Why I never run from liberal instincts

By Christopher Cudworth
Popeye13As kids we played sports in the neighborhood and at the local pool. One of the key things I recall is that we always worked to make the teams fair. There would be arguments at times over who should play for each team, but we all knew the game was much more fun when the wealth of talent was balanced.

I also recall hating to lose. That meant once the teams were decided, I would do everything possible within the rules to win.

Of course there were stories about the merits of winning and losing everywhere we looked. I recall long sessions watching Popeye cartoons in which the perpetual underdog Popeye battled with his rival Bluto over the love of Olive Oyl. It wasn’t hard to see the liberal storyline behind the plot of an ordinary sailor battling the big bully Bluto. As a skinny kid I often wished there were a can of spinach available to make me stronger when needed.

Prudence for Popeye

But things weren’t always so simple. At one point my best friend pulled me aside and pointed out the fact that if I wanted girls to like me, I shouldn’t try so hard to beat them in sports. “Play nice,” he told me. “Let them win now and then. They’ll like you more.”

He had sisters, and I did not. So he knew a few things about women that could be helpful in this world. But I could never quite embrace the idea that losing to girls on purpose did anyone any good.

Later in life, when women’s sports began to flourish in American culture, I encountered women who were more talented than me in sports. On one date I lost 21-3 in racquetball. She trounced me so severely it was tough to even return a serve. It helped me realize that the whole Battle of the Sexes thing was not what it seemed. I learned that it didn’t hurt any man for a women to be as good or better than them in sports. Or anything else for that matter.

What actually hurt was people trying to keep women from playing at all.

Liberalities

For these reasons, sports are an interesting forum in which to test your liberal instincts. Our so-called liberalities often end at the point where we find ourselves winning or losing. It’s hard at times to be a gracious winner, even more difficult to be a gracious loser.

There’s been so much liberal-bashing in the public form the last 15-20 years that the term “liberal” has now come to be used by some people as a targeting adjective to describe someone who lives without principles. To be “liberal” in their eyes is to be nearly lawless, lacking morals and discipline in personal, political or religious life.

But real liberalism is quite the opposite. It takes much more discipline to be liberal in this world and hold to your principles during moral challenges than it is to be so set in your ways that you refuse to give consideration  to other viewpoints before making decisions. A liberal believes that there is always more to learn, and that what you learn may benefit you. That’s the primary foundation of higher education. Some people seem to hate that.

But in order to better understand what liberalism really is, it helps to go back to its root definitions so that we can sort out fact from political fiction. Here, for our mutual edification, are a set of definitions of the term liberal:

liberal:

1. Favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.

2. Noting or pertaining to a political party, advocating measures of progressive political reform. 

3. Of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism, especially the freedom of the individual and governmental guarantees of individuals rights and liberties. 

4. Favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties. 

5. Favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression; a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers. 

One must challenge anyone reading those definitions to prove why or how liberalism runs counter to principles of democratic freedom or the formation of a Republic based on such? Every one of those definitions aligns with the reasons and purposes for which the American Constitution was written. They are beautiful, bold principles by which to live, especially as they relate to both the protection and expression of individual freedoms and a government dedicated to supporting those rights.

So what does all this have to do with running and riding, you might ask? Because running and riding are the most liberal of activities, that’s what.

Running a democracy

One of the things I always liked about the sport of running is that it was entirely democratic on principle. If you ran fast enough, you generally made the team. The only time there was an exception to that rule was when political interests stepped in to override the liberal principle of individual ability.

That’s where one begins to learn that life is not always fair. The subjective judgment of coaches can determine your fate just as quickly as a poor race. If for some reason a coach does not like you, the opportunity to even participate in a fair competition and prove yourself may be denied. It seems we all experience situations like that in life. Sooner or later in sports, in business or in politics we find out the playing field is not fair.

Schoolyard games 

Whenever that happened to me or someone else on my team, my liberal instincts flared into action.

