Find out what happens when you Google Goggles (for swim and otherwise…)

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It’s hard to tell conspiracy theories from the truth in athletics, and more

Lance-Armstrong-bleeds-fr-003Back when Lance Armstrong was riding away from the other doping cyclists, rumors and conspiracies about doping were rampant. Fans wanted to believe the sport was clean. People wanted the Legend of Lance to be true. Cancer victim comes back to win Tour de France seven times! It doesn’t get any better than that.

Well, the conspiracies all turned out to be true. The lies ran all the way up to the top of the sport.

But it was a house of cards. For years Lance was the Rainmaker for the entire sport of cycling. His personal brand brought millions of sponsorship dollars into cycling and everyone benefited. But it was all very much like war profiteering. The ends justified the means. And that meant everyone doped because if you couldn’t keep up, you could not get your piece of the Lance Armstrong pie.

Paradigms

It’s often said that sports is a paradigm for the rest of humanity. The triumphs and failures are a form of art imitating life. We love it when our heroes succeed. We suffer when they fail. The vicarious nature of human beings wants to know that acting like a hero begets some sort of good in this world.

As the years roll by people are coming to appreciate that the great conspiracy of Lance Armstrong was a plot even stranger than fiction. By the time he finally came clean (pun intended) it was not exactly shocking. The truth was staring most of us in the face all along. A ton of other cyclists from Lance Armstrong’s era had already been caught or confessed. A map of the podium finishers in front and immediately behind Lance was like a rogue’s gallery of cycling busts. So the conspiracy, as it were, was no longer secret. Everyone was doping because everyone had to dope just to participate in the sport.

A world of dopers and dopes

So much of the world also works that way. People go along to get along with the powers that be. They’re paid (sometimes quite well) to keep their mouths shut. And if the conspiracy is important enough, people lose their lives when they threaten to expose the truth.

Of course some people lose their lives as the result of conspiracies in the first place. One of the greatest conspiracies in American history is the killing of John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert. No one with a brain in their head believes any longer that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone shooter. Decades of research by investigators of all political stripes have also exposed the sham that was the Warren Commission. It’s quite obvious now that people within our own government, in collaboration with mafia and possibly CIA help pulled off a grand execution and then covered it up. LBJ was likely in on it to some degree, but so perhaps was George Herbert Walker Bush, then of the CIA.

Conspiracies about Kennedy’s death long felt like false claims that anyone other than Oswald was responsible for the killing that day in Dallas. America could not deal with the idea that people could be so evil as to assassinate a popular president. But it happened. And stuff like that continues to happen every day.

The root of all evil

Some people see links between that brand of conspiracy and what transpired on the infamous day of 9/11. It’s difficult to comprehend the possibility of that level of conspiratorial action, but it’s obviously not the first time in history men of power have conspired to act out of fury and madness for their own agenda. The mixed up world of war profiteering in World War II included men like Prescott Bush, Joe Kennedy and even Henry Ford selling weapons to the Nazis. Men of power have always conspired to use tragedy for their own profit.

It’s always about the money. That’s what drove Lance Armstrong and so many other cyclists to cheat and defame the sport that fed their pockets and their egos. As it turned out, the Lance Legend, while still impressive for its level of accomplishment, was a conspiracy come true. It has convinced me there is almost always a difficult truth behind the lies we’re fed about events ranging from the Kennedy assassination to 9/11.

When faced with a conspiracy, one of the first questions we all need to ask is; Who is the benefactor? There’s always a reason behind why people do things. Sometimes it’s power. Sometimes it’s money. Sometimes it’s sheer madness. But there’s always a motivation. Sometimes it’s just to gain attention. More often it’s to gain power, prestige or money.

Crazy conspiracies or not?
bigfoot2There are conspiracies that are just plain crazy on the surface. Some people refuse to believe we ever put a man on the moon. Others insist that Paul McCartney was killed in a car accident and was replaced by a talented CIA plant named Faul McCartney.

Many people continue the search for Sasquatch or Bigfoot. There is absolutely no material evidence that such a creature exists. No credible remains have ever been documented. Yet there is a website dedicated to “educating” people about the existence of Bigfoot. Perhaps the idea of a man-beast that is part ape and part human seems to hold appeal for a segment of the populace. Perhaps it’s the hope that the human race has not completely conquered nature after all.

Hubris exposed

Conspiracies tend to focus on that sort of narrative. There’s a hubris afoot in some way, and people want to peel back the arrogant lies and reveal the truth. No one likes to be tricked, and conspiracy theorists hold back no resources when trying to figure out what really happened in this world.

Three Ms

There’s just one problem with conspiracy theory as a world view. It can easily be misdirected, misguided and misanthropic.

For example, there’s an apparently large segment of the American populace that views science as some sort of conspiracy against truth. They regard with suspicion any fact or theory that does not align with the tenets of their own worldview.

Hence we find creationists building a museum in Kentucky whose main mission (funded by millions) is to expose the supposedly false contentions of science and evolution. Their main point is that these secular knowledge tools are designed specifically to counteract the word of God. So these believers do just about anything to counteract the so-called conspiracy that human beings evolved from other life forms over millennia.

