dizzily around the campus. A week later during a visit to the Mayo Clinic to figure out what was really wrong, the doc there took one look at my prescription and told my coach, “This is how much they give to horses.”

In my twenties while training for road racing I met a crazy young woman in the city that bent me backwards in the wrong spot causing a strain to a sensitive region. Explaining that injury to the female doctor I saw was quite interesting. She shook her head and said, with a bit of empathy, “You better take it easy for a while.”

For many years after that I pretty much avoided the doctor except for sprains and falls from playing basketball and other ballistic sports. There’s really not much you can do for a sprained ankle anyway, except ice and rest it. For 15 years nothing much happened to slow me down in running. But then I wasn’t running or racing all that much. So that probably kept a little tread on the tire.

However I sensed there was something amiss in my aging body. The tear of a ligament under my pelvic floor warned me that the years were adding up. That happened during basketball. So I waited for it to heal and finally visited an ortho guy who did an x-ray and told me, “You tore something really bad under there.”

bicycle-chain-background-13931050So I went to my family doctor to ask for a referral to get physical therapy. That was an HMO thing you had to do. Ask permission to do the things you knew you needed to do to get healthy. The doc said no. “That physical therapy stuff is all a bunch of fluff,” he advised.

And he was wrong. So, so wrong.

Which made me even angrier when I tore my ACL playing indoor soccer in my early 40s. Had I gone to physical therapy and learned the weaknesses in my body and fixed them through strength training, I believe the ACL tear would never have happened.

So it was a shock to both the physical and emotional side of my being to learn that the ACL was gone. Never in my life had anything so dramatic occurred. All those years of cuts and turns in basketball. High jumping over six feet. Triple jumping over forty feet. The worst thing I’d ever really done was pull a muscle or sprain and ankle. And then the ACL blew.

The orthopedic doc at first said he could not be sure it was completely torn. But I knew better. There was no worse feeling than the sensation of my knee coming apart.

The surgery was intense and the recovery even worse. It was hard work and months of physical therapy coming back from the torn ACL. But a year after the surgery I felt confident on the knee and returned to playing basketball and soccer. So I worked my way back to playing ballistic sports. It was a triumphant feeling.

But then a soccer player rammed into the side of my knee during a game on a wet outdoor field and I tore the ACL again two years later. This time the doctor was conciliatory. “It happens. 30% of all those who fix ACLs tear it again.”

“Do I get a refund?” I asked.

“It doesn’t work that way,” he cajoled.

“I’m sure it doesn’t,” I replied.

And from that point on I accepted that my sporting career would involve going in a straight line. No more basketball, soccer or tennis. It just wasn’t worth the risk.

Photo on 2012-09-04 at 21.06That does not mean the risks in my life were entirely removed. First came a bike crash and a broken collar bone in 2012. Then came an absent-minded collision with a downed tree in 2014. In between I contracted an infection in my left middle finger that could have cost me the digit. That required surgery and rehab and splints and tons of insanely stupid fees for dipping my hand in hot wax. Although that felt pretty good.

Overall, however, my doctor visits continue to be good news for the most part. My blood pressure is nice and low. My heart rate is in the 50s or 60s. Only my cholesterol moves up and down a bit. That runs in the family. And it’s a bit high,  I just learned. Yet I’ve been planning a diet overhaul so it will be good motivation to stop eating things that cause my blood to thicken. Or whatever.

Better to be proactive than reactive.

photo (72)I know that looking ahead in life there will be more medical challenges to come. Aging is not for the faint of heart, they say. Surely there will be some dermatological news to face someday. All those runs in the sun and cycling for hours is going to add up to some doctor visits I’m sure. No amount of carrot juice and rubbing monkey sperm or whatever on my epidermis is going to erase the effects of sun damage.

Losing that bit of fat around my middle is the first goal. It built up over the holidays when my Achilles was sore and the eating got ahead of the exercise. Add in some stress and that fat stuff sticks to your middle like a vertical puddle.

Long ago my doctor advised me to “keep moving.” Simple advice, but true. Because the best way to keep from getting bad news from the doctor is to keep moving. Every day. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Follow this blog and please share to your social media connections. Your readership is most appreciated.

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An inside look at an elite collegiate runner

IMG_1263

Zach Plank works at Naperville Running Company when he’s not training for track and cross country at North Central College.

Zach Plank is a central Illinois boy living in the suburbs of Chicago. That’s where he attends school at North Central College studying actuarial science, and where he continues a successful running career that included a cross country team victory at the National Championships in the fall of 2013.

“That was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done,” he recalls. “I like to get out early in the race, be in the top 30 or so. But everyone goes out hard at nationals, and I wound up being in 100th place in the first mile. It was cold, muddy and icy. And our legs were not as fresh as we’d like because we’d been training since August and early September. We’d tapered and everything but you’re still pretty tired from the season…”

“I could feel cramps come and go. But you go as fast as you can. Two of our guys fell down it was so slippery. I didn’t even know about that until one of them came up behind me and gave me a high-five. You don’t even know where you are in the race at some points. It’s just so intense…”

“But then you see all these differents teams ahead of you. Five guys from this team…five guys from another. You know you have to keep going….”