I recall a day when my 5th grade son came home from school one afternoon and told me that the playground soccer game had evolved into something very ugly. “All the best kids join up on one side,” he told me. “They win every day, like 10-1. So I purposely joined the losing side. I do everything I can to stop them. But there’s so many. It’s pretty hard. And then they make fun of us.”

photo (75)My son’s liberal instincts were being put to the test in that situation. He saw the injustice of the fearfully composed side that cared only about winning, not the quality of play. We see that kind of partisanship in Congressional and Senate majorities that quell any attempt to pass legislation designed to help the nation. They ignore their liberal and primary responsibility to govern… especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.

Instead they engage in schoolyard games, childishness and a brand of persistent bullying that began, for example, the moment Barack Obama was elected. Now Congress has taken a partisan vote to sue the President in an ironically liberal abuse of law to achieve a political statement. They are literally suing the President to make him enforce a health care law that they politically opposed from the start. Talk about taking false liberties with the political process!

But let’s admit it; Democrats and Libertarians and the Tea Party are all just as prone to political chicanery and abuse of liberal principles as anyone else. But there is such a thing as moral equivalency. Our liberal instincts are valuable in detecting these challenges.

Further abuse of liberalism

As a nation, America finds itself in the sights of overly liberal gun laws, another example of turning the good principles of liberalism into bad policy. The NRA and other gun advocates have successfully worked to pass Concealed Carry laws in all 50 states of the union. This does not indicate wise policy so much as it demonstrates a falsely liberal interpretation of the Second Amendment, which begins with the phrase, “A well-regulated militia…”

Already in Illinois we’ve seen incidents such as the case when an 86 year-old man pulled his concealed weapon and tried to take law into his own hands. The Chicago Tribune carried this bit of enlightening perspective: “The (86-year-old) man stayed outside to prevent anyone from entering, police said, and after he saw the suspect leaving through a back door, entered the store and chased him. A police officer also was pursuing the suspect but had to duck for cover when the shots were fired. No one was injured.”

That’s a fine example of vigilante justice in action, just like the Wild West. Concealed carry is technically little more than organized chaos and constitutes a form of national madness when it come to gun rights. America has more gun deaths per capita than any nation on earth, and our answer to the problem? Licensing more people to own more guns and allow them to hide them on their person.

Our current gun laws are indeed liberal in scope, yet lacking in legal and moral principle in failing to acknowledge the massive carnage and loss of human life taking place in mass shootings and gun deaths each year. There is little if any supporting evidence to suggest that further weaponizing society will have any deterrent effect on people who make their minds up to use deadly weapons to kill and maim others.  In fact Concealed Carry fairly legitimizes the ability of people to hide weapons in order to plot and execute murders. That is madness, and hardly a conservative approach to an orderly society.

So we see that liberalism is itself not the problem in America, but the abuse of liberalism by those willing to manipulate society for their own purposes, such as satisfying the interests of gun and weapons manufacturers. Same goes for the military-industrial complex whose appetite for the federal budget knows no bounds. These economic interests grab the profit and socialize the costs. That is an abuse of all Americans, our civil liberties and of liberalism as a principled foundation of democracy.

That’s one of the tarsnakes of liberalism. When used properly, it represents the primary core of democracy. When it is abused, it produces social imbalance. It is true on both ends of the political aisle.

The so-called winning side

We see this lack of principle at work all the time in politics. People join up with a political party simply to be on the winning side, or to have their pet issue represented. They will compromise all sorts of principles in other parts of their life in order to see action on that one political issue that gnaws at them. Despite what many have come to believe, that is not how democracy is really supposed to work. Compromise is the moderate solution to impasse, and that appears to be something of a lost art.

We knew more about compromise as kids on the playground picking fair teams than some of the politicians today who only know how to win one way, and that is by destroying the other side. We lose so much as a nation from those attitudes. We lose our standing in the world. We lose the purpose of our government. We lose whatever exceptional qualities we might once have had to an attitude of hubris and selfish aims.

