Running and riding into lack of sleep

By Christopher Cudworth

Tom and FredMy training companion and I determined a few years back, when we were dumb enough to think such things, that the only thing standing in the way of increased training and better performance was the time we spent sleeping.

See, our party schedules were both well-planned and spontaneous. Running with a pack of equally motivated young women, we drank and stayed up late whenever we could.

Now, consider that our training plan called for mileage between 60-80 miles per week. That meant we were averaging between 8-11 miles a day. We usually ran those miles hard too. We called our new training plan 6+6. Do all your training at six minute pace and cut the nightly sleep commitment down to six hours a night. That should give us plenty of time to get fit, right?

You know how it ended. We both got sick in under two weeks. The common cold sits in waiting for people who do stupid things. Breaking down your body’s germ resistance by engaging in hard training and lack of sleep is the absolute best way to get sick. Guaranteed.

Coming out of our collective colds, we were doing a slow six-miler together and spitting green phlegm all over the ground. Hacking, coughing, and between it all laughing that our “plan” had failed so miserably.

“What were we thinking?” my friend asked. “You gotta have sleep to train.”

“We weren’t thinking,” I agreed. “We were doing. There’s a difference.”

Sleep management

photo (13)Sometimes living with a lack of sleep is a necessary demand. At times when your schedule has you working late and rising early, there is no choice but to forge ahead. Here are few tips on how to get through a sleep-deprived day:

1. Drink water. The best thing to do is to get plenty of hydration. You don’t want to be both tired and dehydrated. That’s an additional stress on the body.

2. Take a pill. Taking a light pain reliever like a single ibuprofen seems to help get you through segments of the day. If you’re achey and tired a pain reliever can help you get through the humps of fatigue or crankiness. That takes away part of the perception and real physical effects of fatigue.

3. Take some zinc. To ward off potential cold germs, get some zinc pills such as Cold-Eaze. They help prevent cold germs from jumping into your weakened sinuses.

4. Eat light, healthy and often. Instead of gorging yourself at lunch because you’re tired and hungry, spread your eating across the face of the day. Small meals are easier to digest and don’t require so much energy. Also go light on the sugars and caffeine. They just lead to energy crashes. Go smooth and predictable. Stay in touch with your body.

5. Conserve energy at the right times. Keep conversations and social interaction to a minimum when you’re sleep-deprived. If you have a meeting to attend, plan your comments wisely and work on remaining focused where it counts.

6. If you can, sneak in a nap. Get to your car and find a quiet spot to park where you can recline the seat and catch some zzzzzs. Set your phone alarm or watch to wake you up in case you fall into a deep sleep. If you commute by train, you know what to do. Get comfortable and close your eyes. It helps.

7. Alter your schedule. If you have the flexibility to do so, alter your schedule for the day. Being sleep-deprived puts you at risk for poor judgment and mistakes anyway.

8. Be positive in your head. Overcoming a state of sleep deprivation requires focus, concentration and positivity. Be careful how much you talk about how little sleep you got. Thoughts like that tend to be self-affirming. Instead focus on a checklist of things you set out to do and literally mark them off the list as you go.

What to do when you get home…

photo (2)The temptation is the crash and take a drool nap. And you can do that if you must. But be smart too. The goal once you get home after a day of sleep deprivation is to set yourself up for a night of much better, longer sleep. You can’t really make up for sleep lost, but you can fortify yourself for the coming day or week.

So get things done that need doing, and relax. But be careful not to snork off watching TV. Then you’ll wake up and go to bed and perhaps find yourself unable to get back to sleep. You’ve used up that precious melatonin that helps you get to sleep and you’re into the danger zone of not being able to doze off.

So it’s much better to turn in at 8 or 9 o’clock and get to real bed rather than messing with the risk of falling asleep and having to get up and start it all over again. That path can lead to insomnia in both the short and long term.

Developing good sleep habits 

1. Make it a habit. Learning what you need to do to get good sleep is critical in both the short and long term. Eliminating distractions like televisions, iPads or iPhones is important to developing a consistent, predictable foundation for getting to sleep and staying asleep.

2. Turn it all off! Don’t let vibration alerts from your phone wake you up intermittently. Turn the TV off. Background noise from a TV is not consistent and can even be subliminally disturbing.

3. Communicate with your companion. Some nights you need to be left untouched and undisturbed. Tell your companion if you need to rest without being touched or snuggled. Sometimes “too tired” means a need for quiet with no distractions.

These tips are all designed to help you cope with times when you’ve missed out on sleep. If you’re in a situation where sleep deprivation is chronic and consistent, you’ll need to be even more diligent about the steps above because stress builds up in your system when you don’t get enough sleep. That’s when bad colds creep in and interrupt everything from hour work schedule to your workout schedule. And that’s not where you want to be.

Sleep aids

Eyes Have ItSleep aids are effective tools for overcoming broken sleep habits and for dealing with periods of high stress or restlessness that impact our health and undercut our ability to cope. Taking a sleeping pill is no small matter though. There’s an “entrance” and and “exit” period on both ends of the evening, and you need to plan for that by being near and ready to go to bed when sleepiness hits, and to give yourself time to emerge from the effects of the pill in the morning.

Anxiety and sleep

I clearly recall the period when for reasons of stress as caregiver to a wife with cancer, I was prescribed Lorazepam to combat anxiety and help with sleep. It is a subtle yet powerful little drug. It helps with anxiety, a common sleep disturbance.

The little pills helped, and the side effects were not profound.

Yet when I went riding on Saturday morning it was clear there was something missing or messed up in my blood chemistry. I was sluggish and tired feeling, unable and unwilling to respond to riding challenges.

After a while I gave up trying to be the cyclist I was before that period of stress and broken sleep. While I was on that drug it was important to be smart in my riding, rather than tough. I elected to ride for different reasons, and eliminated competition from my schedule. The more important goals were getting good sleep, taking care of my obligations in real life and using running and riding as personal rewards and stress relievers.

Riding dreams

Admittedly acting like a kid again.

Still, you have to learn some lessons again and again.

Just last weekend we were out late at a party and I tried to get enough sleep but I woke up feeling “sleep sore” inside and out. It’s weird feeling knowing you’re basically healthy but lacking enough sleep. There’s a fatigue inside your chest that makes breathing harder. You can quickly get a sore throat, a warning sign that a cold is pending. You might crave more water and more sweets. In other words, your body is out of balance and riding or running in that condition is not going to see you at your best.

Sure enough, about 8 miles into a morning ride at 20mph into a west wind my legs gave out. I didn’t blow up, but I just didn’t have it. My riding companion rolled off the front and the gap between us widened with every 10th of a mile. Finally she looked back and held up. When I caught her I apologized but she understood. We’ve all been there at one time or another.

The rest of the ride went fine. So it’s hard to tell sometimes how much poor performance from lack of sleep is physical and how much is mental. In either case, it does not generally add up to good results.

Sure, for a big race we can “get up” for the event and sleep doesn’t matter. I’ve run plenty of PRs on far less rest than I would have liked. But that’s the price of getting excited for a race. Yet your recovery program should include plenty of sleep and rest to help your body restore is physical and mental potential.

Getting proper sleep is absolutely vital to short and long term performance in whatever you do. For those of us who run, ride and swim it is both an investment and an insurance policy. The investment part stores up fitness for performance. The insurance part protects against getting sick.

And you can take that program to the bank. Or to bed. Whichever works for you.

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On the questions raised by a pair of wheels

By Christopher Cudworth

Filling stationRecently I dined at the Filling Station, a restaurant that features American memorabilia in its decorations. Inside the store were some of those classic pumps that once showed the gasoline you were pumping into your vehicle.

Outside the place hung a giant Sinclair sign. And it struck me how much our lives have changed since the innocence of those happy dinosaurs and 1960s mentality toward gas-guzzling cars and trucks.

Having recently been invited to attend a class at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago in which the subject was global warming, the subject has been on my mind ever since.

I drive a Subaru that is ostensibly as emissions neutral as it can be. Auto emissions have been cut quite a bit since the 1960s and 70s when smog was gacking up the air in almost every major city in America. Yet cars aren’t our only atmospheric problem. We burn all kinds of fossil fuels from oil to coal and it’s all been going on hot and heavy for the last 100 years or so since industrialization became the foundation for the world’s economies.

It wasn’t so long ago that activities such as farming and trapping drove America’s economy. That’s just 250 years ago, which isn’t even a blink in time when you come to think about it. There are toilet holes in castles much older than the American Republic.

Fossil Fuels SinclairAnd yet we’re the ones who drove all this forward. We invented and popularized the automobile. At the same time we cranked up airplanes, then jet planes and finally rocket ships to the moon. America is one big smoking engine of a place.

The technology we’ve exported to the world is both wonderful and terrifying. We’re the tarsnake of the world, a great blessing and a horrible curse all at once.

We can’t even make up our mind if all this technology and the science that drives it is even real. There are millions of Americans who apparently believe that human beings once c0-existed with dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptors. The movie Jurassic Park didn’t help things much. It brought that strange psuedo-Christian fantasy to life on the big screen. And if it happens in the movies, why can’t it be real? Wasn’t the move The Ten Commandments how things actually happened?