Zach pauses for a moment to consider the challenge of racing at that level. “But there’s no way you’re gonna give up. You work with your team members all season, and you think about teams from the past, and our tradition at North Central. You think to yourself, ‘I’m not gonna be a team disappointment.”

Tradition of champions

Indeed, North Central College has won more NCAA Division III cross country titles than any other school in the country. The school’s tradition goes way back into the 1960s and 70s with legendary groups of seemingly half-talented athletes in high school that blossomed into major competitive talents in college.

rp_primary__SW10541That’s often the work of the school’s equally legendary coach, Al Carius, who for decades has developed young men from callow runners into competition-proven national champions. This past fall he was named Coach of the Year by USATF for leading the Cardinals to their 16th National Cross Country Championship. The NCC website notes of the program: “Having just completed his 49th year as the Cardinals’ head coach, Carius has taken North Central to every one of the 42 Division III National Championships that have been contested since the NCAA split into three divisions in 1973. The Cardinals have placed first or second in the last seven Division III national meets and 31 of 42 overall.”

“North Central also won its 41st consecutive College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) championship and its seventh straight Midwest Region championship in 2014. The Cardinals have won 48 CCIW titles and 27 regional crowns in their history.”

Carius has accomplished all this working with kids that were not necessarily star runners in high school. It’s not uncommon for a 17:20 three-miler from high school to improve by more than a three or four minutes while attending North Central college and competing in track and cross country.

The long way round

Zach Plank was a good runner in high school at Dunlap near Peoria, Illinois. Competing in Class AA, he won most of his meets during his junior and senior. “But when I got to the state series I didn’t know what I was doing,” he confesses. “I was ranked 13th in cross country and finished 113th.”

Obviously there was unfulfilled potential there, and you can still feel the sting of his running past in his voice. Of course now that he is running 14:41 for 5K on the track and racing at 5:00 pace over five miles in cross country, his dreams have taken on a different, more mature form of accomplishment.

That maturity gets plenty of affirmation through the open communication North Central employs with its student athletes. Following every speed workout and meet, the team conducts what it calls a “Bus Talk.” That’s when every member of the team gets an opportunity to express how they felt about the day’s workout of race. “It’s a really great way to talk about how it all went down,” Zach observes. “No one is holding back. During the long bus ride back from Nationals in Cleveland, all the coaches and everyone took turns talking about our efforts. The coaches were crying and swearing. I love it. The communication just brings us closer. It really helps knowing that everyone is in this together.”

Commitment

It is thus no wonder why runners like Zach are so motivated to achieve, and not disappoint. The commitment to the team is a commitment to oneself as well. The team pulls you along and props you up. But it’s still your responsibility to run your race, and run it hard. That’s called bringing out your best. Because no matter how much talent you have from the start, it ultimately is all about how you carry it through to the finish that counts.

These days Zach is putting in daily runs of 10-15 miles in preparation for the 2015 cross country season starting with mid-August training camps at North Central. All summer he’s worked at Naperville Running Company fitting shoes on dozens of runners coming through the door. Some of his customers take time to ask Zach about his running. His strong yet slight frame is a giveaway that he has some speed. Yet few can probably imagine that in addition to that capacity for speed, there is also a unique quality residing inside the body of this collegiate runner. That quality is tradition, and it is amazing how much that aspect of character drives runners like Zach Plank to success.

werunandridelogo

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Running through priorities

MartinaA friend from a class reunion and I met up at a local eatery the night after the big gathering. This was to be the official download on who we’d met and what was going on in people’s lives.

The server at the restaurant walked up and got our order going. When she returned I told her how much I liked the establishment’s owner. “He seems like a good man,” I offered.

“He treats us so well,” she replied. “When we need a day off he’ll even take a shift to make sure we have the time. I’m 20 and can’t serve downtown (Chicago) so I commute out here to work. I’m in school and taking an organic chemistry class and it’s pretty hard,” she admitted. “So I’m pretty busy.”

She told us her major is pre-med. We talked about her plans for a career in medicine. Her interests are still in the formative stage, but psychiatry was one line of potential pursuit. “Our country doesn’t do enough for mental health,” she observed. She ran through a few equally compelling options. This young woman is articulate, considerate and compassionate. 20 years old and thinking big.

She came back with our orders at the moment when my buddy and I were talking about some running history. We’d been teammates back in high school track/cross country and college track. I once wrote about his wife on this blog as she’d done some remarkable things restoring a high school cross country program in their Virginia town.

Our server overheard our running talk and asked about our backgrounds. “I just ran a half marathon,” she laughed. “It was awful. I’m never doing that again.” Her experience goes to show that with all the triumphs and 13.1 stickers on the back of vehicles, there are also people who still find it damn hard to cover the distance.

We discussed her experience. “I admit I was really busy leading up to the race,” she said. “Classes are so busy and I’m working and spending time with friends,” she offered.

