Happy Fireworks Day

This morning on my ride with a friend, he related a recent political bit he’d seen on a late night show in which residents of a beach town in California were interviewed about the meaning of Independence Day. You can imagine some of the responses. One person thought America was celebrating its independence from the South, as if we’d won our independence as a nation from the Confederacy.

Confederate_Rebel_Flag.svgOne could argue about whether that has ever really happened. With Confederate flags still the emblem of choice for so many Americans, have we really earned our independence as a nation? Do we even deserve to claim American exceptionalism when there is clearly a faction of society that does not embrace the values of equality for all Americans?

The racism simmering ever since President Obama took office has finally boiled over like a kettle of country corn. The flame beneath the American melting pot has been set on high the last six years and the hot breath of racism has steamed into the political atmosphere where it overheats the dialogue and cooks the frog of freedom to death.

Racism and nationalism a dangerous mix

Meb Keflezighi of the US, crosses the finish line to win the Men's Elite division of the 118th Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 21, 2014 .  AFP PHOTO / Timothy A. CLARY        (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Meb Keflezighi of the US, crosses the finish line to win the Men’s Elite division of the 118th Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 21, 2014 . AFP PHOTO / Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Last year I wrote about the achievements of Meb Feflezighi, the African-born naturalized American citizen who won the Boston Marathon. The article was titled “Why Meb’s Boston victory confuses so many people.”

The basis for the piece was a statement I read about how many Americans refuse to see such individuals as true citizens of our country. This is true on several fronts. Some don’t like the idea that someone moved here and calls themselves an American. Others don’t like the fact that Meb has a different skin color than their own. It’s that basic and stupid.

When I posted that article to the Running section of Reddit in hopes of an enlightened discussion on the subject, it was lambasted as naive and idealistic in its assessment of racial problems in America. One angry troll ripped me for claiming that racism was a problem at all in America. “None of the people I know are racist,” he complained. “95% of the people in America are over that stuff.”

Only, they’re obviously not. Not only is race still a sensitive issue, it is a principal source of domestic terrorism, and has long been that way. White supremacy organizations are determined to dominate and dictate the social order. Once such band of nutniks, the KKK, tries to hide its fascist intentions by claiming to be a “Christian organization concerned only with keeping the white race pure.” But the KKK’s history as a terrorist organization defies those claims. The KKK has tortured and killed in the name of white supremacy. It is a racist, dangerous element of society. There is nothing about the KKK that Jesus would have advocated or admired. It is likely the KKK would put a Jew like Jesus to death on its own racist terms.

Basic questions

Does racism by itself actually cause problems? Or is it as harmless belief system? Is racism a lifestyle choice or a genetic predisposition?

These are questions that come to mind quickly on the heels of a man walking into a church with a concealed weapon. Then he sat through a service in order to target his victims and kill people in cold blood. His motives were demonstrably racist and he clearly stated that he want to kill people whose skin color he detested.

Clearly he’s not alone in his racist hatred. Almost a dozen churches have been burned since the murder spree. Racism is alive and well in South Carolina and many other states like it across America. The argument erupted over the symbolism of the Confederate flag and its close ties to slavery in the United States. America has responded symbolically by turning its back on the Confederate flag and demanding it be removed from state capitols and other public places. Walmart stores stopped selling Confederate-branded junk.

It’s all about the base

But these moves won’t sway people who feel their independence is being adversely impacted by the mere presence of black people, Latinos, Jews or any other race of human beings. Certain political parties and boldface sociopaths make a habit of courting this base of hateful, fearful racists as a voting bloc. Donald Trump and his comments about Mexicans comes to mind. There was a backlash in media agreements and retail partners pulling out of deals with The Donald, but here’s the sick truth: His Republican polling numbers actually went up. When it comes to race-baiting, it’s all about the base.

Men like The Donald do not accept that we are all human, and one species. They’ve bolstered their self-image by denigrated the value of other people for so long, it is a tradition in their kin and their kind. The Donald has proven he is as ignorant as some hillbilly Southern cracker with his vendetta against Mexicans. He may be wealthy, but he’s still stupid as a brick when it comes to basic human rights and equality.

Men like The Donald  raise their kids to be racists and band together like a sports team with uniforms and team insignias and tons of other symbols of their habitual hatred. Some even own sports teams, yet view their athletes as property and chattel.

Defiance and true independence

1968-olympics-2I’m old enough to remember well the display of fists in the air when Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos made that gesture as a statement that American interests were divided when it came to equality for blacks. I was 11 years old at the time, yet already appreciated through other events in the news that black people were still being victimized by racist policies in America.

I’d had my own direct experience with racial fear in an incident with two small black boys with whom I played during my brother’s baseball games. Those two kids were great fun until I accidentally plowed into one of them and gave him, quite ironically one might say, a black eye. The next time I saw them they told me they could no longer play with me because their mother said they had to stay away from white kids. I was six years old then, and stunned that a thing like that could happen. But I accepted and understood that their mother wanted to protect them. Who would not?

It wasn’t hard to see the significance and strength of those two athletes on the podium at Mexico City. They’d worked hard to earn their medals, yet America still deemed them second class citizens.

I now see that gesture as a plain and reasonable statement about the falsehood of independence when it is not granted equally. America celebrates the 4th of July the same way we choose to celebrate Christmas. It’s all about the Fireworks (or presents) and not much about the gratitude for life and equality that underwrites both religious faith and Constitutional rights.

World class attitudes

Emma SteeplingAs athletes we know better than most that people of all races are equal. The ebbs and flow of what race pr people wins races is changing all the while. Yes, in many years the African nations and people of African heritage dominate track and field from sprints up to distance events. But white and Asian and Cuban and European athletes all also earn medals of Gold, Silver and Bronze.

Just as importantly, we recognize the importance of actually granting people the opportunity to compete on equal terms. Just a decade or so ago African and Middle Eastern women were discouraged from even participating in sports. Attitudes are changing about gender as well as race, and sexual orientation as well.

That’s what the Olympics are supposed to be about anyway. Of course drugs and cheating still affect the outcomes in many ways. But you’ll note that people of all races and colors get caught cheating. It’s a human thing that proves equality in a quite ironic way.

Your own constitution

FireworksSo while we celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July, what we’re still effectively celebrating is a Happy Fireworks Day. Because unless we go beyond the surface reality of the 4th and big fireworks and actually respect independence for all people, not just white Americans, we’re left with a holiday as shallow and superficial as Christmas, which Fox News defends so vigorously with claims that it is being “attacked” when in fact it has already been raped and pillaged of meaning by the very faith that invented it. Christmas is a co-opted pagan holiday adapted to win converts and create payoffs for faith. Similarly, the 4th of July is a pseudo-patriotic holiday designed to celebrate unity when the nation is miserably divided by hate-filled ideologies that refuse to recognize the equality of legitimate American citizens.

So for now, Happy Fireworks Days. We’ve still got a long ways to go towards real independence for all.

werunandridelogo

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Oh look! It’s time for the Tour de France, and Lance is back

Well we nailed June to the wall, didn’t we? For me it meant riding up and down and all around Wisconsin and Illinois.

Last Climb Horribly HillyHorribly Hilly was like a stage of the Tour de France. 72 miles and 6000 feet of climbing. And so it has been interesting to imagine doing twice that, and turning around the next day and doing it again?

Same with the Century I just rode. Pro cyclists ride 100 miles like it’s a slow walk in the park. For me it was an accomplishment to ride nearly 18 mph for the distance. My legs were not as sharp as they were for the Horribly Hilly. It happens.

Well,  by comparison these Tour riders do 100 miles at an average pace of over 27 mph some days, and keep up that pace for 21 days of racing.

This year, the Tour de France starts out in Utrecht, Belgium, where race fans are crazy and the roads will punish the lazy, distracted or unfortunate. So we should not be surprised if in 2015 one of the lead riders takes a fall again. It happened last year to Froome and Contador. Froome busted his ass and Contador a leg, if I recall.

Flipping hard

Apparently my fave cyclist in the world, Matthew Busche, winner of the 2015 US National Championships, was not selected for the Trek Tour team. If you’ve never read his blog, it gives tremendous insights on the rigors of being a pro cyclist. Here’s what he wrote about doing the Team Time Trial in the Dauphine race in France:

No seriously, they are… not really so fun. They are never easy and the pain just grows throughout the entire ride. It is a different animal than the individual time trial because rather than set out on a pace you can hold for whatever distance/time, you need to go above that level while pulling, then when you pull off you need to quickly recover enough in time to be able to jump onto the back of the line then rest a little more before your next pull. It is an exercise in self-control because once you go above your limit and can’t recover, you will be dropped for sure. And as guys drop off, the recovery gets shorter, which means your pulls come quicker, which means the lactic grows more! All in all, I don’t think it is something anyone really look forward to.

