Running and riding through the weird world of a third-person attitude

By Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth thinks Big Glasses make him look Almost Famous.

Christopher Cudworth thinks Big Glasses make him look Almost Famous.

Perhaps you’ve met someone who talks about their life and exploits in the Third Person. It’s a weird habit. It’s hard to do if you’re not accustomed to the egotistical take on life. But it goes something like this:

“Christopher Cudworth’s got to go now. Christopher Cudworth has got a workout to do.”

At what point does a human mind switch from a normal worldview to speaking about oneself in the third person?

Perhaps the whole talking about yourself in the Third Person happens after some traumatic event in life. Or maybe people get so tangled up in trying to communicate their personal brand to the world they just shift over and take on a third-person personality.

It’s a lot of work though. You have to shift over permanently to the Big Gear of Personal Objectivity, which is basically just Ego on the Single Speed bike of personhood.

Which reminds me of the dude I saw riding in The Wright Stuff Century last year. He was doing the whole trip on a single-speed bike and the hills were just killing him. His little red beard was covered in dripping sweat and his round little military-style bike helmet was sitting a little crooked on his head. It would have been a perfect moment for a third person comment like, “Whoa, Single Speed Guy is about to Bonk!”

I watched him at the rest stop. He sat dripping sweat while downing a couple Salted Nut Rolls and a quart of Gatorade. But he kept on going, Single Speed Dude had balls, I’ll grant him that.

Christopher Cudworth wants you to know his recent bike wreck was really the product of his amazing imagination that distracted him from the big tree across the path.

Christopher Cudworth wants you to know his recent bike wreck was really the product of his amazing imagination that distracted him from the big tree across the path.

I’ve met many a runner who fit the whole Third-Person Runner gig. One was Mr. One Step. I’ve written about the time I decided to teach him a lesson by getting in good enough shape to bury his annoying habit of turning every Saturday morning group run into a race. For every half-step he surged ahead that day, I countered his move until we pulled away from the group at sub-6:00 pace. For a couple miles we went flying along until he finally broke. We talked it out and he finally got the message. But if he had been a Third Person kind of guy it might have gone like this:

“That’s it! Mr. One Step wants to know what’s going on!?”

I told him, “People are sick of you racing them in training,” I actually explained. “I’m a hired gun to help you realize what it’s like.”

I’m not sure the lesson was fully learned. He took to cycling a bit more that summer. No doubt he was Mr. Half Wheel at that.

See, we all have a bit of Third Person personality in our souls. It helps us drive forward in all our endeavors. Putting in the work to set a PR at some distance, to finish a half marathon, marathon or triathlon all requires a bit of calculated objectivity on our part. We become Marathon Woman or Half Ironman Person for a time.

Christopher Cudworth is here to tell you that his bike wreck was really just an exercise in creating Bruise Art.

Christopher Cudworth is here to tell you that his bike wreck was really just an exercise in creating Bruise Art.

When we achieve our goal the entire enterprise shifts over. Sometimes we raise the stakes. Okay, now Christopher Cudworth doesn’t just want to complete a marathon, Christopher Cudworth wants to set a new PR too! 3:00 hours here we come! Go for it Christopher Cudworth!

Yes, we all know it’s geeky and a little pathetic the way we set ourselves up to win or fail. But what would life be without a little Third Person drama to kick us down the path toward temporary stardom?

We may not be aware we’re doing it, but becoming Fund Raising Woman or Summer Road Racing Man is part of the Third Person venture of being an athlete at any level.

Just ask the Frank Thomas, The Big Hurt, who was just installed into Baseball Hall of Fame. Third Person always worked for him. It was much better than talking directly to journalists anyway.

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An unexpected birthday gift

By Christopher Cudworth

I don’t usually blog on the weekend but when good things happen they deserve to be celebrated.

And this morning I ran well. It felt good. I ran faster than I have in two months. And I wasn’t in pain the entire way or following the workout.

The best I can figure is that two things were at work.

1) Today is my birthday, and cosmos had mercy on me.

2) My speed workout earlier this week blew out the carbon in my veins, muscles and everywhere else.

We ran at a forest preserve called Herrick Lake. Lately I’ve been happy to get through the 5.5 mile loop before my body started to hurt too badly. Even last winter I was running twice that far without much problem.

But then I ran into a tree going 20mph while not paying attention and the last 5 weeks have felt like I had ropes for veins. Everything was knotted up and unwilling to unwind.

Then I went to the track and did a 4 X 400 workout and the rest of the week felt much better. We slipped out of town for a three-day mini-vacay in Oregon, Illinois and biked and ran and golfed and ate.

So perhaps things are coming back together in some other way.

And today I felt like the girl in the new movie Lucy, in which Scarlett Johansson plays this chick who by some freak accident gets to use an increasing amount of her brain power, and the results are fantastic. She got so smart she could even tell you what McDonald’s uses to make Chicken McNuggets. Because we all know it’s not really from this world.

But we digress. In my humbly enlightened state of being running felt fun again. We ran the first mile together as a group of four at about 9:00 pace. Then a young man drifted forward and picked up the pace. My companion muttered to me, “Go ahead. I know you want to.”

