Handel’s Messiah…For he shall run for ever and ever…

By Christopher Cudworth

MLCMy alma mater Luther College is a great music school. Each December there was a giant production of Handel’s Messiah held in the gymnasium. Hundreds of students would sign up to participate in the choir. Earning the right to be a soloist was a big deal.

I never participated because Messiah rehearsals began well before the fall cross country season ended. That meant there was never any time or energy (perhaps) to participate in the Messiah. Plus I have always been an average singer at best.

Mini-Messiah

Later in life as participant in an adult choir at church, we produced a mini-Messiah as a Christmas Contata. Then I got a dose of what it’s like to sing that music. It’s hard. It took weeks to get my singing lungs in shape. My diaphragm grew exhausted from all that singing.

During the second performance (yes, we did it twice…) I felt the energy go right out of me toward the end. No longer could I manage those runs. It was only possible to sing a few words. Had there been a personal mic on me the audience would have heard an occasional “Wonderful…” and that would have been it. I had hit the Messiah Wall. Bonked according to musical terms. Finito. DNF. Sitting on the curb with a bottle of water tired.

For he shall run for ever and ever…

The similarities between training for a distance race and training to sing the Messiah were striking. It’s all about the breathing. Through countless rehearsals I felt my singing strength increase. Yet on performance day as we raced through that contata I could feel that I was out of my league.

There’s no shame in that of course. It’s an amazing thing to be part of a choir. One grows to admire those around you. Harmonies and solos and trading song parts are all part of the experience.

It’s much like being part of a running team. Everyone has to do their solo part and at the same time pay attention to how everyone else is doing. Miss a beat or miss a step. It’s much the same.

Coming home

My children are coming home for Christmas and one of the things we’ll do is put on The Messiah CD that my late wife once played during preparations for the holidays. It was her soundtrack for Christmas. All that preparation and cooking and baking and wrapping was done to that music. I feel meager in my preparations by comparison. I still need to go buy a Christmas tree today…

But my family is also reformulating and helps with all this. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law, my mother-in-law and my children and I have all grown closer that past 15 months. My girlfriend Sue now joins our family gatherings and no one feels the need to neglect the memory of my late wife in the process. Life goes on and we’re making the best of it.

It seems so long ago that I last sang in the Messiah. In fact it was probably the early 1990s. time flies when you’re breathing I guess. The trick is to appreciate the wonderful gifts and experiences we encounter along the way. That’s what the Messiah came to call us to do.

Mighty Counselor. Indeed.

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Frosty and friends run a marathon

Frosty Runs a Marathon

Competitors line up for the Frosty Marathon. Illustration by Christopher Cudworth.

Here in Chillytown, USA, there’s an annual tradition that some of you might like your snowpeople to join. It’s called the Frosty Marathon and every year dozens of snowpeople turn out to run the race held on December 24.

It always turns out better if there’s a White Christmas, of course. But if snow doesn’t fall in Chillytown (and there’s worries about that to discuss later) the snowpeople still come from miles away to run 26.2 miles.

Perfect conditions

See, marathoners know there’s no better way to spend a chilly day than covering more than 20 miles in freezing conditions and high winds. It keeps the core temperature down, you know. Fortunately over the years the Frosty Marathon has lost very few competitors to hypothermia. Being made of snow can really help matters in that department.

Heat is the real enemy for runners in the Frosty Marathon. When temps get near to thirty degrees, race organizers have been known to set up windchill machines at the water stops. That’s where snowpeople stop to ice up, of course.

Risks of racing weight

A family of snowman competitors does calisthenics before the start of the race.

A family of snowman competitors does calisthenics before the start of the race.

Some snow runners have been known to intentionally carve off a little excess weight before the big race. Of course there are risks to that strategy when you’re a snowperson. Given that your body structure is designed around one big ball of snow at the bottom, one middle-sized ball of snow in the middle and a smaller sized ball of snow for your head, there’s a certain efficiency to maintaining that structure when you’re a snowperson.

So it happened that when one of the competitors decided to increase speed by cutting off both sides of their lower snowball, the enhanced structure resulted in a full face plant when the integrity of the lower snowball gave out and crumpled into pieces.

Shovel crews were called to the scene and the competitor was allowed to continue, albeit about 18 inches shorter by the time snow medics had done their work. It cost the runner quite a bit of time.

Racing categories

Competitors can get a little excited before the competition.

Competitors can get a little excited before the competition.

As there really aren’t any age groups among snowpeople because year to year all of them melt come spring, racing categories are instead structured around types of snow and general accoutrements.

Wet Snow: Snowpeople built early in the season tend to be formed of wetter snow, and are therefore heavier.

Icey Snow: Snowpeople from variable climates are known to thaw and freeze, resulting in a stiffer, icier structure to their snow bodies.

Thumpity Thump Thump Snow: Snow that falls in cartoons like big fat white drops of ice cream makes really great snowpeople.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Snow: Even bigger than Thumpity Snow, and makes musical little noises when it hits the ground.

Snowsnake Drifters: These dry-formed snowpeople are known at times to blow apart during really windy conditions, or leave a snowsnake behind them as they race along.

Yup, he's everywhere.

Yup, he’s everywhere.

Frozen Snowpeople: This new category of snowpeople is extremely flexible in their makeup and may in fact result in an entirely new category of snow racers due to the fact that they do not seem to care if their ups are up and their downs are down.

Race organizers face many challenges meeting the needs of all these different kinds of snowpeople. As temperatures rise or fall each year, it can be hard to anticipate the needs of Icey Snowpeople versus the Snowsnake Drifters. Ideally, race organizers like it best when temps start out a just below zero degrees fahrenheit. That way everyone is on an even playing field and fewer snow runners are likely to fall apart or melt.

How they do it

However the heat generated simply by running 26.2 miles is sometimes enough to cause internal temperature changes and force some runners to pull out of the race.

This snowperson built in a remote location does stand the chance of being neglected.

This snowperson built in a remote location does stand the chance of being neglected. That can harm their ability to move.