“You should be doing all those things,” I assured her. “You’re young and focused on some important stuff.”

“I didn’t run at all in the two weeks leading up to the race,” she laughed. “Then when I got out there…it was fun for the first 10K…even up to eight miles,” she recalled. “Then I was so… done.”

She threw a hand on her hip as she thought about the race. “We set a goal of 2:30 and I ran 2:45. My friend was running so easy and I was not having fun at all. But we only missed our goal by 15 minutes so it’s not that bad I guess.”

My friend and I offered some encouraging words. “You can try it again when you have more time to train,” I offered. “To do a race like that you have to set some things aside and really focus.”

“Yes, I know,” she responded. “There’s just so many things I want to do.”

Indeed. Her future seems bright even though the half-marathon turned into a difficult slog. Perhaps there’s a lesson in experiences like that, but not always. Sometimes it just is what it is. A run that didn’t go so well is neither the end of your efforts or the end of the world.

werunandridelogo

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The obsession with sports and the infantilization of society

11700648_10204769758420076_1494816692092470857_oWhile walking through my local Target store, a tee-shirt jumped out at me. It said “NEVER DEFEATED.”

The shirt was obviously suited for a three-year-old child. And I thought: “Of course you’ve never been defeated you little twit. You’re three years old.”

Listen, competition is good. It’s fun. It teaches lessons and imparts values to people. When they’re grown enough to appreciate them. That might be younger for some children than others.

But competition is also a values proposition. And the idea that a three-year-old child should walk around in a shirt that states NEVER DEFEATED is sick.

This tee shirt is as bad or worse than Toddlers for Tiaras and all that ugly imposition of beauty queen sexuality on little girls. Of course the tee shirt might just fit the little girl with a faux tiara on her head and her tiny heinie sticking out in a bright green dance outfit. The idea that mothers are forcing their little girls into roles like that should make America sick.

And yet we celebrate it with reality shows. If indeed that’s what’s going on.

My own daughter was once signed up for dance. She found the other little girls insufferably cliquish, selfish and mean. So that was the end of dance class.

Same went for girl’s soccer, frankly. My daughter wanted to be friends with other girls on the team and the Alpha Girl would not allow it. So much for equality and the egalitarianism of sports.

Boys can be just as petty and stupid. If a kid on a sports team can’t catch well or falls behind during sprint drills, they are obvious targets for ridicule.

And believe me I get that. There is a definite pattern of sorting that occurs through sports. Frankly I was the worst of the worst when it came to competition. I would destroy other kids in sports if I could. That was the product of a highly competitive family and competing with older brothers. But I ultimately learned my lessons.

At one point during sixth-grade softball I threw a ball from home plate to second base to catch a runner trying to steal. The kid playing second moved his glove and the ball struck him flush in the face. It knocked him out and detached his entire retina. A year later when I came back to visit the town from which I’d moved, I met the kid again and his eye was still blood red.

That day my teachers quickly hauled me off to protect me from the sight of the kid and the blood and the impact on another child that I had inflicted. She quietly asked me, “Why do you always throw at their heads?”

I had not thought about that. Because it’s an easy target? The best way to aim?

In fact it was neither. I could throw hard because of countless days spent throwing baseballs into a pitchback net. My pitching arm was faster than kids two and three years older. For my age, I was a dominating pitcher.

These days I walk by baseball practices every day. All summer long I walk my dog around the park where three baseball fields are found. People run around that loop as well. So there’s always something to study and watch.

To their credit I almost never hear parents yelling angry or distracting things to their children. I have never heard a so-called “Little League” parent get angry, question the umpire or anything like that. I just realized that right now. I’m impressed with that fact. There are many people who now get the fact that sports should be fun and that parents are not supposed to influence what happens on the playing field. Congratulations to all who get that.

I failed in that regard sometimes as coach. But soon enough I shut my yap and grew up.

So I’m somewhat wondering how we go from such normal perspectives to the idea that someone, sometime will buy that tee shirt that says NEVER DEFEATED for their little kid. What strata of culture is buying into that type of ideology? Why is it acceptable to impose such values on a little child even when they don’t understand it completely. How could they?

NEVER DEFEATED. What does that even mean? 

You cannot play sports and never lose. It is simply not possible. And the main lesson from losing is to come back another day and try again. We all know that, don’t we?

Criterium du Dauphine - Stage EightWhen cyclist TJ Van Garderen recently pulled out of the Tour de France, some questioned his psychology. They wondered if he was truly quitting for physical reasons. Or was it mental. Sure, he’d been fifth a couple times before, but the pressures of the podium were too much?

I thought about that too. And I’ve decided that’s bunk. The guy just had a bad few days in competition. He was sick and exhausted and he lost minutes on a single ride. That sucks.

But would he have succeeded if he had a tee shirt that said NEVER DEFEATED?

What the hell. I mean seriously, what the hell?

We infantilize ourselves with such bald-faced competitive drivel. We make society into a farce by turning sports into some fake statement about personal endurance and the ability to overcome adversity.