In fact the real conspiracy is that people who take the bible literally are simply selective in what they choose to believe and not believe. They also ignore the fact that Jesus Christ himself used much organic symbolism in his teaching, which was dependent on using examples from nature to convey spiritual principles. So creationists technically are conspiring to obscure the actual teaching methods of Jesus and the true foundation of the bible, which is spiritual metaphor.

It’s inconceivable to creationists that evolution is anything other than a conspiracy to defeat faith in a literal bible. Actually what really galls them, and heightens the notion of conspiracy, is that many real scientists care not a lick what people choose to believe about God or spirituality. Those notions have nothing to do with material science. If it can’t be tested and reproduced in practice, then it is not science. And it likely does not exist.

Debunking

That’s the irony in all this. Science is the ultimate debunker of conspiracy theories. Hence the popularity of the cable show Mythbusters. Myths and conspiracy theories have a tangential relationship, you see. People create myths around their most closely held beliefs.

But people also create myths to fool others. That’s what happened with Lance Armstrong. His myth held out for quite a long time before the conspiracy of his doping was exposed, and confessed. In his case it was the corroborative evidence of other witnesses that doomed his mythlike stature. His former teammates blew the conspiracy wide open.

The question we all face when dealing with conspiracies, exposed and otherwise, is how much accountability there should be when it comes to secrets and lies. If a conspiracy is constructed to ostensibly protect a nation’s interests, is it better for the public to ultimately know? And, if a conspiracy is exposed and it is determined that the nation’s best interests were compromised or put at risk, what should the punishment be? Do we simply let conspiracies such as the Reagan-era Iran-Contra affair lay there in history? Or do we call those who perpetrated the actions to account? Usually its a mix of responses. And usually there it is a fall guy, not the top people in power that pay the price.

That’s what makes the Lance Armstrong case rather rare. But even Lance seems to want to tell us he’s not the ultimate kingpin. Someday the true nature of the full cycling conspiracy will come out. Like the Kennedy assassination investigation, it just takes time.

Secrets and operatives

Edward SnowdenSurely we’ve learned that our own CIA in America does all sorts of things it does not want the public to know. Yet once the conspiracy of our military’s torture of Iraqis was exposed, that led to greater hate of our nation by terrorists. Some claim we should never have released those photos. They were the province of war and special intelligence.

But if we truly care about the character of our nation and its representatives, then all of us should take conspiracy seriously. Surely some conspiracies are shallow, vain attempts at gaining attention. But others are massively significant, such as the case with Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information from the NSA. Some say he did it out of good conscience and is a hero. Others consider him a traitor.

One thing we know for sure. There is always something afoot that runs deeper than our surface knowledge. It pays to ask questions and seek the truth, even if it means exposing some of our heroes and leaders as frauds. There’s always a risk in that. Sometimes we find out things we really did not want to know.

We’re coming up to Easter, the season when Christians celebrate the Resurrection, which is either the biggest even known in history or the biggest conspiracy ever perpetrated on the face of the earth.

Conspiring minds want to know.

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Why my kids aren’t running clones of me

One of the vows I made upon becoming a parent was that I would not force my children into liking or doing everything I did. At least I tried to meet that vow. Sure, I dragged them afield for nature walks, pointing out birds and plants and interesting bits of garbage in the weeds, if that’s what it took. But that’s just part of being a parent.

Evan Paul Cudworth (in green hat) on one of his rooftop adventures in New York.

Evan Paul Cudworth (in green hat) on one of his rooftop adventures in New York.

What I did not do was take them out running with me. This was a divisive decision in my head. On one hand I believe strongly in the health benefits of physical activity. On the other hand I did not think it wise to try to make them into clones of myself. I’m happy to say they are finding their way in this world based on their own choices.

Both participated in the sport of soccer. I coached my son’s teams all the way through middle school. As a coach I erred on the side of a screamer now and then. I’m competitive and getting eleven kids at the age of 10 to work together on a soccer field is a difficult task.

So I could have done better at that. But years later when my son and I talked about our soccer days, I mentioned a particular play he made during a game and he told me, “Dad, I don’t remember any of our games. But our practices were fun.”

And he ran around a lot during practice. So I knew he was getting exercise. He also played soccer on the playground at school. So I knew he ran around even more. Yet one day he came home frustrated with the game that day.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Well, all the good kids gang up on one team, and they win every day,” he replied.

“And what do you do?”

“I play on the other team,” he said. “And they kill us every day. It’s not fair and it’s no fun if the sides aren’t even.”

(And being the dad I said…) “Have you tried getting everyone to make the sides more fair?”

(And as a son, he sighed) “Yes. We’ve tried everything. All they want to do is win.”

And that, in a nutshell, “is life,” I told him.

But I was damned proud of his commitment to justice. He made that decision on his own.

Of course by proxy it also meant that he had to run and play twice as hard and likely improved his soccer skills trying to keep the ball away from ten guys at once.

Nothing motivates improvement like anger. Nothing.

Emily Joan Cudworth with her super buddy wonder dog Chuck. Nice paws!