Many questions have been asked by those unfamiliar with snowperson races as to how the snowpeople actually move across the ground. Scientists have now studied the phenomenon and have ascertained several factors that contribute to snowperson speed and mobility.

It was once thought that an old silk hat was the driving force behind Active Snowman Animation (ASA). It has since been discovered that the energy generated from children or adults who form snowman is directly transferred to snowpeople. That is, love is both the energy and the animation of these competitors.

Helping the needy

Support the Frosty Marathon with your contributions and help this hot mess snowperson get back on the right track.

Support the Frosty Marathon with your contributions and help this hot mess snowperson get back on the right track.

You can see the difference in snowpeople who get neglected or are left neglected in the yard. They tend to melt, slump and even disintegrate into the ground. Some turn to rampant snowperson sex as a compensatory response to this lack of love. They turn into hot snowperson messes with smeared facial coloring and scarves that barely cover their snowy bosoms. These types of snowpeople generally require counseling before safely returning to snow society.

Some even become evil snowpeople who lurk in silence waiting for hapless other snowpersons to wander by. The outcome of these events is seldom happy.

Which is why it is important for you to never neglect your snowperson once it is built. It is a far happier thing to encourage them to go thumpity-thumping around the neighborhood making children happy rather than impaling hapless winter walkers with their sharpened stick arms.

It is far, far better to invite them to participate in a positive event like the Frosty Marathon. That’s a healthier, happier way to celebrate the season. In fact the Frosty Marathon is a fund raiser to assist Neglected Snowpeople across the country.

Party on

There's a great snowpeople party after the race.

There’s a great snowpeople postrace party.

When it’s all said and done there’s a great snowman party following the event. All the food and drink is cold if not completely frozen. But snowpeople don’t mind things like that. There’s nothing like a full glass of ice to chill off an overheated snowperson after completing 26.2 miles. Snowpeople have even been known to sweat, which gives them a healthy, shiny sheen. They’re a little harder to hug that way, but give it a try. Everyone appreciates a bit of encouragement after a physical challenge like a marathon.

In fact the Frosty Marathon has been such a success over the years that organizers are considering a Frosty Triathlon in which competitors skate, ski and run over the frozen landscape.

Let’s all embrace the idea that love can drive the competitive instincts of so many happy snowpeople marathoners. That’s the spirit this season, and global warming be damned.

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Is running form an ethos that can make all the difference in your results?

Personal trainer and running form coach Kelly Krause practicing what she preaches.

Personal trainer and running form coach Kelly Krause practicing what she preaches.

By Christopher Cudworth

It is 6:00 in the morning at the Batavia (IL) High School indoor track facility. Kelly Krause is dressed in full running gear along with three of her female proteges. All are up early to work on running form with Kelly, who is a certified trainer through the NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) and an RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) running coach.

Kelly specializes in coaching running form. One of her athletes is doing timed drills to improve tempo and balance in her running form. She does rapid step drills forward and sideways. The rhythm of her shoes tapping the track surface is a reminder that to run fast, you need to be able to move your feet fast. It’s that simple. And that hard.

Each time the coached athlete moves into another minute-and-a-half-long drill Kelly keeps a close eye on the form and purpose of the drill. She issues words of encouragement and instruction. When the runner finishes the drill, there is no “collapse” or relieved sigh. Instead there is focus along with some sharp breaths of recovery from the effort. There is talk about how the foot strikes are working, and why they make a difference.

True to form

“We’re building strength so that when you go to race, you can hold the proper form over the entire distance,” Kelly reminds her. There is acknowledgement, and more breathing. Then another drill begins.

Later Kelly warms down her three athletes. One has been doing intervals while the other ran a prescribed distance at pace. Their programs are personalized. All three jog together around the track to cool down. 

Light on her feet

Observed from the other side of the oval, it is obvious Kelly Krause practices what she preaches. Her own running stride is buoyant and clean. It actually looks like gravity does not affect her in the same way as most people. 

She also advocates off-track training outside the typical realm of endurance running to build strength for running. One of these is kickboxing which strengthens the core and works the legs and arms in a greater range of motion. “It’s also a great winter workout alternative when the streets outside won’t let you run.”

Earning efficiency

Krause has the body of a runner, lean and strong. She’s earned it. Over the past couple years her work with a company called Ethos360, a fitness training organization based in North Aurora, Illinois, has honed her own approach to fitness, diet and strength training. “It changed my life!” she enthuses.

Interestingly, that’s the same phrase one of her coached athletes uses when asked what she likes about working with Kelly Krause. “She’s changed my life!” the 40+ athlete smiles. There is sweat on her face as she pulls on her sweats. “I didn’t think I could ever do any of this!”

Life imitating art

That’s how it is for so many personal trainers. Life imitates art imitating life. Kelly Krause recently had the opportunity to lead more than 400 athletes through warmups at an event sponsored by Under Armor. “I was awed,” she smiles. “I just didn’t think it would lead to all of this.”

That’s probably not precisely true. Kelly gives off the feeling of a natural born leader, albeit a personable, somewhat self-effacing one. That comes out in her conversation. “I’m not that photogenic,” she says as she trots back a few meters to have her photo taken while running.”

Of course her statement is not true. The running form she so carefully coaches is evident in her own efficient stride. She runs over the ground, not at it. Her strong lean figure is well-aligned. There are no flailing feet. No excessive knee lifts. No overreaching strides.

She’s also smiling. Naturally. That’s one of the components of running so many people forget to embrace. Enthusiasm in movement is what Kelly seems to coach. Moving the right way matters. You’ll be happier if you learn how to move properly, she maintains.

She wants this to be true for more people who run. “Not many runners go through this type of training,” she observes. “They discover the sport and just head out the door. Then they get hurt or have joint problems. My job is to educate people how to avoid that.”

Trigger point therapy

Krause and Ethos360 owner Mike Moore in the way to an event.

Krause and Ethos360 owner Mike Miller in the way to an event.

To compliment her educational approach and help people along the way to better running health, Kelly is also trained in helping people maintain and treat muscle and joint pains. Specifically, Ethos360 focuses on trigger point therapy to help identify, treat and release tendon or joint-specific tension. “It’s all the knots, the aches that hold people back,” she notes. “We focus on better mobility through our education and training techniques.”

