What a pill to swallow

pillsAs a kid, I could not swallow pills. My mother had to pack them into food to get them down. I distinctly remember the acid taste of aspirin exploding on my tongue. And crying.

Likely that’s a product of my general anxiety. A born nail-biter, I also couldn’t pee when other people were present.

A good stint in the Army would have cured all that. I know that now. Pissing around with momma’s care is one thing. Having to get up at 4:30 and run around a pitch black Army base would have cured me quick of not being able to pee around other guys.

For all the reticence of the orifices as a youngster, life has finally bred it all out of me. Necessity tends to do that. And a bit of self-acceptance too. That’s the longest pill anyone of us has to swallow.

I’d depended on liquid painkillers through having my wisdom teeth pulled at age 20. Yet somewhere in those early 20s, I made up my mind that not being able to swallow a simple pill was ridiculous.

Migraine

And then I had an experience that will never be forgotten. By reason of hormones or tension or some combination, a string of severe migraine headaches came along. They were fierce, like a layer of fire across the top of my head. Blinding and nauseating, the headaches came and went.

Likely they were triggered by caffeine, to which it turned out I was enormously sensitive. I even had to quit drinking Cokes in my late 20s because the caffeine seized up my prostate gland so I could not pee. The doctor had me cut out my Coke a day habit and the problem cleared up. He also prescribed frequent sex. By then I was married. So I asked him for a prescription. He wrote that out as sort of a serious joke. Too bad it was not deemed funny at home.

But that streak of migraines in my early 20s taught me a few things about pain relievers. A physician prescribed Tylenol with codeine in it. That helped the headaches. But it must have done something to my nervous system because my arm went completely numb. That sent me to the emergency room where they did a CT scan on my arm and chest. It turned out there was some kind of gas bubble in my chest cavity, but it went away that day. Likely it was caused in part by the narcotic effect of the codeine in some way.

And given that my body was no longer in pain, and my arm no longer numb, I still went to Chicago that night with my brothers and partied until four in the morning.

Burning it at both ends

Perhaps that pattern of behavior had something to do with my migraines? I was running 75 miles a week at the time, and getting a mere six hours of sleep on average. That’s called burning the candle at both ends. I was young, driven, horny and a bit crazy.

But I was starting to improve my 10K times. So what’s the problem? I was training hard and not recovering. That was the problem. Colds were a consistent problem too.

It took a couple years but I ultimately learned my lesson.

Pills tooI also graduated to Ibuprofen as my pain reliever of choice. When headaches came on and I took Tylenol, literally nothing happened. Decades later I had this conversation with a nurse at a hospital:

“You know, I take Advil. Tylenol doesn’t seem to work for me.”

“It doesn’t work for anybody,” she told me.

“What?” I asked.

“Yeah. It may help reduce fever. But that’s about it.”

And so, a mystery was somewhat solved. To this day, it is ibuprofen or nothing at all.

During my recovery from the broken collarbone a few years back, and before that an ACL surgery, doctors told me to take lots of ibuprofen. It scared me. I’d read that it can harm your liver or kidneys, or somesuch.

The fact of the matter is that there is no drug that you can take in massive amounts and be perfectly safe. It is not necessarily recommended that runners or cyclists take ibuprofen before exercise. It does help after exercise, for sure.

Thin hopes

Aspirin is also considered a helpful drug and can thin blood and make heart attacks and stroke less likely. For years I could not touch certain types of aspirin because of the caffeine content. It was not my imagination. The quid pro quo of caffeine to prostate problems was clear as day. So I avoided that.

With age some of these problems were abated. Probably my tightly wound prostate and a head full of headaches were the direct result of hormone overload. I don’t know about you, but during my 20s and into my early 30s it was almost impossible to think some days. It was like sexual ADHD. Distracted thinking.

Attention, please

And to that fact, I also learned later in life that my brain does has some ADD tendencies. I call it creative ADD, which is the desire at all times to be doing something creative. If life does not offer that, I get bored and distracted.

I have learned to focus and how to control those tendencies. Basically, it works like a reward system. If I’m writing for two to three hours at a stretch, or doing the same in painting, my reward is getting up to do something like play guitar, or go for a run, a bike or a swim. I waste far less time in these healthy pursuits than people without creative ADD because while I’m doing those activities, I’m also problem-solving. Often I come home from a run with a problem all figured out. It works in the morning, noon and night.