I so recall the innocence of the Sinclair dinosaur signs at gas stations across the East Coast where I grew up. I basically believed that melted dinosaurs turned into gasoline. Sure, it was a bit naive. But it was kind of cool thinking about all those brontosaurs making my dad’s 1965 Buick Wildcat go so fast.

Surface beliefs like that are innocent only so far as they don’t actually inform public policy. Yet that level of understanding seems to be acceptable to millions upon millions of Americans who take a literal view of the bible quite seriously. It’s so naive as to be dangerous, yet it has proven sufficient to fund a Creation Museum in Kentucky that has turned all sorts of crazy claims about biblical literalism into a moneymaking enterprise that is basically based on deceit of the tallest order. The entire premise of the museum is that science as we know it is wrong. Only the Bible can tell us truth. The motto of the Creation Museum is “Prepare to Believe.” What’s a motto? Nothing, what’s a motto with you? (The Marx Brothers).

So it kind of makes you wonder if it is going to be possible to convince so many literal-bible-believing Americans that global warming is really a problem if they can’t even grasp even the basic science behind the origins of living things and how the world actually came to work like it does. Because when you think that dinosaurs died off completely in the Great Flood, then how could you possibly think that the stored energy in dead carboniferous materials could contribute collect in the bedrock of the earth’s crust. Oh, right. That Flood thing again. The Flood did everything we see geologically, you see. It’s that simple. Right.

And if there’s no connection to be learned from the carbon fuels we’ve dug up and burned with the condition of our atmosphere and the potential demise of the human race, then there’s no logic to taking any measures to curb carbon pollution.  If people refuse to understand the geological processes or time necessary to produce fossil fuels in the first place, they definitely cannot imagine what those forces of nature can do the world in the future.

That whole scenario is simply unimaginable for two types of people: Those who don’t get science and those who choose not to accommodate it for reasons of economic convenience. Working together, that cartel forms a wicked combo. Religious people with a worldview they seek to defend and rich people with the means to debunk legitimate science are a damned dangerous alliance.

And that’s where we find ourselves in this modern age.

So you can imagine there is not too much sympathy either for people trying to make a simple difference by riding their bikes to work, or running to raise money for preservation and conservation. People are active every day doing some small part in trying to reduce the impact the human race has on the world around us. But thanks to the selfishness and lack of concern on the part of so many, we keep running into trouble.

In fact too many people believe the world is not even worth saving because only God could destroy. Or they believe that the bible says the world  can’t be saved at all.

So it’s hard to reconcile the seemingly oppositional worldviews of people on opposite ends of the science and truth spectrum, isn’t it? No wonder America is so divided.

photo (1)Yet there are people trying to make a difference in our collective understanding of the world as it is. And that’s why I attended the class on global warming at the Lutheran School of Theology.

Because instead of viewing the issues of religion and science as irreconcilable opposites, there is a movement to make sense of the Bible in context of science and what our values have to do with the way the world works, and doesn’t.

But it’s hard work. It’s as if we’re trying to take people from the age of wagon wheels to the age of (somewhat ironically) carbon bike wheels in one fell swoop. There is a lot of stubborn resistance by the people who view themselves as stalwart patriots and pioneers of the REAL America, to steal a phrase from Tea Party and the likes of Sarah Palin. Their stubborn anachronism is now tied to a brand of patriotism that is anti-intellectual, anti-science and anti-progress. So it seems that dinosaurs really do still exist among us.

Consider that one of the interesting concepts in the class I attended at the Lutheran School of Theology was a term scientists have invented to describe our position in history. They call this the Anthropocene Era. That is, this is the age in which we’re at risk from extinction through the influence of humankind. And much of it relates to global warming.

Yet people who refuse to consider the possibility that human beings could have that much influence on our climate simply throw their hands in the front of their faces when they hear such things. To them in part we owe 20 years of delayed action on global warming. That delay could wind up costing us dearly in the next 50-100 years.

Not everyone thinks like that, of course. There are plenty of people who easily reconcile their religious beliefs to science. That means they can imagine also the moral and practical benefits of something so simple as riding a bike to work in place of driving a car. Throughout the world there are cities encouraging more people to ride bikes. There are even cities like Chicago carving bike lines out of skyscraper canyons so that cycling is safer for those willing to reduce carbon emissions through personal effort.

If you take 10 million cars off the streets each day, or perhaps 100,000,000, there is going to be a difference long term in the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air. Then moderate the amount of coal we burn in power plants, replace it with wind energy or solar, and suddenly the carbon footprint of daily life is reduced.

But not if people are so stubborn in their beliefs that they cannot conceive of a world that actually operates in predictable, measurable natural laws and the human interaction with those laws that leads us to pollute and disturb even the global climate.

It’s a very strange, somewhat sad intersection in the history of our world. We live in the most technologically profound and scientifically informed age in the history of the human race. Yet there are those who simply want to deny the potential enlightenment and progress these things offer because it does not coincide with their radically primitive view of the world.

I stare at those wagon wheels in the photo above and think: Were such wheels really the beginning or the end of mankind?

 

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Why the Boston Marathon is a vital symbol for social order

By Christopher Cudworth

photoWhile doing some digging in the back yard to move some sidewalk pavers I tipped up a 2’ X 2’ stone and found a colony of orange ants scurrying around. Technically they were probably a species of red ant. I’m more of a birder than an insect specialist. Yet I do find ants fascinating. 

There are 12,000+ species of ants the world. In terms of evolution, that would rank them as considerably more successful than human beings. Sure, on the surface it appears we dominate the earth. Yet our superior brain power sometimes leads to arrogance. We mess up our own colony and fail to account for our grandiose mistakes. Perhaps the ants are smarter than we are in some way? 

Social order

HoneycombYet we attempt to calculate our place in the world. We sometimes look to creatures such as ants or bees to help explain our own social structures. We talk about the sophistication of ant cultures as if, by their orderly instincts they somehow elevate our own by comparison. The ant farms we kept as kids were a transparent way to show that working together can turn something like dirt into a wonderful home. 

We know that ants live in highly organized societies. There are workers and soldiers and nursemaids and queens. All play a role in the life of the colony. As far as we can tell, ants live this way without question. But so do human beings in many cases. There might be a Dave Matthews or Bill Maher or two among the ants to put this all in perspective, cracking wise about the inane dedication of ant colonies to their roles as ant rulers and laborers. Our own society struggles with those roles. How much conformity is enough? What is more important to our survival, liberal or conservative instincts?

To their credit

Ants don’t seem to need political commentators to explain their lives. Their instincts rule the day. Yet this biological fact may yet include a capacity for play. In nature, the activity we call play often functions as a tool for learning and governing social interactions. Wolves engage in play from a very young age to determine dominance within the pack. It measures fitness and assigns relational roles to both males and females in the pack. Without play there might be need for actual conflict. It’s a phenomenon that exists throughout nature. It is particularly important to human culture.

The human race uses play to help define social order. Our Olympic games simulate battles to some degree. We count medals and show nationalistic pride. There is pageantry and symbolism in sports at the highest level. It helps us determine our perceived pecking orders and learn about the nature of human beings from other countries and cultures. It’s one way to work out our differences and celebrate our commonality. 

Big races

That’s also what makes an event such as the Boston Marathon so significant. Recall also that the New York Marathon was cancelled two years ago due to a highly calamitous natural event when Hurricane Sandy washed all the way up into Manhattan. Some propose that such events may become more commonplace as global warming takes effect around the globe. If sea levels rise as predicted, hundreds of coastal cities will have to respond. We’re looking a lot more like ants living in a colony every day. 

Random acts of terror

Boston Marathon bombing photo from the Boston Globe website (link provided)

Boston Marathon bombing photo from the Boston Globe website (link provided)

Yet events like the Boston marathon bombing or the 9/11 attacks are much more immediate and profound. The breach in the social order is as stunning as a hail stone to the head. We can label the acts of those bombers random or calculated and it makes no difference. We still have to respond.

 In those first moments we feel no more powerful than ants in a colony. We use our instincts and start to act. It’s been happening throughout human history. From the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem to the invasion of Poland by Hitler, the human race keeps having to deal with anthropogenic incursions on peace and social order. We’re our own worst enemy. 

The human response

Yet we should recall that the terrorists who attacked the 1972 Olympics did not prevent one Frank Shorter from triumphantly winning the marathon in defiance of such disturbance. He set off a running boom that continues to change the world in positive ways. We’re ants in a good way. 

The first thing ants will do when confronted by a calamity is to set about the work of repairing the structure and ecology of their world. And that, for all their supposed inferiority to human intellect, is the best example of their highly evolved will to survive. 

Then we go beyond that as well. We study our response and communicate the best aspects of human nature so that even when evil strikes, we prepare ourselves to deal with it. And we persevere. That’s how the world works.