Emily Joan Cudworth with her super buddy wonder dog Chuck. Nice paws!

My daughter was similarly feisty on the soccer field. But she cared not for the social snarkiness of the girl’s soccer teams on which she played. Nor did she really care for all the running. So despite my fervent encouragement to use her natural speed on the field (she was among the top 10% in speed among the girls she played) she chose to play goalie.

It’s in her nature to be contrary about some things. At the tender age of three years old she was acting up in the back seat by teasing her brother and being obnoxious. I stopped the car and stared at her in the rear view mirror. “Emily, if you don’t straighten up in the car, I’m going to have to make some rules.”

She leaned forward in her child’s seat and looked me right in the eyes through the rear view mirror. “But daddy,” she replied. “I’ll break the rules.”

You try coaching a kid like that. However one of her last seasons as a soccer player the coach hired a trainer from the local fitness club to work with the girls. Those 12-year-olds were put through core workouts that made me wince. But their tummies got tight. They even compared ab muscles on occasion. And man, with all that fitness built up from within, my girl could really run.

I specifically recall the sight of her pale legs flying downfield in pursuit of a a girl dribbling in a breakaway. She ran that girl down and in full stride stripped the ball from her feet.

I already knew by that point that Emily would not go on to play high school sports. The natural infighting on sports teams just did not appeal to her. Plus she never really liked getting out of bed earlier than she absolutely needed. So I savored that moment for what it was. Just the joy of it.

Calvin in Bed

Nor did sports last for my son. In high school soccer he played and started through his sophomore year. Yet when the coach did not lift a finger to talk to him or his other friends about the next season, soccer was dead to him.

Two years later that same coach lamented in a newspaper article that his team was struggling because they lacked senior leadership. Small wonder. None of the 18 freshman that began the program together made it through their senior year. “How ironic,” I said out loud to the newspaper.

My son also ran track through his sophomore year and was actually faster in the 800 than I was at that age. I think he ran 2:05. But one day he came home and told me, “Dad, when I’m doing track I’m 25% happy. But when I’m doing drama I’m 100% happy.”

I agreed that the decision was made. He went on to act and direct plays both in high school and college at University of Chicago. He’s studied Improv in New York City and has become a writer as well.

Evan third from left.

Evan third from left.

It’s funny how these aspects of personality in our children emerge despite our best efforts, in some respects, to let them become who they want to be. Despite some of their differences in personality and approach to life, my daughter now laughs that she sees her mother emerging in her language and actions. My son was really close to my wife and yet in many ways he could not be more different than she.

But these are the things that make us close.

In recent years my son has taken his running and done interesting things with it. His legs (like mine) are not perfect for the sport. He is prone to a knee injury on one side. Yet that has not stopped him from getting involved in a group that literally runs with the homeless population in New York City. Running helps the homeless in surprising ways. It frees them from adverse expectations. It builds confidence too.

He told me about the day they all attended one of those races where everyone gets doused with bright colors. At first his homeless proteges were skeptical. But then something great started to happen. “They got into it,” he said.

We can sometimes only imagine what the human mind does when released from the bonds of negativity. Running is great for that. It has saved my mind in many ways, and many times in life when troubles threatened to overwhelm. Imagine going from being homeless to be covered in bright yellow, green, pink and blue colors.

I’ve never used my running for something so cool as that.

Why run when you can find other ways to have fun?

Why run when you can find other ways to have fun?

Yet the gift I gave to my daughter for her birthday last year was one of those 0.0 ovals for the back of her car. She’s not going to become a runner anytime soon. For one thing, her feet are pretty flat from the orthopedic boots she wore the first year of walking. Her feet had been curled and the doctors straightened them out the old-fashioned way, with straight shoes.

So she needs orthotics to this day, and yet does not yet wear them. She’s no clone of me, you see. I wear orthotics everywhere I go, and all the time. We all make our decisions based on our own interests. Running doesn’t really interest her.

That’s fine, of course. It’s never been my goal to make my children a clone of me. And they’re not. But I have insisted on many occasions that they learn to “enjoy the process,” which means living in the moment. And when that doesn’t happen, I’ve always counseled that difficulties “build character.”

Calvin Builds Character

I’m not sure if I borrowed that phrase or came up with it on my own. The one thing we all do share is a love for the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. It grew evident over the years that I am literally the father in that strip, who loves to ride and exercise in horrible conditions, then come home and tell everyone how it “builds character.”

The one area we might all converge some day is cycling. Emily likes a simple ride on a hybrid bike and Evan used to ride off to parks during the summer with book in hand. So perhaps we’ll all ride together at some point. That would be fun.

And a bit of a time warp. I rode with them back and forth to the park when they were just little kids. Evan took to the bike pretty quickly. Emily refused to ride a two-wheeler until first grade when we moved to Batavia and we had a big wide driveway and quiet street where she could practice in peace. That’s my girl. Does it her way.

My son is also a fan of Star Wars. His Christmas gift from my companion Sue was a book in which the Star Wars story is written in the style of Shakespeare. I cannot imagine myself enjoying that book too much. He’s very well read however and has torn through massive tomes like the Brothers Karamazov and other classic literature that I have never touched.