Ethos360 is owned and managed by Mike Miller, a personal and group trainer whose business at 1061 West Orchard Road in North Aurora (IL) recently added space that was formerly an art and photography gallery next door. “People love the floors for training,” Kerry observes. “They’re smooth but they look like barn wood. It’s just a nice atmosphere.”

A third trainer on the staff is TJ Booe. All focus on sports performance training for people of all ages; kids, adults and people who simply refuse to act their supposed age.

Reading running form

Kelly Krause was a reading tutor in her prior life. Now her job is reading the running form of those who want to get better at their chosen sport. “Speed will come over time,” she reminds her running students. “It’s about repetition of the right things and building endurance so that you can sustain them over the course of a race. So I teach technique and build confidence in people that they can hold that form over the entire time they are running. You want to be able to cover the distance without a breakdown in form or energy.”

Some of her techniques are literally time-tested. “We do 400 meter repeats as a test,” Krause notes. “That’s how we measure progress over time.”

A running ethos

The difference is in the baseline structure of the running form and how it relates to endurance and sustained effort. That aligns with the name of the business. Ethos: the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution.

It’s an interesting notion to consider that good running form can actually be an “ethos” and even part of a runner’s worldview. Many great runners in history have taken running form to be an almost holy writ when engaged at top levels. None other than Bill Rodgers once commented that during one of his victories in the New York Marathon, he had a sense that he should pay attention to form. He even wanted to hold his hands in the correct positions. There was a sense that he wanted to do everything right.

That is indeed an ethos, and once from which more runners, cyclists and swimmers can benefit.

Did you enjoy this content? Please Share it on your social networks. If you want to read more by writer Christopher Cudworth visit his other blogs at TheRightKindofPride.com and TheGenesisFix.com.

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1984 Olympic Marathon one of the most beautiful runs of all time

If you have never watched the running of Carlos Lopes of Portugal, winner of the 1984 Olympic Marathon title, you owe yourself a treat. Lopes was 37 years old at the time of his Olympic victory. He is one of the smoothest runners of all time, with distance and speed formed through competition at races much shorter, especially 10,000 meters.

There are fleeting glimpses of Alberto Salazar in this footage, who struggled during this hot marathon, perhaps never having recovered from his battle with Dick Beardsley in the Boston Marathon years before.

Irishman John Tracy, the rail-thin man who competed also in the Olympic 10K, is racing alongside Carlos Lopes. So is Toshiheko Seko, the Japanese marathoner who won Boston and heralded a period in which Japan had some of the world’s lead runners.

Rob de Castella, the big marathoner from Australia is cruising along in this video as well. From the front he looks like he lumbers. From the side you see that his feet paw the road efficiently.

But compared to Lopes, he’s still a plodder. Hardly in the history of running has there been a more beautiful stride than that of Carlos Lopes. His feet merely kiss the ground. His stride wastes almost no motion. If you are a marathoner or half-marathoner and want to model your stride after one of the greatest runners in distance history, follow the lead of one Carlos Lopes.

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On the road with me and Chuck

Chuck the Dog is a steady companion. We've covered more than 250 miles in our walks.

Chuck the Dog is a steady companion. We’ve covered more than 250 miles in our walks.

I did the math a while ago and figured out that my dog Chuck and I have covered a lot of ground together. He’s been in our lives for about 5 years now, and I’ve walked him virtually every day since then with rare exception. In fact most days I walk him twice a day, sometimes three times if he looks bored. Or I do.

That’s 1825 days and 3,650 walks, give or take a few. If each of those walks averages 400 meters (a quarter mile) that means we’ve covered somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 miles together.

All of this is passive fitness of course. It’s not like my heart rate goes up much during our walks. But I know for a fact that the walking does Chuck some good. He needs the stimulus for one thing. We can’t leave him outside on his own for a variety of reasons to do with his size and his general anxiety at being alone. There are coyotes eating the occasional pup in our region of the country and Chuck weighs only 18 pounds.

He's a Schnoodle. Part Schnauzer, part Poodle. We think. He's actually a rescue dog from the streets of Chicago where my son and friends found him abandoned at 2 in the morning.

He’s a Schnoodle. Part Schnauzer, part Poodle. We think. He’s actually a rescue dog from the streets of Chicago where my son and friends found him abandoned at 2 in the morning.

That’s fighting weight in his mind of course. He has never met a dog he won’t challenge or at least demand some respect. Recently he’s met a black poodle named Benji that likes to stand up and wrestle with him. It’s pretty much healthy fun and they both get out of breath trying to dominate the doggy conversation and try to hump each other now and then.

There’s also Molly, the show dog pup that looks like she fell out of a Disney movie. Her owner is a flight attendant who knows dogs really well. She laughs that I always seem to be out of poop bags when we meet. “I can’t help it,” I respond. “He always seems to poop twice on the mornings we meet up.”

Chuck gets ready for the Holiday season by cozying up to Nativity scene.

Chuck gets ready for the Holiday season by cozying up to Nativity scene.

I never set out to become a dog owner. There’s a Catch-22 to the responsibility. I really love Chuck but often there are scheduling conflicts that keep me away from the house for long periods during the day. He perches himself on the couch and watches the street all day when I’m away. That’s what my neighbor Mona across the street tells me. She loves Chuck too and has him over for doggy sleepovers once a month. Chuck gets all excited and happy when I say her name. His tail wags and he pulls on the leash. He even acts like a different dog in her presence. When I take him over to her house and he reads my body language as if I’m going to take him home, his ears drop and he slouches. It’s like a vacation for him.

My daughter may someday take Chuck with her now that she’s moving out of the house. She loves Chuck even more than me it seems. Chuck also loves her boyfriend Kyle, who owns dogs and knows how to treat Chuck like a real guy dog, which he likes.

An always curious character.

An always curious character.