Critical roles

They may not think about it as such, but the role that ants play in the natural world is beyond critical to millions of plants and animals. Even the soil in which we grow food for human beings is dependent on ants who recycle organic and inorganic material on a daily basis. So there’s a purpose in their existence. Too often we are forced by religious tradition to separate the brilliance of natural evolution from our spiritual understanding of the world. The cosmic truth of both science and religion combined is much greater if we allow ourselves to admit the basic science of who we are. We share a tradition of DNA with ants as well as every other living creature on earth. It drives us to find ways to survive, to change, and to adapt. That is our hope in this world. 

The importance of play

We also continue to play because it appeals to our notions of being truly alive. We run and ride and swim to feel the world beneath our feet, our wheels and our skin. We are creatures of history, after all. Our sporting nature tells us that.

marathoners

Like a pair of red ants?

As human beings we suppose ourselves enlightened by our travels on foot and by bike. Yet there comes a moment in life when we look down on our comings and goings to realize that we’re all very small in the scheme of things. When the gun goes off for the Boston Marathon there will most likely be aerial shots from helicopters tracking the race from above. The human competitors will string out like a long line of ants. We should pay attention to that moment. 

Noble histories

It’s a noble history we share with creatures small as ants. They share the planet with us. They also share the incredible capacity to overcome adversity whatever the cost. That’s why there are 12,000 species of them and one giant species of us.

Life is random, and sometimes painful. Events happen that feel like they’ve torn the top right off the civilization we’ve created. Last year’s Boston Marathon was an event of that order. The cruel hand of unnatural circumstance and disruption tore our playful stage apart. We feel compassion and draw inspiration from those most closely affected by what we call a tragedy. We draw together as a society and sew the social order back together. It is one of the tarsnakes of existence that events that tear us apart also draw us closer together. 

That’s what will be happening as thousands upon thousands of runners again embark on the journey to Boston from a small town outside the city. It is a well-traveled route. More than 100 years in fact. Legends and legacies abound along that trail. As ants we mark our trails so that others can follow. 

It will be difficult in some ways to tell if what we’re doing in this year’s Boston Marathon is technically a form of work or play. What we definitely know is that it is a race that must be run for the inner ant in all of us. May the race be triumphant and true to the cause of ants like us everywhere. 

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Running home to the garden

By Christopher Cudworth

Between sitting at a desk for hours at work and hitting the roads to run or ride, it seems like we go from sedentary to rushing around. But there is a world where you get the best of both worlds, and something wonderful in-between. It is called a garden.

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Daffodils ring in spring.

A garden is tons of work, but it’s generally pleasurable time spent. Even if you do nothing more than place low maintenance plants in the ground and give them a little water now and then, the results can be gratifying.

Of course there are always weeds to pull. Nature hates a void, and there are plenty of creatures and plants that like to fill it in.

But when you come home from a long run or ride and the garden sits patiently ignored all of Saturday morning, it is rather like having a friend to talk to. The plants need watering and holes need to be filled or overeager ground cover needs to be yanked back. The garden, you might say, is an active place. Your work there is a conversation of sorts with the earth. It can be quite a draw.

One British gardener by the name of Guy Hands recently noted, “For men over 45 in England, gardening is the second-most popular pastime after television. Even sex came after gardening, which the French would say sums up the British.”

Well I’m Scottish, which is only like being British in the accent category. We Scots are known gardeners and landscapers. Is that not so? Plus I don’t like television that much and definitely still rank sex above gardening. There are plenty of hours in the day for all that if you plan carefully enough. Or act impulsively. Take your pick.

Crocus close up at night but catch light at dawn.

Crocus close up at night but catch light at dawn.

So I can heartily recommend that gardening is a great complimentary activity for those who run and ride.

Here are a few great reasons why:

1.) You can see your progress. Gardening is not exactly the province of the goal-oriented, but there is much satisfaction to yanking a quadrant of weeds to expose rich earth. So there’s that.

2.) Gardening is physical labor, but you do it all in a confined space. Mostly you use your core for shoveling and raking, your shoulders and arms for planting and weeding, and your back for lifting and moving. None of these competes with your ride-tired legs or sore calves. In fact, gardening is often therapeutically active recovery from those activities.

3.) You can sit and admire your work with the beverage of your choice. Come home sweaty from a run or ride and either take a quick shower or towel off and use your gardening as a cool down. Then, when you’ve completed the work, you can grab a cool drink and sit amongst the plants you’ve tended. It’s peaceful and contemplative. Other than when you jump up and pluck a weed you’ve missed.

Birds like this blue-gray gnatcatcher eats insects attracted by a garden.

Birds like this blue-gray gnatcatcher eats insects attracted by a garden.

4.) Gardening is a journey, not a race. In fact gardening helps you slow time down a little. Because rather than rushing to complete each phase of the season, you want your lilies and irises to last a while. You hope for a few cool days just as you do for running and riding. Take photos of your garden and every year you’ll have a record of your slower journey through time. The plants won’t run away.

5.) A garden loves company, and provides it. When you finish your run or ride it’s great to sit and chat with friends in the garden. But if you’re alone, just keep an eye open and you’ll find all sorts of other visitors. Beautiful insects including butterflies and moths. Birds love watered gardens too.

6.) Sit in the sun and share space with your plants. There’s no better way to gather a little Vitamin D than among a towering wall of potted plants. You can sweat right along with them, and spray yourself with a little water from the hose if you get too hot. Give yourself some time to just “be” and the plants will not complain. They’re not like pets, per se, in needing stroking or attention. Just don’t let anyone hear you talking to them. They often won’t understand the relationship.

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A lily plucked from the garden brings beauty indoors.

7.) Going to the garden center is fun. The smell of flowers in a greenhouse is one of the world’s special treats. So you put on your grubby thin sweats and wander in sandals amongst the geraniums and nasturtiums, choosing friends to bring home for your garden.

8.) You can get closer to nature in a garden. With so much movement in your daily life, accentuated by your running and riding, it is possible to feel disconnected from the world. In a garden you can kneel down or get close to plants or even your vegetables and just consider how amazing the world really is in all its complexity.

It really is nice to have a close-at-hand hobby like gardening to absorb your mind after intense workouts and a busy life. You don’t have to have a green thumb to make it all happen. Keep it simple with hardy plants like pansies and daisies and grasses if you like. Your garden center employees can help you choose plants to line the front of your house or to take over a section of your yard.

It’s an investment that you’ll enjoy no matter how tired you are from running or riding. And that’s a rare commodity indeed.

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Anger Management

By Christopher Cudworth

There are two main types of anger in this world. There is situational anger, in which we grow frustrated or upset over immediate circumstances. And there is the deeper anger of personal angst.

Both types of anger can be difficult to manage. They can cause us to act irrationally, to lash out, attack or say harmful things to others, or ourselves.

Anger Management

photo (1)Managing anger is therefore critical to our overall well-being. If you can’t manage your anger, it becomes difficult to function in society. Anger creates deep hurts that do not go away easily.

In fact the most difficult anger to manage is the feeling of anger toward ourselves. That type of anger has roots that are not always easy to identify. We can harbor deep feelings of resentment toward our parents, our siblings, our lost loves or our present ones. Controlled by the anger in our lives, it becomes difficult to make good decisions. We are constantly perambulating our necessary choices with bad choices or some form of emotional pain from the past.

Redirected aggression

It’s so easy for people to give advice such as, “You’ve got to let it go!” Yet our anger unfortunately makes us feel whole in some way. Some of us even feel lost without it.

Because as long as we have that anger, we feel motivated to act. Strong inside. But we quite often make the mistake of associating such feelings for healthy emotions, which are easily crowded out by habitual feelings of anger.

MileyWe also engage in all kinds of redirected aggression to compensate for emotional imbalance. Some of us overeat, or have too much sex. We pick fights or rage against this political party or another. We choose our idols carelessly, depending on other angry people to define our worldview for us.

It’s a sad fact that entire media organizations are based on feeding this anger/energy cycle. It makes them money. Gets you to vote for people who manipulate you. On and on it goes.

Evolution of anger

To some degree, these responses are evolutionary. The stress we feel in life has got to go somewhere. If you approach a bird that does not want to leave its territory, it will engage in actions that seem like normal behavior, wiping its bill on a branch, turning from side to side. Anything to release the stress of fight or flight response. We see such anger in the wolf in a zoo cage. Without being able to run free, it paces back and forth all day. We see aggression in our pets, and don’t know how to handle that either. We’re like the birds and the wolves, and every other living creature on earth. Yet humans are unique in their anger. We turn anger into awful things.

The Third Reich

adolf_hitlerOne of the most angry people in human history was Adolf Hitler. His deep emotional pain became focused on a huge compensatory scheme to change the world to resolve the sleights and the incontinence of his soul. He became a genocidal murderer by creating a wave of raw anger as predicted in Mein Kampf.  You can feel the anger in quotes such as these:

“If you win, you need not have to explain…If you lose, you should not be there to explain!”

“Do not compare yourself to others. If you do so, you are insulting yourself.”

“Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live.”

Lots of anger there. And it turned out the only way to stop Hitler was to engage in World War II. Millions of people died as a result of Hitler’s rage, and Stalin’s equally anger determination. It was an angry moment in history, for sure. And what a lesson for all of us.