NEVER DEFEATED. 

You could say the same thing about Hitler. He shot himself before being captured.

You could say the same thing about Caligula, the Roman emperor whose obsession with power was so thorough he turned his appetites into the expression of an entire empire. Here’s how Wikipedia describes his life:

When Germanicus died at Antioch in AD 19, his wife Agrippina the Elder returned to Rome with her six children where she became entangled in a bitter feud with Tiberius. The conflict eventually led to the destruction of her family, with Caligula as the sole male survivor. Untouched by the deadly intrigues (never defeated) Caligula accepted the invitation to join the Emperor on the island of Capri in AD 31, to where Tiberius, himself, had withdrawn five years earlier. With the death of Tiberius in AD 37, Caligula succeeded his grand uncle and adoptive grandfather as emperor.

There are few surviving sources about the reign of Emperor Caligula, although he is described as a noble and moderate ruler during the first six months of his reign. After this, the sources focus upon his cruelty, sadism, extravagance, and sexual perversity, presenting him as an insane tyrant. (never defeated) While the reliability of these sources is questionable, it is known that during his brief reign, Caligula worked to increase the unconstrained personal power of the emperor (never defeated) as opposed to countervailing powers within the principate. He directed much of his attention to ambitious construction projects and luxurious dwellings for himself, and initiated the construction of two aqueducts in Rome: the Aqua Claudia and the Anio Novus. During his reign, the empire annexed the Kingdom of Mauretania as a province.

In early AD 41, Caligula was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy by officers of the Praetorian Guard, senators, and courtiers. The conspirators’ attempt to use the opportunity to restore the Roman Republic was thwarted (never defeated) on the day of the assassination of Caligula, the Praetorian Guard declared Caligula’s uncle, Claudius, the next Roman emperor. (never defeated)

So you see this concept of never being defeated is a sick and obsessive attempt at earthly power and rule. We see it with political issues today, in which some members of political parties will do absolutely anything and say anything to maintain power. As a result, they think and act like spoiled children. They adopt a winner-take-all and NEVER DEFEATED mentality when they do assume power. They are modern day Caligulas both denying and obsessing over their sexual and political desires. Deeply conflicted, they set about trying to win the culture wars, ultimately and often confessing the very thing they claim to hate in others is actually a deeply repressed drive within themselves.

That means we must be careful what values we impose upon our children. That green tee shirt in Target may seem innocent enough, but it is in fact evidence that something in society is far out of balance. And you better watch out someday for the little bastards that grow up with that motto on their chest. Caligula did a lot of damage before he was stabbed to death.

werunandridelogo

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Burning to go

A news story plopped into my Facebook feed through a page called Look At My Bike Leaning Against Stuff. Yes, this page exists. And typically it is what is says. Pictures of generally nice bikes in interesting locations leaning against stuff.

Then there’s this: A cyclist pooping story. 

635731782670348951-Hulls-fire-BFDApparently some guy in Idaho was riding his bike, stopped to take a poop somewhere in the dry hills and then decided to light the toilet paper on fire. The fire spread into an broader grass fire. The article says:

“We’ve had this before, actually – it doesn’t happen very often – but when people have to go, um, they will often burn their toilet paper just as kind of an environmental concern, to not litter, basically, but in these fuel types, it’s not a good idea,” Bilbao said.

There are several levels of unfortunate choices going on here. First, we all know how difficult it can be when you have to go real bad. No amount of practical advice can change the urgency of immediate need to defecate. We all know when you gotta go, you gotta go.

635731782673000968-fire-foothills---David-ClendenonI have personally witnessed many runners and cyclists over the years doing their dangling deed in the weeds and many other places. I have personally been that runner squatting behind trees to make good with the world.

And really, that’s what it’s all about. When you’re burning to go, there is no way to change your status (make note of that for Facebook) than to get it done. Now.

Then this poor guy out in the foothills of Idaho tries to do the right thing and burn the toilet paper he obviously was carrying for just such an emergency. And wouldn’t you know it? An entire section of foothills goes up in flames because he was trying to be environmentally conscious.

Talk about a new definition for the word backfire. It’s bad enough he had to take a dump outdoors. But then to have the whole thing announced to the world. The only thing worse would be jacking off into a campfire and setting off some sort of chemical explosion that burned down a state park. You can imagine the headlines on that one. “Man whacks state forest.” Or somesuch.

It’s one of the tarsnakes of existence as an endurance athlete that you generally have a regular bowel movement pattern. But once in a while it coincides with your workout (more often than you’d like, perhaps) and that means trouble.

635731787994663081-hulls-1-ktvbI know that I have been urgently preoccupied before. The worst moment ever was while walking through the Art Institute of Chicago. I’d run a twelve-mile workout that morning and ingested a huge breakfast following. The urge to go came over me so strongly that I went desperately searching for a bathroom. From hall to hall I poop walked, trying to hold back an obviously monstrous turd. By then I was convinced it had grown eyes and legs and feet and was clawing at my sphincter to get out. The world began to spin as I finally found a bathroom.