What Would Jesus Do? 

It is a biblical fact that Jesus detested hypocrisy and the use and abuse of moral law to gain political power. The very liberal principles of scripture; caring for the poor, resisting the love of money, embracing fidelity and trust are tossed out the window when people are so determined to get their convictions imposed on others they turn to religion or politics and use positions of authority to make themselves feel important and justified.

But know this: there’s a major difference between seeking justice versus finding justification in your actions. It takes works to maintain justice. It only takes the stroke of a pen or a backroom deal to provide justification for actions that may not be moral at all. We’ve seen it throughout history. Wars break out when people choose not to be liberal with human rights or play fair.

Just like in the movies

The Mel Gibson movie Braveheart depicts the travails of one William Wallace, a Scottish citizen fighting for his country’s freedom under the rule of the King of England. To subjugate his Scottish subjects, first the king issues an order that all marriages must be consummated by allowing an Englishman first access to the bride on her wedding night. Wallace’s own wife then gets her throat slit by an English general trying to tame an uprising. So the story escalates into war. But what it’s all about is freedom, a liberal principle by definition.

Even as Wallace leads his nation into successful battle, secret and conservative dealings are at work all around him. The Scottish Lords want to broker a deal with the English King. But that would only benefit the privileged few. Wallace wants more.

An even more sinister plot evolves as the heir apparent to the Scottish throne finds himself in a position of betrayal to Wallace because his power-mongering father, hidden from society by his own desperate condition and physical illness, makes moves to betray Wallace into the hands of the King, where he is tortured and killed. It’s all very nasty business. Liberalities are not tolerated.

For fear of something

Today Scotland (my home country, I someday hope to visit) is still considering a move toward independence. So these stories hold more truth than fiction sometimes.

There have been many times when the backroom dealings in business have driven me to the roads in search of answers. I have run entire 20-milers trying to figure out why people act the way they do, and why they sometimes seem bent on taking positions that even run counter to their own interests.

Usually it is fear that is at work in them. They are afraid to lose their station in life, or are afraid to take a risk for fear of being seen as incompetent or a failure.

Courageous principles

None of those things is a product of liberal thinking or principle. Liberalism has been at the source of courageous actions on every social front. It was liberalism that drove Americans to form their own country and declare independence from Great Britain. It was liberalism that drove Abraham Lincoln and his peers to condemn slavery, fight and win the Civil War over unity and civil rights. It was liberalism that also drove the march to freedom in the 1960s, defeating the worst kinds of racism and fomenting fuller respect for women’s rights.

It is liberalism that continues this fight to this day, with liberals demanding access to birth control for women because it empowers them to manage their reproductive lives.

Liberalism is also at work securing equal rights for people who are gay, transgender and bisexual, and protecting the liberal enterprises of science, medicine and even religion from influences that would confine their free expression based on constrictive ideology.

Creativity

One of the most passionate forms of liberalism is creativity. The instinct to create also requires courage. And for all the supposed love for “out of the box thinking” expressed by so many companies in so many corporate presentations, true tolerance and encouragement for creativity is surprisingly lacking when the rubber hits the road. Creativity is too often seen as counterproductive to successfully established business practices.

Yet creativity is nothing more than problem solving. Creative solutions provide new opportunities. That’s true whether you are marketing a new or existing product or service. The conservative approach to business is to continue making what you are already making, selling it the same way you have always sold it and expect that business model to stay consistent and dependable.

Liberal business practices

But of course we would not have Nike or Apple or Trader Joe’s if only conservative business practices were allowed to rule. Granted, even these companies evolve their own brand of conservatism over time. Wall Street demands profits and reporting, and shareholders demand returns. These forces are creative in another sense, that of capitalism, the most liberal enterprise of all economic models.

Does that surprise you to read those words together: capitalism and liberalism? They are not by definition oppositional.