Sources of anger

Of course most of us don’t have anger of that scope or intensity. But learning the source of our own anger and setting out to resolve it can be a major factor in finding a life that is loving and fulfilling.

gapersblock-reversebreakawayAnd that’s where your fitness program comes in. Running, riding and swimming are endurance sports that give you opportunities to wick off emotional pain and the anger that comes from within.

Think about it: What more constructive way is there to combat anger than to throw yourself into the hard effort of a ride or a run? Competition is a large part of those sports, and can be an extremely healthy venue to push angry feelings through a funnel of self-analysis where they get squeezed a bit.

Sometimes you find the true source of anger by the time you’re done with your run or ride. If you do not discover the baseline right away, you keep working at it over a series of runs or rides. It’s your way of throwing away irrational feelings as you tire yourself out enough to calm down. Then you tend to feel less pressured about the momentary challenges and can become more focused on the bigger picture. That’s where you find solutions to things that make you angry.

Blood feuds

HatsThere are chemical and biological factors that go to work when you run, ride or swim. The most famous are endorphins, those “positive” feelings wrought when you work hard enough to release what amounts to a controlled form of adrenaline. It’s about getting rid of “bad blood” and replacing it with “good blood.” Without that tool for chemical management, it’s as if anger makes us bleed inside all the time.

Getting good feelings going can be critical to managing emotions that are not so good. Having an activity––even daily walking–– in which you can battle yourself to a draw is critical to having that inner conversation about angry feelings. It’s a little like picking which hat you choose to wear. It’s about putting what you want up top of your head.

Sources of anger

So let’s get to it. Where does anger come from?

As a kid my brothers all called me The Mink. That meant I was quick to anger and fight back. Minks are a creature full of spit and vigor, and that was me. If you’ve got a stomach for it, witness this video of a mink fighting a muskrat. This is nature in its gritty reality, so be advised. The point is that we humans are supposed to know better than this.

In my case anger drew on resistance to a domineering father who was critical and forceful. Probably that was the product of his own loss early in life. His mother died when he was just 7 years old. That might make you kind of angry toward life. Then he was shunted off to live with some emotionally stifled aunts and an uncle who would not let him participate in sports. That would have driven me crazy, I know.

Then along came marriage after serving in the Navy in the Pacific, and four headstrong boys arrived. The formula for anger was now set and an early barrage against my brothers in our kitchen marked me deeply. Then my brothers and I passed our collective anger back and forth like a bottle of grain alcohol on a Mississippi barge. Our feuds were abusive and at times physical. Sure, that’s how so many brothers resolve their differences. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a healthy thing.

Echoes of anger

MinkI woke up at age 27 pounding the pillow one morning, so full of rage unidentified that I determined to find the source if it took me all my life.

Between the ages of 12 and 27 there were many years fueled by a combination of competitive furor and low self esteem. You can imagine that’s a wicked combination at times. You desire so much to be accepted and seek approval, yet your inner being always feels failure if you do not measure up to standards in athletics. At that point everything in life reads like criticism, and the cycle repeats itself, over and again. If you’re lucky, a coach or other mentor steps in to help you resolve such cycles. Yet many of us find the call to resolve these issues on our own.

Emergence

Fortunately in my case, there were enough moments of normalcy and success that a stronger, more self-assured person began to emerge. But here’s my proviso: without running to fuel emotional health, I’m not sure what I might have done. There were a few wicked drinking incidents in late high school and college that could easily have killed me. It always starts out innocent enough, pounding drinks in a fit of fun or submersion. Then you black out or some other snarky thing happens and wake up wondering what the hell that was all about. There are always, always deep emotional issues going on when it comes to why we drink, do drugs or engage in other risky behavior.

College Rage

In fact trying to get along in college when you’re grinding through emotional hurt can be a vexing, taxing test. For me, cranking through 80-100 miles weeks of distance training quelled the competitive urges but did not necessarily cure the anger behind it all. That takes something more, and we’ll get to that.

Yet one wonders how much of today’s drinking culture at the teen and college level is driven by a form of cultural anger. With a culture so imbalanced by major economic forces and college loans waiting to pour down the gullets of today’s kids, there is good cause to be pissed off about the raw deal society seems to be dealing this generation.

And parents too. Billions of dollars are dumped into defense programs that are 17X larger than all the militaries of the world’s armies combined. Our military sucks up our money in a million ways, yet we can’t afford to invest in education for our children. And the same people who won’t touch defense spending want to stop allowing women to have access to birth control. Those are angry facts.

Work in progress

See, it’s a frustrating world sometimes, and anger management is not a one-time shot at resolving our most painful inner feelings. It’s more like doing a bike tuneup. No matter how many times you tune your bike, the jarring facts of life are going to loosen a few screws. It’s a guarantee.

And speaking of screws loose, I recall the moment when the President of a company where I formerly worked cornered me in a board room after a meeting and felt the need somehow to challenge me with this statement: “I can beat you in any sport that involves a racket or a ball.”

Now, I had a little positive history with basketball, baseball and all sorts of other sports. I no longer felt the need to prove myself in those categories. My competitive running career had been successful on many fronts. So I’d done all that and moved on. But this was another type of challenge. It was about defending my honor. And that gets people into all sorts of trouble.

8th grade BBPrior to his challenge we’d been playing basketball at his “request” against our clients the previous few weeks. Somehow he must have felt threatened by my ability, but the man had a few issues of his own to resolve. He was making tons of money but had never finished his degree at a junior college. He went by the name of Mr. Big. It was pathetic really. His entire operandi was to challenge people at a visceral level.

Anger Surge

So the challenge he issued that day set in deeply with me. I could not help it. All sorts of age-old competitive anger surged from within me and it wasn’t until I got home that night and went out for a run that I could start to dig through that challenge and let it go. But just as that was happening, I encountered a couple teenaged kids walking toward me on the sidewalk. I moved onto the grass to pass them and joked, “I actually like the grass better.”

One of the kids blurted an obscenity at me and I stopped in my tracks. Suddenly the Inner Mink had re-emerged, eager for a fight. Yet at that same moment I glanced at the other kid, who wore thick glasses, making his eyes look huge. It was as if those eyes were about to bear witness to something really stupid I might have done. So I relented, realizing that it was actually anger over the comments of the boss that day that was driving my inner madness.

It’s not inconsequential that this incident occurred doing the middle of my run. In fact I almost view it as a God moment, as if that kid with the Big Eyes were a temporal angel of some sort, staring me down at a Moment of Truth.

“It’s You That is the Angry One, Not Him.” 

Putting Anger on the Run

How can we be so insecure as to be roped by anger to the point where it runs our lives? How can we put anger on the run instead?

Well, in order to overcome anger you must learn to forgive others, and then learn to forgive yourself. It’s that simple, and possibly the hardest thing you will ever do in your life.

Cud with GregGiving yourself time to sort through angry thoughts is crucial. That’s where “Road Time” can be critical. Getting out on the path a few miles on the run or riding until you calm down is the ideal way to give yourself time to think. If you happen to have a companion to converse about important matters such as anger, and who is not judgmental and genuinely cares about your well-being, then that is a great thing to have.

But be apprised: Much of the work in anger management will need to come from you. Certainly it can be constructive to visit a qualified counselor who deals with anger issues. They can give you safe emotional tools to frame your inner discussions while being a sounding board for what you’ve discovered. But they can’t “fix” you like a clock. That ticking sound you hear when you feel an anger time bomb about to go off has to be recognized by you––not some diagnostic emotional technician. They can’t be there for you all the time.

One of the tarsnakes of dealing with anger is that you can externalize the process of getting over anger, but the end goal is to internalize the change.

Forgiveness

IMG_8796Forgiveness really is key. People of faith will assure you that knowing forgiveness through grace is an enlightening feeling. It places our temporal relationships in context. However, if you’re not the believing type, or religion doesn’t cut it for you, then the next best thing is finding the right kind resolution on the road by running and riding.

Be advised that many people seem incapable of forgiveness. If you’re seeking it from a person unwilling or unable to extend that type of earthly grace, then be sure to forgive yourself for trying. It is not your failure that others cannot seem to bring themselves to forgive. Always remember that.

Brain Swim

Our brains can start to swim from so much emotional depth-diving.

But the goal is to not only stay afloat, but to move through the waters of life with joy and fulfillment.

It’s our brain swim. Which makes it literally true that even 1500 meters in the pool can be the right kind of tool to help you work through emotional issues. It’s all about changing your brain chemistry, your mindset and finding a way to give yourself the time and strength to resolve to change.

Walking it off

That’s what it’s all about in the end. Anger is real, but in the end it is a choice. You can choose to let it run (and ruin) your life, or you can, as they say, “Walk it off.”

Remember that anger is often the product of an emotional bruise or other life pain. Even a single incident can have lifelong consequences. So it is important that you take it seriously, as if you were injured and need time to heal.

We can’t necessarily hurry that process, but we can help it along. Anger management is more like a massage than a surgery. It takes a while for the benefits to take effect. But in the end, you loosen up. Run more freely. Ride like the wind. And discover a whole new life and possibilities.