So I did. It’s been a while since I ran a little faster. And when I did, things fell even further into place.

It was fun running with this 20-year-old kid. We talked about his soccer career and how much it was fun to put a shot on goal. We traipsed along in the low 7s and it did not feel hard at that effort. I was looking around at the bergamot and chicory, the coneflowers and the day lilies and feeling like I loved to feel. I was running.

After three miles together the young man decided he needed a break. His wisdom teeth had just been pulled a week before and his jaw was starting to ache from the increased blood pressure.

So I fist-bumped him and said thanks, but I was going ahead.

There is no feeling on earth like running well again after a prolonged period of injury. You really feel free. Yes, I might not be as fast as I was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. But I’m proud of my years. I can still run as fast as most people out there, especially in my age group. And I have the times to prove it.

But the greater gift in all this is being grateful for the ability you have to do what you can do. It’s all relative. Even world record holders slow down someday.

The birthdays keep coming, and that’s a good thing. Especially when you keep moving in between those humble little events. The cosmos smiles on you if you’re grateful.

May you enjoy the same. And Happy Birthday to me.

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On dopey drivers and the Doppler Effect

By Christopher Cudworth

Musical symbols for retard. My companion and I were pedaling up Illinois Highway 2 between Dixon and Oregon, Illinois, minding our line next to the white line when a small silver car came buzzing past us with the windows wide open. The driver yelled something at us but we could not hear exactly what he said.

See, there’s this thing in physics where sound gets distorted by speed and distance. You might be aware of the Doppler Effect when a train goes by. You’ll hear the horn and it will go something like ___Nyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeoooooooooooowwwwwwwwnnnnn_____

I’m no physicist of course. But I know enough to know that yelling out of a car window results in about the same sort of sound distortion. Which means that dopey drivers yelling things at cyclists out their car windows think they’re making some really cogent point about the fact that they hate the idea of sharing the road with cyclists.

They’ll yell something like “Get OFF THE ROAD” and what we actually hear is something more like this…”getttorrffooooaadddd.”

The sound is retarded, you see. But just in case you think I’m making a personal insult relative to the functional intelligence of the driver yelling out the window, what we’re actually referring to here is retardation as it relates to musical sound. I’m no music theory specialist, but here’s the definition:

noteRetardation is the act or result of delaying; the extent to which anything is retarded or delayed; that which retards or delays.

If that doesn’t satisfy you, perhaps you’ll better appreciate retardation in context with this glossary of musical terminology. You can look it up, in other words. There really is such as thing as being retarded.

See, when you are a dopey driver who yells out the window of a speeding vehicle, the sound you make is retarded. It is delayed until you are past the cyclist at whom you are yelling. We don’t hear it. So it really is retarded.

So if you don’t want to be retarded, don’t yell at cyclists out the window of your car or even your potentially retarded, oversized red pickup with the gun rack in the back. Because even your pithy comment about our choice in cycling attire will surely be retarded as well. And you don’t want that.

When you really slow something  down or delay it, it might even reflect back you you. So better to delay your stupid comment together rather than have it come out retarded. Better to keep it to your retarded self. Because even when you fling an angry insult out the car window with all the invective you can muster, your comment will certainly be retarded if your vehicle is moving faster than the bicyclist at whom you are directing your ire.

So save yourself the embarrassment of being misunderstood, and don’t be retarded. Simply keep your mouth shut. Save your insults toward cyclists or running or else risk exhibiting the lower intelligence that might technically qualify you as the other kind of retarded, which is having lower intellect than what we brand “normal” society.

And you don’t want that.

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A dialogue with the dawn

By Christopher Cudworth

IMG_0228Those of us who run and ride tend to be early risers. Some get out the door before the sun even rises. In winter we may not even see the sun during our workouts. Just cold trudging or riding in pre-dawn darkness.

Which is why this time of year in North America the dawn is of particular value. It lifts our spirits for one thing. It may not be much easier getting out of bed when the sun is just coming up, but once we’re out the door to discover the day, things take on a whole different look and meaning.

Perhaps those many mornings mix together a bit in your mind. Over the years even the best mornings blend together.

But then you face a fresh new dawn and begin your conversation with the morning sun. It may be red on the horizon. Then yellow. Finally it rises above the angle of the atmosphere and turns white for the sky.

We run or ride with the sun appearing to cross the sky above us. But of course that’s not what’s really happening. The earth is rotating and moving through space at the same time.

It took the human race thousands of years to figure that out once we started to record history in something other than oral tradition. For a long time it would have been blasphemy to suggest the earth was anything but the center of the universe. Our dialogue was with God alone in terms of creation. We envisioned our deities as existing in the sky. We talked to them up there. Many still do. We live in a prison of our own fantasies at times. Athletes still do point at the sky and give thanks. But their focus may be misdirected.

When we run or ride and feel the wind against our faces, it’s easier to realize that if there is divinity at work in the world, it is not just above us, it is all around us. We recognize that the wind in our faces and the sun in our eyes is a potent symbol for the challenges we face in daily life. We look for symbols of its force at work in our lives.