So endurance sports are like a drug for the mind. They can reduce the frequency and intensity of tension headaches too. That’s a better pill to swallow.

Coping mechanisms

Of course, when life piles on heavy even the running, riding and swimming can fail you. During the many years of dealing with cancer in my late wife, there were times when an extra drug called Lorazepam was added to the mix. This was to reduce anxiety and stress. I used that drug once a day, usually before falling into bed, in order to prevent the difficulties of caregiving and other challenges from overwhelming my taxed mind. Basically, it was a long term life and death issue during all those years, and it had impacts on our lives that were ripple effects from the stress. Job loss. Financial problems. Cancer is no fun, people.

When the main ordeals were temporarily over, and things moved into remission, it took a few weeks to wean myself off that drug. Lorazepam was never meant to be taken long term. But I recall the sluggish feeling of waking with that drug in my system and trying to ride 60-80 miles and keep up. Some days it was all I could do to hold a wheel. The feeling of stress in my brain was like PTSD. I did not want any additional challenges beyond the stress of caregiving. Sometimes I’d just drop. Let it go. Ride at my own pace. Watch the tarsnakes under my wheels. Then I’d get home and my wife would ask, “How was the ride?” And I’d tell her, “Fine.” It was all I could do. Life was a horizontal vortex.

Air in the tires

I take a mild anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drug now. It “puts air in my tires” as the doctor put it. I feel it’s my responsibility to myself and those I love to manage any tendencies toward anxiety or depression. That and a healthy, long-term cognitive approach to managing and reducing ruminative thoughts has made me feel healthier mentally than ever before. I’m still competitive at times, and can be pouty at others. But that’s a product of self-perception and loss of perspective. It can be handled, and should be.

Sometimes the toughest pill to swallow is that fact that you’re not perfect. But that’s easier to manage when you realize that everyone else is in the same boat. Then it’s not so hard to take. It’s a pill that can be hard to swallow, but the effects are wonderful.

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Give fully to invest in the public good

Track blocksWith all the debate over government spending and what constitutes socialism raging across the land, perhaps it’s a good time to shed some perspective on how government really works. And it all centers around running.

The town where I live is only 30,000 or so residents. It’s a mixed community of modest and even small homes, but there is wealth as well, tacked onto the edges where people with money built larger places. We’ve had the same mayor for about 30 years. The school district is well-respected if not elite, and people have generally supported referendums to build schools.

About eight or nine years ago, more than 75 community members joined a committee to study the needs of the high school. Proposed components included much-needed classrooms, a theater for music, drama and community events, and a fieldhouse.

Track surfaceThe rather large committee broke into smaller groups and over a period of 10-12 weeks, conducted discussions about what was needed in Batavia, and what was not.

When all was complete, the chairman turned to the audience and said, “Now we need someone to write the summary.”

A friend who coached the football and track teams had recruited me to participate on the committee. He knew I’d served as Chamber of Commerce and Rotary President in Batavia. He also knew I could write. And he gave me a look at that moment that told me I should step up and volunteer to write the summary.

So I did, and the chairman offloaded binders and folders created by the committee. It was my job to take it home and make sense of it, then come back with a report for review by committee leadership.

Track breakChuckling as I sat that stack of folders down, I said to myself, “This can’t be how this happens.” It was a bit stunning to think that from all that community input, it came down to some guy in his kitchen writing up the summary. But I dug in, and by the time Sunday evening rolled around, the thoughts and goals were congealed into a narrative that made a case for the committee’s recommendations.

That report was the foundation for a more formal set of documents. And that was what generated a $75M referendum for additions and upgrades to the Batavia High School campus and some work in other schools as well.

The referendum passed. The transformation of the high school took a year to complete.

Now the local running community is beneficiaries of an indoor track on which we can Track runnertrain during the wintertime. But that is just an ancillary need to the entire governmental process that drove the community input, the referendum and the pursuant educational and experiential benefits of the high school campus. The facility is used by students from literally dozens of other communities in the region. Batavia stepped up to stand out as a community that believes in investment in the public good.