 

Troubles with liberalism

But in fact if there is any drawback to liberalism it is in the economic sector. To be too liberal with spending can get you in deep trouble, even bankrupt. To be too liberal with your taxation can be just as vexing. All systems require checks and balances in order to function smoothly.

No one source of liberalism is a single key to the problem. But no one source of conservative action is a cure, either. We’ve learned that through the austerity attempts in Europe.

 

Productive compromise

Our genuine problem in the world today is that people seem to fear compromise most of all. That’s because compromise is also a liberal principle, and it requires giving somethin up something to achieve the greater good. That’s all that is required sometimes. Yet some cannot bring themselves to do that.

Where can we learn how to compromise intelligently? It turns out the world of sports is especially suitable to teach us those lessons.

If you are planning to run a marathon, it makes no sense to go out and run the first mile in under 5:00 if your best mile time is 5:00. You need to pace yourself. You need to compromise your near term capability to achieve your long term goals.

Same goes with a cycling race. If you try to simply ride away from a pack of 50 other riders it is unlikely you will last very long. Instead you must learn to leverage the power of the peloton to your advantage. If you are smart you even have a team to help pull you along. Using the draft is a creative solution. Conserving energy is important to success. So you find a liberal or creative approach in combination with a conservative method. That’s how you achieve success. Productive compromise.

A liberal dose of optimism

So we run, and we ride, and we enjoy both the freedom of individual expression and the honest competition it represents. Of course we can’t all be victorious in every race we enter or there would be point in it all. In some respects our supposed failure to win a race actually illustrates the merit in participation. We test ourselves and we learn where we stand, or sit, or run, or ride, or swim.

But the most important and most liberal principle of all is to respect all those who try. We must also work to protect the idea that a fair playing field is best for all. We must root out the backroom match fixing in sports and politics. And if drugs are providing an unfair advantage to athletes, we likely need to monitor and manage that challenge as well. Because cheating isn’t nice. It’s the opposite of fair.

All that said, we must all be a little more liberal with our hopes, our love and our grace toward others as well. Whether you are a person of faith or a devout humanist, these liberal principles are the best part of life. It’s why we stand on the sidelines cheering our fellow competitors on toward the finish line. It’s why we use our races to raise money for good causes.

Despite what some people may try to tell you, liberalism is a good thing. It harbors hope for the oppressed and freedom for all, as long as justice is served.

That’s why I never run, or ride, or swim away from my liberal instincts.

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Summer’s just getting started

By Christopher Cudworth

base layer 1Summer 2014 is officially just over one month old. Whatever you want to call it; meteorological summer or whatever, the season officially starts June 21 and ends September 20 or so.

I know, I know. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the start of August feels like the beginning of the end of summer. But unless you ignore the principle of basic fractions, you’re very wrong. We’re 1/3 of the way through summer and none of your negative shit about the end of summer can change that.

Of course we’re all programmed to think Back to School when August rolls around. If you’re a mom or dad with kids between the ages of 5 and 20, that’s probably true. There’s elementary school and middle school and high school and college to consider. In that sense, summer technically ends when the kids go back to school. So be it.

But for the rest of us, and that means millions and millions of people who no longer attend school, but who work and want to enjoy the warmest months of the year for what they are––summer––there’s no reason to depend on that psychology at all.

photo 3 (1)I’ll admit one thing: As a runner August has always meant the start of real training for the fall season. High school cross country season began sometime in the middle of August with two-a-day workouts. That was hard, hot, sweaty stuff.

Same with college. We gathered before the fall semester on campus or took training trips out West to get in shape for the cross country season. August meant it was time to buy new training shoes and increase the mileage.

If you’ll recall correctly, the often intense warmth of August and early September was not something to take lightly. That’s because it was STILL SUMMER! I can recall cross country meets in high school when there were mosquito warnings issued to spectators. That’s because, and you’ve guessed it by now, it was STILL SUMMER!