There was no need to wait. I delivered a child or something like it that day. Had I owned a cell phone at the time I could have posted a photo of that creation and posted it to some crazed website and been a viral sensation. That thing probably had its own gravity it was so big. Just look at the photo below and you’ll get a hint how big it really was.

635731795212517349-Hulls-fire-2So I get what the poor guy in Boise, Idaho was going through when he stopped by the road to unleash a load. Perhaps he had the same four-eyed monster pushing at his rectum with an eye toward freedom. And then like a good citizen he tried to cover it up with toilet paper. And then the toilet paper looked awful in the sun and he tried to burn it off. And all hell broke loose.

Now the whole world knows he took that dump in the wild. Well, there are worse things I suppose, like signing up to run for the Republican ticket along with the rest of those turdmaster political dumpsters unloading drivel on society from Trump to Santorum. Go ahead and click on that link to Santorum. It proves my point. And I won’t tell.

In truth the crap meter might apply to all politicians in the end. Both sides of the aisle and even the Libertarians with all their “government is shit” have crap going on that they never want to admit. And just like that guy in the foothills of Idaho, they keep trying to burn it off before anyone sees what they’ve done, or undone.

But we find out what they’re up to because there always seems to be a fire somewhere in the foothills of politics, religion and everywhere else.

It all comes down to human nature when you’re burning to go. Even the best cyclists in the world have to take what Phil Liggett calls “a natural break.” Why they haven’t invented bib cycling gear with snap backs to evacuate waste I do not know. That would be a great place to put a sponsor logo, don’t you think?

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The long way round to a triathlon wetsuit

TriFeetsAlways open to new experiences….that’s got to be your philosophy if you want to grow in this life. Which is why sitting on a grassy hill above the Quarry Pool in my hometown of Batavia was yet another part of a growth curve.

Ten years or so ago I flirted with triathlon training and had taken my very first swim lesson. Then I tore my ACL playing indoor soccer. The resulting rehab and a determination to return to playing soccer took my attention away from doing triathlons.

A year after the injury I was back playing futbol. My knee was fixed using a cadaver ACL stapled to the inside of the joint. For a couple years it was triumphant success. Then on a hot day in June on a greasy wet field an opposing player slid into my leg and the ACL tore again. Click. It ended with little fanfare.

The idea of doing all that surgery and rehab again seemed silly. Soccer and basketball were feeling a bit risky as the body responded with tweaks and tears anyway. Yet I’d learned a lot from physical therapy and turned that into a fitness regimen in support of running and my newly chosen sport of cycling. It was time in life to diversify.

That was 2005, so I took up cycling and got a decent bike. Raced in criteriums and learned how hard cycling can be even for someone steeped in years of distance running and endurance sports.

IMG_0913Of course those eight years from 2005 to 2013 turned into an endurance test of another sort. My late wife worked through multiple rounds of cancer treatment. There were moments of peace between grinding difficulties. But that left little energy or emotional strength for endurance competition. Even a hard group ride was too much to take some weeks. It was like living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Any extra pressure was an affront to the sense.

That’s all to be expected when you encounter the unexpected in life. You do learn quite a bit about yourself when tested by circumstances such as those. Frankly the patience and discipline and flat-out determination you learn in distance sports comes in handy when you become a caregiver by circumstance or by choice. Fortunately lessons of endurance can sometimes be applied directly to your real life. My high school coach called one day to tell me, “Your whole life has been a preparation for this.” And he was right. You learn to tolerate the intolerable.

“Hang in there, it’s just one night of no sleep.”

“Don’t spend time worrying. It only makes things harder.”

“It is what it is.” 

Criterium du Dauphine - Stage EightThat last phrase was always important to help keep things in perspective. It really does describe so much.

Right now I’m guessing that’s what Tour de France rider TJ Van Garderen is saying to himself after having to withdraw from the Tour due to a respiratory infection. All those miles of training, gone to waste.

He was in third place, no less, with the Alps to face. So it wasn’t going to be easy trucking. But dropping out made him disconsolate. In his own words, “I want to disappear right now.” Perhaps you’ve felt the same way at times.

The best we can do perhaps is pray for the guy right now and send him good wishes via social media. The Tour de France is taking the long way round to glory and achievement. Going home without reaching your goal is twice as hard.

Most of us face difficulties in life that at some point cause us to want to disappear. But the wonderful thing about the human spirit is that it does rebound if given a chance. Taking the long way round to triumph is––we learn––one of the greater feelings in life. You know the value of winning much more deeply when you’ve felt a keen sense of loss.

7e8f7__782468-9f8b3344-8e1c-11e3-836d-02ea2adb9f0aWhich is why my experience of standing up for the first time in a wetsuit time felt a bit like that scene in the movie Gravity where the Sandra Bullock raises up to her feet on the sand. She’s just ejected from a co-opted space capsule and weightlessness has left her weak or imbalanced. Yet she struggles to her feet and takes a few steps toward her own recovery. That’s one small step for woman…one giant leap for the human spirit. You go, Girl. Make that Woman. Make that Humanity.