We can take the example of Nelson Mandela, the South African leader imprisoned for his resistance to apartheid. Yet when he emerged from prison he did so not with anger, but with reconciliation as a goal. As a result, he changed the world for the better. You can change your world for the better too, if you do not let anger run your life. Be fast on the road and slow to anger. That’s the secret of life.

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Which is the more expensive sport; running, riding or swimming?

We invest in the sports we love.

We invest in the sports we love.

Perhaps you’ve never dared ask yourself which is the more expensive sport; running, riding or swimming? A few of the people I asked responded quickly.

“Oh, cycling. Easily.”

And it might appear on the surface that cycling is the most expensive sport. But you also might be surprised how comparatively expensive running has gotten in comparison to cycling.

Or perhaps it’s all part of the same rate of inflation with sports in general. With the cost of running shoes skyrocketing over the past half decade, and cycling gear not getting any cheaper year to year, the costs of participating in two of America’s most popular recreational activities is possibly getting prohibitive.

And that makes swimming look like a pretty good bargain. But we’ll get to that later.

What follows is an amateur’s analysis of the costs of participating at the approximate same level of caliber in running and riding.

RUNNER

A typical “serious” runner logs about 40 miles per week. That’s 5.7 miles per day on average, or nearly a 10k per day. If our serious runner averages 8 minutes per mile in training, that’s 48:00 per day or 336 minutes a week. About 5.6 hours of running.

At that rate of mileage, a runner is doing 160 miles per month.

MeRunningIn three months the serious runner will cover 420 miles. Recommended shoe wear (even with today’s high-tech models) is between 400-500 miles.

That means a serious runner will need to purchase four pairs of shoes per year for training. At an average of $130 per pair, that is $520 per year.

A serious runner will also own at least one other pair of shoes for training on alternate days or in specific conditions. These might be trail shoes ($130) minimalist shoes ($120) or lightweight training flats ($110). In general these “alternative shoes will cost in the range of $250 since no serious runner can resist an extra pair of training shoes, or two.

In addition there will be a pair of racing flats for competition. These can range from $90 to $140, but we’ll use a sum of $120 as an average price.

All told that means shoes alone will cost the serious runner around $900-$1000 per year.

Now, you’ll recall that serious runners log about 420 miles per quarter for about 1680 miles per year. And we’re only factoring in the costs of actually getting out on the road or trails to do the sport.

We haven’t added in the costs of nutrition bars, sports drinks and a host of other superficial and highly variable costs because they are too diverse between runners to get a decently firm handle on how much people spend. Some people would add coffee or cola to the mix, or Ibuprofen. You name it. But for the sake of argument let us suppose that serious runners spend $200 per year on these items that help them train better, and longer. The rest is part of a good diet and general lifestyle.

That brings out total costs to about $1000 per year, minimum. For a runner covering between 1680 and 2000 miles that’s just over $2 per mile to engage in the sport of running. Really not a bad investment.

CYCLING

To compare cycling to running, one can use a factor of 4X typical daily mileage. Most serious cyclists ride two long weekend rides between 3-4 hours, plus three other rides during the week, each averaging between 1-2 hours. That makes a total weekly riding time of 14-17 hours.

At an average rate of 18 mph, a serious cyclist traveling at that pace will cover about 140-160 miles per week, which is how we come up with the factor of 4X the mileage of the serious runner. That level of cycling adds up to about 4000 miles a year.

MonteWehrkampTo become involved in cycling, there is a one-time investment of about $2000 required for a road bike suited for high mileage. Bike costs can start as low as $1000 for a road machine and of course rise as high as $10,000 for a full-on pro-level racing bike. For the “serious” cyclist interested in a carbon fiber or high-grade steel or aluminum bike, the price starts at about $2000.

Amortized over a 10-year lifespan for  a bicycle, the cyclist who spends $2000 upfront will be using about $200 worth of the bike’s value each year. One must also amortize the cost of a professional bike fitting, which runs between $80 and $450. For fitting adjustments over time, we’ll amortize $200 over the life of a bike, about 10 years at $20 a year.

Tuneups cost $80 to $200 each year. Generally it is required to change the chain once a year, about $80 to $100. New water bottles (an absolute requirement for long mileage cyclists) can run about $50 per year. Add in the cost of tires at between $80 to $140 per set, possibly twice a year, and you can expect spending at least $200 on new tires.

Sunglasses generally last a few years and cost between $30 and $200. We’ll write that up as $100.

So for a serious cyclist the yearly costs adds up to about $1000 per season, about the same as the typical serious runner will spend on their sport each year. Yet cyclists get about 4X the total mileage for their equipment investment. So technically the cost per mile is about $.50 per mile versus $1-$2 per mile for serious runners.

SWIMMERS

Spring Rain

The good news on the cost front is that swimming is a relatively cheaper sport compared to running and riding. There’s no foot gear to buy, nor bike to maintain. Swimsuits aren’t cheap, requiring an investment of $100 or so, and pool membership runs about $400 per year at most clubs. So we’re really talking about $500 per year.

A serious swimmer will cover about 1/4 the mileage in comparison to a serious runner.  Swimming 2000 yards a day is about the equivalent of running 5 miles per day.

Interestingly, the world record for swimming 1500 meters is 14:31.02. The current 1500 world record for runners is 3:26. You get about 15:00 if you multiply the 1500 meter running record 4x. So there’s a rather direct relationship of 4X running times to swim times of the same distance. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Yet swimming stacks up as the least expensive of the three sports in a triathlon.

 

TRIATHLETES

Of course if you’re a triathlete, you’re spending about $3000 per year minimum just to get out on the road. And that’s not counting entrance fees. So let’s take a quick look at that factor for serious athletes in all three sports.

A serious runner competes in about 10 events per year at an average entry fee of $40 for 5K races or above. That’s $400.

A serious cyclist competing in 10 events per year will need to buy a license ($50) and pay entry fees of $50 per event. That’s $550.

A swim competitor will enroll in a Master’s or other type of organization at about $50 per year. Events range from $25 to $50 depending on the scale or level of competition and that runs about $500 per year as well.

Triathletes crank it all together and not too many athletes do 10 events per year even if they’re serious competitors. Sprint triathlons maybe. Even Olympic tri’s take quite a bit of preparation. Doing a Half-Ironman or Ironman takes at least six months to prepare for and cost about $200 or more to register. Triathlons cost more in terms of logistics for the event, hence the higher costs. Athletes typically also travel quite a ways to find events, since they don’t take place as often as running or cycling events. It’s easy to say that a triathlete could spend $1000 year minimum entering 4-6 total races.

At least you don’t play golf. Or do you? 

In any case, running and riding, swimming and triathlons are still cheaper in relative terms than golf, in which participants spend $1000-$2000 on golf clubs that might last a couple seasons before the player starts to blame them for poor scores. Then they trade them in on a new set of clubs or plop the old ones in the garage before buying a new set.

UnknownLet us not forget that the cost of membership at a private golf club ranges between $10,000-$20000 a year. Even public courses charge between $65 and $150 per round, double that of a typical running or riding event, and about on part with a typical triathlon.

If a golfer plays two rounds a week at an average rate of $85 that’s $170 per week or $680 per month. Over the course of six months that’s an investment of $4080. Let’s not forget to factor in the cost of lost golf balls. A typical pack of 12 balls runs $25-$45. Depending on your caliber of play, even a serious golfer goes through three packs or so a year for a cost of about $120. Minimum.

Then comes the cost of renting a cart or paying a caddie, which can be another $50-$100 per round.  Money spent at the 19th hole can run you $100-$300 per round.

All for a sport where the best you might do is 2-3 miles an hour walking the 7-miles around the golf course. There’s a little twisting and bending involved, and some sweating perhaps during hot weather, or from stress caused by generally poor play.

Unfortunately when it comes to maintaining your health in comparison to running, riding, swimming or triathlon, golf finishes way behind in terms of the best investment of money versus health benefits. Add in the fact that a typical round requires 4-5 hours to play and that’s an investment of 8 hours a week, not counting time on the range cursing your slice or hook.

Don’t get me wrong. I like an occasional round of golf, but the return on investment is much better on sports like running, cycling, swimming and triathlon.

But you’d never know it given the fact that golf is a $25B industry. Some estimates indicate there are about 1.2M acres of golf course land in the United States alone. In desert environments it takes 1M gallons per day to keep the grass green.

Of course there are many millions more acres under the roads we use to run and ride. So no one is the innocent party here. We humans require a lot of dedicated property to partake in the amusements we love. We also spend a lot of money keeping ourselves busy and fit.

So you can judge for yourself if it’s worth it. Obviously I’m no economist, but it appears you get a little more return for your dollar from cycling than you do from running. And swimming is the cheapest of all three. Triathlons? You buy the store when you sign up to do all that.

Get out there and enjoy. And keep a $20 in your pocket in case you get hungry or thirsty. You can’t put a price on finishing a workout in good stead.

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Tired of getting screwed by flat tires

By Christopher Cudworth

An actual photo of the recent puncture of a rear bike tire with a 1" screw.