I will confess to some guilt when I’m away from the house for long periods. Sometimes I’m even gone overnight. But he pretty much sleeps on the couch all day anyway except for when the postman comes. He hates the postman. Hates. Barks like a Jekyll and Hyde dog out of his mind. The postman just laughs, as does the postlady.

If he does move out it will be a relief not to feel guilt about him being alone for so long. And getting up early to run or ride or swim won’t require an interruption to walk him at 5:30 in the morning in the cold or wet or snow.

He’s also a transition from one life to another in some respects. Chuck loved my late wife too. But he’s fond of all the people in life who come to our house as well. One cannot ascribe too much emotion to all this. He is, after all, just a dog.

Yet when I write those words I know they are not completely true. Our walks together have saved my brain on many a day when times were tough or worrisome. That still happens today.

Chuck demands play time when we get home from walks or I get home from an early morning run.

Chuck demands play time when we get home from walks or I get home from an early morning run.

But through the years and all those miles with Chuck I’ve learned a few things about my own mind. Our time on the road and through the parks and playing with other pups has enriched my understanding of the world. I appreciate that his sniffs are like reading a book. It lets me stop and snap interesting photos with my iPhone and post to Instagram and Facebook. Owning a dog is a studied existence if you let it fill your mind with the appropriate things.

Of course the inappropriate things include leaving his doggy doo behind anytime we walk. He does his business while looking back at me most mornings. Sometimes it’s hard not to laugh. Yet I recall how disgusting it is for a runner to step in dog shit. So I never let that happen unless we’re far out in the woods or fields. Even then I pick it up or kick it into the prairie if we’re out of bags.

This period of life with Chuck has been like a window into a different kind of soul. He’s got a great personality and his greetings at the door every time I come home can break your heart. He loves. He truly loves. And that will never be forgotten.

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Ask yourself this simple question: “Why am I eating?”

MealI’m like you, I would suppose. I eat too much. Too often. Not the right stuff.

Yet I try, like anyone, to reign it all in.

So in standing over my meal this noon, I looked down at the rice cake, blueberry spread and granola covered with nutty cereal and a bit of honey and asked myself a question that should be asked every day.

“Why am I eating? “

Okay. Let’s answer that together.

I eat because I’m hungry.

And I’m hungry almost all the time. When I wake up. When I go to bed. When I’m writing. Especially at 10 am. I get hungry then. Eat more at noon. Then a snack at 2:30. Finally, I down something to keep my stomach from growling on the afternoon workout.

I read somewhere that athletes should always feel just a little bit hungry all the time. If you’re sated, you’ve eaten too much.

Well, that’s a tough way to go. Yet I’ve done it, and gotten good results in terms of losing those extra few pounds that creep on during the holiday.

So rather than eat until you’re full all the time, it makes sense to ask the question, “Why am I eating?”

I eat because it makes me feel good. 

I love to eat. Eating is often fun. Food is fun. All kinds of food. Food food foood food foooood.

Okay, so we’ve established that food makes us feel good. But why?

Eating is comforting. Comfort food is an actual term that means we eat to make ourselves feel calmer or to take part in a ritual that gives a sense of well-being.

Yet that eating habit can also put you on edge when you feel guilty for eating comfort food.

All. The.Time.

Then it doesn’t feel so good to be eating when you know you should not. Seems like we almost need an internal alarm or an award system to reward ourselves for indulging just a little, like eating small meals all day (a recommended strategy they say…) versus eating until you get all stuffed and sleepy with comfort food and feel sluggish in every thing you do.

So we have to ask ourselves in those moments the question that will help us determine what type of eating we are doing. Is it just comfort food once in a while? Or are we truly stressed and our eating is a manic attempt to gain control of our brains when there is too much stimulus, or not enough?

Why are we eating? 

What’s good for the goose is good for all the ganders. Because one of the things we all like to do (it seems) is eat together. That’s where you can really get in trouble. With everyone at the table ordering multiple beers and big menu items it is so easy to just “eat along” with the crowd.

My companion has gotten good at eating half her meal and carrying the rest home in a box. That’s a good example of managing your eating and answering both questions: “Why am I eating” and “Why are we eating?”

Social eating is a deceptively difficult situation in which to exhibit personal control.

Or…

You could just shove your face in a dish of food and be done with it.

Because let’s face it, that’s how we sometimes feel when we’ve overeaten. “I’m such a pig,” we say to ourselves. And then we go have an Oreo or two or six to top it off.

Ad-mit it! You’ve easily downed one of those six packs of Oreos that come in the deep blue wrapper. Your mouth gets all Oreo-y and the frosting well, it slides onto your tongue and it’s better than sex. Oreo sex!

We eat because we’re horny

My friend and I used to try to pick up women and if we didn’t get lucky we’d go out and buy containers of Haagen-Daz Rum Raisin ice cream and eat the entire pint. In one sitting.

But we both weighed less than 140 lbs. at six feet tall back then, which probably explains why women were not too interested in us from the get-go.

Yet when we did get lucky those lucky women found out that distance runners can go alllll night long because we were in such good shape. So there’s a wonderful little tradeoff there.

We eat because we’re anxious or depressed

If you’re feeling down or (sort of) better yet, a person with persistent anxiety or depression, eating can become a way of coping with feeling really lousy inside and out.

The warm glow of a slice of apple pie with ice cream can temporarily take away the gnawing grip of chronic anxiety.

Or, you can try to cope with depression by making yourself some mood-lifting tea.

But Citalopram or Xanax might just be a worthwhile addition to your diet. No apologies needed for that people. The answer to why we “eat” those pills is to get back to a normal enough state to even make breakfast, lunch or dinner. That’s one of the tarsnakes of anxiety and depression. They both make life harder and you have to work a bit more just to feel normal some (many?) days.

Or we can go run or ride or swim. Add those to your diet no matter who you are, and the reasons for eating will become a bit less of an issue. Almost guaranteed.

We eat because we’re human

OreosHumans have to eat like everything else on this earth. Fortunately we don’t actually have to hunt our own food these days or 99.9% of the human population would die in a week.