Yet when the wind is at our backs and the sun warms our shoulders on a chilly morning, we barely take time to give thanks. It’s so easy to give ourselves credit for those easy miles. Even if we do our workouts on our own, we are never really alone. The forces of nature and the people with whom we interact all feed into our efforts.

SunriseInstead it is always good to have an honest dialogue with the dawn. When things are simple and nothing has yet occurred to make you feel superior or inferior, give simple thanks for the fact that you can do this thing you do. You run. You ride. You swim.

Because it’s not just that life is short, or that time is precious. It’s even more than that. It’s that your mind needs to exist in the moment or you lose perspective too easily. You point at the sky rather than your own heart, and what you are called to do in this world.

So get on out there and have a dialogue with the dawn. Bring home what you learn about your own mind. Share it with others. A dialogue with the dawn can do wonders in your life.

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On track and happy for it

By Christopher Cudworth

TrackIn sync with cycling season my left IT band and left achilles have become troublesome. One can surmise there is something wrong with the bike fit, or else the riding form. But they also hurt while running, so much so that training on foot has been curtailed all this summer.

Last winter the achilles got tight when running 8 or so miles. A visit to the pedorthist recently resulted in a heel adjustment and that makes it better. I can run anyway. For a few miles.

Achilles tendons are not a body part with which to trifle however. The woman I spied at the Racine Triathlon with the big black boot and the forced smile (when asked what happened…) reminded me not to take achilles health too lightly.

On track

Yet I know my body pretty well after 40 years of competitive running and tens of thousands of training miles. I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing you can do for something that is chronically tight is to put it in a situation where it has to perform, within reason, outside its typical functions.

That’s the whole premise of yoga. Manageably stress the body and your setpoints improve in circulation, muscle strength and flexibility.

Well, speed work functions just like yoga for runners. You have to know a bit about what you’re doing, but speed work is a form of play when you do it right.

So I took my creaky legs and a back still-stiff from the bike accident 6 weeks ago and rode my mountain bike to the high school track. I was hoping it would be open. Too often these days high school tracks are gated affairs. The fence protects the precious football field, you see. The schools don’t want anyone running around on the grass during the summer months.

Fortunately one of the gates was open and I did not have to launch over an 8-foot fence like some participant in a Spartan race. I’ve done that when necessary, but my appetite for jumping to the ground from 8 feet in the air grows less each year. Too easy to pop something.

It was fun to warm up on the track even with the creaky leg protesting all the way. At 1.5 miles things started to smooth out and it was time for the workout. I ran the last two laps at sub-8:00 pace after an 8:52 first mile warmup, did some strides and got ready to go.

When you have not done speed work in a while it is best to take what your body will give you that first 200 meters. See what the legs will do, and be cautious with stride length. But passing through the first 200 I glanced at the watch and saw 48 seconds. Not the 45 I was shooting for, but still worth a good start.

My goal was simple. 4 X 400 this first time back to the track. Try to run 6:00 pace. Looking ahead I want to be racing at 7:00 per mile for a 5K in a Sprint Triathlon… whether I’m competing on a team or doing the race myself. (That depends on my swim progress. Ahem.)

History

As I ran those intervals a number of thoughts crept into my mind. I first raced on the Batavia track back in 1971. So it’s been more than 40 years of training and racing on that oval. That’s pretty cool if you think about it. I’m happy for the years of training and the ability I do have to run.

There’s a videotape of a meet held on that track back in 1973. I was a junior in high school and my dad brought a film recording camera to the meet. He captured the two mile race in which Batavia’s Tom Burridge raced a Crystal Lake guy named Bill Enright. It was windy and harsh outside, and their dual turned into a win for Enright.

I was entered in that race as well. The film captures me running with head slightly dropped because I decided that day not to wear my glasses. I needed them badly but was sick of pushing them up on my face to run. My thin pale face was squinched as a result of my poor vision and trying to run in a half fog. I didn’t even break 10:00. The two-mile felt unimaginably long on a track. Never liked the distance in high school. My best wound up being 9:57 and my mile time was 4:29. Really not too distinguished a high school career when you think about it.

Speeding along

By college my times dropped to 9:28 in the two-mile and 4:19 in the mile. After college those times dropped even further to 9:12 in the two-mile and I never raced a competitive mile at peak fitness. Based on relative improvements in other events and my workouts I would have been capable of a 4:15 or below. I always dreamed of running a sub 4:10 mile. It would have been interesting to try but the opportunity did not arise.

So there’s tons of history in my legs and memories to carry one around the local high school track. But there’s a funny thing about history and memories. They don’t really take you very far when it’s time to run the next interval.

Rising to the occasion

You still have to rise up on your toes and meet the day. So about the third interval when my body was warmed up it was time to get things moving. With the merest forward lean and a rise to the toes my first 200 passed in 41 and I finished the 400 in under 90. Sub-6:00. I used to run that pace mile after mile in training. It’s my target pace for racing these days. All those miles and years add up.