Mu daughter meanwhile has become a naturalist in ways that I never really imagined. She picked up where her mother left off in raising monarch butterflies from the eggs laid on milkweed plants. Last summer she raised and released 50 of the insects, more than her mother even managed to do. And in Emily’s inimitable style, she chronicled the entire life cycle using her incredible photography skills and powers of observation (which she did get from her mother) to bring the entire episode of metamorphosis to life.

That’s probably an apt enough symbol here on which to close. We’re all part of a metamorphosis in some way. As individuals, as a family, and as a population.

It takes a whole cast of characters to make it work, and none of them the same. That’s what makes us all more alike than we might like to think.

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6 rules to live by with cycling communication

As a cyclist for more than a decade, it has been a challenge and a joy to figure out how to ride better. There have been years when everything seemed to flow. My quads bulged. My lungs thrived. My head imagined what to do and I fairly much did it.

Ride In CloseupSome years I raced quite a bit. Other years, depending mostly on my appetite for additional stress, I backed away from racing. There were other issues calling for my attention, the most notable among them taking care of a wife and family.

But there is one thing that stands out in all these years of cycling ups and downs. One thing that makes cycling better in every respect. That one thing is communication.

Cycling is a wonderful solo activity. It is also a great way to enjoy the company of others. But to fully enjoy that company, it truly helps to communicate.

Here are 6 Rules to Live By when it comes to cycling communication.

6. Determine how far and how fast you want to ride

Unless everyone in a group is in similar cycling condition, communicating about how far you plan to ride, and how fast, is critical to an equitable experience for everyone. The first step to quality riding is helping everyone in the group to understand the goals and expectations of a ride.

5. Talk about “Drop” or “No Drop”

If you are part of a competitively based group there is no question about the goals of a fast ride. You hang on or get dropped. But if you are part of a training ride, then the basic rules of “Drop” or “No Drop” must be communicated clearly to the benefit of the whole group. Nothing frustrates slower riders more than being dropped and not knowing whether someone from the group will come back to get them. And nothing frustrates stronger riders more than not knowing whether they can push the pace or not. So communicate. Sometimes rides “split” into two groups with some willing to hold back and guide those working on fitness while others agree to forge ahead. But don’t just do it without talking about it. That lacks class in cycling.

4. Don’t assume that everyone wants to keep up

If you drop back and find a cyclist or a small group of cyclists riding at a pace that is sustainable for them, don’t automatically assume they’re unhappy with the group for riding faster. Many cyclists readily recognize their limits and are not insulted by the fact they can’t keep up. The right thing to do in such circumstances is ask how a cyclist or dropped group wants to proceed.

3. Respect the pull

Kentucky resident Tom Burridge bike racing. If you are the strongest cyclist in a group you may find yourself doing a greater share of the work at the front. The right thing to do if you are in a group where a strong rider is doing all the work is to say to them, “Hey, we know you’re doing all the work. Let us know if we can share the pull now and then.” Some riders will decline, but acknowledging their effort is always the right thing to do. It is also important when riding in a group to do your best with your opportunity to pull. But respect your limits. It does no good for anyone if you ride to the point of absolute exhaustion and then find yourself unable to pull later on in the ride. You’re in it for the long haul, but sometimes that means doing shorter pulls.

2. Signal your intentions

No matter whether you’re a solo rider hammering along on a lonely stretch of road or one of a group of 20 slicing your way down the tarmac, communication about your position on the road, in the group, upcoming turns, approaching or passing traffic and changes in speed or the need to stop are all vital signs that you care about yourself and other riders. So communicate. It’s the path to safety but also to speed. It’s one of the laws of nature when it comes to cycling. A smart group can ride faster.

1. Know your kind.

Even at rest a tri-bike aero frame looks more aggressive.

This single most important rule is only heightened when you get mixed groups of cyclists together. If you find yourself as a road cyclist with a group of triathletes on aero bikes, pay extra attention to pace, speed and turning ability. Those bikes are not the same. And if you are a triathlete jumping in with a group of road cyclists, recognize that you are essentially a danger to the entire group. The bike handling capabilities of a tri-bike versus a road bike are night and day.

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

Let’s hear it for the parents

Cudworth with ParentsOver the last few months I’ve been going through layers of family history. Finally getting to the bottom of some of the deep stacks of stuff one builds up through years of marriage. All of us need to do this at some point. It’s healthy to de-clutter your life and also make decisions about what is important to keep, and what…not so much.

It has been interesting to stumble on photographs of events whose memory has been shaded by time. Just last night while flipping over some album covers a set of photos fell out that taught me something. One of those photos was a shot of my parents standing with me at the finish of the Sycamore Pumpkinfest 10K in 1984. I’d placed second to a better runner that day, but not for lack of trying. Some days you just get beat. So I was smiling in the photo, as were my mother and father.

But here’s the kicker. I had completely forgotten they were in attendance that day. And likely, that’s true of many other races. They came to most of my meets in high school and even some in college. My mother cheered and my father often yelled, “Stay loose!” which often made me more tense. But that’s a different story.