All that would be left is a few tribes in the Central Amazon (not that Amazon…) who live on grubs and tree bark. The rest of us would die and wash down into the Gulf Stream or some other global excuse for a dirty bathtub and then roll up into a giant human flotsam pile on the beaches. 10,000,000 years from now when some other intelligent life form either evolves or descends on earth they will find the piles of our bones and sift through them trying to determine what killed so many supposedly intelligent people.

Then one of them will dig up a tiny shred of blue wrapper with a brown cookie on the cover and turn to their compatriots and say, “Oh look, an Oreo wrapper.”

The whole paleontology team will nod its head and say, “Now it all makes sense. They ran out of Oreos.”

Because that is the ultimate answer to the question “Why am I eating?”

To get to the Oreos.

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Lessons on race relations from a sports facility

Tom and FredAs manager of the Norris Sports Complex, it was my responsibility to run a sports facility used for basketball, soccer, volleyball and the run/walk programs held each night for the general public. The rhythms were fairly well established. Between 40 and 100 basketball players arrived each night to sign up and play pickup games. There was a team coordinator who took names and arranged games. The rules were simple: win two games straight and you got to sit out a game.

Runners from all over the region visited the facility to run on the indoor track. We created a detailed sign that outlined how many laps constituted a mile in each lane. Walkers and runners had their own lanes. Usually from 25 to 50 people came to run and walk each night, a welcome way to work out during the cold winter months in Illinois.

Managing crowds of people

That meant there were between 175 to 250 per night coming through the doors of our facility. There were very few problems other than the occasional injury on the basketball court now and then. One night a player tripped and stumbled headlong into the rock-hard soccer boards. It split his scalp open and the blood poured down his body as he sat leaning against the board, stunned but otherwise conscious. A broad red pool formed around his body and play came to a halt. I walked out to check on the guy at the request of the other players and my first instinct on seeing him was, “Oh boy. Here’s my first dead guy.”

But he wasn’t dead. In fact he wanted to get back up and play. I told him that was out of the question. We called emergency and he got to visit the hospital and get stitched up.

We always kept an eye on the heart patients doing their prescribed exercise at Norris. Sometimes if the desk duties were quiet I’d get out and run or walk with people. That built friendships that would last 30 years in some cases. I still see my Norris runners and walkers at races or around town.

Hoop dreams

I got to know the basketball crew pretty well too. Having played in high school and actually improving my game through college, it was fun to join in pickup games on occasion. It helped me get to know the guys and gals who came to play.

Of course they all loved to challenge me in a variety of ways because I ran the place. One night I signed up to play and it happened that one entire team from nearby Elgin consisted of black players. I knew them all well except for one small guard with wire-rimmed glasses. They were careful for some reason to have him guard me when they set up on defense. That was so that I’d have to guard him myself. And when “Doc” as he was known came down the court the first time he put on a hard fake to my right and then soared clear over my left shoulder for a dunk. The place just erupted.

I knew I’d just been had, and the game broke down for minutes with laughter and congratulations at having watched the facility manager just get schooled. From then on I guarded Doc with extreme care and he no longer dunked over me. But the guys on the team kept reminding me with jokes that Doc had gotten the best of me.

Blockouts

6-ft-chain-link-fenceThere were some people in the conservative community of St. Charles who felt there were too many black players allowed at Norris Center. Some would whisper complaints to me. Others even filed requests to close the facility down to people from outside of town. Most of our black players came from nearby Aurora and Elgin.

And then things happened that made the prejudice against black players much worse. A group of three black men organized a theft operation in our locker room. Two posted by the doors while a third armed with bolt cutters made quick work of the locks in the locker room. They made off with wallets and other personal valuables.

That set the community on edge, and there was genuine talk of closing the facility to all but St. Charles residents. I protested on behalf of the many good people using the facility, and for all the right reasons.

Team tactics

In fact I had long been bending the rules to accommodate one black family from Aurora. The father had been a guy I knew from high school, a track star from Aurora. He had a large family of boys and girls who would turn out to be some of the most dominant athletes in the state of Illinois for years to come. But at the time they were tiny children in little shorts and shoes, and dad was teaching them how to run by bringing them to the track. I would charge him the standard admission fee but his many children were allowed to enter the facility for free. I’d meet him at the door one night a week and we’d usher the kids in the door and onto the track.

Once they had grown to high school age it made me feel good to see their names in the newspapers. They were all great kids, leaders in their community and their last name became synonymous with good character and athletic success.

Relapse

But then another burglary took place, and as I did the first time, I called the police department as soon as we detected the illegal activity. The officer that showed up was a friend of mine from high school. He carried a big black night stick and a pistol of course. He pulled me aside and said some things about the population that night at Norris that made me extremely uncomfortable.

These were my customers, clients and friends he was talking about. His commentary about cracking heads was shocking, and his references to other people in the community wanting to “clean up” the facility were not welcome.

Temper temper

whole_milkThen came a fight or two on the court. The timing could not have been worse. Tempers often flare in basketball and most fights wind down very quickly because other players stop them immediately. They don’t want their privileges revoked because a pair of angry jerks can’t control their tempers. Once at another area facility that was primarily used by white players, a local black player known for his temper threatened another player by picking up a chair in retaliation for what he considered a hard foul.

But it happened that one of the guys on the court was a large lineman from a football team. He stepped in front of the guy wielding the chair and said, “Go ahead and hit me. Because it’s the last thing you’ll ever do.”

The chair was dropped and so was the incident. The threatening player was told to leave and not come back. But that was a situational instruction, not a racist decision. Some actions are clearly justified regardless of race.

Shortsighted actions

It’s interesting to me that too often in this world the ugliest attitudes about race come from the more conservative, institutional perspectives that draw from fear. More human differences are resolved through positive association than through discriminatory dictate. Banning black players from a sports facility because of a burglary incident committed by black perpetrators proves nothing. Having a mind big enough to understand that crime and violence are simply an aggressive response to the disenfranchised status of so many people in this world is far more important.