That should make you feel better as a cyclist, knowing that these guys suffer and fail just like the rest of us. And when it’s on a Grand scale, as it is in the Tour de France, the pressure on the athletes is immense. There are only nine team members on these Tour squads. Everyone has a role. Just the competition to make a Tour team is beyond most of our imagination. Then you have to line up and race all out for 21 days. And on rest days you still ride your bike for three hours.

Last year “Flip” Busche raced in the Tour and even tried a couple breakaways. But he also crashed a lot. Five times I think it was, yet he kept on going. It goes to show that it takes experience, grit and a bunch of luck to race well in the Tour de France.

Lance is back. Sort of. 

Which brings us to the fact that Lance Armstrong will be riding two ceremonial stages of the Tour course this year in advance of the peloton. Of course there are many who hate the fact that Armstrong will be coming anywhere near the Tour. His doping record and treatment of those who opposed him during his reign as the king of cycling are stuck in the craw of many pro cycling fans, and will be forever.

lanceIn conversation with a few cyclists during a recent ride, there were those who passed on judging Lance to be a worse cheat than most. “He was still the best cyclist among all the other cheaters,” one fellow observed. “And they were all cheating. Make no mistake about that.”

It may be true that cyclists such as America’s Greg Lemond did not cheat to win their Tour titles, while Lance did. It is also true that Lance ruined lives with his torturous aggression toward those who opposed him or threatened to blow the lid off his anti-doping ruse.

But the fact remains that Lance Armstrong came out ahead in bike racing through 14,000+ miles of racing to win seven times in the Tour de France. He controlled his own destiny and acted strategically. Heresponded to challenges better than any Tour bike rider in history. And despite his own worst flaws, and there were many, he used his reputation to do some good in this world.

The supposedly new breed

So it’s an interesting challenge to consider what these new, supposedly dopeless bike riders have to offer the Tour this year. One still really has to wonder. As one commentator on a YouTube video of Alberto Contador said, “Almost everybody in the top of professional sports is doping one way or another…If you want to have such achievements and see people do these kinds of stuff, you gotta take it with a pinch of salt and just admire it as it is.”

The challenge in watching the Tour is that we do want miracles to happen. We thrill at the sight of a rider launching off the front of a thinning pack on a mountainside. We long for that rider to transcend all our expectations. Our dreams get tied up in those efforts, those men “dancing on the pedals” as Phil Liggett likes to call it.

Well, are those moments still tainted by doping? Perhaps the differences between riders is now natural, not supernatural. In any case, it’s best to consider how goddamned hard it is to ride up a long, steep mountain grade at nearly 20 mph.

We apparently don’t like cheats in the world of cycling, so we must accept that the Tour itself is a superhuman event. Those are human beings inside those colorful kits. They have human brains too, and human flaws. They may be better riders than anyone else in the world, but the roads are still made of asphalt, and the mountains piled high with rock. When they emerge from the treeline and start climbing to altitude, the air gets thinner as the road gets steeper. They are trained for these exertions, yet on any given day the body may or may not respond.

The human factor

The competition looks interesting, with Vincenzo Nibali returning to defend against Quintana, Froome, Contador, Talansky, Van Garderen and the rest. Analyzing who will win is always fruitless. No one really knows. Not when there are cobbles to navigate in the first week, and mountains to climb the last two.

I prefer to watch the Tour and find a rider to root for along the way. There are so many good reasons to cheer for so many riders. The sprinters with their preening victory celebrations, like prize fighters or track runners. The pure climbers with the race for the absurd polka dot jersey. The heroics of a French rider on Bastille Day. It’s like a Pixar film. Drama and humor and fashion all mixed together.

Once you learn their stories and motivations, and how much difficulty in training and life they must overcome to achieve results, the Tour is one big rolling soap opera. It has made me cry over the years, and cringe as well.

Those crashes. They are so fast and nasty. Riders getting thrown into fences like Johnny Hoogerland did a few years back? That was beyond category in terms of discomfort. Despite their “big engines” and gravity-defying legs, they are just like us, only better. That’s what makes the Tour de France so interesting and exciting.

werunandridelogo

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, climbing, competition, cycling, cycling the midwest, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SPECIAL EDITION: Supreme Court rules on whether cyclists can shave legs

(Washington, DC) In a 5-4 partisan vote with conservative justices aligned with a defendant who found shaved legs on cyclists “offensive and sexually confused,” the Supreme Court today handed down a judgement that will likely rock the cycling world for decades to come.

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2011 file photo, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia participates at the third annual Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum in Washington. Scalia and Attorney General Eric Holder are scheduled to speak at an American Bar Association meeting in New Orleans this weekend. Scalia will be addressing ABA members and answering audience questions on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel. The discussion will be led by Boston University School of Law dean emeritus Ronald Cass. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Justice Antonin Scalia gestures to indicate the polarization he believes will come about in society if cyclists continue to shave their legs. 

The majority opinion, authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, went to great lengths in describing why so many people find leg-shaving among cyclists offensive.

“This is a sexual and social ambiguity that causes distraction in the public sector,” Scalia wrote. “Leg shaving can cause confusion among people trying to determine the gender of people on bikes. The resulting delays can put the lives of both cyclists and motorist in grave danger by causing latent consideration and pondiferous predilections. As a result we consider leg-shaving a distraction that constitutes an illegal action on the roads on par with texting while driving, not wearing seatbelt and holding twitchy poodles in your laps. That last part I just made up,” he stated. “But you see my point.” 

“I also want to point out the polarization of society that allowing cyclists to shave their legs can produce. When you get a hairy-backed, bearded, gun-toting driver of a F-250 in the same lane as a spandex-sporting, shaved legs cyclist on an aero Cervelo, that’s placing on imposition on the traditional roles of people on the roads and frankly constitutes Cruel and Unusual Punishment for the driver of the F-250 to have to look at a person’s shaved legs in public.”

Prosecutors in the case raised the prospect that allowing cyclists to wantonly shave their legs could lead to other risky behaviors. Lawyers pointed to “The Rules” cited on a website called Velominati: Keepers of the Cog, as evidence that cyclists are being encouraged to flaunt themselves in public. “We submit as evidence, Rule #6,” prosecutors said. “Free your mind and your legs will follow. Your mind is your worst enemy. Do all your thinking before you start riding your bike.  Once the pedals start to turn, wrap yourself in the sensations of the ride – the smell of the air, the sound of the tires, the feeling of flight as the bicycle rolls over the road.”

“We think this shows that cyclists are conspiring to flaunt both the rules of nature and the laws that govern society. This  purely sensual experiment is indicative of an anti-authoritarian mind and a danger to society. Shaved legs are an open statement on the order of a hate crime against the rest of society.”

Based on this and other testimony by motorists claiming to have been distracted by men and women in spandex with shaved legs, caused Antonin Scalia to cite Rule #33 from Velominati.

“Rule #33 // Shave your guns,” noted Scalia in his majority opinion. “Can be taken to mean that legs are guns. We believe it to be Constitutionally confusing to suggest that guns should be shaved when the Second Amendment clearly says ‘the right to bare arms shall not be infringed.’ As Constitutional originalists, we think the language of the Constitution is sacrosanct.”

When reminded in the Dissenting opinion written by Justice Greenberg that the actual language of the Second Amendment reads “to bear arms” and not to “bare arms,” Scalia went public to scoff at his liberal Justice counterpart. “Who is she to tell me what the Constitution says? It says whatever I mean it to say. That’s my right and responsibility as a Justice of the Supreme Court.” When asked if the ban on shaved legs for male cyclists applies to women cyclists as well, Scalia gave his famous gesture of “two fingers up” and pronounced. “Two different things. Those are two different things.” And that’s all he said. 

In the Dissenting Opinion Justice Greenberg cited Rule #33 in its entirety to make her point that leg shaving among all cyclists is an honored tradition, not a breach of the social contract. “Legs are to be carefully shaved at all times,” she incorporated in her opinion. “If, for some reason, your legs are to be left hairy, make sure you can dish out plenty of hurt to shaved riders, or be considered a hippie douche on your way to a Critical Mass. Whether you use a straight razor or a Bowie knife, use Baxter to keep them smooth. “This Rule,” she wryly noted. “Means that you can be a hippie douche whether your are a man or a woman.” 

Some journalists asked Scalia and the Conservative Justice Team standing by his side in equally black robes about whether the new ruling on Shaved Legs in Cyclists was somehow a compensatory response to the controversial ruling on gay marriage recently passed down by the court. “What would make you think that?” Scalia huffed when grilled by the media. “This court has been consistent in all its rulings, especially those that confuse people with corporations and politics with religion. We’re very consistent with our inconsistency. You should know that by now.” Justice Clarence Thomas nodded at that. Or perhaps he was merely nodding off. 