It’s so easy to forget these moments of support and dedication. I had my differences with my parents over the years like most people. But truth be told, they were very supportive of most of the things I did.

That includes my art, my writing and my athletic pursuits. It was my father that drove me to Luther College on a whim in the middle of summer 1975. I switched from Augustana to Luther on his advice. “It’s beautiful there.”

At the start of the Pumpkinfest 10k in Sycamore Illinois. I'd go on to take second in the race.

At the start of the Pumpkinfest 10k in Sycamore Illinois. I’d go on to take second in the race.

And that’s sometimes how parenthood works. It’s the small things that count. Like being there often enough to be noticed. And being there even if you figure your attendance will be forgotten some day.

They saw me win. And they saw me lose. And they loved me in between.

Recently my companion Sue made a trip to Florida to spend time with her parents. She had not seen them in more than a year. It was the right thing to do. Your parents need to see you, just like you need to see your parents.

So let’s hear it for the parents. Every one of them. Even if they’re gone from this earth, it is healthy to think back and remember. To turn and hug your own kids, or your spouse or companion. Share the love. That’s what parenting is all about.

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Just a few ways that Strava can make you crazy

Strava is a wonderful app but it can make you truly crazy at times.

Strava is a wonderful app but it can make you truly crazy at times.

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

On becoming a better runner, achieving it, and on we go

ScottScott Fink-Finowicki is a young man who works in sales and is returning to running after a period away from the sport due to injury and getting started in his career.

It’s been an interesting return to the sport, because during his competitive career in high school, Scott was not just an ordinary runner. He was a very fast runner. His time for 400 meters was 49.5 seconds. That’s under 25 seconds per 200 meters.

Even more impressive, his time for 800 meters was 1:51.3. That’s running a 56 second first quarter mile and coming back with a split of 55.3 on the second lap.

Fink-Finowicki started his track career as a sprinter with a 200 time down near 23 seconds. Anyone that has done repeat 200s on the track knows how fast that really is. A 5:00 mile pace requires runners to go through 200 meters at 37.5 seconds. 30 second pace gives you a 4:00 mile.

So to run 1:51.3 for the 800 meters is not joking around. Fink-Finowicki first tried middle distance races during his sophomore year in high school with an indoor 600 meters. He had been messing around in training with some sprinter friends by doing longer distance runs, so the idea of covering more ground in a competitive event was not completely foreign to him. He found success by applying his sprinter’s speed in combination with distance training.

ScottIt is very likely Scott would have placed high in the state meet for Illinois had he not torn his hamstring at the sectionals meet his senior year at Wheaton-Warrenville South High School. “I had tweaked my hamstring earlier in the season during the first meet. It was cold outside and I pulled it a bit during a 4 X 100 relay. But I worked through that during the season and had run 1:51.3 for the 800.”

That time could well win or at least place in the Top 5 at the state final. So it was obviously disappointing when Scott tore his hamstring muscle in two that late spring day.

He went on to college at Illinois State University but did not compete in track and field. To this day his hamstring is in the process of recovery. “Since I started lifting again the left hamstring muscle is about 1/3 the strength of the right. I can hamstring curl 20 X 60lbs with my right. With my left it’s still about 20 lbs. But I’m working on it.”

He’s back to running and has lost 20+ lbs. in the process. He says it feels good to be running again. Even sprinting is now possible.

When asked if people appreciate the speed he once had, Scott admits that most people cannot conceive running that fast. “If they’re from the track & field community or the running scene, they get it,” he laughs. “Otherwise, no.”

That’s one of the tragic aspects of being a really great runner at one point in your life. To the average runner hoping to run a 7:00 or 8:00 mile, and to do repeat quarters at 90 seconds per lap, the idea of covering 400 meters in under 50 seconds or doing a half mile in under 2:00 is inconceivable.

The irony of having run that fast at any age (much less high school) and having to leave it behind because of injury and finding out what you could do in college or beyond is tantalizing. It gives you confidence to think about what you accomplished, and yet one can’t help wonder what could have transpired without the injury. A 4:00 mile?

Typically those are questions that go unanswered. We all have windows of opportunity in our lives. Some come early. Some come later. Scott Fink-Finowicki gets to say he ran a 1:51.3 half mile. There is never any shame in something like that.

And now he’s using his running to build the remainder of his life and career. There’s certainly no shame in any of that either. Like they say, running is a journey, not a destination. On we go.

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A true and compelling story about sharing lanes in swimming

By Monte Wehrkamp
IMG_8598

We share lanes in many endeavors in life.

TODAY’S BLOG is provided by my long time friend and fellow write Monte Wehrkamp. It was written in response to yesterday’s We Run and Ride blog on sharing swimming lanes. I loved the directness of this true story. It provides some inspiration for us all.