An actual photo of the recent puncture of a rear bike tire with a 1″ screw.

If you ride a bike, sooner or later you’ll get a flat tire. Most recently, my rear tire picked up a 1″ screw that punctured the tube and buried itself deep along the wheel. I was wise enough to screw it out rather than yank it, thus preserving the integrity of the tire itself. But there was a cold wind blowing and it seemed smarter to call for a ride home than sit out there in the gathering chill and dark changing a flat.

Flats are a part of cycling whether we like them or not. Now that the Spring Classics are taking place in Europe, we hear tales of riders flatting on cobblestones and other conditions that beat the crap out of bike tires. It only makes sense. If all we’re riding is 15mm of rubber it makes sense that something bad’s going to happen sooner or later.

Changing flats is simple for some people. They take the practical engagement in hand and get it done. No sweat. For others (like me) it seems that every change of a flat tire brings new and not-so-exciting challenges that test both brain and soul.

Two seasons ago my tires were getting thin in mid-season from all the mileage I’d been racking up. That’s both a blessing and a curse. When the face of your tires starts to look flat you are definitely at risk for more flats. Yet we move on, seemingly in denial of this cogent fact. We hope against hope to get one more ride out of our worn out bike tires.

When they’re that thin, tires tend to get flat after flat, sometimes within one ride. My personal record is three flat tire changes in a single 40-mile ride.

Bike flat changesAbout the third flat change you start to realize how dumb you are for not getting new tires. Yes, tires are expensive. Good bike tires run between $30 to $70 per tire. Seamless tires run $100. You have to be a masochist to want those.

You have to choose carefully what you ride. Real racing tires are naturally thin to cut weight. Otherwise you have to pedal that extra weight around the criterium or road race. But you sacrifice durability when you choose tire for less weight.

Yet I err on the side of tougher tires. Riding the roads or neighborhoods in training, you need solid defense against road debris, potholes and other things that can screw up your ride.

It’s a similar tradeoff to the one you make in choosing thicker padding for your running shoes. People who hate weight and thick rubber wear minimalist shoes. Yet that comes with a challenge if your stride is not optimally efficient. Then you absorb more pounding on the roads and trails.

With bike tires, it’s possible to purchase them with Kevlar rubber shields on the outside or inside. That adds a bit of weight of course. So bike tire manufacturers are constantly trying to find the right balance between protection and roll weight.

I have decided that less flats is far more important to me than less weight. My reasoning goes like this: Once you get rolling, the weight acts like a sort of Perpetual Motion machine. You’re just rolling along, right?

Of course that’s only true on the downhills. On the uphills you have to pedal every additional ounce of weight up the hill. That’s why cyclists strip themselves down to such light weights for every Tour. That’s why bikes are so light with carbon frames and aluminum or light steel components. It’s all about carrying less weight.

Cud RacingWell, I choose to live with a little less hassle over having the lightest wheels and tires on earth. Sure, I might finish my CAT 5 criteriums four places higher in the bunch sprint if I bought racing wheels and tires. But what’s the point? I race to test myself against others and for the thrill of riding in close quarters. When I nearly tee-boned a guy who fell around a corner it did not matter whether I had racing tires on or not. It was my goal to ride around him, not over him. Sure, I could spring for racing wheels and tires for $1000, but that’s half the cost of my actual bike. It seems extravagant for a 50+ rider to spend that much money at a CAT 4 or 5 level. It just seems silly.

So I purchased some cool new tires with bright red sidewalls to match my Red Rocket Felt 4C road bike. Trouble was, those tires were so stiff around the bead I could not get them on the wheel. So I turned to my cycling mechanic buddy Jack who agreed these were pretty tough tires to mount.

Even he pfffffed a tube because it got pinched in the last stage of putting the tires on. So it fell to me to put the other tire on at home. Based on what I’d learned from watching Jack, (who I’ve seen fix a flat in about two minutes during a ride) I did a better job this time fixing my own rear tire.

Really, you’ve got to look at your ineptitude as a source of comedy at times. That time I fixed three flats in a single ride? I finally ran out of tubes. That meant I had to call the wife of a friend to come get me. My wife was sick with cancer at the time and could not drive. So I

We all depend on our wheels in one way or another.

We all depend on our wheels in one way or another.

humbly called my friend’s wife to beg a ride home. I’d also forgotten to charge my phone and there was nothing but a red sliver of power left in the battery. I said, “Hi, this is Chris. My phone’s almost dead and I’m out of tubes. Can you come get me out on Burlington Road?”

Her husband is a longtime cyclist and one of my best friends. But he was out of town or we might have been riding together. But his wife knew to bring the bigger vehicle so we could stuff the bike in the back.

When I was all gathered up she turned to me and wryly said, “How’s it going?”

We laughed and I wiped the sweat off my face because it was really hot outside. My water bottle was empty but she’d thought to bring a can of something-or-other which I downed with gratitude. We talked about how the three flats was kind of an allegory for my life that year with job challenges, caregiving and trying to find solace on the road with my bike.  And finding none that morning.

“Sometimes life just sucks,” she chuckled.

Or in the case of a flat tire, it blows.

Enjoy the allegories while you can, I say. Whether metaphorically significant or just the product of a screw on a dirty spring road shoulder, flats are what they are. They is what they is. They do what they do.

But it’s up to you to change that. Whatever rolls your way in life. You make the change and ride on.

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We Run and Ride for sex and a few other things.

By Christopher Cudworth

run_for_the_river

We run and ride for fitness and for better sex.

Wake up people, because we’re about to deal with the topic of why you really run and ride.

Which is sex.

Getting it. Giving it. Round and round we go. We run and ride to get fit, stay fit and potentially perform better in bed.

Then we run and ride some more. Because there are moments when running and riding are just about as good as sex.

Like that moment in late June when you’re finally fit on the bike and you’re out riding in early morning sunshine with smoothly shaved legs and a sweet looking kit glued to your body. You hammer along and catch on to a small group of other cyclists and exchange pleasantries. Yet you feel so good that after a mile or so you ride off the front. Your thighs gleam with a light sweat and you give a short wave as you crest the hill and sprint away down the other side. Life is sweet. Like sex on two wheels.

Or perhaps you’re out for a 15-mile on a cool April morning and two weeks out from a half-marathon. For weeks you’ve struggled along feeling limp and weak when suddenly in the middle of your long run you feel a surge of energy and begin to pick up the pace. It goes like that for a couple miles and you begin to wonder if you’re having some sort of “out-of-body” experience. Everything feels good. Your feet sweep over the ground. Your deep breathing seems to fill you with strength. Even your arm carriage seems lighter and freer than ever before. You even look around to see if anyone’s watching you, and wish you had this moment on film, because it isn’t often quite like this. You could make running porn, it feels so good. Almost a guilty feeling running, isn’t it?

A couple days later you slip into the pool for a training and recovery swim and the water feels like butter around you. The swimsuit fits and you start alternate strokes; breast stroke, freestyle, even butterfly. Dang! This is awesome. It should be illegal to feel this good.

Sweet Spots

A couple takes a break from a 20-miler. Not.

A couple takes a break from a 20-miler. Not.

Yes, riding and running and swimming can feel that good at times. You work hard for your Sweet Spots. Why feel guilty over a little healthy pleasure?

When you work hard to keep fit, your companion of choice appreciates you more. When you feel good about yourself, life is better in a whole lot of ways. You share your head and body more freely. You live more in the moment. When you finally fall into bed or the whirlpool or anywhere else you and your companion choose to hook up, the sex is so much better.

Crash Into You

If you’re tired from a long run or ride that day, you take it slow together. Making love is about collapsing into each other at times.

Or you can crash into each other with all that strength and energy. Dave Matthews sang it best in his song Crash:

Touch your lips just so I know 
In your eyes, love, it glows so 
I’m bare-boned and crazy for you 
When you come crash 
Into me, baby 
And I come into you

See, it’s all about giving yourself over. The discipline of running and riding sets us up for a wonderful flip side in which we turn over our hearts and bodies to the ones we love. We strive through pain and difficulty to better appreciate the love we can feel in the presence of another. Sometimes it’s about stress release. Other times desire.

And when given before training or racing or competition, sex can be an expression of faith in the other person. A sign that says, “I love you. You can do it baby.”

Sexy is relative sometimes.

Sexy is relative sometimes.

Full of love and courage

If you’ve ever raced after making love you know there’s a relaxation and confidence that comes with having been immersed in the arms of another. No one can scare you because your heart is full of love and courage. You race with freedom and confidence.

Reports tell us the Olympic Village is one giant humpfest as athletes with some of the best bodies in the world hook up for the love and joy of international relations.

For most of us,opportunities for sex are not of Olympic proportions. Yet people who love fitness are naturally attracted to those who also run, ride and swim. For one thing, the training and racing makes for shared experiences, and the social component is great for support and self esteem.

So you join a running or cycling club hoping to meet up with someone who has common interests. Or, you can try a site like www.fitness-singles.com.  Honestly, that’s where I met the gal I’m dating. You might also try your hand on eHarmony.com and be sure to put your cycling and running interests into your profile. You might be surprised how many people looking for other fit people out there in the world.