The Supreme Court is soon expected to hear cases determining whether runners should be allowed to wear shorts over their running tights and if triathletes can wear wetsuits while picking up groceries at Walmart.

werunandridelogo

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Keep moving when you’re inside out

inside-outThe wonderful new Pixar movie Inside Out chronicles the emotional journey of a girl named Riley whose family moves from pastoral Minnesota to the city of San Francisco. The breadth in exploration of character and response to life events is illuminating.

Watching the film brought back memories of our family’s move from Pennsylvania to Illinois. I was heading into eighth grade at the time. Not the easiest time to move and make new friends. My next eldest brother had it worse. He was entering his senior year in high school. Meanwhile my oldest brother was caught between two worlds. He was enrolled in college back in Pennsylvania.

Adaptations

Life in Illinois was so different from Pennsylvania. There were far fewer trees, for one thing. The landscape was relatively flat. The soil was black rather than clay-colored. Those might seem like strange concerns to those less attracted to nature. But for me they formed a baseline of strange new adjustments that took time to love.

I made friends soon enough. Yet there was still the longing to be with my peer group from Pennsylvania. In particular one close friend was badly missed. We’d done everything together from the age of five through twelve. We grew up stuffing wash rags in the shoulders of our tee shirts to pretend we were real football players. Our baseball team won Local 285a big city championship. We played basketball for hours, kicked soccer balls and swung golf clubs. In fact the first day we met at five years old he whacked me in the head with a seven iron.

Our lives converged on the social front and we fell in “like” with girls. From the first grade on, all the boys kept lists of girls they liked. Our Top 10 was always carefully updated.

By the seventh grade we held Spin the Bottle contests at parties and thrilled at the chance to kiss certain girls. There was an interesting communal aspect to all that exchange of interest. Yet most of us paired up with steady girlfriends and sat around in basements during parties making out with the girl of our choice. I distinctly recall the taste of Fritos in the braces of my girlfriend. Such was the life of a twelve-year-old in “like.”

We tried to prove ourselves to these girls through our exploits in sports. I was a good athlete and a shy romancer. Never had the self-confidence or perhaps the ultimate looks to ask the most popular of all girls to be my girlfriend. Their cliques seemed impenetrable to me, yet one of my friends waltzed in and out of those circles of girls with fearless panache. He had olive skin and surfer hair with blonde highlights. And he could sing. On one trip back from a winter basketball game at which all our teams had lost, he tried to cheer up the bus by singing a popular protest song with soaring notes, “America, where are you now, don’t you care about your sons and daughters…” only to be told to shut up and sit back down by a coach angry over our losses. We were far sadder that he’d been told to stop singing. The real magic of sports often happened outside the lines. That’s why the girls loved him.

Up and gone

Abbey-Road-Album-Cover-So it was a yank to leave all that wonder and growth behind. My father had only found a job out in the Midwest however, so he told us to pack up and move.

When we moved to Illinois my friends held a big Going Away Party. They gave me copies of Abbey Road and Let It Be along with my first real second-hand watch. These new belongings were tossed in the big Mayflower van along with the rest of our stuff for the long journey to Elburn, Illinois.

We pulled out our long driveway in Lancaster with my brothers and I crying quietly in the backseat. My oldest brother and I took to singing Beatles songs together. “Onetwothreefourfivesixseven, allgoodchildrengotoheaven…”

It was a strange time for the four of us brothers. The Beatles had just broken up. All of life seemed to be coming apart at the seams.

Two days later after an overnight stay with a college friend of my father’s, we pulled up to our house in Elburn. Within days I’d made good new friends and fell in like with a girl down the block. The race of life was still on.

Dealing with it

georgeharrisonallthingsmustpassYet there were deep emotional ties back East. I was depressed at the loss of those friends. Some summer days were spent lying with my head between two giant stereo speakers listening to the album All Things Must Pass by George Harrison. I’d pile those records up on the spindle and fall half asleep while the fan whirred on in the living room. It was not exactly mental health strategy at work, but it somehow helped me get over the sense of longing felt over leaving Pennsylvania.

I tried to wield the intensity of those experiences as an element of mystery with my new friends. Girls wondered what I actually knew about sex until I found myself behind a tree with a girl on a dark night outside her parent’s house. I knew how to kiss but that was about it. She seemed disappointed. It was all I had.

When things like that failed me I went back to sports. Fortunately I was decent at that, starting on the basketball team, pitching in baseball and even winning the Punt, Pass and Kick contest in Elburn to advance to the regionals.

Running on

CudworthKanelandBut in the end, my father shoved me in the cross country locker room and my life was changed forever. Running was something I quickly grew to love. And need. That propensity for anxious thoughts and occasional depression was manageable with running in my quiver of coping mechanisms. Yet I learned that internalizing too much about your performance could also be a difficult factor in life.

I emerged as one of the top runners at Kaneland High School and was the top points earner as a sophomore on the Varsity team. We won conference for the first time in school history.

And then my father told us we were about to move again.

This time it was only twelve miles east. That was almost worse. This time around my new team would compete against my former school. Yet the new experience in St. Charles was just as vibrant and challenging as the new school at Kaneland.

I asked my father years later why we moved from Kaneland to St. Charles. Was it because of the gas shortage and mom’s commute to work?

“Nah,” my dad told me. “I didn’t want your younger brother to play basketball in the slow-down offense at Kaneland,” he said.

I was stunned. “What about me?” I asked.

“Oh, I knew you were a social kid,” he replied. “I knew you’d adapt.”

Running into opportunity

photo 4Of course he was right. And I’d have to adapt again two years later when heading off to college out of state. My running continued there as well. Competition forces the social adaptations right out of you. You fight to survive and survive to fight. No one said life was easy.

Which reminds me of the saying cyclists often use about their sport. “It never gets easier. You just go faster.” Which happens to align with my Twitter feed @gofast.

Yes there are times to slow down in life. Settle in. Take a seat. Think it through. But then the sun comes up and change comes pouring into your life like a beam of sunshine. And that’s how it works. You add a sport here, subtract one there. Set a goal and live in it like it’s a real place.

And you move on.

werunandridelogo

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, it never gets easier you just go faster, running, triathlon | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

10 honest-to-goodness tips on how to get better as a runner and rider

ArrowPointingRightSeveral times in life some kind-hearted person has pulled me aside to dispense a piece or two of good advice. This has happened at church. At work. And on the athletic field.

So while I am not a certified coach, running guru  or bike genius with alien antennae coming out of my head to receive instruction from the Athletic Cosmos, there are a few things I can share with all of you that have produced genuine results over the years.

I’ll share this honest-to-goodness advice in something of a reverse order. That is, in reverse chronological order to how it has been learned. That way, readers of all ages can appreciate and use this common sense stuff for their own best purposes.

So here goes. 10 Honest-To-Goodness tips on how to get better as a runner, rider or swimmer.

10. Do strength work without fail. 

IMG_8600There is no more important injury prevention and performance-enhancing activity than strength work. For the legs use leg presses, hamstring curls, squats and lunges. For the core use planks, leg lifts (get coaching on this) and oblique twists. For the shoulders and arms use presses, curls, lat pulls and pushups. That’s 9-10 exercises, and that all it takes to balance your body. Do it year-round at least twice a week.

9. Diversify your training. 

Early in life while playing multiple sports the diversity needed to keep body balance and tendon strength came from doing multiple sports like basketball, soccer and tennis. But lacking an ACL later in life, that balance has had to come from a combination of weight training and choosing alternate activities such as cycling to gain the same aerobic and proprioceptor benefits. Cycling and swimming happen to go right along with running. It’s not rocket science, just honest-to-goodness common sense. Diversification works to your benefit. Cross training, they call it.

8. Go your own way and pace.

The more you train and the longer you go, the more important it can be at times to step away from competitive situations and go the pace you need to go. Often that means slower, or more methodically in any case. Taking your easy training days easy, or even racing…without worrying about going outside your target pace on a given day is the way to make sound progress without running into a wall of your own making.

7. Let the joy of competing be the center of your motivation. 

IMG_8601It’s always nice to get good results like winning your age group, but that only tends to happen when you’re already enjoying the effort. Going into a race where you’ve determined ahead of time that you’re going to be a failure if you don’t place in the top three in your age category…or in the Top 10 overall…sounds like a good goal-setting strategy. But it can also serve as a means of setting yourself up for failure. Better to run or ride or swim with your best performance level in mind and see what that gets you. Focusing on performance over results also allows you to transition if one aspect of your race or training effort does not go as planned. Sometimes you can make up the difference and not freak out.