My son and daughter were both participants in the music and drama programs at Batavia High School. Unfortunately, they graduated before the new theater was built. That meant their performances were held in a room called the Cafetorium. The high-quality plays in which they participated were held on a low stage and the packed house often had to crane necks to see over other audience members. The same held true for the orchestra and band concerts, where acoustics fell short of the quality of music being played.
So it was time for the community to step up and provide better educational and growth experiences for its youth. Yes, the household tax bill went up a bit, but not by much. It would be nice if industrial development paid all the bills for the town, but that’s not fair to businesses either. Yet those businesses would not benefit from the water and utilities if the community did not provide them. All healthy communities depend upon collaborative investment. Without that bit of socialism to drive the process, there would be no cities. No counties. No states. No America.

I have friends and family that have home-schooled their Track timeschildren. Some do a great job. More often they’re frustrated or disappointed with what public schools (and even private) have to offer. All it takes is one bad teacher and some folks want to toss the whole system down the drain.

That means some people hate the notion of public education altogether. They’d rather send out school vouchers and let people pick and choose where they go to school. The idea to privatize public education is appealing to them. Perhaps they don’t like the idea that their kids will hear ideas that do not agree with their own ideology. Or perhaps there’s a hope that their tax dollars would not be required to support public education. I recently heard a comedian tell a quick joke that resonates on the issue of public financing. He said, “When someone starts a sentence with the phrase ‘my tax dollars’ in it, you know you’re listening to an asshole.”

But if you look at what public education has done in society by raising the general level of education, and providing opportunities for people of all backgrounds and income levels, it is perhaps the greatest expression of democracy and equality ever achieved. In fact, that’s why countries around the world have decided to make even college educations free. Instead, we force young people to take out lifelong mortgages to finance their educations, and place far more emphasis on the value of a successful football or basketball team than the reputation of a school or university. Sport is great, but it is ultimately limited in what it can give back to society.

And we should really study the subject of whether the very same segment of society that claims to hate paying taxes aligns with those most susceptible to the rah-rah world of college and pro sports. If so, it powerfully illustrates the fact that America’s priorities and its knowledge of what makes the country truly great is way out of whack.

I have a few proudly conservative friends on Facebook, and their main point of contention on just about every issue is taxes. They all claim to be self-made. Dragged themselves up by the bootstraps, they did. And no one helped them.  Don’t take any of their money or their guns. That’s liberty to them. That’s America.

Track RunnersWell, all of them went to public schools. And many went to public universities. Even private colleges depend on national infrastructure, government loan programs and other methods of sustenance to run their operations. No organization exists in a void.

That’s all that men like Barack Obama and now Bernie Sanders are saying. It’s not about turning America into a socialist country. It’s about using socialist methods in line with a capitalist financial system to create a better nation.

But the fiercely conservative viewpoint is that none of this public support has helped them at all. They made it all on their own, they say. So don’t take any of their money or their guns. That’s liberty to them. Liberty to be an asshole. And that’s America. And that’s why Donald Trump is leading the Republican election race. Assholes recognize their own kind.

But Trump has been bankrupted three or four times. He’s worked with cities like Chicago in order to build tall buildings and slap his name on them. Even the world’s leading asshole did not get to where he is without public help, forgiveness and collaboration. And still he seems ungrateful. Egotistical. An asshole.

Contrast that example with the people that spent twelve weeks meeting to exchange ideas on what our community needed and what it didn’t in the high school tax referendum. Anti-tax participants were as welcome in that group as were pro-referendum. All sides of the questions were heard. The idea of constructing a natatorium (swimming pool) was tossed out. The committee decided that might be better left to the park district.

Master's SwimAnd it was even discussed working collaborative with the park district. But that might have bloated the referendum and caused some genuine needs to blacked out. That’s both the problem and power of compromise, a principled manner of discourse that is sorely lacking in America.

So we culled the referendum to some needs and wants and it passed. The community had a chance to vote. It elected to fund additions and improvements to the schools. That’s a clear statement that the community not only believes in a better education but a better experience for students coming through the school system. That’s a socialist attitude if you want to call it that.

In truth we’re letting greedy, fearful assholes run things too often in America. We spend more on our military than the next seven countries combined. Yet they claim we’ve gutted our armed forces. What kind of asshole says something like that?

IMG_6438Yet we’ve allowed the nation’s infrastructure like roads and bridges fall into disrepair because a collection of strident assholes in Congress don’t want to fund bills to pay for basics like that. They took a pledge to some nutjob to never raise taxes, and that’s how they run our government. And our nation is getting run down as a result. It’s becoming one giant tarsnake.