When all was said and done I was walking around the track when a fit young woman showed up to do her track workout. We talked about training and the difference between distance and sprint training. Turned out she’s a sprinter for Miami of Ohio, a Division 1 school. “Congratulations on that level of competition,” I told after a short discussion. She moved off to run and you could see the efficiency in her stride.

We’re all on track to our own objectives. The high school oval still beckons. The feeling of moving faster than normal never tires. Not in my life anyway. Not in my time.

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A 70.3 triathlon tale of perseverance, sisterly love and a coach who knows the sport

by Christopher Cudworth

Sisters Sue Astra and Julie Dunn enjoy a post-race smile.

Sisters Sue Astra and Julie Dunn enjoy a post-race smile.

Even more than the individual sports of cycling, running or swimming, triathlon is a sport of the early hours. The distances covered and the time it takes to cover them require an early enough start to accommodate all sorts of logistical needs.

It’s particularly true at a race like the Spirit of Racine 70.3 Ironman Triathlon. With more than 2500 competitors checking in and lining up on race day, the logistics are not just minutiae.

The swim alone requires massive setup for more than a dozen waves of age-group competitors

Sue downing a shot block before the swim.

Sue downing a shot block before the swim.

launching into the water. It all takes time. It all takes patience.

 

Containing energy

A triathlon starts early and involves a lot of hurry up and wait. There’s a lot of nervous energy. A lot of intense talk.

The sun rose to a glassy Lake Michigan surface that covered a 61-degree body of water waiting to chill the bodies of competitors even through Neoprene wetsuits. But that does not stop a triathlete. Of course it doesn’t.

Some do stare at the cold, 61 degree water as if it has betrayed them somehow. After all it is July. It is supposed to be a warmer lake. At least there is less chop than the previous year when the waves reached heights of 2 feet and sloshed all over the races of competitors in the swim.

The swim training is evident in Sue's back and shoulders.

The swim training is evident in Sue’s back and shoulders.

Everyone drank lake water on the north-south swim course last year, especially those who breathed primarily on the left side. This year’s swim was placid by comparison.

The gun goes off

When a set of sisters in the same 45-49 age group plunged in to begin their 6-hour journey, the wake left by their strokes was clear and well-defined. A great way to start the day.

Emerging 34 minutes later, Julie Dunn (the younger of two Schaefen sisters) and Sue Astra (Big Sis) came out smiling. The water was “crisp” some said, while others called it “refreshing.” The neoprene caps on their heads came off easily and the westsuit strippers gave a tug at the heels. Sue’s suit came flying off. Julie’s was a bit more difficult. “I have

Julie mounts her bike at 7:45 in the morning for a 56 mile journey on rough Wisconsin side roads.

Julie mounts her bike at 7:45 in the morning for a 56 mile journey on rough Wisconsin side roads.

these big calves,” she laughed after the race. “They couldn’t get the suit off over my legs.”

Then came the transition. Julie teetered on the bike a bit, then piled on up the hill leading out of Transition 1. Sue came along just two minutes later.

Both women had been competitive swimmers as kids.  Then life came along, and marriage, and kids. Julie the cheerleader was always the energetic one. Social and engaging.

Sue was a bit more the focused type, keen on drum corps and studies that led to a career in architecture and project management. Julie now works in HR.

As their kids grew there were difficulties in their marriages that led to divorce. The sisters found

Sue lines up to mount the bike.

Sue lines up to mount the bike.

each other again through the sport of triathlon. Each signed up to swim, ride and run with Experience Triathlon, a team based in suburban Chicago. Their coach Joe LoPresto himself had emerged from a career with IBM to take a risk and build a triathlon club that has grown exponentially with the sport. There are elite athletes and people just learning to swim, ride and run in the club. Joe and his partner Susie Cerra love them all.

The foundation of friends discovered through the sport and the Experience Triathlon team became an important support network as each sister lived with the changes each embraced on their own. Like most triathletes, they started with Sprints, evolved to Olympic and finally tackled the Half Ironman distance. As they reached their late 40s the lure of an Ironman still awaits.

Thousands of bikes await competitors in the transition area.

Thousands of bikes await competitors in the transition area.

One can see the training in the legs of the women as they respectively mount their bikes. Julie is the shorter sister, strong and compact. Sue is tall and lean with a 34″ inseam.

Sue is the stronger cyclist. Julie is slightly faster in the swim. Both love running but not the second loop of a half-marathon in a Half Ironman. “My feet hurt!” Julie lamented at the finish. “My stomach was giving me fits,” Sue groaned for minutes after the race.

13.1 miles is a long way to run after a mile of swimming and 56 miles of biking under 3 hours.

13.1 miles is a long way to run after a mile of swimming and 56 miles of biking under 3 hours. Sue starts the run.

Both sisters wound up prostrate on the ground for a few minutes after six hours of competition. They both finished right around the six-hour mark.

“My frickin’ feet,” Julie cursed, looking down at her toes for a moment. Last fall she ran the Chicago Marathon. It was her ankle that hurt then. But she finished that even too.

Sue Astra walked off the effort while gingerly munching a Subway sandwich while downing a cut-rate can of soda. “They went with the cheap stuff,” she laughed.