6. Understand the nature of your achievements. 

Setting goals often means assessing the time you have available to achieve them. When you set out to do a big event, it often means balancing or sacrificing other things to do the training and racing necessary to reach that goal. At all levels of your career, from middle school all the way up to Senior or Master’s racing, that balance comes from self-awareness and recognizing the nature of your achievements. Tremendous benefit and feelings of self-satisfaction emanate from this transfer of excellence. Working hard to achieve a goal can lend all kinds of good mental and physical skills to other priorities in life. Athletes need to understand the nature of their achievements in order to fully benefit from the life-enhancing qualities of their endeavors. Setting a PR or completing an endurance challenge generally means you did things right, but all of us (even pro athletes) compete in a context.

5. Make a plan, then experiment. 

IMG_8603In the best year of my running career, I mapped out a plan of racing 20 times at distances from 5K to 25k. But as the racing season progressed, I jumped in a couple extra races to accomplish two things: to fulfill sponsor commitments and also to push my racing chops to new levels. One such experiment involved racing a competitive mile the night before a 10k. I won the mile in 4:22 and felt fluid and smooth. By contrast that next day’s pace of 5:00 per mile felt like a jog. The experiment worked.

4. Let your competition pull you along. 

It is easy to view your competitors as your enemies. But truly they are often your greatest friends. Without people to run or ride or swim against, we are prone to not going our hardest. But don’t let falling behind freak you out. Everyone has ups and downs within a race. So when someone pulls ahead don’t assume they’ve won or that you’re finished. Use them to pull you along. It works with teammates when they pull you along. You should adopt the same attitude in competing with rivals. In the long run, they’re your real friends. That’s one of the tarsnakes of competition.

3. Let discipline into your heart. 

One of the earliest lessons we learn as athletes is that sacrifices such as getting out of bed at ungodly hours is often necessary to train and compete. But rather than view this as a chore, let discipline into your heart as a sign that you love life and want to make it interesting, even challenging. That way the bedtime of 9:30 and the alarm clock at 5:30 feel less like a sacrifice than a purpose for living. And with that commitment comes the obligation not to whine or complain. Yes, you can joke about the difficulty and even commiserate a bit. But be careful not to poison the moment and purpose for others, lest you become the one they do not want to join for workouts or races.

2. Learn what it takes to succeed. 

HurdlesOnWetTrackYoung athletes often have a vision of how success comes about, and it is often not engaged with reality. Yet watching great athletes and what they do to succeed teaches much. Those workouts of 30 X 300 meters that my teammate from high school did to achieve his state record 1:49 half mile were far harder than anything I could imagine myself doing at the time. And I wasn’t a slouch, but not a state-level competitor either. Later on in college and beyond I learned to push myself beyond what my high school mind could conceive possible. We all mature at different rates, and when we age, we retain instincts for success and competition at varied rates as well. There are no super secrets here. It is all about attitude and learning, through hard work, experimentation and dedication. That’s what it takes to succeed at any age. Yes, you’ll run into limits sometimes, but that just means you’re still learning.

1. Try new things before you lock into one sport or pattern. 

In our early athletic endeavors, when we’re trying all sorts of sports as I did, life is almost dizzying with all its options. Then you’re asked to choose and commit and dedicate yourself without question. For some athletes, that means burnout and the end of competition at all. In may case I did not choose running, but it did choose me. Something IMG_8604about it cleaned out my brain, reduced anxiety and I thrilled at the thought and feel of running often, and running well. Not all my teammates felt the same way. Some hated running but still did it.

By college that choice was more profound, and beyond college on the roads I found nothing but people who did the sport because they enjoyed it. Adding cycling to my fitness choices more than a decade ago has been a blessing. Now swimming is filling out the platform for lifelong fitness too. And because they all compliment each other, success has come with it. So even as we “lock into” one sport or another we can find ways over a lifetime to diversify and enhance our experiences. That means new events, new routines and a healthier attitude about life in general. Sometimes that even means taking a break from the sports you love. Explore other things. Take a walk in the woods. You will not be ruined if you step back to consider what you do what you do. You may discover new love for life in general.

And that’s an honest-to-goodness feeling.

Be sure to share this blog to your Social Media friends! 

werunandridelogo

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, cycling, marathon, running, triathlon, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

This Century wasn’t about me, but I still learned a lot

Suzanne Astra, Jada-Hambry-Butler and Maxine Franck-Palmer are three great riders and a joy to be around. If you can keep up.

Suzanne Astra, Jada-Hambry-Butler and Maxine Franck-Palmer are three great riders and a joy to be around. If you can keep up.

Last year before my companion Sue signed up for Ironman Wisconsin, she made a simple statement and asked a simple question. “It’s going to take a lot of training. Would you be okay with that?”

We agreed that given the training load necessary for Ironman fitness, she’d likely be doing some longer runs, rides and swims than me. But over the winter we got up at 5:00 a.m. and did indoor speedwork. And you could see her progress in speed and form.

Come spring she lifted her mileage based on a plan delivered by Experience Triathlon coach Joe LoPresto. But nothing was extreme. If she ran 2 hours, I might run 1:20. If she biked 80, I might bike 80 with her, or else join my buddies the day before and ride a section of our planned ride with her.

This shared training regimen included last weekend’s Horribly Hilly 100. It was a fun ride. Difficult, yet fun.

Yesterday we rode in the Swedish Days Ride, a supported event provided by the Fox Valley Bicycle and Ski Club that has been going on since the early 1980s. I’ve always wanted to do the ride and it fit into Sue’s training program to do 100 miles.

So for what seems like the umpteenth weekend we rose at 4:45 and met up with other ET riders for the Century.

Century Country

There are a ton of ways to ride a Century. You can group up and do it together, sharing pulls and stopping for nutrition en masse. But given this was my first-ever Century, all I wanted to do was ride smart and get through the thing intact.

Sue’s goals were a bit different. She’s building confidence and strength over the longer cycling distance in preparation for 112 miles of cycling in the Ironman. The course in Madison is hilly, hence our ride last weekend at Horribly Hilly. We’ve been up to ride the Ironman course and the “loops” out by Mt. Horeb, and her endurance and climbing is coming along well.

But there’s also no substitute for long distance riding. We started modestly as the group broke into smaller groups. Some tore into the ride with 127 miles on the docket. Others floated between waiting to see who was riding what pace.

By 50 miles it was up to us to maintain pace in our little group and that meant 18-22 mph based on the winds. The course was extremely flat despite the fact that Strava told us later there was 1100 feet of climbing. That was all due to the location of the start on top of a hill at Central High School in Burlington.

Riding In Styles

Other than that it was consistent pedaling and intelligent position on the bike that made the pace difference. Sue rides Aero most of the way, and I ride a road bike. There are times when I feel like a sail in the wind even with my hands down in the drops. Plus she’s strong. So strong on the flats it takes all my concentration to stay on her wheel at times.

Maxine Franck-Palmer is a leading triathlete and duathlete.

Maxine Franck-Palmer is a leading triathlete and duathlete.

In fact there were several women out on the course pulling men along. Same could be said for our friend and triathlete Maxine Franck-Palmer. In the post-ride review it was reported that Max was at the tip of a spear of riders trying to keep up with her, or use the draft she created at 24 mph. I’ve seen that woman pass me now in two separate duathlons. She can ride.

That’s the wonderful thing about cycling. It is an egalitarian sport. In fact political libertarians should love cycling for its independent spirit. Men and women simply most show respect to one another. And while the top levels of the sport may see differences in overall speed between world-class men and women, that is no differentiating factor in the day-to-day world of cycling.

Incremental differences

Post-ride recovery at Barrel and Rye in Geneva. Well-earned food and drink. And merriment.

Post-ride recovery at Barrel and Rye in Geneva. Well-earned food and drink. And merriment.

Which meant that the mile-or-two-per-hour (at times) that Sue was able to ride yesterday put a little space between us. We finished perhaps five minutes apart at the end. But I can tell you that I was happy and proud to see her racing along the last 40 miles. For long stretches I rode in her draft unapologetically. I did my pulls sooner or later, but not as long as hers. This made me happy. She’s progressing in her fitness in all three disciplines. Swimming, cycling, running.

“I felt good,” she told me at the finish. Those are three words you love to hear from the one you love.

Learning Curves and Straights

As for what I learned about myself out there…well, that never ends, does it? I learned that 100 miles is harder than I thought and yet I rode well the whole way. Just under 18 mph on average. Not speedy, but not horrible either. With a pack of riders that speed rises a bit so that you average 19 or 20.