And we’ve also allowed our healthcare system to get so out of balance there is no way to tell what the real costs of treatments should be. So we let insurance companies dictate that.

It’s a dangerous game we’re playing with our way of life. But I think the example of community investment displayed in our little town goes a long way toward explaining the virtues of public support, good government and collaboration. It was a little crazy that the efforts rested in my hands that one weekend, but it was a truly American feeling to give up that time for no compensation and do the right thing. That’s what it means to give fully to a cause.

And this morning as I ran around the indoor track on a day when it was 13 degrees outside, it made perfect sense to believe in the brand of socialism that drives the Republic in America. If we all give fully, the world is a better place. No exceptions.

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The renewed focus of We Run and Ride

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Recently while working out designs for a cycling kit shirt and tee shirts for this blog, I wrote down a list of things that mattered most while writing this column. The list flowed right out of me, and that’s usually a sign that the subconscious has been at work all along.

And it turned out there were seven principles, which is the sign of completeness in scripture and just about every other value system in the universe.

And here they are, with brief explanations for how they came about and why they matter.

BE ORIGINAL

The goal from the start with this blog has been to take an original approach to writing about running, riding and now swimming, which has been added along the way. This has given plenty of latitude to experiment and make links between these activities we do and the way they impact or symbolize other endeavors in life. Rather than producing a training journal or a coaching clinic, it has always been the goal to make people think through original takes on the three sports that also happen to coincide with triathlon. So it’s been an evolution or original thinking, and I believe in that.

SEEK JUSTICE

This second principle, to “seek justice” may not seem to have much connection to endurance sports. And yet, we participate in some of the most just sports of all. These teach lessons about equality and the human condition. It is no coincidence that endurance sports like running still represent the foundation of the Olympic Games, and that marathons and other large scale events celebrate the best aspects of the human condition. I see this principle at work every time we meet up for runs or rides. People discuss their most important values and their personal challenges. At the heart of all religions stands the core principle of justice. And there you have it.

SHOW RESPECT

This one is tricky, because I have often done satire of the things I find most annoying or stupid in this world. Satire does not respect the subject, but it does convey principles. It is respect for the principles behind the satire that are brought to the fore. That is how men like Jon Stewart show respect through comedy. But I am also more than willing to challenge people about their beliefs, because the ultimate sign of respect is to take their beliefs seriously enough to question their source. Then there is the respect I feel directly for people profiled and interviewed for this blog. Their stories are compelling examples of interest and perseverance, ingenuity and hope. In sum it is also important to respect as well your competitors, because that’s how you learn to respect yourself. That is a major challenge for everyone in life, and one the most important aspects of existence.

GIVE FULLY

This is essentially a not-for-profit blog. I write this because it is enjoyable, and it has produced writing jobs and opportunities as a result. Someday soon I may have a line of fun items for sale through WRAR, but it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme by any means. Much less a network marketing plan. Instead, my belief in life is that when you give fully in any way, something good will come back to you. It may be unexpected, or not what you might have hoped for. But it’s true. Something works in the universe when you are willing to give fully. That means giving yourself fully to your sport as well, as much as you can. And to give your time and support to others in real time. That is one of the most rewarding aspects of running, riding and swimming. The more you give it seems, the more you get back.

TRAIN HARD

It sounds simple but it never is. Training hard takes dedication, discipline and devotion to the task at hand. That is true in the long run and also in the precise moment you make decisions about when to push, and when to pull back. To “train hard” does not mean going all out, all the time. Instead, it means the three “D’s” above. Being focused on what you are trying to do. And when you’ve done your best, it is also important to keep your training in its place. When you’re training hard you are in the midst of achievement. Because not everyone can win races or win their age groups. But they can participate. And that’s the motivator that brings us all together.

COMPETE WELL

The fun of competition and the challenges it are good reasons why many of us choose to participate in organized events. From the neighborhood 5K to the New York Marathon, from sprinting to the County Line on your group ride to earning a spot at Kona, we all have different goals. But competing well is always the aim. That can mean many things. For some to compete well just means to finish. Certainly that’s 99% of the Ironman population. The great thing about competition is it teaches your mind and body to respond under duress. These aptitudes come in handy in the real world. All the world is a competition. There’s no avoiding it. Learning to positively engage is a good thing.