I’m not falling for that Summer Is Almost Over crap this year. I love August. I have always loved August. I love training through the August heat when you sweat so hard your clothes almost peel off. I love riding on calm mornings because August is one of the least windy months I know. I love stripping off clothes after a hard workout and lying on the bed to let the warm air coast over your body. I love the smell of August flowers wafting in the bedroom window, and the sound of a patient sprinkler keeping plants alive outside.

When summer storms do blow in I love the scent of rain on the otherwise dry air. I love when the green leaves turn white and flutter in the force of an oncoming storm. I even like getting caught in the rain on my bike or while running.

photo (1)Once while running in a remote forest preserve a rainstorm came tearing up from the west and I got soaked to the skin. It rained hard at first and then settled into a steady August drizzle. All was quiet and wet. The earth seemed to be reaching for the sky. All was magnified and illuminated. I stripped off my clothes and my shoes and ran naked for two miles on lonely trails far from civilization. Talk about getting back in touch with the earth, and who you are, and why you run. It was elemental. You should try it sometime. Minimalism isn’t just limited to no shoes. No clothes feels just as good.

Or find a beach. Hide out somewhere and let August soak into your skin. Or September for that matter.

The summer racing season extends into September after all. Triathletes peak for events when the water isn’t so freezing and the winds are not knocking you off the bike.

Road racing in late summer as a runner is an absolute joy as well. All that summer fitness adds up to great feelings if you plan it right.

Cyclists indulge in one last burst of big riding and racing in August and September. In our area there is a series of events over consecutive September weekends. Riders squeeze out criteriums and road races and time trials before accepting that waning summer light means less training time in the evenings. Then the cyclocross bikes come out.

So there’s no real reason to give up so soon on summer. You wouldn’t run through two miles of a 10K and say “Well, this race is almost 1/3 done. I might as well coast in from here.”

Of course you wouldn’t. So don’t fritter away the rest of summer. Dig into it with gusto.

And if you live on the other side of the world in a place like Australia where the winter months are now in full swing, think ahead to your next summer and plan to make the most of it.

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Attack of the wetsuit strippers and other triathlon chaos

By Christopher Cudworth

A scientific experiment in progress.

A scientific experiment in progress.

Ever since I started associating with this triathlon crowd, I’ve had a sense that there is something more to the sport than meets the eye.

Thanks to intensive research at the recent Racine 70.3 Half Ironman Triathlon, I am now officially able to expose the truth about triathlons. I believe we are witnessing a giant series of scientific experiments.

If you study the sport carefully and with the right perspective, triathlons have all the elements of science in action. Science requires several things:

Numbers of participants: There are hundreds and sometimes thousands of test subjects in triathlons.

Controls: Experiments being conducted by the Ironman organization includes highly controlled processes, logistics and controls, guaranteeing consistent laboratory conditions.

Variables: Weather and temperature conditions during each individual triathlon provide variables necessary to test the performance and tolerance of each individual.

Data: Data chips are attached to each triathlete, documenting every movement by time, distance and transition.

Watching science unfold can be fun.

Watching science unfold can be fun.

So there you have it. All the elements in triathlons point to some sort of giant social or political experiment designed to test human stamina and functional capacity of all those involved in the sport.

To what end, you might ask?

All great experiments begin with a question. The easy question might be along the lines of something like, “How much can they take?”

Yet typically the triathlon experiment goes for something much, much deeper.

Living near the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory has given me something of a neighborly insight into the nature of science and the science of nature. Fermi scientists long used a particle accelerator to break down the Fermi Labelements of nature to its smallest components. Quarks and such.

There is recent evidence that the elusive Higgs Boson has been discovered in experiments at the Lucerne, Switzerland supercollider.

LiveScience describes the Higgs Boson this way: “The Higgs boson particle, which was detected for the first time in 2012, is essentially tossed around like a ball between two force-carrying particles known as W-bosons when they scatter, or bounce off of one another.”