My friends have all ridden centuries under five hours. Road cyclists work together on such ventures. That’s the main difference in fact between cycling with triathletes and road bikers. Tri-people tend to go it solo. Bent over in aero, they must rehearse the discipline of riding alone since drafting is not permitted in the sport.

So in many respects it does not pay for Sue to ride in my draft. She doesn’t need it, and it isn’t really a healthy mental practice for someone plannimg an individual effort like an Ironman. Which was a marvelous excuse for not doing pulls in the middle of the ride while piling into the invisible teeth of a 10mph wind. As Sue pulled ahead a couple times I learned that my base pace is somewhere around 20 when not fighting the wind. So that is what I kept it at for the 20-mile loop at the southern base of the ride. My weakness as a cyclist is getting through long straights into the wind. That and false flats. I’m working on form and that has helped. I don’t blow up anymore, at least.

Heading North

When we finally turned north,  Sue led our group of three with Steven Mayer joining us for the second half of the ride. Sue hit the gas on smooth roads and we roared along at 23-25. Stopping at a country intersection with a red light, we sat waiting for a green when a group of cyclists came bombing past us. They could see the span of Route 38 to the east and west with all traffic stopped, and decided they did not need to stop. But it still did not seem like a good idea to roar through a red light at 20+ mph.

Damon Gowdy, Ironman and leading Duathlon competitor.

Damon Gowdy, Ironman and leading Duathlon competitor.

Soon enough we caught them and moved out into the lane to go around. This seemed to pique the lead rider who then chased after Sue. Behind us was one the best riders I know, one Damon Gowdy of Experience Triathlon. He’s qualified for duathlon Worlds and was on a 127 mile sojourn mostly on his own yesterday. The obnoxious moves of the aggressive rider gave Damon reason to give chase. His Tri-Bike has a green hue that resembles a Marvel Comics character. The bike makes an ominous roar when he moves into a higher cadence, and that was obvious as he pulled out into the lane and went by us at 30 mph, and kept going. The smartass rider gave chase but dropped pursuit after only a quarter mile. Damon was gone. I could not even envy him. We are all the rider we can be.

Nutrition Class

I tried to eat and drink well the entire ride. I’ve learned I need salt replacement. Those ten pickles I ate at the rest stop still did not cut it. The sweat and salt on my neck was thick by the time I finished.

And let’s admit it: blue Gatorade just gets nasty and unpalatable after so long in the saddle. You know you need fluid replacement and keep on drinking, but at some point it might be that water and food are better for you than sweet drinks. It was nice to have that available from the ride for fluid replacement, but you get sick of it and can get sick from it. Over the last few miles my stomach was convulsing a little.

Which meant that my pace dropped from 18-20 down to 15-16 those last two miles past 100. My Century was over, but the creeping climb back up to Central High School still needed to be done. In fact the last 10 miles of the ride were a bit of a tease because you could see the shape of the giant radio relay tower marking the top of the hill at Central High School. It looked so close, yet there was still quite a bit of road to cover before you got home. And at some point just past the 100 mile mark I did not care. Steve came rolling past me with a mile to go and I laughed. “I’m done,” I told him. He rode on ahead.

Sue was finished and changing into her run gear for a brick when I pulled up. “You did it!” she cheered with kiss. “You rode a Century!”

And indeed, I am no longer a Century Virgin. It feels good in a way to have that done and out of the way. I learned that among cyclists I am certainly nothing special. And yet every effort is special in its own way. It really makes no sense to compare. At some level it’s just between you, the pedals and the road. 100 miles of it. Complete.

Disclosure: I am a member of Experience Triathlon. 

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Posted in cycling, duathlon, triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to deal with getting older as an athlete

It is always amusing hearing someone far younger say out loud, “God, I feel so old.”

We hear it when people in the mid-to-late 20s suddenly realize the toddler children they once babysat are now graduating from high school or even college. We hear it as mothers of those children lament their sudden progress through school. The milestones come one right after another. Preschool. Fifth Grade. Middle School. On they go, right through the awkward stages into young adults.

The mirror test

monkey-girl01We’re so busy with these life events it hardly feels like you have time to look in the mirror yourself. Yet one day you do, and those lines next to your eyes seem a bit deeper furrowed than they were just a week ago. How does that happen?

For women with children there are those years of yin and yang body changes. Recovering from childbirth and working off baby weight is no easy chore. For most women, that mom fat hangs on like pudgy wallpaper. It might take years to shed those pounds.

Among men the enemy of body image is most often metabolism changes. As a guy nears the age of 40, the weight that used to come off in a month now takes months, then years. And that’s if you’re sticking to a program. Even the man that works out frequently can find himself gaining pounds if he stubbornly or lazily sticks to his old dietary habits. Come winter, the man that eats too many Christmas Cookies and downs a month’s worth of Christmas ales can find himself 10 to 15 pounds overweight.

Weight gain is just one aspect of aging. Fitness performance can lag once you pass the age of 40. Even world-class cyclists like Chris Horner that have extended their racing careers into the early 40s. An athlete at that level cannot afford to take much of a break from training and competition. As we age, the ability to ramp up and ramp down for performance gets a little tougher. That’s why you’ll see older athletes deeply engaged with personal trainers and partaking in year-round fitness management. That’s true in all sports from baseball to football, triathlon and track and field.

Measuring sticks

We might marvel at the performance of older athletes such as distance runner Bernard Lagat, whose speed has hardly fallen off even as he passes the age of 40. But ultimately, all aging athletes must deal with the fact that as the body ages, the ability to sustain high heart rates and oxygen transfer is diminished. Muscles and joints lose flexibility with age, and training must be conducted with respect to those trigger points that can lead to injury.

Fluorescent ChrisOne of the ironic aspects of participating in athletics all your life is that wear and tear can be a real consequence. Runners that have done years of training including 100-mile weeks and multiple races may find their bodies worn down. Some are so impacted by their careers that alternate sports from running are their only choice. I’ve spoken with many national and world class runners who due to high-intensity training in their careers, can no longer run at all.

That wear factor, in combination with age, can become a limiting (even frustrating) factor for athletes who want to keep training and competing into their 50s, 60s and even 70s. It may not be at all possible for some aging runners to sustain former levels of training in a sport such as running. Some runners turn to cycling which gives a long-time endurance athlete that “buzz” of speed and aerobic effort.

Late bloomers

Then there are those athletes that don’t even take up running until after the age of 40 or even 50 years old. For long time athletes, watching these athletes improve and run times comparable to athletes in their 30s can be frustrating. Just as bittersweet is the process of looking through current race times in magazines to find that you could have once won events by a minute or two.

Just as bittersweet is the process of looking through current race times in magazines to find that you could have once won events by a minute or two. The hard fact is that as you age, your speed and endurance is reduced at the top end. It’s hard to make up for that speed by volume as well, since the body may not tolerate intense or high levels of training as well.

So where’s the good news in all this, you might ask. For starters, there is still a considerable amount of joy and effort to pursue between the bookends of youth and death. It all comes down to reading your body in its current state, and trusting that it’s worth taking stock in order to build a better future.

Perspective

As a starting point, an athlete absolutely must back it down and take a reasonable look at the arc and purpose of their fitness lifestyle and career. The signs and signals of natural limitations are often there, yet it is too easy to ignore and pretend they don’t exist. That approach can lead to injury and cause big delays in a fitness regimen. So don’t start out by crushing your hopes with some kind of crash fitness program.

LegsThe wise athlete after age 40 begins to look at their fitness foundationally. Where once the health and exuberance of youth could carry the athlete through training and racing, now the approach must vitally incorporate weight training and “whole body” assessment. There may be legitimate time limits due to work and other obligations. But if you’re committed to the idea of a major event such as a marathon or Ironman, then one must commit to a frank internal and external discussion of those goals. In the world of an endurance athlete, something has to give in order to get the results you seek to achieve.

That is true even at a much younger age. Going into my senior year in college there was a temptation to explore all the joys of being at the top of the food chain. Yet there was also the opportunity to achieve something really unique in running. That meant 9-10 straight weeks of 80 to100 mile weeks and 13 races before the NCAA Division III Cross Country Meet. I was 21 years old and recognized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We gave up those mid-week parties and other college frolic, yet we placed second in the nation and earned Team All-American status.

So sacrifice is part of the picture at any age. Some of it is appropriate, but it pays to be judicious where you place your efforts as you age.

Back with a vengeance

Ironman-4309Remember those moms that gave up so much time raising children? Well, many of them emerge from their child-rearing years eager to recoup some of their womanly energies. That’s why one of the most competitive age divisions of all in the triathlon world is the women’s age 40-45. Moms of that age have plenty of drive to spare. They’ve often spent years organizing family life and finally see a little space where they can devote some time to themselves. And look at them go! Some strip that weight right off and get downright fast and furious on the bike, the run and the swim!