LOVE LIFE

This one seems cliche, as might all the others to some degree. But together they add up to a philosophy, a clarity that can help us learn to love life itself. I’ve been through some harrowing things and lost some people so close to me it feels like flesh being ripped away. So I treasure life as much as possible. Through it all, my running and riding have sustained my brain even on days when it was difficult just to pedal 30 miles in the wake of my buddies. Life can be harsh. But life can also be joyous and replete with peak experiences that draw us out of our social shells into a world of tolerance, openness and lack of fear. We can overcome many things if we love life. That includes grief, addiction, loss of faith, disillusionment, depression and dying itself. The time we have here is indeed precious. To love life is to value it. And I try to encourage people through this blog to do just that.

There you have them. Seven ideals upon which this blog is founded. I will be centering topics around these ideals going forward. As always, I love to hear from readers and what they think about the topics we cover here. You may not always agree, but my goal is always to make you think. Be original. Seek justice. Show respect. Give Fully. Train hard. Compete well. And love life.

Because these things help you run over the tarsnakes, those things in life that would otherwise trip you up. Some are things that tempt you. Others are things that get in your way, or slow you down. But if you remained focused, and abide by a set of principles that amount to a nuanced grip on the handlebars, you can roll right over them.

And please share this blog on social media when you might feel compelled. That is most appreciated. 

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Running the numbers on rape

Senator Rubio of Florida speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor, Marylan

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) 

It is stunning to read the views some men have on the subject of rape. It’s a pertinent topic to those of us who run, ride and swim, because those activities can put people at risk of being physically assaulted.

Granted, most men don’t have to worry about rape. They can head out the door for a run at twilight without thinking about whether or not they might be sexually assaulted. Men are simply not the predominant targets for sexual assault.

But there are an estimated 1.2M cases of rape or attempted rape in the United States each year. And as many as 1 in 5 women respond that they have experienced rape or an attempted rape in their lifetime.

Those are some daunting numbers, and is too easy to write them off until someone you know is a victim of rape or attempted rape. Those experiences are not subjects that casually come up in conversation.

Big Talkers

That means we’re often left to allow bigots, blowhards and ignorant fools do the talking on the subject of rape. Big talkers like Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, who recently opined on the subject of rape, try to tell women what they should be forced to do if they become pregnant from sexual assault.

“It’s a terrible situation,” Rubio said. “I mean, a crisis pregnancy, especially as a result of something as horrifying as that, I’m not telling you it’s easy. I’m not here saying it’s an easy choice. It’s a horrifying thing that you’ve just described.”

“I get it,” he added. “I really do. And that’s why this issue is so difficult. But I believe a human being, an unborn child has a right to live, irrespective of the circumstances of which they were conceived. And I know that the majority of Americans don’t agree with me on that.”

Look at how Rubio defensively claims that he actually “gets it.” But then he flatly turns around to deny women the authentic right to control what happens to their own bodies. What he doesn’t get…is that he’s calling rape an essentially harmless action, meant to be dismissed as a “terrible situation” by women unlucky enough to experience such a criminal violation.

Taking rape seriously

Wisconsin BricksRemember those numbers quoted at the start of this article? They may not reflect the half of it when it comes to real reporting about rape. That’s because women feel threatened to come forward and report a rape if they feel their circumstances will not be taken seriously, or worse yet, to be judged as the instigator rather than the victim. We all know how that goes. “Well, it’s how she dresses. She was asking for it.”

And statements like those made by Marco Rubio? Would you report a rape if you felt like you would be forced by law to bear the child of the rapist? We begin to see how aggressively backwards and dangerous the attitudes of men like Marco Rubio really are.

Now consider the fact that women dressing for workouts sometimes wear as little as possible in order to run, ride or swim efficiently. Hot weather sometimes demands it. But even on a cool and sunny day, women should be able to wear what they want, where they want to wear it. No questions asked.

Without even knowing it, men like Marco Rubio justify the act of rape by contending that a child born from that act has more rights than the mother forced to carry on with the conception. From Rubio’s point of view, even the rights of the man who committed the criminal act of rape is given more credence than the right of a woman not to be violated against her will.

The war on women

This brand of thinking has to be stopped. This idea that a shot of a man’s sperm delivered through force should be sacrosanct is absurd.

Tolerance for rape of any kind, or its consequences for any woman or man, cannot be permitted. It is the most basic of human rights to be safe in our own bodies. Of all people, those who run and ride and swim need to know this, and defend it. Otherwise, it is war on the streets for women.