With finisher medals hanging around their necks, the pain and suffering slowly begins to ebb away. “What should we do next?” Julie laughs from her

The sun had risen over a glassy, cold lake. It later warmed to more than 80 degrees outside.

The sun had risen over a glassy, cold lake. It later warmed to more than 80 degrees outside.

position flat on her back.

“Ooohff,” says Sue. “Let’s get over this one first.”

At the team tent Sue gets a big hug from Coach Joe LoPresto. They have known each other more than 5 years. He’s seen her through countless races. A few months before the Racine race when injuries were nagging and her lower back was seized with sciatica, she called Coach Joe to wonder aloud if it was all worth it.

He sagely told her that she needed to take some pressure off herself. “You can do this,” he ultimately assured her. “Be thankful you have the talents you do. Stop worrying. Be present with in what you’re doing.”

The scene at most triathlons includes plenty of colorful, stylish spectators and support crews.

The scene at most triathlons includes plenty of colorful, stylish spectators and support crews.

That advice calmed her. And as if by magic, the back tension began to disappear. Could the two be related? There’s evidence that tension and back pain go together.

There was also the motivation that came with knowing that her sister was going to be doing the Racine 70.3, and it would not do to let her sister down.

So with a winter of solid 10-mile runs under her tri-belt, and a burgeoning recovery from rotator cuff surgery the previous year (due to a bike crash) Sue Astra slowly began to feel ready to take on the challenge.

In the hotel room on the morning of the race, sister

A crew of more than 30 Lifeguards receives pre-race instructions.

A crew of more than 30 Lifeguards receives pre-race instructions.

Julie has an earworm in her head. “I don’t know who sings it,” she laughs. “It goes like this though….”Girl-freeeeiinnnd!”

Over and over the refrain pops up in her head. Sister Sue just chuckles under her breath. She knows her sister well enough to know that she’s getting herself ready for what’s ahead. It’s still dark outside. The lake 12 miles east of the hotel is still 60 degrees, colder than the air outside.

But the early dawn does not daunt them.

At home after the race Sue takes the prescribed ice bath to soothe legs sore from 70+ miles of effort.

At home after the race Sue takes the prescribed ice bath to soothe legs sore from 70+ miles of effort.

They can feel what’s coming and know they love the feeling of being athletes on their own terms. Swim to salvation. Cycle to dreams. Run to completion. Feed yourself. It’s all part of being alive. Of being a triathlete. Of making sense of this world even when the event you’re doing doesn’t make all that much sense.

Then have a laugh. Share a hug. Bust a smile. It’s all good. It’s all very, very good.

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What Lance Armstrong has to say about the 2014 Tour de France

File photograph of Lance Armstrong taking part in a special session regarding cancer in the developing world during the Clinton Global Initiative in New York

Lance Armstrong does his best Rodney Dangerfield imitation. “Hoo. Rought crowd. I’ll be here all weekend. Don’t forget to tip your waiter or waittress.”

Hi folks. Lance Armstrong here. Yes, I’ve been watching the 2014 Tour quite a bit. Actually been streaming it through my iPhone in the Livestrong phone case while I’m out golfing. Because golf is actually pretty boring. And I’m not that good at it.

For one thing, the carts don’t go fast enough. I could ride a bike much faster than most of these golf carts can roll. I’d prefer to have a golf cart with pedals over these electric jobs with governors on the engines. Not much fun.

Between shots I tune into the Tour coverage and frankly, the television coverage is better than ever. Hardly a moment goes buy that isn’t covered by the NBCSN cameras. They’ve got choppers in the sky and motorbikes just like in my day. But somehow they seem to capture more and more of the agony experienced by these Tour riders. Hell, they even caught Andre Greipel lecturing Sylvain Chavenel about their crash on one stage. More like Andre Gripel.

It all brings back bad memories of the last Tour I tried to ride. You remember that debacle. I crashed and cut my face up. It was like Muhammad Ali in the later years of fighting. The magic was gone, but I kept on fighting.

lance-armstrong-6_2318734bThat’s right, I kept on fighting. Just like I kept on fighting even through all those lawsuits and the lies they forced me to tell. I might have come clean on my own had those lawyers not circled around like vultures over a Tour rider that fell off the Alps. But not, they wouldn’t let me come to grips with the era of doping and cheating all on my own. I might have even written another book about it. I even had a title all worked out: “It’s Not About the Dope.”

Because it really wasn’t. Not when you see all those riders crashing this year. When you hit the deck it doesn’t matter how much dope you have in your system. You’re all crashed and bruised up. Sometimes you can’t even bend your back to sit on the bike. Just look at that Andrew Talansky kid. Tough guy, but in the end even he had to abandon. The first rule of winning the Tour is you’ve got to stay upright.

That’s what I did for 7 great years, you know. I still have the jersey to prove it. And I think that’s why they haven’t come to take them away. Sure, the results no longer credit me with those wins, but the fact remains, I didn’t go down in flames or in a heap of blood and guts after racing more than 14,000 miles through France and all those other countries clinging to the Tour.