In my own little world, the wetsuit I am wearing is a birthday gift from my companion Sue. With her strong legs and lean frame she reminds me in some ways of Sandra Bullock. Sue has also had to pull herself from circumstances in life. Together we share that pull toward survival.

It is through her that I have gotten involved again, step-by-step, in triathlons. Last year I did a couple duathlons using my running and cycling. This year the results have been very good in that sport.

Meanwhile I have continued to work on swimming. I even changed the tagline of this blog to eliminate the “No Swimming” notation I’d included when it was first set up. I certainly can’t offer much advice to others taking up the sport of swimming. But you should pay attention to form. And swim even when it doesn’t seem to be going well. You learn by doing, correcting, and building on the lessons along the way.

TriSuitIt has taken lots of practice and a bit of recollection of early experiences to become a swimmer again. Now I’m managing multiple laps and my form is truly coming together. Next weekend will likely mark my first Sprint Triathlon. The swim is what kept me at bay last year. That and some wicked Achilles problems.

But first some practice in the wetsuit was needed, and to check the fit. So I pulled on the neoprene suit and stood up on the grass overlooking the Batavia pool. The sight of me drew some strange stares from the pre-teens and teens lounging around the water’s edge. But I walked over to the Life Guard on the east side of the pool and asked him, “Hey, could you help me out with this zipper in back?” He obligingly zipped me up the first time and into the water I went. It felt good. The suit was floaty, sort of. I swam 500 meters as instructed to test out the suit. Suddenly all kinds of things seemed possible.

It’s been a long way round to a triathlon wetsuit. A whole decade has passed since I first imagined doing three sports in one event. Now it’s finally happening.

It’s been a long way round indeed.

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Navigating the tarsnakes of conservatism

Bubble OneThere’s a debate going on in America right now about the right path to prosperity and healthy government. As you’ve noticed, I consistently snark on the current (an oxymoron I know) breed of conservatives through this blog. Some of my readers debate these points, and others have told me they read my work despite my political views.

So perhaps it’s time for a little explanation of how and why I arrive at conclusions about matters of politics and religion.

The reason it is pertinent to write about it here is that my running, riding and swimming are tools and time for thinking about things that matter. There are many times out there alone when the mind has time to really focus on what matters. Of course there are times as well in which the mind escapes such things. That’s the funny thing about endurance sports. There’s a whole interior world we create in order to sort things out in life.

Foundations

Starting way back in 1970 when I first went out for a cross country team and discovered the intense joy of competitive running and training, the companion aspect of endurance sports has always been teamwork. Even in such individual sports, there is considerable need for support and encouragement. Inspiration and affirmation as well. The human need for these things is universal, but among distance athletes these values take on a heightened profile.

The values you learn from distance running and other endurance are self-reliance, dedication and commitment. No one else can do the workouts for you. Yet running or training in a group of equally dedicated athletes sparks the mind.

CudworthEnglertOne could legitimately call that brand of patriotic dedication to a competitive cause a really conservative value. It also afforded opportunities for real leadership. The call for individuals to lead the team is real. We lead by example, and we lead by words. I feel blessed at having the ability and the opportunity to be a leader in those circumstances. Our team won the first ever conference title when I was a sophomore in high school. Then I transferred and we won a district title on top of a thrilling dual meet season. Come college I was captain of a team that took second place in the Division III National Cross Country Meet. That makes you a team All-American.

Actions 

So I believe strongly in the value of teamwork. Yet among all my teammates in all those years were many people whose worldviews differed highly from my own. There were many discussions about faith and politics during all those training sessions. Even today the triathlon club to which I belong is a definitive mix of conservatives and liberals. Some of these folks love to tease me about my so-called liberalism.

But here’s my real political foundation. It is neither liberal or conservative. It is not even Progressive. It is Considerate.

Yes I agree with many liberal values, but I also adhere to many conservative values. I’ve run the local Chamber of Commerce, for example. When I entered as President to discover there were no budgets for any of our activities, I demanded to see the bottom line. We finished in the black after years in the red. That’s a pretty conservative approach.

Crack Between the WorldsI’m also a follower of Jesus Christ. But the Jesus I follow is anchored in the organic truth of the Bible. I’ve written a book and maintain a blog about the fact that the most important lessons of the Bible are founded on metaphorical examples dependent on nature to convey spiritual principles. That’s how Jesus taught, using parables based largely on naturalism. I believe that is critical to understanding the Bible in its entirety. If you consider the foundational approach to truth taken by Jesus with his organic parables, then the most conservative manner in which to read the Bible is by following his example.

That happens to release scripture from all sorts of literal impositions including the crazed idea that creation had to happen in seven literal days. And when you dump that supposedly conservative view of scripture the world begins to open up in all sorts of other ways. No longer are we trapped in a cycle where science conflicts with religion. No longer are we stuck fighting over distracting issues of legalism and law. Those had their time and place, but the truth of the Bible is much bigger than that. It’s not about religion, you see. It’s about consideration of the human condition.