Scholarly studies on the issue of rape show that it is historically used as a war against women. In her treatise title “Rape, Women and War,” scholar Angela Robinson documents how rape has served as a tool of disenfranchisement in war and cultural conflicts. “The rape of women has been utilized as a tactic of terror in wars since the beginning of armed conflicts. It appears to go through three main stages: First, rape is a routine and expected reward to the victors. Secondly, rape occurs due to a lack of military discipline. Finally, rape occurs as a military technique to demoralize the opposition. Through these horrific actions, women experience the loss of home and the loss of land, which is synonymous with the loss of identity.”

So we see that when men like Marco Rubio express casual or pressing positions on rape it is indeed a war on women perpetrated by men. The war on women is therefore very real.

Premeditation

As we all know, intentions dictate much of the prosecution in law. Premeditated murder, for example, implies a calculated intent to kill rather than reaction to a situation. The results are the same, but the justice dispensed for that crime may differ.

So here is a harsh fact: the act of rape never happens by accident. It is always premeditated. And to suggest that a woman should have to carry through on a pregnancy perpetrated by a man who forces himself on her is a premeditated miscarriage of justice.

So we should not casually accept statements like those made by Marco Rubio. It is an open threat against women to do so. Rubio’s anachronistic worldview assertively treats women as possessions, as objects lacking liberty, freedom or justice for their bodies and their minds.

Don’t accept this brand of cruel ignorance. Don’t tolerate it. For if you do, the cause of rape is on you.

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Today’s blog is under the category of Seek Justice, one of seven principles advocated by We Run and Ride. 

Source for statistics on rape: https://newrepublic.com/article/119364/cdcs-report-one-five-women-raped-other-statistics-disagree

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Digging the indoor swim vibe

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Swimmers wait their turn or wrap and watch the next event at the St. Charles Natatorium. 

Sunday mornings are often the time when weekend athletes get to compete. That’s when the streets are most quiet and facilities like high school pools are open for use by people outside the school community.

 

This weekend, the vibe inside the natatorium (a fancy word for pool) at St. Charles (Il) High School was warm, humid and human. Swimmers appreciate at least a reasonably warm climate. Walking around in skin-thin layers of wet swimsuit is torture otherwise. Plus goose pimples from chill temperatures are no one’s favorite hobby. They represent stiffening muscles as well, and that’s not the best situation for swimmers.

Granted, open water swimmers deal with chill water all the time. That’s why wetsuits were invented. Conserving body heat is crucial when water temps dip below 70 degrees or so.

Yet it’s not good when the water is too warm either. This past summer my first sprint triathlon was conducted with water temps well above 80 degrees. Wetsuits were banned because they did not want poached human beings lying around the beach in gloriously gelatinous fashion.

So the sport of swimming has its extremes. That is why the confined atmosphere of a indoor swim meet is like a set of diamonds forged from coal. The blue pool. The clean lines of the lane buoys. Even the single white markers to indicate how far a swimmer can legally dolphin underwater…all are calculated to make a swim meet a concise and regulated experience.

Yet things can still go wrong. And as my companion dove into the water for her first event, the 500 meter freestyle, her goggles tumbled down her face and hung around her neck. She swam the next 15 yards with her eyes closed to keep her contacts from washing out, then bobbed up to put the goggles back on her face. It’s not like you can put your feet down and stand up in a pool 12 foot deep. So you improvise.

That put her a pool length behind the rest of the swimmers. Yet she was determined not to be lapped entirely. She kept pace and emerged with a resolute smile and a resigned chuckle about how things really can go wrong at times.

Master’s Swim at Marmion, 5:30 am

Master's Swim

The beauty of Masters swimming is the opportunity to push yourself without worrying about consequences. For all the warmth of an indoor meet, the vibe itself is chill. More than any other sport, swimming welcomes people of all shapes and sizes. The pool embraces all sizes.

Sure, there are plenty of fast swimmers who show up. One such was a young woman from Carthage College named Ashley. Her performance in the 100 IM featured a thrilling matchup with another evenly matched swimmer. The race came down to the final touch and Ashley came out of the pool with wide eyes. “I panicked,” she admitted. “I only did a one hand touch.”