Froome. Gone. Contador. Gone. Talansky. Gone.

Nibali? He has all the looks of a guy in control. I know that look. I know that feeling. That’s all I’m saying.

He’s got a decent team around him, but nothing like the days of George Hincapie and all those guys. Sure, I pissed a few of them off. But at least I paid them for the effort. Not like that British pussy Bradley Wiggins. Talk about no class.

I’d have shown him who’s boss. His Sky team was decent but you know decent isn’t good enough when it comes to putting the hammer down the way I used to do. I was Lance tyler_hamilton_fractured_collarbone_1Armstrong, goddamnit. For seven years no one could beat me. Not Jan. Not Tyler. Not this guy or that guy. My success built Livestrong and turned cycling into a world sport rather than just a backlot cable offering. Remember that fucking Outdoor Life Channel coverage? You almost had to turn the knob to get that thing tuned in.

So let’s be honest, watching this years Tour de France has been a bit like watching an 8th grade obstacle course. Just enough talent and daring to cause trouble.

I know I’m in my early 40s, but maybe just maybe I could still do it. If only these doping sanctions weren’t hanging around my neck.

Well, my tee time is coming up. Time to mosey around yet another posh Texas golf course. When I’m done I might just ride the bike a little today. Hell I might even pull down one of my extra yellow jerseys from the closet and go climb the hills outside Austin.

And I promise you I won’t fall down. Remember my terror trip down that tarsnake road in the descent from Gap? That other dude went down in a roll and I rode the grassy bank and came out the other side. Like a shortcut through the park. Yes, I was good at keeping it upright. That’s what it takes.

By Christopher Cudworth

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Do you have a place to hone your speed?

By Christopher Cudworth

We all need a place where we go to get fast. It all depends on your circumstance.

We all need a place where we go to get fast. It all depends on your circumstance.

Ever since I was a little kid holding a watch in my grubby little fist waiting for the second hand to reach twelve, I have held fascination with getting faster.

Back then our side yard was the exact size of a tennis court because that’s what our side yard once was. Our home had been some kind of estate residence with a clay tennis court in the side yard.

For us it was a football field, wiffle ball stadium and for me, a running track.

At the age of 7 I used to sprint around that yard fast as I could. I was convinced that if I just willed myself to go faster, sooner or later I would.

Perhaps it had something to do with a more than rabid fascination with Road Runner, the cartoon character who was chased all the time by Wile E. Coyote. The idea of zipping so quickly from one place to another absolutely thrilled me. Later on the comics character known as The Flash also propelled me to notions of speedy bliss. Most recently the little kid with speedy legs in The Incredibles gave me that same childlike thrill with speed.

Well, it all came together in its fashion by the time I was a teenager racing in track and cross country. The love of speed and trying to get faster continued on through college and post-collegiately as well. I bought a lot of racing flats and spikes in hopes they would make me faster.

But the one thing that really helps make you faster is finding a location where one can really concentrate on speed. For me that place was the track at Geneva High School. It was 6 blocks from my home with an all-weather surface that had just the right amount of give and take.

Even a stretch of quiet road can be your place to develop speed.

Even a stretch of quiet road can be your place to develop speed.

Many cool summer and fall nights were spent circling that track. At peak fitness I did a track workout of 12 X 400 meters at 63 seconds and below. I even threw in a 59 for good measure. Not the stuff of world class runners, mind you, but pretty good for me. That track was home base for all my running PRs between 1 mile to 25Km.

When they erected an 8-foot fence around the track to keep out vandals it was too much trouble to borrow a key or else hop the fence to train. My favorite place to develop speed was closed off, and I wonder how many other runners suffered as a result of that decision to put the track inside a jail. It was all caused by some BMXers who decided that the middle of the football field would be a good place to build a jump mound.

Now the football field is an all-weather surface with so many lines on it for soccer, football and lacrosse you can hardly see the blue astroturf it holds. Under the stadium lights that field looks like a circus.

But I miss my old training ground. The place where my fast-paced footfalls made no echo, and where my cool sweat fell onto the surface as I stood for three seconds panting after a hard interval. Then I’d jog a lap or a half lap for recovery, and do it all again.

We need places like that to help us get faster. We create a physical dialogue with our favorite running track. I’ve also trained in parks and on schoolgrounds where your feet ultimately map out a course. There’s almost a conversation you hold with the grass as you do repeats. There’s a certain pride in seeing that map of our passage.

There was a time as well when you could train on golf courses without being tossed off. That era is pretty much through. Too much litigiousness.

Fortunately there are some new tracks near my home that do not have giant fences around them. While I’m not as fast as I once was, it still feels awesome to lace up and run intervals as hard and smooth as you can.

Some things about your favorite places to train may never change. While others will.

Some things about your favorite places to train may never change. While others will.

Which made it interesting as well to be back on the campus of my Alma Mater, Luther College, where the track is now a smooth blue surface. When I trained there, it was a crushed brick surface that turned to mush in the rain. But the feeling of that place, training under the brow of the Student Union with the bluffs of the Upper Iowa River visible in the distance, will never really change.