Fitness breeds good sex

It’s an evolutionary fact. Fitness breeds good sex. It has taken millions and billions of years for the human race to evolve into sentient beings that can imagine and execute the crucial dance that leads to sex. And let’s admit it. That guy or gal in their bike shorts on the Saturday morning ride is just a little more fun to follow when their ass is so finely shaped. Or their skin gleams in the sun. Sweet hair hangs out the back of their helmet. You listen to their voice the entire ride. Desire builds inside. They even seem to sweat sexy. You decide to make a quiet play.

So give it your best shot this day. Go out there and run and ride. It’s a great tease even if it doesn’t land you in bed with the person of your dreams. Run on. Ride on. Swim away.

It’s all good baby. All good.

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Enlightenment from the locker room

By Christopher Cudworth

XSportI’m a member of XSport Fitness clubs. The chain is based in three states and does a really nice job of keeping their clubs clean. Which is most appreciated, because another club in our area recently had its hot tub shut down a second time because two club members came down with Legionnaire’s Disease.

OK, yuck. But it’s not all that surprising given the number of people who cycle through a health club on a given day. Wiping down equipment, cleaning mirrors, checking the chlorine and chemical balances in the pools and hot tubs; those are all really important aspects of keeping a club safe and clean.

Respect. And gratitude.

I don’t take the help for granted. I tell them how much I appreciate what they’re doing. If they’re emptying towels I say thank you. If they’re cleaning the bathroom or even moving cardboard boxes I make mention of their efforts. From what I can see, people who work at clubs work hard.

A month ago I stopped by the front desk to tell the staff how much the cleanliness of the club was appreciated. “Tell our manager,” they said, pointing to the buff guy in the corner talking with a customer. So I stood and waited for him to finish the discussion and shared  the compliment. You could see a combination of relief and joy on his face.

Entitlement.

As you can imagine, so many people make a habit of complaining rather than paying compliments. There’s a feeling of entitlement, we must suppose, that comes with paying for a club membership. My companion teaches swimming at a regional club that has a door marked EXECUTIVE LOCKER ROOM. I’m thinking, “What the hell? The regular locker room is not good enough for some people?”

Guess not. Perhaps these executives grow accustomed to special treatment on the order of a golf club locker room, where shoes are polished, towels are handed to you and the entire experience is one of pampering and private displays of wealth.

Having come through some rough locker rooms in my time, and showered with coldish water after a 15 mile run in 8 degree weather, I personally do not feel the need for an EXECUTIVE LOCKER ROOM to make me feel like I’m important. The important thing in life is to feel healthy, strong and self-assured no matter how much you make or how much you can afford. And you should appreciate and respect everyone else who is trying to better themselves in some way. But some people make it pretty hard to do.

Perspective.

I think back to a moment when the President of a company where I once worked asked me a question. “What’s the best running shoe?”

I began to explain the difference between the various types of shoes, and asked how much he ran when he interrupted me and said. “No, I mean what’s the most expensive shoe?”

Well, if that’s how you measure your experience and your quality of life, one can’t really really be helped. Starting from a position with such a closed mind, one only arrives at the conclusions that match your worldview.

LockerIt’s the same with the health club experience. Everything you need is all there. The weight machines. The free weights. The gym. The kettle balls and exercise balls. The treadmills, spin machines and ellipticals. All you need to get fit and stay fit is there for the using with your basic membership fee.

And then there’s the people. That’s why we really go to the club. It’s a social way of working out.

Personal training.

Of course many people use a personal trainer. I’ve done so myself for instructional purposes. There is much I do not know about appropriate form and the breadth of exercises available to build core strength and such. So I don’t view such work as elitist. Personal trainers also vary by type and method, so it’s not like you’re buying a commodity of some sort. There’s a relationship there as well. It’s not some non-human investment.

Fine examples. 

But again, it’s the basics I’m after. Thinking back to my first real personal trainer, it had to be a gym teacher in 7th grade by the name of Mr. Davis. He was a strong disciplinarian who taught us that personal hygiene came first in the locker room. You washed your stuff and did not wear your underwear to gym class and then back to regular class. If you screwed up he made you write long lists of words to teach you not to forget your lock, your jock or your soap in the shower. Everything was about order and good habits in the locker room. That’s where your fitness program began.

He also worked our asses off in gym class. We did gymnastics for one thing. It damn near killed you some days, but you learned how to use the equipment and took risks on jumping the pommel horse. Or the pummel horse as we called it sometimes. When we missed…

Earning your stripes. 

Mr. Davis implemented a fitness program where you had to earn the color stripe on your shorts. There was Red (the lowest) White (the middle) and Blue. That top rank was tough to achieve. My downfall was pull-ups. I could only manage six with my skinny runner arms. Missed the Blue stripe by two points or something. That taught me a lesson about total fitness.

Locker room scenes. 

The locker room experience greeted us every day upon our return from whatever tough workout Davis had us doing. We were 7th graders however, and sometimes things got a little strange. One of our classmates was quite well-endowed even at that age, and one morning the entire crew of boys got to teasing him and wouldn’t you know it, that dong went erect from the attention and pandemonium ensued. The kid started dancing around the shower waving that monster back and forth and people were clapping and falling down at the hilarity of it. Mr. Davis came hustling to see what the fuss was about and man did that scene end in a hurry.

Professionalism. 

But here’s the thing. I learned years later that Mr. Davis was actually gay. Yet at no time during any of the many lessons he taught us was there any sort of physical or emotional contact that was inappropriate. Mr. Davis took his job seriously. The lessons he taught me have lasted my whole life through. Lessons of personal discipline and character. Of taking seriously the preparation needed to succeed in sports.

His requirement that we all do a 12:00 time trial also taught me that I was a runner. And for that I’m eternally thankful to Mr. Davis. I may have learned it some other way, but the  feeling of circling that track on a wan fall day and knowing that feeling of full-on effort sticks in my mind to this day.

No threat. And have faith. 

So it offends me to hear people insinuate that having gays in the locker room or in leadership positions is somehow an automatic threat to heterosexuals. It’s absurd.

I will acknowledge that I have been approached by gay men over the years. Only once in the locker room, but many times in public as well. Is that anything but a compliment, really? A polite “I’m not interested” is all that is required in such circumstances if you do not want the attention.

Evolving as people. 

I view homosexuality as a completely natural product of human evolution. So it’s not like it’s a total surprise that gays exist. Nor is it a contradiction of my religious faith to accept gays as fully equal members of society.

I have read the Bible cover-to-cover several times. I have studied the balance between what the Bible says about important issues such as abuse of wealth and power, religious legalism and especially controlling the behavior of others in the name of God, which is what Jesus so hated in the religious leaders of his day. There’s a strong lesson in that, so lost on modern day zealots in religion and politics.

Context.

4ad1e6849I have also read the passages about homosexuality many times over and now place them in context with laws that we no longer abide by in Leviticus, Deuteronomy and even the New Testament. Enlightened religious believers fully understand that the Bible was written in the context of a relatively primitive society without access to science, medicine or evolutionary science that now drives our understanding of everything from microbes to the infinite sea of stars beyond our world. There is no heaven but what we can conceive in our hearts, and the Kingdom of God is wrought here and now, among us. Or else there is no faith.

It is a highly ignorant brand of faith that cannot grow past ancient misunderstandings about former health laws and social mores based on fears. Plus the Bible shows that Jesus said absolutely nothing about homosexuality. So if it was not a threat to him or his vision of embracing love, then we should do as he says and find ways to love one another. Period.

Where we are. 

images-1A recent Gallup poll suggests the population of gay people in America may be in the range of 3-4%. That’s about 9 million people. Hardly the majority, but not an insignificant minority either.

The question that needs to be raised about gays as it pertains to the locker room is whether fear over homosexuality has led, to some degree, to a nearly complete lack of use of locker room facilities in high schools and middle schools across America. And what does that mean to actual physical education?

When high school kids go to gym class these days, they largely do not use the showers afterward. They seem to prefer to go back to class all grunged up rather than take the time or be seen using the showers. Frankly most kids probably make the choice to not play too hard rather than get sweated up and have to go back to class feeling like a wet rag. That means physical education classes are being compromised by attitudes of fear or shyness about the locker room. No wonder childhood obesity remains a problem!

Are kids that self-conscious that they do not want to be seen naked in the locker room? Is high school teasing and bullying that profound that kids cannot shower together and be objective about it? I truly doubt it.

Old norms. Good practices. 

8-devil-guy-crazy-tour-de-france-fansHitting the showers was simply the norm 40 years ago. No one thought twice about it until the early 1980s when a wave of conservatism swept the country with Ronald Reagan, the control-obsessed Yuppies and a whole host of religious zealots like Jerry Falwell and Ralph Reed complaining about social issues including homosexuality.

Probably liberals also contributed to the locker room problem with complaints about kids suffering blows to self esteem on fears of being seen naked. But conservatism especially contributed to making high school locker rooms into “NO GO” zones for kids. Fear of gays.

True equality. 