Icons

Pope Francis is now trying to get people to realize this broader scope of truth in the Bible. Not surprisingly, he is getting massive resistance from inconsiderate political and religious leaders who think his message is “too liberal.”

What about consideration drives conservatives so nuts? The idea of stepping back to consider what the Bible or the Constitution really means––versus hammering home some assembled tradition in order to control the narrative––is anathema to so many conservatives. And so, we have evolved a political party and conservative movement led by massively inconsiderate people.

Some like Scott Walker simply seem incurious or driven like robots toward some pre-defined conclusion. They simply dismiss questions that don’t align with their political ideology. Sarah Palin was the same way. When asked to consider the portent of some of her views, she branded that line of inquiry as “Gotcha” questions.

Now we have the egotistical firebrand Donald Trump leading the current pack of presidential candidates for the Republican Party. Trump is the ultimate inconsiderate politician. He seems not to recognize at all why or how his remarks offend. And what is the response on the conservative side of the spectrum? He jumped to a lead in the polls.

Inconsiderations

SkiesAnd that, my friends, is why I so distrust the conservative electorate today. There is no consideration of meaning or nuance. There is no respect for real religious scholarship or insight. There is no understanding of science or even a curiosity about what it has to tell us. Instead we find a consistent denial of all that contradicts the conservative dogma now dominating every news cycle.

This ugly approach to worldview, in which those who shout the loudest win the day, is the height of inconsiderate behavior. Pushing propaganda as a substitute for news is also the inconsiderate approach to truth. Calling it “fair and balanced” is just a euphemism for a maintaining a partisan balance sheet.

What considerate really means

Let’s take a moment and study what it means to be “considerate.”

To “consider” is defined in the following way:

“to think carefully about, especially in order to make a decision; contemplate; reflect on 2: to regard as or deem to be: 3) to think, believe or suppose.

But to be considerate is more an emotional than an intellectual question. To be considerate is to be both polite and tolerant. Where do we stand on this issue today?

Conservatives might argue that everything they believe is carefully considered. They in fact often complain or argue that it is liberals who are the masters of relativism, believing anything that comes along or seems like a good idea.

CoverFrontThat has simply not been my experience. Personally, every value I hold has been tested by trial and by experience. When I faced the fact that my wife had cancer, my personal faith was tested every step of the way. For eight long years we held to our belief that God would provide, and many real and tangible miracles happened along the way. Yet one of the more conservative members of our church walked up to me one day and said, “I don’t know if my faith could survive through something like that.”

That statement stunned me at the time. I muttered, “But that’s what it’s for…”

I wrote a book about that experience. 

The business of creation

Likewise my so-called liberal friends who believe in issues such as environmental conservation do so from a perspective of faithful devotion to creation. Their faith is not interrupted by the thought of evolution working to develop this miraculous world. Instead those perspectives inform and broaden their appreciation for everything on earth and beyond. This is the real mark of a conservative. It is therefore no contradiction that the words “conservatism” and “conservation” share a root meaning.

Bruises t00Every day I consider how the hell these values got divided at the gut? It’s like the neo-conservative movement wants to draw and quarter all those who abide by the truly conservative values of conservation.

That’s because it’s all about money. The deep divide in neo-conservatism as a worldview is always about money. Fiscal and free-market conservatives simply cannot reconcile their economic worldview with the clear message of Jesus Christ, who advocated distribution of wealth to the poor.

Jesus also stood by business people who demanded a fair return on their money both through labor and through interest. So he was not against the necessities of business. He was against exploitation of any sort. And herein lies the problem. When a society is structured around business practices, traditions or economic structures that exploit workers or natural resources without fair compensation or restoration, then things are clearly out of balance.

Balance sheets

For a long, long time in America the balance sheet of extraction-based businesses has simply ignored the real costs of development and impact on natural resources. In his book The Ecology of Commerce, author Paul Hawken addressed this ugly reality by stating that business should be forced to account for the real costs of extraction such as pollution and restoration. Of course any hint of this considerate approach to commerce is met in conservative politics and by the United States Chamber of Commerce with fierce resistance. That’s because the current reality is a house of cards. Business has thus far been allowed to extract the profits and socialize the costs of environmental pollution and even global warming.

Did this tree fall just before I got to this point? It sure seemed like it. I struck it at the hip and with my chin.Claims that full environmental accounting would ruin industry are farcical. The auto industry was suddenly able to make more fuel-efficient vehicles when that requirement was imposed through legislation. The auto giant GM was once such a lazily conservative auto company it did not care about quality or gas mileage in its vehicles. Foreign automakers that met this consumer demand stole 20% of the market share from GM, which dared not even consider the need to change, much less how.

Equal rights and weapons of choice

So this notion that a conservatively inconsiderate approach to business and life is the way to go is massively incorrect. So-called liberals advocating equal rights for women, minorities and gays are simply fulfilling the promises made in the United States Constitution.