Hard lines

People who are cynical towards people trying to effect genuine change on race issues may think they are forming a necessarily hard line against crime and violence by using race as a determining factor in law enforcement and public policy. But that approach thus far in America has produced nothing more than prisons jammed with young black men. There is no rehabilitation there, nor compassion.

The cop who wanted to come to my facility and “crack heads” did not have compassion on his mind. There was a vendetta in his attitude, a presumption of guilt toward all those he suspected of ill motives. Many of those he suspected seemed to have been black.

Opening doors

Ultimately we prevailed in protecting the facility from shutting its doors to players from other towns. We were all the better for it. We enhanced our methods of checking people at the door so that thieves could no longer get such easy access to the locker rooms. There was never again any need to call the officer who wanted to show up and “crack heads.”

Writ large

ShootingI’m reminded of all that every time I read about the Ferguson incident with Michael Brown or the Eric Garner case. Now these types of cases are coming to light on what seems like a daily basis. It’s obvious something’s broken in our law enforcement system, and among our law enforcement officials and police there is need for change.

Or perhaps it’s long been that way and we’re finally getting around to dealing with it in some form of honest way. Here in Chicago there is a long history of police abuse including that by Jon Graham Burge. His tale is that of a man with apparently strong convictions formed in military service including the military police. He was ultimately convicted of torturing more than 200 criminal suspects using methods such as throwing people handcuffed to chairs down flights of stairs to force confessions. His methods put innocent people on death row and resulted in lives being taken by the state, leading former Illinois Governor George Ryan (himself a convicted criminal!) to ban the death penalty in Illinois.

When does it become obvious that while many police serve with honor and dedication, there is strong a pattern of institutionalized racism and suspicion for people to assume that even highly trained (and even decorated) officers can be susceptible to the influence of fear and anger through their job experiences? Add in the component of intolerance or racism and you have a formula for abuse.

War on the streets

All these difficulties are only magnified by the war on the streets these officers now face when confronted by the fact that there are military grade weapons and tons of guns owned by regular citizens all over the country.

Yet we never, as a nation, seem to get the fact that the very people commissioned to protect us are under constant siege from the proliferation of guns flooding society through an unregulated militia. 

Bad examples

We need a persistently educational (and unflinching) response to the consistent racial discrimination propagated in America. That is our first requirement as a country to become more civilized.

Memorial Day is really about who is here, who is not, and what we think about that.

This needs to start from the top down, where attitudes toward our President Barack Obama by conservative Congressional leaders and political pundits has set a tone of public disrespect bordering on treason. The rest of America has modeled its attitude around these abominations, including Fox News with its so-called “fair and balanced” approach that is little more than raw conservative ideology and dog-whistle racism gussied up as fact. It has to stop for America to catch its breath and heal from years of angry rhetoric abided and embraced by people who consider themselves innocent of such things while supporting those who do evil, plain and simple.

Wrong versus right

Racism and police brutality is not a case of liberal versus conservative ideology. It is a case of wrong versus right, of chronic abuse versus civil rights guaranteed by our Constitution. That includes freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. It includes the rights of people of all genders and orientation to participate freely in all the privileges of society. No exceptions.

Wherever we find these discriminations and sniff them out in media messaging, we must run them over with the righteous feet of indignation and in defense of the weak and needy. Let’s face it, we’ve all seen first hand what it means to be mistreated in life. But some people get mistreated every day just because of their appearance, the color of their skin or their religion, their orientation or their simple want (or need) to be different and be themselves.

It’s nuts. But if you’re more concerned with cracking heads and taking names than showing compassion and finding the human connection in all this, then you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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Why I no longer believe in calories, because Megan Fox convinced me that science is a load of crap

“I don’t know how to say this word, so I’m just going to pretend I know how to say it…

Megan Fox

Intergnat savant Megan Fox explains away science with a combination of hand motions and incredulity.

That’s how Intergnat savant Megan Fox begins her “audit” of science exhibits at the world renowned Field Museum of Chicago. Her debunking of various science exhibits includes an incredibly insightful teardown of the theory of how cells combined to form life. Her lecture includes a complex hand motion in which she depicts the motion of someone talking as she speaks the words, “Blah blah blah.”

Well. That shook my world. I’ve never seen someone debunk my college education in biology and rip it to shreds right in front of me with such force and verity. She went on to say that none of the science in the exhibit makes sense to a 3rd grader, a 5th grader or a 30-year old. Well, that about covers it all. I’m convinced she’s right. Science really is a load of crap.

Which is great news for those of us who run and ride. After all, the entire reason most of us run and ride is to counteract the effect of eating too many calories. And since calories were effectively discovered by science, we no longer need to believe in them. That means you can eat all you want from now on and not have to worry about running or riding to keep from getting fat.

Megan Fox is also so sure that no one can prove to her that animals evolved or that any of us has a genetic history that relates to any other creature on earth. This is also really good news, because if what Megan says is true, she just found a cure for disease and cancer too!

Because if what Megan says is true, and evolution is false and the genetics of living things can’t predict or describe how living cells behave and mutate, then cancer and disease are not real either!

Hooray! Germ theory is all wrong! There’s no such thing as the Ebola virus or malaria or West Nile or even cancer! It’s all made up! Science is so wrong about these things. Megan Fox knows better.

Apparently there really are a ton of people in America who think just like Megan Fox, because something like 40% of Americans do not believe in the theory of evolution. They might prefer better science sources like the creation museum in Ken-tuckee! That’s where they have exhibits contending that dinosaurs existed on earth at the same time as human beings. The whole motto of the museum is Prepare to Believe. So that you can walk through cultural institutions like the Field Museum of Chicago and debunk the science with your talking hands and the phrase “blah blah blah.”

Now that I’ve been liberated from my pesky belief in science, I no longer have to worry about training for my races. I can just sit around and believe that I’m going run fast and it will happen. After all, the science behind all that training in which cells and blood and capillaries all work together to deliver oxygen and fuel to our muscles is all false. If we simply believe we’re fast, who needs all that science and all that effort?

Yes, it’s so good to have people like Megan Fox around to explain away all this false knowledge in the world. I can’t wait to go out and run a four-minute mile without science dragging me down or holding me back.