Some husbands can handle that. Others can’t. Sometimes marriages get strained. Others work to accommodate the fitness lifestyle, with both spouses training and the kids too. But sometimes the formula fails. One spouse finds their fitness mojo while the other refuses the entire scene.

It is likely these marriages were facing trouble anyway. I once knew a couple who raised four children, and on the day the fourth one graduated from high school, the wife walked in an said, “I’m done. I’m leaving you.” The guy was stunned, but she was bored because he was quiet and unassuming. She wanted excitement. They were 50 years old. So stuff happens whether people are fitness obsessed or not. As people age, some want to settle in while others need to break out. As I once wrote in my first fiction book, that is “life tectonics.”

You’re not alone

So aging is not something you necessarily do on your own. That goes for how you deal with the aging process as well. After all, we can often do wonderful things to keep our bodies in shape through our 40s, 50s and 60s. But sooner or later, our skin show signs of age in lines and sports. Muscles and breasts and humble nutsacks succumb to gravity despite all our efforts. That backyard game played with orbs on a rope is not called Grandpa Balls for nothing.

scalesoffmedia__chris_cudworth_IMG_2894Yet it is our faces that sometimes show age most of all. It’s an often unfunny thing to pick up a mirror and look at yourself sideways in the mirror. Once you reach 50 you wonder what the heck is up? with what your face has decided to do. Yet so much of that facial character is hard-earned, won through smiles and tears. The crow’s feet around my eye show most when I grin or squint. Of course, I’ve spent a lot of my life grinning and squinting as I run those intervals on the track or climb a tough hill on the bike.

How you deal with getting older as an athlete comes down to some basic and practical advice. Here are 5 great tips to help you on your way to a better, happier journey.

1. Become a multisport aficionado. Spread your effort around and don’t grind yourself into the ground doing one sport. Swim, cycle, run. Or throw something else in their. Horseback riding? Hell skateboard if you like. Be diverse and thrive.

2. Take a serious (yet happy) look at your diet. It’s pretty easy to cut down on sugars and carbs without eliminating them. Ingesting less beer, cookies and other treats is the best way to eliminate excess calories.

3. Choose goals that make (age) sense. Doing a legitimate assessment of your available time and commitment level can make participation in endurance sports so much more fulfilling as you age. Then, take stock of where you actually are through test workouts that honestly assess your fitness. If you’re currently racing 8:00 a mile, don’t expect to drop to 6:00 pace if you have not done that in the last 5 years.

4. Get age-appropriate advice. There are tons of coaches out there to teach you how to get fit and compete. But they must conduct a survey with you about your competitive and training history, your injury record, current workout load and what you hope to achieve. Slapping workouts on you that do not account for age and condition is both dumb and unethical.

5. Decide what you really want from life. This is the bigger picture approach to age-appropriate fitness. Yes, the thrill of competition is fun and absorbing. But think as well what you want to remember in life. If you make a trip to a foreign country and spend all your time running or riding, what have you absorbed of the place that you could not have gotten at home? Someday we’ll all die, and while fitness is important, so is culture, family, love and faith. Remembering to give your time over to these things is just as (if not more…) important as whether you won your age group in last weekend’s race.

That’s it. How to deal with getting older as an athlete. It’s not that complex, but neither is it always so simple. May you find balance and wonder at the same time.

werunandridelogo

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, duathlon, half marathon, marathon, running, triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A different look at state of Wisconsin

Driftless regionSince 1975 when I enrolled at Luther College, I have traveled through the State of Wisconsin on so many occasions it is impossible to count. Our route to Luther always involved a shot up I-90 to Madison, then a rolling trip through the Driftless region to Dodgeville and Prairie du Chien. Finally the 40-mile jaunt up Iowa 9 to Decorah.

There have been many back road journeys as well. It used to be fun to cut down through the Lancaster and Platteville region for a scenery change. Or, the trip up through Tomah and west to Lacrosse or up to Minneapolis-St. Paul was a great way to get tour Wisconsin.

As a birder and naturalist, there have been many trips to Wisconsin for fun and recreation. Starting way back in college, we traveled to the flat plains around Necedah to visit the prairie chicken mating grounds. We rose before dawn to get into the blind. It was cold and blustery, but the chickens came out to dance in the cold dawn.

A few years later I camped with my girlfriend at Necedah. In the middle of the night our tent was surrounded by a pack of coyotes howling and yipping and running around on the wet leaves. Inside the tent we clung together, alternately laughing and gasping as the wild coyotes brushed our tent.

In far northern Wisconsin we rented cabins from friends or camped in the national forests. For years our family visited a charmingly simplistic resort called 7 Mile Pinecrest. It sat on the shore of 7 Mile Lake, one of many such lakes hidden in the national forests. Our getaways were simple. We did not have tons of money but made family fun out of driving the backroads where fawns ran in front of our car, loons called and eagles snatched fish from the surface of the lake.

On those trips I’d go for long runs on the sand trails of the forests. Then I took up cycling, although not that great a bike, and either rode the same sand trails on a mountain bike or ventured out for 20 miles on the rolling roads.

We always acknowledged that we were Flatlanders from Illinois. The real Wisconsin residents who lived in these areas obviously held an even deeper connection to their state.

Adopted state

Driftless tooBut not by much, I contend. Sometimes the affinity one has for a place is magnified by its special significance among those who visit rather than own the land. I once fell in love with a girl at Bethel Horizons camp near Dodgeville. The Wisconsin moon rising over a mist-filled valley was partly responsible for that. And over the years, having come back many times to that section of the state to run and ride, the impact of the rich scenery and hills has never been lost on me.

It was valuable to a certain Frank Lloyd Wright as well. You might have heard of him. The architect built his home Taliesin into the side of a Wisconsin hill near Spring Green. He may have kept his home back in Oak Park for access to clients in the City of Chicago and beyond, but his retreat and his style of architecture owe much to the lay of the land in Wisconsin. That illustrates the principal that no one really owns a place except those willing to share it with the world.

In recent years, trips to that region of Wisconsin have produced many fun memories. Just last week we rode 70+ miles in the Horribly Hilly 100. Prior to that, I have ridden in The Wright Stuff Century several times. For all those years of driving through Wisconsin on the way to Decorah, I longed to get into those valleys for a real look at how the land looks and works. There are trout streams and birds singing.

All these years of affinity for Wisconsin have made me appreciate how much time has passed. I recall the week  I spent training at Bethel Horizons the summer before my senior year. Every morning I’d rise at 5 a.m. and go running. Then again in the evening before supper with the RA Retreat Teams. I covered 80+ miles in the heat and the hills. The beauty of that place gave me strength.

Mad Town

The city of Madison has also been the scene of some interesting experiences. I’ve raced half marathons in the arboretum. And after that, we hung around downtown on the night that the Wisconsin Badgers hockey team won the national championship. The town erupted in chaos and frivolity. Parade barriers were burned in the streets. People ran around drunk and the cops simply kept watch for real damage versus peripheral activities. Madison has always been something of a liberal town

madison_01Madison has always been something of a liberal town by nature. There once lived a portly gentleman named Art that hung around the city center. He apparently drank quite a bit, as evidenced by his rather large belly. Yet he was loved by the students and community of Madison, and he worked as a window washer. Simple existence. Simple needs. He drank by night and washed windows by day. Some students got together and made tee shirts in his honor. “What is Art?” the tee shirt said in bold letters. And below that: “Art is a window washer.”

That enterprise illustrated the conflicted spirit of a town like Madison. Home also to the Capitol, the place opens its arms on summer weekends with a farmer’s market that features both hippie booths and samples of Wisconsin’s prodigious farming economy. The square mixes with liberal and conservative instincts, in other words.

Balance and trust

scott-walker-evolution-485x335Somehow over the years Wisconsin has had success in reconciling its liberal side with its healthy business and tourism. Yet in recent years Wisconsin has become a flashpoint for ideological conflicts. Governor Scott Walker set out to gut teacher unions over collective bargaining and won. The fight became a national issue for conservatives that hate unions in general. Still, liberals put up a very public protest that essentially backfired. When Walker was set up for a recall vote, he won again. The headlines brought in tons of money from outside the state and fired up conservative voters who felt they were being bullied by the liberal side of the state’s citizens.