So there you have it. Life is basically one big game of catch at a very, very small level.

Our very existence is both a game and an experiment, and triathlon starts with the process of bouncing people off each other in the water, proceeds to placing people on highly spinning wheels and finishes with a highly impactful exchange of energy with miles and miles of ground.

Just as important, we know that competition is the foundation of all nature. But it all starts with a chemical and energy exchange inside our bodies and proceeds in an arc all the way to the start of a triathlon with people swimming and kicking each other in the head so hard that some get concussions.

You’re lucky if you don’t sink to the bottom at that point. Anyone that has done an open water swim knows this elemental feeling of existing between the planes of water and sky. You are swimming for your very survival. If the water’s cold enough you wind up shivering and stiff, sitting in the medical tent where people say things like, “Here, drink this.” And then you start to wonder…who is really controlling all of this?

A scientific experiment in action. The operation known as wetsuit stripping

A scientific experiment in action. The operation known as wetsuit stripping

But if you make it past the swim segment you emerge and shed your second  skin like some formidable amphibian. If you’re lucky there will be wetsuit strippers there to help you moult into another type of creature. A cyclist. Then a runner. It’s all transitions and time and movement. You breathe in. You breathe out. You execute thousands of swim and pedal strokes and take thousands of steps to complete the experiment.

It’s all going into a giant database, you know. Someday a brilliant scientist will publish the results. It will be a finding on the order of global warming, I predict. What will emerge are patterns that tell us things are changing. The world is changing and it is being caused by human beings. No amount of denial by fat cat ideological tyrants will change the fact that the human race is trying to wrest free from the petri dish fat bath we’ve created through ingesting huge amounts of sugar and fat.

And what else might be found when this large-scale triathlon experiment gathers enough information to reveal some new scientific truth?

A test subject prepares for immersion in 60-degree water.

A test subject prepares for immersion in 60-degree water.

I predict what we’ll find is the equivalent of the Higgs Boson of emotion and soul. That effort equals some form of elemental sustenance. That every athlete is a key component in the molecular foundation of society. We move energetically, just as electrons and protons and all those smaller components of the universe move. Yet through our movement, we are somehow holding all of society together. That from chaos order can evolve. It is true throughout all of creation. That is the tarsnake of all existence.

It may in fact be found that without such movement, society either congeals or dissolves. Hence the compelling nature of events that test the limits of human endurance. We are witnessing an experiment in holding the fabric of culture together.

This is vital because there are so many other forces try to pull us apart; politics, religion, money and conflicts of national and international interests.

Instead, the act of watching people reduced to elemental efforts is the last string of commonality, the Higgs Boson of human nature. It really is a beautiful thing to see, like watching penguins or seals at play in the ocean.

Yet even when it is ugly, difficult or painful to witness or endure, the Higgs Boson of triathlon is one of the ties that bind. It helps us recognize the tenuous structure of all matter––and, all things that matter. Which is being human, and recognizing both the individuality and interconnectedness of all things.

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

By Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth thinks Big Glasses make him look Almost Famous.

Christopher Cudworth thinks Big Glasses make him look Almost Famous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An unexpected birthday gift

By Christopher Cudworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On dopey drivers and the Doppler Effect

By Christopher Cudworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you don’t want that.

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A dialogue with the dawn

By Christopher Cudworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On track and happy for it

By Christopher Cudworth

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

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

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

On track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History

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

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

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

Speeding along

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

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

Rising to the occasion

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

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

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

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

by Christopher Cudworth

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

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

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

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

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

Sue downing a shot block before the swim.

Sue downing a shot block before the swim.

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

 

Containing energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gun goes off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sue lines up to mount the bike.

Sue lines up to mount the bike.

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

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

Thousands of bikes await competitors in the transition area.

Thousands of bikes await competitors in the transition area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

position flat on her back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the early dawn does not daunt them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Christopher Cudworth

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