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Parallel journeys and new dimensions

Today’s blog on We Run and Ride relates to author Christopher Cudworth’s book The Right Kind of Pride, an inspiration book about his wife’s 8 year journey through ovarian cancer survivorship and the character, caregiving and community that supported them. The book is featured in the December 4th Kane County Chronicle and can also be ordered at Amazon.com. You can also follow the author’s blog at therightkindofpride.com. Today’s blog is not an excerpt but documents the role that running and riding played in their early and lifelong relationship. 

RKOP articleJust over a year out of college I met my late wife Linda Cudworth. She was 22 and I was 23, For the next three years she lived the life of a devoted runner’s girlfriend through training and racing that included sponsorship from a running store called Running Unlimited.

She joined me by bike on 20 mile runs,  carrying a bottle of water tucked into the bike cage for hydration. We traveled to early morning races in cities around the Midwest. She watched me win and lose, and we formed our relationship around these early efforts to prove myself in her eyes.

For the next 28 years of marriage she never argued too much with my running. I’d race now and then and complain I was not as fit as I once was. But she also knew how much I’d trained to get that fit back then. Usually when I griped she said little more than, “You did your best.” She knew me well enough to let it be at that. 

Quirks and needs

Chris 1985The quirks and needs of distance running and cycling often amused her. When preparing for races “back in the day” I was hyper-cautious about protecting my legs from fatigue. That meant no standing around at parties the night before lest my legs feel weary or worn out the next morning. She called it Golden Leg Syndrome and loved to tease me about it.

Years later when I took up cycling more seriously she thought it was funny that our team cycling gear was called a kit. “Are you going to wear your kit?” she’d tease. But I liked the way it looked and ignored her teasing. She ribbed me as well about shaving my legs for cycling. Lady Legs she called them. The whole culture of cycling seemed silly to her. Yet we’d watch the Tour together and invariably she’d pick out the pro team kits she liked and did not like. Astana’s aqua suits made her queasy. One year Katusha’s team kits had a red patch in back. “Baboon butts,” she called them.

Over the years as my running mellowed, she recognized that it still offered certain benefits in our relationship. It was a good way for me to work off stress and come home calmer and more prepared to deal with life’s challenges. Certainly it helped me wick off the stress of caregiving during 8 years of treatment ovarian cancer. More than once through many surgeries and treatments I snuck out of the hospital to go an early morning run in the streets after sleeping most of the night on a cot or foldout couch. At those moments running felt like home. It had a familiar rhythm and constituted a conversation with the self in which the heart taps out its needs.

Running through grief

191217_3620364944030_72168110_oDuring her last years of life there were many moments when I’d pull to a stop while riding and sit there on my bike at a stoplight. And cry. I didn’t want to come home and show her that I was either sad or scared. The path of grief in that way can be long and lonesome. Yet she also took up cycling the best she could. There were tears in her eyes because she had no eyelashes, and her feet were numb from neuropathy. Yet she gave it a go. Nothing fast, but it was fun. 

Being so close to her every day, I had a big headstart on processing grief compared everyone else in her life. Her children and mother and sister and friends were always there when needed, but Linda had a determined habit of showing a positive, cheerful and brave face in her day to day demeanor. “I’m not sick,” she’d always say. 

Most of the time people hardly knew she was dealing with cancer. Even the hospital nurses marveled at her resilience. In that sense she was an athlete of her own. So it was my job to accompany her on that long run of living with cancer. Like most journeys, it had its ups and downs, just like a real road. You climb and descend. You ride into the wind, and with it. You shed some tears and sweat along the way. You keep moving because you must.

On her passing the sobs of my heart turned to aching confessions to God that evolved into thanks and gratitude for her life, well-lived. I was proud of her. We did our best together.

But just as youth vanishes with time and you come to grips with the runner or cyclist you are now versus the athlete you once were, time demands a new comprehension. You move into a new dimension. Life becomes a parallel journey.

New realities

That new reality can be confusing to some, and should you share that new dimension with someone who is not quite ready to receive it, there are definite challenges. We all travel at different paces during life, as slow or fast as we need. We move at the pace that our minds and bodies will allow.

It is so true that people tend to see you in the context they know you best, and rightly so.They also see themselves in the context that enables them to cope with life as as best they can. These are all legitimate and important journeys.

Linda and I once sat out on the patio on a calm summer night and mused what it really meant to go to heaven. “What age would you be?” she asked incredulously. We both came to agree that our spirit should it find a place in what we call heaven would be recognizable in some form we cannot possibly now imagine.

Parallel movement

Think about it. Mountain climbers and marathoners may take the same path, but the reality is that no two participants travels precisely the same. One false step can be trouble. Sometimes we have to stop and just breathe. Breathe. To believe.

Yet these ventures can be parallel as well. You look over at that person striving or struggling and go, “Oh look, they’re just like me.” We take inspiration and hopefully, we give it at times.

Spirit animals

Two Sandhill Cranes FlyingFor those traveling the parallel path, it feels like traveling down a road on a bike when a horse or dog starts running along beside you. It is both thrilling and disorienting. You feel kinship with this other creature, but cannot know its intentions. That is why so many ancient peoples identified with spirit animals. We yearn for company but sometimes do not know what it really means. The symbolism is important however. In this life we are all spirit animals.

Fortunately among fellow human beings we have the ability to communicate that kinship. We find companionship with those who run and ride with us. We don’t always have to know why they are there of how they are encountering the moment, through suffering or joy. We are on parallel journeys and sometimes that is all we really can know. 

Where paths intersect there is community, and where there is community, there is hope. Sometimes those parallel journeys result in real companionship, a journey shared. Each one of our lives has these dimensions, and we cannot always predict what will be revealed. It is up to us to be aware. To stay aware. To be alive. And to take inspiration from those that have gone before, and those we grow to love in the now.

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It takes concentrated effort to combat hunger, especially when it’s real

Food BulkThose of us who run and ride tend to understand hunger in terms of managing how much we eat for fuel and performance. We eat to run and ride and swim, or else we hit the wall, bonk or sink. Yet if we eat more than we need for fuel, or eat the wrong kind of foods (carbs, sugars and certain kinds of fats) it means we slow down and/or gain weight.