It’s interesting because it feels like Scott Walker wants to gut everything about Wisconsin that smacks of liberalism. That includes cycling. As this article on ThinkProgress documents, Walker is on a vendetta against cyclists, of all people.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

MADISON, WISCONSIN — In just one year, Wisconsin’s bike friendliness ranking from the non-partisan League of American Bicyclists dropped from the third best in country to ninth. If the state legislature approves Governor Scott Walker’s budget, which slashes funding for bike infrastructure, boosts spending on freeways and imposes a new tax on bicycle sales, the ranking could plummet further.

As Governor Walker prepares for a likely run for the White House, he’s been traveling the country touting his record of slashing taxes on corporations and the wealthy, saying he has “put more money back in the hands of the hardworking taxpayers.”

Yet Governor Walker and his allies in the Madison statehouse have found one corporate sector where they’re willing to raise taxes: bicycles. Though they have been hesitant to consider boosting taxes on gasoline or vehicle registration fees, state lawmakers have been pushing a $25 tax on the sale of all new bicycles in the state, on top of the existing sales tax.

At some point we have to consider the intent of such actions, and why both residents of Wisconsin using bicycles for recreation and commuting are suddenly the target of infrastructure cuts and taxes when bikes actually reduce impact on roads, reduce congestion in cities and reflect the long-held value of the tourism industry in Wisconsin.

Perhaps it is the angry emotions of some residents that are driving such moves. Out in the Dodgeville area there was a move in the past year by one county to raise costs of conducting events like The Wright Stuff Century. The move seemed designed to halt all such events, or drive them out of business. Apparently some local drivers hate the seeming inconvenience of cyclists at any time, and event-monitored roads in particular. It is so interesting that in America these days the anger of one constituency so often overrules the potential value of the common good.

When cyclists come to Wisconsin and spend money on hotels, restaurants and retail, it is clearly a good value to the local economy. Wisconsin itself affected communities such as Mt. Horeb by putting through a four-lane road on Hwy. 18. Recently the state set up cleaner interchanges to allow visitors easier access to that community, which in turn seems to be surviving alright based on its tourism connections and adjacency to Blue Mounds State Park.

Commerce and tourism all works together, if you let it. But if you send ugly messages to cyclists in your own state and to visitors as well, there can be real harm done.

The once (admittedly) innocent view I held of Wisconsin as a dream land for recreation and civil balance is eroding quickly. One just wonders what vision a man like Scott Walker might have for America. In Wisconsin he gutted corporate tax rates and the state is now losing money in several key categories. That is hurting is popularity in some quarters, generating full-on hatred in others.

Yet there’s the unsettling fact that despite his heavy-handed style and partisan cuts to budgets, he still won the recall vote. What does that bode for the nation as a whole?

Deep thinking on shallow views

These are things I pondered while riding through the Wisconsin hills last weekend. Touring that natural beauty made me wonder how Walker himself might view the natural resources of the state he governs.

Perhaps he never really gets below the surface of such issues. When quizzed on his beliefs pertaining to evolution during an overseas trip for trade or some other purpose, Walker ineffably “punted” on the question on grounds that his personal beliefs have no impact on (his) politics. He evaded the question again when asked by Politico.com to elaborate on the issue.

But his basic comprehension on such subjects do matter. It is well-known that Walker is a college dropout. Was it an incurious nature or an inability to learn that led him to leave school? Or both? And, if that combined level of low-grade thinking were applied to politics, where would it lead us?

Does Scott Walker even know what the Driftless Region of his state really is? Does he understand that the hills were originally part of a deep ocean once covering that part of the state, and that the limestone layers are the product of millions of years of active seacultures. Or does Walker, based on some sort of immature religion belief, contend that none of that is real or pertinent.  His own words focus on God as Creator, but it’s a poor disguise. “Both science and my faith dictate my belief that we are created by God. I believe faith and science are compatible, and go hand in hand.” That would be admirable if there was any sort of indication that Scott Walker’s ability to grasp science were in evidence.

But that’s not the case. The alternative is that Scott Walker is a dog-whistle creationist whose grasp of complex scientific issues, or indeed any complex issue, may not be worthy of trust. I not only think politicians should be required to explain their religious views, but also their grip of science and their understanding of how it intersects with everything that drives the security and economic interests of our nation? Why do we let politicians get away with such shallow descriptions of their worldview and how they think? Isn’t that the basis for character and capability?

Silence of the Shams

Men like Scott Walker deflect such questions because they truly cannot answer them. As a result, their politics are a sham, and subject to undescribed influences that take advantage of the power of his shallow thinking to exploit our governmental process and our natural resources in line with that extraction of wealth.

Walker’s agenda for Wisconsin and now the country is backed by moneyed interests that have every reason to ignore the facts of evolution in favor of the ideology of human dominion and the corrupt purposes to which it can be brought. That’s criminal when it comes to honesty in government.

Furthermore, it certainly appears that Scott Walker cares not one whit what really happens to Wisconsin as long as it fits his vision of what he wants for himself and for his puppetmaster buddies salivating at the idea of another unthinking President in the White House.

We know what that brought us last time with George W. Bush. A gutted economy and a nation at war for more than a decade. It seems the real fight over these issues starts right at home, or in a state near you.

werunandridelogo

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, cycling the midwest, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 bikes you’ll never see on the market

New Bike issueAt We Run and Ride, we confess to a certain lust for new bikes. When the annual Bike Porn issues from Bicycling or Velo magazines, we pore through the reviews wondering what it would really be like to own one of those $10,000 bikes with electronic shifters and a seat or stem that perfectly fits your sphincter.

Well, because of our highly respected position as a thought leader in the world of running and riding, We Run and Ride has been given special access to the developmental side of the bike industry. Leading bike manufacturers agreed to give us the inside scoop on models being planned for the coming year. We think you’ll find these bikes fascinating. Perhaps you’ll even run out and buy one. Which is what Bike Porn is ultimately all about.

So here we go. The bikes you’ve dreamed about but may never see on the market.

Specialized S-Werks BigMac

2014-Specialized-S-Works-Roubaix-SL4-Disc-brake-road-bike01This tasty bike comes loaded with extra ingredients and features. The geometry is double-decker and it comes with Special Sauce to lubricate the drive train. Riders will appreciate the new S-Works Lean Meat Wheelset and complimentary disc brakes, which fit together like a well-made hamburger. For those concerned about weight-to-speed ratio, the low-cal frame weighs in at only 15 lbs. “Lettuce give you a better ride,” says Specialized about the bike they call the BigMac. “It’s fast food for the future of cycling.”

Cannondale Fodder

CannondaleLong known for their stalwart line of racing bikes, Cannondale has gone a different route with the Cannondale Fodder. “We learned from racing bikes on the Tour de France that mechanicals and breakdowns are inevitable. So we decided to go with a bike composed entirely of cellulose and disposable parts.” Think stiff and light, yet disposable. “All our Cannondale Fodder bikes are completely recyclable,” the company rep explained. “That’s why we feature those little green highlights in strategic places. They say, ‘We’re the Green bike company.’ And when one of these babies breaks down in the Tour this year––and we know it will––we’ll simply throw it in the ditch where it will decompose in a period of three to four days. We think the Cannondale Fodder is the bike of the future. No additional carbon has been used or created during its manufacture. It’s the Un-Carbon bike. Best of all, the bike itself retails for only $9.95 plus shipping, which costs $4996.00″

Pinarello Compensator

Pinarello-CompensatorThe Italian bike industry is known for its focus on finely tuned components and bike frames built to minute requirements. That is why Pinarello has introduced its newest bike called the Compensator. Specifically designed for men with small penises, the Compensator comes with a vibrating seat to keep the male organ engorged and at its maximum state of cycling-short-bulge while riding. This ensures that riders who get lucky and win the bunch sprint will appear sufficiently well-endowed to justify their sudden surge to manhood. Available in both road and tri-bike aero models, the Compensator is an equal opportunity deployer, and is available in alternative framesets including the Compensator PM (for Premature Ejaculator) and PC (Post Coitus) so that riders are can be prepared to compensate in all conditions. Also available with thicker, longer aero bars for those truly trying to compensate for their feared penile deficiencies.

Felt DominaTRI-X

felt ar4 2014This women’s only bike frame is targeted for release in 2016. Smartly styled in black and red, the bike comes with a complimentary leather kit with matching accents. The riding crop costs extra, which we think is a marketing mistake, but the DominaTRI-X has plenty to offer even without use of the crop. The special DominaTRI-X tire tread is marked with an “X” pattern so that competitors can leave their mark as they ride over their rivals. TheDominaTRI-X also comes with a webcam-mounted handlebar and specially designed Garmin Humpfest satellite sensitive recorder. Sister, this is a sweet bike. But not too sweet.