Now that I race bicycle criteriums there are places where it is fun to ride circuits to get in shape for actual racing. I’m blessed to live on a street that abuts a park with three baseball fields and tennis courts. It used to be the high school athletic complex back in the 1930s. There’s even a patch of straightaway still visible in the grass from where the

Evidence of the old track is still visible in the spring.

Evidence of the old track is still visible in the spring.

cinders below the surface still tinge the soil. It still shows up even after the massive reworking of the fields late last summer.

So the oversized block around the park is .7 of a mile. Perfect for practicing bike racing because I can see all the traffic as I approach for speedy right turns. Granted I do not stop for the Stop signs. Usually I avoid high traffic periods when school lets out nearby or other peak periods. Kids stop and stare in their yards as I come whizzing past. Again. And again.

I know that I’m getting fit when the speed for 30:00 of racing tops 20mph on my own. Each summer I test myself on that criterium course.

Then it’s time to head over to the spot we call the Pelladrome. It’s an industrial park set of smooth roads backing up the Pella Windows distribution plant on Fabyan Parkway near Batavia. There were supposed to be multiple industrial buildings in the park but the economic crash of 2008 killed those plans along with acres of proposed industrial development right across the street. The roads are nice but the lots are empty.

So the bike racers show up every Wednesday night to race at the Pelladrome courtesy of ABD (Athletes By Design) the bike club run by Prairie Path Cycles and Mike Farrell, who once worked and raced for teams like 7/11.

You can get your ass kicked at any level at the Pelladrome. But that’s the point. You show up and race hard and if you still don’t feel tired, you can keep on riding along with folks at the CAT 1-3 level. No one cares that much. You either keep up or you don’t.

Because it’s all about the draft, and finding your place, and your sense of place. One week you might ride great and be in the sniff for the finishing sprint. The next week you might get caught out on a windy stretch and get blasted off the back. That’s bike racing. It never gets easier. You just make stupid mistakes.

Yet the net result is that you do get faster. Eventually. If you keep at it.

Then the association with that place becomes part of your psychology. Your preparation. Your salvation when you’re making a comeback, or testing out your new legs as a newbie or a pro.

It’s all about finding your rhythm and making it work for you. And a sense of place.

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Teams or not, it’s every man for himself in the Tour de France

By Christopher Cudworth

Peter Sagan defying the seriousness of the Tour de France.

Peter Sagan defying the seriousness of the Tour de France.

While being interviewed about his experience thus far in the Tour de France, rider Chris Horner of the Omega Pharma Quickstep team admitted that their pre-race meeting before a stage with 5 difficult climbs turned into a confessional of sorts. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he told his team.

For all the planning that goes into the team dynamics and individual performance in the Tour de France, there appears to be a clear dynamic that riders and their managers cannot control. That is, anything can happen, and often does.

Rider Matthew Busche is in his first Tour de France and has hit the deck in crashes no less than 5 times. Yet he’s resolute, and when the opportunity came around, he jumped into a breakaway that lasted dozens of miles before being caught by the peloton.

Such attempts seem fruitless until you see a rider like Tony Martin take it out like a solo train engine and ride to the finished untouched. Sure, he’s an anomaly. A world champion time trialist. But all those riders in the Tour are amazing. On a given day, and given some good legs, people can ride free and grab a stage.

It all depends on luck. And the weather. And the strange algebra of team politics and General Category desires.

It's every man for himself except when the Podium Girls dole out those little kisses to the category victors.

It’s every man for himself except when the Podium Girls dole out those little kisses to the category victors.

It’s just stunning how, in the world’s biggest cycling event, it turns out to be every man for himself. Even Chris Froome was not safe from crashing out. And he won last year. Nor Alberto Contador, whose bike dissolved beneath him somehow. Even world class riders have the same problems as some of us hackers. Remember Andy Schleck with his slipped chain a few years back? It cost him 39 seconds or so. Enough to lose the Tour by that exact amount to Contador.

Again and again this year it has become evident that the best-laid plans of every team can be dashed in a second. Hearing Busche interviewed one realizes that most of these guys, while having a plan set out by the team, are pretty much freelancing out there on the road. That’s because you can’t predict what’s going to happen with 180 guys flying down narrow, wet roads at 30 miles per hour.

Seeing these guys wrecked and exhausted, almost too tired to speak to the media after each stage, is both humbling and inspiring. When TJ VanGarderen was asked what his plans were going into the Rest Day, he said, “I just want to get to the Rest Day.”

They’re human. And yet they’re not.

But when Peter Sagan rides a wheelie over the finish line on an 11% grade at the end of a long, hard stage it makes you realize that for all the manic danger, these are still guys riding their bikes for love and money and pride.

It’s every man for himself. And then some.

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Metaphysical observations over a beer in July

By Christopher Cudworth

BeerWhile waiting for a birthday party to begin at an eatery in downtown Naperville, Illinois, I ordered a beer at the outdoor bar. My vantage point was pleasant, sitting at the corner of a marble-topped bar with just enough view of the other patrons to make things interesting if the wait got long.