So it’s a balance of wanting to eat and then fighting off hunger pangs even when we don’t need to eat. Then there’s comfort eating, or pigging out for stress relief. The whole hunger issue for athletes can be complex.

But take a moment and think about the other side of the coin. There are millions of people in America for whom food security is a real problem. Recently it was documented by Sports Illustrated that there are hundreds of thousands of genuine athletes who are homeless, for example. Homelessness is related to poverty, which has a close relationship with hunger in America.

Hunger games

Cynically, some politicians and commentators view hunger through an ideological lens that says poverty and hunger are the product of an inferior spirit or laziness. Such issues can be very complex, especially when religious or political leaders throw ideology around in any sort of  literal way. For example:  John 6:35 NIV  “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

If taken literally, that passage makes it sound like all you need to do is pray and Jesus will shovel food your way. But of course that’s not the entire meaning of the passage at all. The “bread of life” is as much about spiritual hunger as it is about material needs.

Material and spiritual hunger

Food Cart TooInstead the bible instructs believers on a consistent basis to regard material hunger as a spiritual mission of great importance. Matthew 25:35-40  “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink…”

And of course Jesus responds that whatever we do for the least among us, especially the hungry, we also do for him.

But it is not the religious alone who help the hungry in America. Nor is it left to politicians  alone to decide who gets fed. There are people whose convictions lead us down a practical and righteous path to save people from hunger on a daily basis. Such is the mission of the Northern Illinois Food Bank, whose staff and a large group of volunteers gathers and distributes food to thousands and thousands of families each year. Here’s why (content from the NIFB website)

“Nearly 600,000 people each year in our 13-county service area rely on Northern Illinois Food Bank and our network of 800 partner food pantries and feeding programs. While in FY14 Northern Illinois Food Bank provided the equivalent of 50 million meals to our hungry neighbors, the sad fact is it’s not nearly enough. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study, each year our hungry neighbors are at risk of skipping 70 million meals, simply because they don’t have enough food for three meals per day.”

Making it happen

Food Sign HeaderTo make all that happen takes tons of volunteers and hours of packing and moving food through the organization’s facilities in Geneva, Illinois. It is estimated that to staff the work of the volunteers would take more than 80 full time employees. At an annual salary of $40,000 for such manual labor, the budget of the Northern Illinois Food Bank would need to expand by $3.2M.

While creating jobs might be a great way thing to do, that money would have to come through donations because NIFB is a non-profit organization. And as noted from the incredible need for food in northern Illinois, the money and food donated now goes directly into feeding families in need. Even working families have trouble making ends meet. Often their wages are insufficient to provide food security.

Pitching in

Food Blue HandRecently a group of volunteers from a chapter of BNI (Business Networking International) joined the effort at NIFB headquarters. Our assignment was to move bulk cereal into bags, seal and box them for distribution. 25 BNI members and children formed a team, one of six or so groups working at the NIFB that night.

Within the group we were divided into assignment teams and got our instructions. For two hours the movement and conversation was frenetic and fast-paced as more than 100 boxes of 12 bags each moved through the clean room assembly line. Hair nets and aprons were the dress of the day, and age did not matter. Everyone had an opportunity to pitch in at their skill level.

My personal assignment was sealing the bags, a test of dexterity made challenging by the fact that the machines had a tendency to melt right through the plastic if you paused too long in the double-seal process.

Hands on

Food Blue GloveIt brought to mind a number of challenging manual labor jobs over the years. It took full concentration to double seal those bags and keep ahead of the new bins of unsealed cereal bags arriving by the minute.

I could not help thinking back to a moment during high school when the vocational school had us take tests to see if we were suited for manufacturing work. There were dozens of little screws and bolts and washers, and I sucked at repetitive work. My coordination is good but my concentration could wander back then. Plus I wondered if there was some intimation of academic failure at work. With a D in Spanish at the time, I was worried the school thought I was an intellectual dolt.

Concentrated effort

Now I’ve learned to dial in and that was the modus operandi for the night. Don’t let distractions take your mind off the task at hand.

Yet I could not help thinking about that food and who would eat it. Granted, it was only Reese’s Puffs cereal. You could make all sorts of judgments about whether that’s the right way to feed the hungry. But then you’d point the finger right back at yourself, because we all have want and need of different types of food. Some of us even munch energy bars made from real stuff that constitutes fake food. So it’s a confusing mess here in America.

There are many types of food handled by hunger missions in America. Nutrition is not cut short if at all possible. Considering how much food is donated and how much money is raised to cover and distribute it, these types of questions aren’t really practical to answer when you’re bagging dozens of bags of Reese’s Puffs. Still, my brain kept working…if there were 500 puffs in each bag, and I packed 200 bags, that makes 100,000 individual Reese’s Puffs out the door and into the hungry mouths of people all over northern Illinois.

I like Reese’s Puffs. I’ll still eat them if I see them again. But we were a little tired of the peanut butter and chocolate smell. By the end of the night, a bit worn out from that marathon of packing puffs, I paused to think that I’d learned a few things about endurance and concentration over the years. Much of that dedication to task was learned through the concerted effort of running and riding. It teaches us to stick with the job until it’s through.

Looking the other way

But of course it will require a lot more concentrated effort to assuage hunger in America. Our nation has a bad habit of looking the other way and even attacking its weakest citizens when it comes to wrestling matches over political power and authority. The Rush Limbaughs of the world consistently set out to confuse real issues with false pretexts. Based on his many assertions that there is no hunger in America, such a man would have us think that everything that besets the hungry in America is a result of their poor nature and character.

Yet that’s not what we find in scripture. Luke 6:20: “Looking at his disciples, (Jesus) said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

Which means it is all our responsibility to create that kingdom of God here on earth. It is not our job to sit back cynically and mock the poor or find political motivations for their need. It is ours to pitch in and help, and let answers to the spiritual questions be defined by our willingness to first help, and then help again.

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