When I was a kid, I wasn’t exactly fat, I just wasn’t as slim as other kids by 1970s standards. My mother blames it on my extremely premature birth (did I ever tell you I was a twin? He did not survive, that’s how much of a close-run thing it was). Baptized in the incubator, I was. My home for six months. When I got home, I failed to thrive. I vomited up breast milk, cow’s milk, did not matter. The doctor put me on a diet of heavy beef broth. This I could keep down. Mom and Dad had to feed me with a toothpick in one hand in order to clear the nipple of beef and fat bits. Raised on such an unnatural diet (hey, it was the 60s, nobody had even heard of lactose intolerance or invented milk and formula substitutes yet), I was a chubby baby.
So it was I went through grade school wearing husky Toughskins from Sears.
And so it was I was an overweight kid in the pool, twice a week, every week, for 10 years.
With me the whole way was a girl named Diane. She was thin, fit, fast. In my grade, in my school. Some years, we’d be in the same class. Some years, we had different teachers. But every year, together at the YMCA taking, then teaching, swim classes.
Your WRAR article reminded me of how many hundreds of hours I spent lane sharing with her. And teaching tadpoles, then guppies, then frogs…class naming convention. She took the criers. I took the spastics.
When we were young, she always swam lead, slicing through the water with nary a wave or splash. I had good form, I just took up more space. It was an arrangement that worked perfectly till…
Seventh grade. I went from a 160 lb, 5′ 5″ chubby kid to a 170 lb 5′ 11 1/2″ regular kid. My stomach stretched flat. My shoulders grew by four inches. My arms and legs lengthened to proportionally fit a man 6′ 3″ tall. Then I took the lead in the lane, and slim little Diane fell in behind me for the next four years, as we completed everything, taught everything, received our lifeguard certification. Lots of kids came and went in and out of the program, but Diane and I were the only two in our grade to stick it out till the end. Survival swimming. Rescue methods. Kayak and canoe capsize and flip drills (which came in handy four years later when I was in college, I was with Diane’s brother in a half-frozen MN lake, we were drunk as skunks in a canoe at twilight when we flipped it. I righted the canoe, threw in the paddles, pushed Rich into it — it was still 80% full of water — and swam Rich and the canoe to shore while wearing cowboy boots and a jean jacket. The 33-degree water temperature ruined my Jim Beam buzz pretty quick).
Ach, teaching lane etiquette to a pack of 10 year olds. Like herding sunfish. But when we were done with the little kids, Diane and I would jump in and put in our laps. Then get out, write our totals in grease pencil on the board, shower, and go home to do homework (which sucked, because chlorine and my eyes don’t mix — can’t teach wearing goggles, and even the fumes off the water tear me up).
The thing with doing 25, 50 laps is like a long flat 50 mile ride on your bike. You get in this zone. Enveloped in a bubble, rhythmic, hypnotizing. Stroke-stroke-breath, stroke-stroke-breath. Or if it’s slower, gliding, more strokes between breaths, just letting the bubbles out your nose tickle down chest and stomach. The white churn and little peeks of Diane’s feet just a couple feet from my outstretched arm. She flips and I see her below and to my left and I flip, glide behind her. Over and over and over and over. Out of time. Tunnel vision.  Like the bike on a hot day with little wind on a flat straight road. The crank turns and turns and turns. Shift weight a little, relieve some pressure on hands or butt, but it’s unconscious. Unthinking. An hour goes by and you wonder where you are, startled out of the exercise trance.
It’s good to have a lane partner for 10 years, one that you learned to swim with from the beginning. All those things in your article that you’ve got to look for when lane sharing? Never occurred to us. We just swam.
Editors note: See what I mean? Sharing a lane really can change your world!
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AND SWIM!
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Can sharing a swimming lane teach us how to save the world?

Swim Form

You only need half a lane to swim.

Pool etiquette is as important as any other kind of etiquette on earth. For starters, everyone is standing around half naked, or might as well be. So there’s the first and primal duty of keeping your eyes where they belong when you arrive at the pool.

Of course most serious swimmers are long past that point when they’re at the pool. More important thoughts such as how to survive the pending workout occupy much more thought among serious swimmers.

There is still important swim lane etiquette to consider however.

There’s this issue of sharing a swimming lane with someone else while you’re both moving. It sounds simple enough, and people who practice swimming quickly learn the importance of etiquette in the pool.

swim-form

Keep an eye out ahead of you.

But conditions can vary, and even etiquette from pool to pool. But here’s some simple advice. If you’re swimming at a pool where the lanes are narrow you really need to put the priorities of your lane partners first. You don’t want to mess up your lane partner’s workout. What a wonderful example of how to get along in this world!

Of course there is also the pace of your swimming to consider as well. If the person swimming in your lane is much faster than you, it is vital and respectful to allow them to own the timing of the lane. For example, if they’re in the middle of a hard repeat 400 interval and you’re only doing repeat 100s at a much slower pace, you should be the one that accommodates their need to make turns and maintain a rhythm and flow.

Most good swimmers negotiate this stuff fairly easily. They’ve done thousands of hours in the pool with swimmers who are both good and bad lane partners. Some have shared lanes with two or three people at a time.

VS Women in Water

Are these gals sharing a lane?

Swimming is unique in this respect of sharing intimate liquid space with someone else. It’s a fact of physics: everything you do in the pool reverberates for everyone else. Cut that down to a single lane and it’s even more important to keep an eye out for your lane partner.