The commonality of the locker room was actually something of a great equalizer. Sure, it could be harsh for some. Heavier kids do have to put up with teasing, and other body types as well. I can recall a conversation in 7th grade with a fellow classmate who told me he was constantly teased that his penis looked so small under his rather fat belly. I told him flat out not to worry about it. That was none of their business and he’d best find ways to accept his body as it was, and work on it if he was not happy. He thanked me for that advice. We were 12 years old. Some common sense never changes.

But the real problem wasn’t that kid. It was all the kids who saw fit to tease him. There needs to be an aggressive, solid reform movement to equalize the locker room. But we can’t do that when we’re held back by patently false religious attitudes that fears nakedness as a rule of morality, and accuses homosexuals of an “agenda” by practice. Conservative religion is killing the potential for a healthy locker room.

Basic Humanity. 

1011109_10202527633888902_1174813195_nThe entire idea that people are under threat somehow by being seen naked or semi-clothed is, in the grand scope of things, a product of a fearful worldview poorly reconciled to the basic facts of humanity. Divorced from our evolutionary history by religious zealotry and fears about homosexuality, we are forced into narrow compartments of human existence. Rather than accept our mutual desires to better ourselves, society gets distracted into thinking that the equality of others is a threat to their own existence. But athletes who live and breathe in locker rooms know that it’s the person inside that counts.

We need more locker room common sense and a few more nude beaches to boot. Some segments of America remain so uptight about supposed moral standards the entire concept of what constitutes normal locker room existence has been warped out of proportion to the point that it is spilling into public discourse. That fearful undercurrent is driving a wedge through the very heart of American openness and tolerance. Those latter attributes are the values that most make America what should be.

Leadership role for athletes. 

You may not have expected this brand of enlightenment from the locker room. But I write about it because athletes truly can provide important leadership to society by their example. It happened with black athletes in the 50s and 60s, leading to greater racial equality that exists today. Recall that there were fears of even drinking from the same fountain as “colored people.” It sounds quaint and frail to make such recollections today. Yet those attitudes were anything but harmless. People were murdered as a product of racist attitudes.

Sports and the locker room really can contribute to greater gender equity, understanding of sexual orientation and open attitudes toward gays in society. The NBA and NFL are still close-minded about gay players of course. But are we surprised? Consider the normalized hazing that goes on with rookies in football. These immature antics are the product of poorly developed social constructs, with fearful, controlling behavior at the heart of it.

If that’s the pinnacle of sporting attitudes in society, our culture truly is regressive, insecure and repressive. And sure enough, that’s how it is.

The Naked Truth.

Being NakedSo next time you’re in the locker room, consider the millions of people who work out each day. Man of them are gay. But get this, they’re not staring at you any more than the straight guy or gal in the locker room.

Humans are curious beings. We’re visually oriented. Whether you admit it or not, you notice other people in the locker room. If that strikes fear into your heart that you might be tempted somehow, then you still haven’t grown up. Have you?

Nothing anyone can do will “make you gay.” Being gay is a natural, normal outcome of genetic makeup. It’s been that way for thousands of years. But if you can’t handle evolution as a reality, then get the hell out of the locker room. Because everyone else is trying to evolve into better human beings by working out, accepting other human beings for what they are and living their lives with real purpose. If that bugs you, then stay behind in the past. Because while you have a right to that opinion, it would seem that you really have little to contribute to the betterment of society. If it does not promote equality for all, then it is a lie about the human condition.

Perhaps it’s finally time to pick up a towel on this issue, and go shower in peace. You don’t need the Good Book to help you lift weights, and you don’t need it to make you feel secure in the locker room, either.

Peace.

(Note: no commercial endorsements or interests are associated with this blog topic or its mention of commercial properties). 

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On what it means to be a runner

By Christopher Cudworth

Chris Cudworth 4At the age of six years old, I grabbed a traditional old watch off my father’s dresser and headed out to the side yard of our Lancaster, Pennyslvania home. The yard had once been a clay tennis court, so it was flat, rectangular and ideal for running laps. With that watch in my hand, I stood at one of the corners waiting for the second hand to reach 12. Then I took off running as fast as I could around the entire lawn.

I don’t recall the time it took to circle the yard. I do recall running that lap again, and again. It was my goal to run faster, yet somehow my times were almost always the same. My first-grade mind did not accept this fact. I pushed myself even past the point where my legs were tired, my lungs ached and sweat rolled down my face. And then I stopped running that day.

But I didn’t give up.

The notion and feel of running sank deep into my being. I liked the feel of it, and took inspiration by glancing back at the single red circle on the back of my Red Ball Jets. Those were sneakers, as we called them. I swore they made me faster.

It was all there, you see. All the components of being a runner were installed in that early download. All that was left was to find out what being a runner really means.

By the time I was nine, it was beginning to become a bit more clear. I ran everywhere possible in those days. That was almost unlimited because we lived next to a golf course with long green fairways that felt good even under bare feet. I was a minimalist then.

At school, we chased each other around the playground all the time, running fast as we could to catch someone or run away. Playing tag was fun. And yes, there was something thrilling about not actually being able to catch a girl. Wait, she’s faster than me? And then Chris Cudworth 3it happened. She almost seemed to want to be caught, slowing down in that way that girls do when they seem to know something you don’t, and kind of want to tell you, but not quite. In fact, that seemed to be the case with girls all that time.

And then, when you drew close enough to see the sheen of sweat on her face gleaming in the morning sunshine, and laughter came out of her in that wonderful way only girls can laugh, you wondered about those strange feelings inside of your chest. Could it be that you really like her?

So began the strange relationship between being a  runner, which can be a lonely occupation, and being wanted by someone else. Running can confuse and clarify these thoughts. That’s one of the tarsnakes of being a runner. It helps you figure out who you are even as it challenges the notion of who you really want to be. Perhaps it is no wonder, given the relational dynamic between love of running and love of life, that there are now more women runners than men?

Still, some of these discoveries come in stark increments. As the day I learned at the end of every baseball practice that I could outrun every other kid on the team. Out to the light pole beyond center field and back. I loved that feeling. I was a baseball player, and yet something more was at work…

Chris Cudworth 6Then came the day in 7th grade gym class when we ran a 12:00 time trial. I covered two whole miles on a cinder track in Converse basketball shoes and it turned out I was the kid in class who could run the longest, fastest. So what was that worth?

Then came the first 880 yard race in 8th grade track. It was a raw run on a cold April afternoon against a tough kid from an Aurora, Illinois school who would not give up. That’s how you learn respect for competitors. A valuable lifelong lesson.

In high school cross country and track it was time to learn the value of hard work. Hot pre-season runs and cold morning races in mud, wind and rain.

Chris Cudworth 1Then came college cross country and track, testing physical and mental limits with 100 mile weeks and track workouts so hard you literally threw up. But improvement came about as a result. Times dropped. Trophies came along. The relationship between commitment and achievement was affirmed.

And on the personal side, there was also true love. Those early feelings of chasing girls around the schoolyard got serious in the late teens and early 20s. Running was always a tool to figure out the love thing. You run with that person swimming around in your head and it is inspiring. I ran better than ever knowing there was someone waiting for me back at the dorm. It’s like the yin and yang of being. Motion and stillness. Strife and comfort. Joy and pain. Those feelings still abound today.

Then came life changes, and post-collegiate decision-making. That college romance fizzled out and the world opened up wide. Job choices and job changes came along, and still I kept training. You find out what it really means to be a runner when it comes down to choosing your priorities in life.

Chris Cudworth 8In my case I literally spent a year and a half trying to become the best runner I could be. It was nonsensical in a way because I was not world class by any measure except one. In the Marty Liquori book about training for distance running the cutoff for a world class time in the 10k was listed as 31:00. And I did that.

But that’s still not what it means to be a runner. There are actually tons of people who can run that fast. In the long run you learn that all numbers are in some sense arbitrary.

That means you have to define for yourself what a specific accomplishment means in context of your own being. Even truly world class runners have to grapple with that fact. No matter how well you ran yesterday, there is still tomorrow to define. Perhaps you leverage those experiences into inspiration for others. A noble cause. Because the watch doesn’t lie, and those who have achieved significant personal bests do deserve to document them. Those minutes and seconds are real.

Chris Cudworth 7As runners, we try hard to fix those moments in time. A sticker on your car? 26.2? 13.1? 70.2? We call ourselves marathoners. Half-marathoners. Triathletes. Ironman. That’s all nice, but it’s more than that.

What it means to be a runner is best defined as the knowledge that for as long as you can manage it, tomorrow is another opportunity to run. All your history and past achievements do matter, but what ultimately matters is fostering the will to do more. To the best of your ability at any age, what it means to be a runner is to make the most of the time you have on this earth by truly feeling alive.

That’s what started this kid running laps around a side yard with his father’s watch in hand. That’s what kept this man covering distances that could have taken him a couple times around the world. Running helps you see the world in a better way. That’s what it means to be a runner.

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Want a poster with the artwork featured in today’s blog? Take a quick visit to my site at Fine Art America. The poster features images published with the original essay in Runner’s World using these illustrations. 

 

 

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