I had the laptop propped on the bar to once-again proof the manuscript for my book The Right Kind of Pride. Today the first printed proof version is supposed to arrive in the mail. There are always a few glitches that pop up during file conversion and those are the responsibility of the author and publisher to find. That’s the obligation. To readers these glitches are a distraction. They undermine the quality of the manuscript as a whole.

But there is no such thing as perfection in the human realm.

So much of life is like that. We present our best faces to the world, but our flaws still pop through. So we edit, and we revise. We gain weight. We lose weight. We run and ride and swim and attempt to fix our form and write our own active story of better performance and hopefully, a better person is the result.

So much philosophy mixed with the physical. The things we do like running and riding almost exist in the metaphysical. But let’s define that:

Metaphysical: 

a: concerned with abstract thought or subjects, as existence, causality, or truth. 

b: concerned with first principles and ultimate grounds, as being, time or substance. 

Yes, that’s it precisely, isn’t it? Running and riding and swimming truly are metaphysical acts. We draw greater significance from them. They are not mere acts, but meta-acts.

We live in a near Meta culture. The movies we watch now flirt with the idea that everything is an abstraction. Even an abstraction upon an abstraction. The song Reflektor by Arcade Fire captures that notion.

This-Is-the-End-Michael-CeraThe recent Meta-flick This Is the End starring Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill and James Franco (to name a few) addresses the idea that modern movie actors are a Meta commentary on the act of acting itself. When the characters in the movie lampoon their own acting careers, the audience is in on the joke. We laugh at Michael Cera being harpooned by a streetlamp because his career is obviously at the end of that long arc where he played a certain kind of character over and over again. His innocence is skewered and we watch him gored by the power of the devil himself. That’s a very Meta moment.

We’re all Meta characters in some sense. The person we are now may not be the person we will be in an hour, a week or a year. Soon enough we’re gone entirely. Our memories remain.

Which is why living in the moment is both so important and so difficult. We crank those pedals and measure our cadence and get home to look at the cyclometer or Strava and sum it all up with empiric data. And yet still we ask: What the hell did I just do? What does it matter? Did I just run 8 miles? Swim a mile? Other than the fact you are tired, you can hardly tell sometimes.

BarThese are things to contemplate while drinking a beer or two or three at an outdoor eatery on a Monday afternoon in the middle of eternity.

It’s been an interesting year working for myself and working on the book and trying to sum up a shitload of things that have happened. It’s hard to even call any of them Good or Bad. They just are. I’m just here. So is everyone. Anyone. All of us. Meta People.

We are concerned with First Principles and Ultimate Grounds. What is the metaphysical’s role in defining who we are? Our first principles may be that we run or ride or swim. That’s the only way to cut through the crap. Pull back the veil. Feel and be.

These activities actually exist outside the bubble of abstract pursuits for money or success or whatever measurements society uses to measure its respective cultural values. Some chase religion or God and come home screaming that they’ve won. Salvation. Hope. The Lottery.

Meanwhile other people are so convinced they know the mind of God they are literally heaving bombs at each other from every angle. Others are packing weapons in defiance of the Christian tradition of turning the other cheek. They conceal their ugliest, fearful motives instead, just in case they get into a situation where someone else might shoot at them.

It’s like denying the calculated and calibrated intent of the Rhythm Method while simultaneously denying women the right to use real birth control. One tries to justify fucking for pleasure within the confines of religion while the other actually makes it possible. The intent is the same. It’s only the method that’s different. Metaphysical sex. First principles. Ultimate grounds. Hypocritical.

These are all pre-emptive attempts at breaking down the cultural abstract. People tricking themselves into feverish philosophies, then hiding Cadillac Gutbehind Meta bullets and Meta bombs.

They drive Meta vehicles too, proudly ramping their Escalades down the boulevard as if that makes them somehow better for owning them. They view themselves as existing uphill from everyone else without recognizing that going downhill is not that impressive a feat. Everyone can do that. It doesn’t matter if you do it in style or not. In the end, you can’t take it with you.

The potential abstractions grow so thick they become like giant gnats against which the hand swishing in front of our faces feels like the windshield wiper of our soul. The words mix. You Meta boy. You Meta girl. You Meta person that could help you in business. You Meta person that could change your life. You Meta friend for a long ride or a long run.

IMG_0215And then you look down and see your own reflection in the lens of your sunglasses, and you sip your beer and look around one more time to see if the people you are supposed to meet for the birthday party have arrived as yet. And you wave, and they wave back. You put on your sunglasses and carry your beer to the table you’ll occupy. And the Meta moment shifts. The abstractions have to wait for a moment, or an hour, or until the next time you sit with a beer at a bar with light clouds floating over head.

And you think, “How far should I go tomorrow? The weather’s supposed to be good.”

Earlier in the day you rode through two different rainstorms. You wondered if they meant a damn thing. Was there something metaphysical you were supposed to learn from coming through the rain. It hurt when it hit. The white lines were slippery and the tarsnakes obscured. But you rode and you rode. And then the sun came out again. It really did. Through sunglasses the world looked amber and sweet.

Downright metaphysical.

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