In these respects swimming differs from a sport such as running, but not entirely. For example, one of our teammates in college was known to sweat so badly it was gross to run in his vicinity. Sweat consistently flew off his body and struck you in the face if you ran behind him. “Hey,” we’d yell. “We didn’t come out here to go swimming!”

In cycling there’s this thing called “riding in the draft” that is akin to swimming in the wake of a boat, only you’re cutting through air, not water. But there’s a real challenge in riding a draft behind a person that can’t hold their line and weaves down the road with nary a consideration for the rider behind them. It’s distracting, dangerous and tiring to ride behind or beside a riding partner like that. Generally you’ll see experienced riders jump out from behind a wobbly cyclist and find another spot in the line to ride. Some would much rather lead the pull for miles than try to ride behind a cyclist that cannot hold their line. In racing, those principles become even more important. Poor cyclists cause you energy and time.

Which brings us back to swimming and the whole sharing a lane thing. If you have to share a lane at the pool, here’s a list of people you’ll want to avoid:

1. The Big Wake Swimmer. Some people know how to swim smoothly through the water. Others seem to have evolved their strokes by working as a waterwheel at a grain mill or as the propeller on an ocean line. They move water around so much with every stroke you nearly get knocked into the ropes when you pass by them. There are reasons for their big wake style. They may be a “head-raiser” or “shoulders out of the water” type of swimmer, which generates tons of wake. Or they have a rotating or thrashing stroke that turns a 10 meter circle around them into a Wave Pool. In any case, if you arrive at a pool and see the Big Wake Swimmer churning up the water, pick another lane to share.

2. The Human Orca. Yes, Killer Whales are beautiful, amazing creatures in the wild. But the swimmer who consistently tears at your feet while using your lane is no blessing of nature. Some people never look up when they swim. In triathlons they are the same folks that swim right over top of you as if you were a helpless seal. It’s hard to tell a Human Orca from a distance. But if you wind up in their lane it can be best to get out of the pool and choose a new lane partner. No sense getting eaten alive.

3. The Snot-Nosed Cough & Hacker. It’s simply a gross thought to have to swim through the watery detritus of another swimmer’s nasal or congestive issues. Nothing turns you off to sharing a lane with another person more than the sound of the snarking up Farmer Snots or coughing loudly like a clogged bellows with every pause at the wall. Ick.

4. The Bob and Weaver. Let’s face it, for some people it’s hard to swim in a straight line. When you share a lane with a Bob and Weaver, it means paying close attention when you approach them from the opposite direction lest you get clonked by their head or slammed by a wayward arm or body shot.

5. The Olympic Caliber Jerk or Jerkette. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes even people who offer to share lanes are not the nicest folks you can encounter. Their every action screams “I wish you were not here.” You can almost feel the electric charge of despise and inconvenience in the water. Sure, they’ve likely earned their right to feel like they own the pool, having perhaps swum thousands of miles and won everything from the Kiddie Junior Olympics to the Master’s Swim National Championships. Some people just can’t help lording their ability over others.

Of course you can also encounter a jerk or jerkette that just thinks they’re too good to share a lane. In some ways that’s an even worse situation. The best you can do is be polite and hope you never encounter either species of swimmer again.

Fortunately the swim world is by and large one of grand consideration and etiquette. That’s because the pool is a pleasure for all those who enjoy swimming. Many people like to share that experience. But the fact remains: how sociable can you be really, given that 90% of your time is spent with your face down in the water? It’s not like riding or running where you can carry on a conversation while working out. It’s pretty much you and the bubbles you create for company. When you finally come up for air between laps it’s to catch your breath, not waste it discussing the world’s problems.

Now there’s a good idea! Perhaps the world really would be a better place if more people spent more time in the pool! Hot air and stupid political opinions tend to dissipate when blown into the water. Perhaps we should require that the next set of Middle East talks might be conducted in the confines of a pool, where both space and etiquette are better appreciated. That’s where bitter resentments can be drowned, as well.

May you share your lanes in peace.

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Resurrections

ResurrectionIn Christian tradition there is no more important event than the Resurrection. It symbolizes life after death and to some, the promise of eternal life.

Those are pretty big concepts to grasp. Yet every year at this time people who call themselves Christians broom together their guilt and sorrow into a dingy little pile and submit their repentance for consideration before the Lord God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

If that sounds a little bit like the language of a Radio Preacher, then so be it. As I wrote recently on my blog GenesisFix, there is a new form of Christianity out there that is more about winning the values argument than it is about actually acting out Christian principles. I call it Meta Christianity, that referential brand of faith that commodifies the authority of Jesus for the convenience of the self-proclaimed righteous masses and what they decide is all important on behalf of God and Christ. That might include lying to yourself about the Prosperity Gospel or that evolution is a farce, but so be it. Hubris isn’t confined to the secular world, for sure.

Because mostly what we find behind the motives of Meta Christianity is the love of money, political power and control freak standards of morality that have nothing to do with an intelligent understanding of scripture. There’s an arrogant tradition in religion that says if you own the narrative, you own the power. Just ask the Catholic Church before Martin Luther took them down a notch.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive…

Because while preachers these days are asking for $65M jets from their followers, and building $10.5M homes as testament to their own dreams of prosperity, millions of naive people continue giving their hard-earned money to the cause of the wealthy because humble people are always dying to get into heaven. It couldn’t possibly suck as bad as life on earth.