Trek Lancer

trek-equinox-ttx-9-9-sslHidden in the contract Trek had once held with deposed cyclist Lance Armstrong was a provision that Trek would launch a bike named after the convicted doper. That’s why the Trek Lancer is an being released next year. Apparently Armstrong figured his EPO-lifestyle would catch on sometime in the future, and he worked with Trek engineers to build a bike to his doping specs. The Lancer is thus built to accommodate dopers who don’t want to stop for blood bags or shots of PEDs in their ass cheeks. All the medicines you need can be stashed in the frame of the Lancer, which opens up like an advent calender. There are seven compartments––one for each of Lance’s Tour de France victories––for storing the drugs or PEDs of your choice. If you don’t do drugs, the Lancer is still great for packing PowerBars, goo and Clif Bars for easy access.

Scott Free

Cycling : Tour de France 2009 / Team HTC Columbia Illustration Illustratie / SCOTT Bike Velo Fiets / Time Trial Bert GRABSCH (Ger) /  Equipe Ploeg /  Ronde van Frankrijk / TDF /  (c)Tim De Waele

The future of bike affordability has finally arrived with the Scott Free. This bike costs nothing to ride out of the store. With zero percent financing, the Scott Free models itself after the auto industry where incentives drive the sale. Normally retailing at $6995, the Scott Free accepts trade-ins before you walk out the door with the bike and 72 months of financing at a zero percent interest rate. That’s only $97 a month over the years you own the bike. If you crash the thing, Scott will replace your bike if you return the parts in the box in which you purchased it. Assembly not included.

Orbea Oriface

OrbeaThis bike is so good it has been known to cause a condition known as Bikegasm. The Orbea Oriface is so smooth and so sexy to ride, cyclists have been seen making the “O” face when reaching speeds over 20 mph. And with the Oriface perched firmly under your taint, it’s so easy to do. Just let road vibration do the rest. Also know that the pedaling in the Oriface is assisted by an internal motor (shhhhh, no one will know) that makes 25 or 35 mph even easier. It’s true whether you’re an amateur or a pro! Sure, the members of your group ride will wonder what’s up as you ride along going “OOOO” with your lips. But don’t let on. The Oriface is sold only to riders willing to sign a 10-year Non-Disclosure Agreement.

BMC BM2

BMC0036impecteamversion1sideOne of the worst problems while riding is the need to take make a Bowel Movement. The BMC BM2 solves that issue for men and women alike. The seat comes outfitted with BMC Trap Door. When you wear the complimentary and rider-specific fitted BMC BM2Kit, you can open the shorts and dispose of either urine or feces through the advanced Vaccum Seat Stem. The red highlights on the seat stem and seat illustrate the plumbing points, so you really can’t miss. Waste matter is simply evacuated out the Rear Derailleur. The red highlights on the front of the bike are simply to distract fellow riders from what is going on in the back.

Schwinng Vaginuhhh

Schwinn-2014-Mesa2-W-2Nothing hurts the Lady or Man Parts worse than an unintential tumble onto the top tube. That’s why the Schwinng Vaginuhhh was invented way back in the 1950s to prevent women from crunching their crotch on male-specific bikes. However this bike is updated for the future by offering the same frame style to men, transgender riders and all points in between. Schwinn has always been the People’s Bike Company. Why draw lines where they don’t need to be?

Ridley Riddler

2011-ridley-dean-tt-bikesWe all despise hills, false flats and bad roads. The Ridley Riddler was created specifically to solve all those problems on the road. This bike has special flywheel gearing and on-ride adjustable position to create a downhill ride no matter what the real terrain throws at you in terms of elevation. And for those pothole-infested, crumbling, tarsnake-ridden stretches of road where forgiveness is not offered, nor accepted, the Ridley Riddler offers the first set of Gumby and Pokey Wheels. They’re made of flexible Kevlar rubber, can mold themselves to the topography and even help you ride up and over the back of offending motorized vehicles. If you grew up in the mind-bending 60s or simply think you’d like to be a good little Gumby on wheels, this is the bike for you.

That’s it! We hope you’re as excited about the bikes as we are at We Run and Ride.

werunandridelogo

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, cycling, Tarsnakes, tri-bikes, triathlon, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mulberry streets forever

Mulberry treeIt’s the mulberry season here in Illinois. Mulberries are the seed fruit that no one notices until they run through a pile or streak of them on the sidewalk. Then you worry about the stain on your shoes. In fact they stain anything with which they come in contact. That means trouble when a bird such as a grackle ingests a few of these berries and flies over your vehicle to leave a mulberry bomb on your hood.

That’s pretty gross. Those seeds and purple juices mixed with bird poop is a substance with which it is no fun to deal. You can hose them off or spray them down with Windex, and still they cling to the paint.

When cycling you must be very careful in approaching and passing through a mulberry zone. Indeed, they seem to fall straight down from the tree. Like angry little purple paratroopers without chutes, they plop on the ground and lie there waiting for something to run them over.

IMG_0066This is an evolutionary strategy, in case you did not know. The sticky fruit serves as a transport vehicle for the many seeds contained in each little mulberry. These get carried away by sticking to the bottom of some creature’s feet or else eaten and later pooped into a new place for a mulberry tree to grow.

And oh, boy do they grow. I am fairly sure that mulberry trees snuck out of the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve got booted out. These have a devilish way of showing up in weird spots. They love to grow next to houses, for example. Somehow the seeds come to rest against the foundation and the plant sprouts up in multiple stems. You can cut these off every ten minutes it seems and they keep coming back.

If you don’t cut them back or cut them down, mulberries take perverse pride in growing up over your roof and dumping their stainy, pitty seeds all over your roof. That leaves a permanent dark stain on your shingles. Unsightly at best.

IMG_0068Mulberry trees also take pleasure in dropping their mulberries all over the street. You can rightly imagine a mulberry tree having the same twisted intellect as a thirteen-year-old child with nothing to do on a June day. They perch there by the street tossing mulberries by the dozens. Finally there is an entire cloud of mulberries covering the sidewalk and extending all the way out in the lane of the road. The mulberry tree sits back and laughs, waiting for its prey.

Then along comes a cyclist. The mulberry tree stands quietly, its leaves barely uttering a whisper in the summer breeze. Yet you know it is muttering to the ugly little buckthorn bush next to it. “Here he comes! Here….he…comes! This is gonna be great!”

And before you know it, you’ve run right through the purple cloud of mulberries. Pits and seeds have flown up on your legs and gathered on the soles of your feet.

Or better (worse) yet, you fly through the patch of mulberries on your bike. The mashed berries carry up IMG_0070with a flick of your tires onto your back. From then till eternity, your favorite yellow jersey will bear the mark of the mulberry prank. You are stained by a moment’s inattention. The mulberry tree has left its mark.

Mulberries aren’t all bad of course. Mulberries taste good when they mature. Their flavor falls somewhere between a raspberry and a muskmelon, which is weird. But mulberries are weird. They’re weird trees that have no place in society or in horticulture, it seems. No one actually plants mulberry trees. They are the gypsies of the tree world. They have no real home, yet their fruity goodness sits out there like sinful temptation. They want to seduce you.

I used to eat plenty of mulberries from the lone mulberry tree growing in our backyard in Pennsylvania. They are also an absolute expression of early summer, and as such, best IMG_0071tasted on a calm June morning when the birds are singing and there is a little dew on the grass.

It’s a fact of life that mulberry fruit is just a little naughty by nature. As an undomesticated fruit, they truly feel a bit taboo, like a session of summer masturbation behind the shed when you are a horny summer kid. You take your pleasure and hope you don’t get caught. There’s always a little guilt involved.

We need these moments however. Otherwise the lure of the taboo digs deeper into our souls. Like a tick that sucks our blood, we need to remove that wild bit of hunger that eats at us. Mulberries are the tarsnakes of the wild fruit world.

Because… where is summer going to leave us if we don’t make it stop to join us in our reveries? Is it really already… the end of June? Why haven’t we sat on the hammock? Gone for a run with just a sports bra on, or no shirt at all? Why do we let summer slide past us when it is meant (deservingly) to be treasured? Do we not even recall when the mulberry tree stood shivering in the cold, raw winds of winter? Those green leaves and naughty purple berries could only be imagined. And now we take them for granted. Shame shame.

The-Endless-SummerThe Beach Boys sang about the glories of Endless Summer. For those of us without oceans to beckon, we must find our beach in other ways. All across the interior those mulberry streets are calling us to dig our toes into summer. Let the pits fall where they may. Let the fruit juice run down your chest. Smear it on a friend and lick it off. Make wine or mix them with ice cream and make love on the back patio on a moonless night. Run and ride through those mulberry streets and be glad for the opportunity to move freely through warm days without layers of clothing between you and the world. And eat a few mulberries along the way. You won’t regret it.

werunandridelogo

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