Likewise gun control advocates want the nation to acknowledge and consider the meaning of the first phrase in the Second Amendment, which begins: “A well-regulated militia…being necessary for the security of a free state…

Consider what that means for a moment. Really consider it. Don’t just jump over and start blathering about the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment begins with the idea that regulation of guns is vital. It is necessary for the security of a free state. Frankly, we don’t have that right now. People are being mowed down by guns on a regular basis. In fact more people have died by firearm violence in America than all the soldiers that have ever died in foreign wars. That means America is a nation at war with its own heritage, and the seemingly considerate view that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is just an excuse invented by a highly profitable gun lobby to sell more guns.

The real reason we have a gun problem is that people are too stubborn and selfish to consider the import of the proliferation of guns and automatic weapons. They are so concerned with their own rights they have no patience or consideration for the impact of those rights when abused by others. Guns make it too easy to kill. They were invented for that purpose. For that reason they must be highly regulated.

I don’t want to take away anyone’s guns. But I do want people to consider why they really feel the need to own guns. Why is society so imbalanced that some people feel the need to stockpile weapons in case––as one co-worker put it to me a few years back–– “the niggers come to take my stuff.”

There are just as many people who so distrust the government they feel the need to own guns in order to fight our own country. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of government, especially American government. Somehow nations with much stricter gun laws manage to govern themselves without “benefit” of such a highly armed citizenry. Instead America is evolving a vigilante attitude that guns are necessary to maintain peace and provide personal protection. At some level that is not freedom at all. It is war. The militias cropping up in backwoods glory are proof of that.

Fear and hate as family values

IMG_8609The so-called freedoms some people desire to maintain automatically dilute the freedom of others.

Racism is one such “freedom.” It is also the ultimate expression of an inconsiderate worldview. Racism is real and active in America, and typically conservative elements of our society own the stuff and stockpile it like weapons. Racism is a fascist belief system, often mixed with nationalism.

Far-right white extremism is a one such fascist segment of society. Angry white men are a well-known political faction. Threatened by the perceived loss of influence in society, they are prone to claim persecution and disadvantage when, in fact, the very laws that govern American society highly favor the status of white males. But angry white males don’t want to consider that. We’ve got a black President, after all. How can that be fair to white males?

These are the inconsiderate questions we have to answer for people before we can get to truly rational consideration of how to balance social inequities. We’re so preoccupied with the stupid questions of selfish origin that America can’t manage to solve problems without partisan conflict. As a result, we can’t even fix our crumbling infrastructure. And how symbolic is that?

Tarsnakes and value systems

So you now have my full take on the very real tarsnakes of conservatism. The supposedly healthy values of conservatism have melted into dangerous ruts of social complaint. They Tarsnakes wait to take you down. trip up the process of considerate government and demand all our attention lest we all wind up in a ditch. Like we did in 2008 when the economy crashed under conservative watch. Or lack thereof.

The potentially healthy values of faith, conservative social values and economic prudence are fine on their own. But deep contradictions occur when these values are launched on a society whose very Constitution guarantees the right to believe as one chooses. No amount of rationalization on the part of conservatives can prove that America is indeed a “Christian nation.” And no amount of argument can prove that social programs such as social security and Medicare are not conservatively intelligent ways to protect people from destitution in old age.

The notion that “privatizing” such programs would produce better results is a lie. The recent crash of the economy in which people lost millions in investment value while major financial institutions got bailouts because they were “too big to fail” proves that privatization is a farce on many levels. In the end, not even the most successful business on earth is truly privately owned. As President Obama once stated, all of business is dependent on society to succeed. “You didn’t build that” was a reference to the infrastructure and investment in society made by the people.

A considerate man

What drives both conservatives and liberals really nuts about Obama is that he is the ultimate considerate President. He does not act without thinking. He does compromise, which is the mark of a good politician. Yet he learned that conservatives in this era were both inconsiderate of prudence in domestic and foreign policy, and were aggressively negative toward a considerate approach to government.

There have been things about which I disagree with President Obama. The TPP partnership smacks of a payback to big money in America. Political realities sometimes demand that sort of quid pro quo. I’m not naive to that fact.

But the nation needed Obama and half the nation seemed to deny that fact on the simple premise that he was black, a Democrat by definition and too smart, some would say, for his own britches.

To me his Presidency was a watershed in my own political thinking. Having watched the last six years of obfuscation by conservatives, and having read seminal books such as Conservatives Without Conscience by John Dean, it has confirmed that there are people who care more about themselves and owning power than they do about our country. The previous eight years under Bush developed that suspicion. The last six years have proved it.

The Considerate Party

IMG_8329So I am firmly committed to my alliance to the Considerate Party. It is neither Republican or Democrat, nor Libertarian or Green. It’s not even the mark of an Independent voter, which is no mark at all. I share my values openly, and think about what I write and read. I will consider the opinions and experiences of others, but if I find them lacking in some way I will challenge and cajole until the day I die.

So I invite you to consider that. Now you know why I think like I do. And what I think about while I’m out there running, riding and swimming. Consideration is the mark of compassion, commitment and completeness. We need more of all that in this world.

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