So the Resurrection holds tons of hope for people worshipping at churches where the kingdom of God is turned into a kind of currency exchange all those seeking a title loan on their souls. Frankly that approach makes the kingdom of God feel like a Rust Belt city trying to make ends meet as a tourist attraction. All those arenas filled with crying parishioners march straight from the church to the NFL stadiums or their big screen TVs because they crave stimulation in the face of this boring, secular life they have to struggle through before earning their place in heaven.

Paths to Salvation

photo (89)Well, I am here to tell you, my fellow believers and non-believers, that those of us who run and ride know a better path to salvation. We know daily what it means to suffer and come back to life. We resurrect ourselves for morning workouts when even God is still lying in bed. We strive and fail with gusto, just like Jesus and even the God of the Muslims and the Torah told us to do.

Moses and Abraham would have made great triathletes or marathoners. They knew the virtues of strife bring out the best in us all. A restricted diet of manna and quail? No problem. Let’s keep moving folks. We don’t want the dust to settle under our feet for too long. Snakes biting your ankles? Wrap thick cloth around your ankles and make sure you strap on your sandals tight in case you need to run for your life.

Moses and Abraham were like the original coaches, don’t you see? They led their charges out of Egypt and got their training rules from God himself.

But the people griped and complained. Life was too damned hard in the desert. They bitched and moaned about the food, or tried hoarding it like little piggies. So God made it wilt and spoil just to prevent them from cheating on their diets. Oh that Oreos would do that trick.

Even that biblical character Job knew what it meant to suffer with the best of them. “It builds character,” he so much as bragged to his snarky buddies who stood around mocking him for his pains. “And when I’m through with the spiritual workout God is putting me through, I’ll be in peak soul condition. Because what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Women pegged for success

There are plenty of strong women in the Bible too. You had to be tough to be a woman in those days. It wasn’t easy being the property of any man. Hell just finding the car keys would have been tough! And when tested, women knew how to survive. Take this example from Judges 4:21, “But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.”

It is likely she killed him because he stole her water bottle before a 20-mile workout. Anyone who does that deserves to die. And it’s unlikely that the dude with the tent peg through his head got resurrected, either. God doesn’t like thieves. They don’t get into heaven. “Thou shalt not steal.”

Daily Resurrections

Those of us who run and ride do know what it’s like to rise from death to run and ride again. Or at least we feel dead some days. Aching legs. Ass numb from riding 80 miles on a hot day in August. And yet, when you get moving a little things often improve. You come back from the dead eventually.

Of course we also make ourselves nearly sick to death with our training regimens. We skip sleep and feel like zombies. We catch colds so bad our lungs come flying out in chunks. We get diarrhea and constipation, spew blood and sweat and Farmer Snots, and still we swallow our pride and come back for more. We kill ourselves only to rise again. Another day, another workout. And goddamnit, we’ve not quitting.

Jesus in the Desert

Think about Jesus in that desert for 40 days and 40 nights. Satan himself accompanied him out their to tempt the Son of God with all sorts of riches and comforts. He waved his hand and said, “All this can be yours!” But Jesus turned to Satan and said. “I’ve got a swim workout at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow. Go away and let me sleep.”

So you get the picture. Our sacrifices do teach us a few things about life. Even if you think religion is a bunch of bunk, you have to admit there are certain parallels between endurance sports and the race of life. 2 Timothy 7 captures it cleanly: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” That’s like the triathlon of spiritual testimony, right there.

Beware of False Prophets

Crazy Squirrel (Callospermophilus lateralis)So we must beware of false prophets who would lead us astray from the modern asceticism that we find appealing in our endurance sports. The New Pharisees with their promises of the Prosperity Gospel seem to think God is in the business of handing us stuff just for speaking well of his character. They seem to think we’re all just a bunch of squirrels sniffing around for free nuts that God throws down from heaven. Seriously, that’s about the depth of their so-called Prosperity Gospel. Well, nuts to them.

True Spirits

Those of us who run and ride know there’s a big difference between saying you’re going to run a 2:30 marathon and actually doing it. We know that God refines our character through trials that many people seem unwilling to endure.

And yet we must be careful not to think ourselves better than others for our pursuits. There are many paths to God or enlightenment. Many types of journeys can deliver insight, hope and the zen of being.

The best philosophy is to be strong in your efforts, but grateful for your abilities. Be hopeful in your approach, yet accept your failings with humility and grace. Be sure to kick ass when you can, yet be encouraging to people of all abilities. The weakest among us are not those whose ass you seek to kick.

They already understand the grace of God, after all. They rise and fall in daily resurrections just like you, but without the possible glory you might earn. Those are the people we need to respect most of all. They teach us that resurrection is something highly individual, yet meant to be shared.

And here’s hoping the Easter Bunny brings your favorite kind of chocolate. You’ve most certainly earned it.

Spread the Gospel of We Run and Ride. Please share with your flock of friends. 

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