In college swimming, that’s a travesty. But in a local master’s meet, it’s not such a big deal. Everything is run by volunteers. The St. Charles women’s swim team was hosts for the event. The girls stood up and rang cowbells to indicate final laps, and they did all the announcements. In true athletic fashion, most of the young women spared themselves extensive makeup on a Sunday morning, and brushed their hair just enough to wrap around a hoodie. This is called service to the sport. But the meet is also a fundraiser for the team.

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Swimmers live by the schedule and their seed times. 

The beauty of Master’s Swim is the obvious practice that has gone into many of the swimmer’s efforts. Some specialize in a specific stroke, be it butterfly, where the whole body torques through the water like an eel, or breast stroke, which is basically butterfly with the arms underwater.

 

One gets used to the imperfection of these strokes as multiple swimmers give it a go in their respective heats. But when the fastest swimmers hit the water it almost looks like fake news footage, or CGI.

People wait around on the sidelines in casual states of undress, towels wrapped around their waists to cover butt cheeks and other chakra. But in large part, no one really cares what shows. There are no real fashion rules since the garments are all functional. One woman explained the important difference between her practice suit and her competition gear. “My practice suit tends to ride to the side,” she chuckles. “And that’s not good.”

True, because swimming is all about eliminating distractions. It takes full attention to manage stroke rate and concentrate on body rotation…not to mention how much air you need to take in and how much C02 you need to blow out. It’s all bubbles and grimaces up and back, length to length.

IMG_0492And truly, swim competitions (like most races in any sport) are a shock to the system of anyone that has not been racing. Whether it’s an FTP test on the bike or a time trial on the track, jacking your heart rate up to race status for the first time is always a bit unnerving.

So there are nerves, for some. One 30s swimmer admitted that he’d long been a diver in college. But one of his teammates kept giving him crap about being “just a diver.” So he challenged the guy to a 100-meter race. “It was weird,” he admitted. “Because my teammates all wondered why this was giving me so much shit. They said, ‘He sucks!’ What’s up with that?”

“So we raced and I beat him by half a pool length,” he recalled. “And he got out of the pool, walked away and never came back. So my coach told me,” Well, you’re the one that caused him to leave the team. So you get to swim the 100-meter free from now on. And that’s who I got back into swimming.” But he was still nervous going into the day’s competition. “It’s been a long time since I swam hard,” he said, jogging his legs in place while sitting on the aluminum bench beside the pool. “I don’t even know if I remember how to dive at the start. There’s no diving at all the pools where I swim.”

That seems to be the story for so many swimmers. You come equipped the best you can, and learn from every new experience.

IMG_0491That doesn’t stop Chris Colburn, the enthusiastic coach of the Bullet’s Masters Swim Team from cheering his protege’s on with urgent calls and gesticulations. He works the pool deck waving and counting time so that his swimmers will not grow complacent. Colburn simply loves success of any type, and his swimmers accept that they need some pushing at times.

His companion Nikki Marasco took up swimming in the past year and rolled her way to a second place in her heat of the breaststroke. The mother of seven children, Marasco finds the IMG_0498early morning hours at Master’s Swim practices to be great prep for a day of being a parent to the curious, active minds all around her. Her children played and amused themselves making cheer signs for mom as the meet morning wore on. Good kids. Great mom.

Across the pool, another pair of kids holds up a set of signs made with Sharpies and glitter. They hold them aloft and wave them as mom or dad swims. “Master’s meets are like an inverse world,” my companion Sue observes. “I’ve been to meets where the pools are full of adults and the stands are full of kids. It’s like the world turned inside out.”

As the meet proceeds, swimmers check off their events one-by-one. Some beat their seed times and others shrug and say, “It’s been a while.”

A young man shows up in the stands chuckling to his buddies that the competition suit he’s wearing is more than a little tight. “It hurts, man,” he admits, reaching down to adjust the bits of chakra flesh where his crotch resides. “This could be interesting.”

LidaBullets swimmer Lida Bond Keuhn emerges from the competition with several age group blue ribbons. This past summer she completed her first Ironman. She got a tiny Ironman tattoo on her ankle in testimony to her achievement. Now her daughter Stephanie plans to follow in her mother’s shoes. Even father John Keuhn was a top-flight athlete in college, playing basketball at North Park in a program that won a national championship. Their son Scott just finished a career as a top receiver for the highly successful Illinois State football team. One of his former teammates now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.

So one can see genetics at work as Lida Keuhn powers her way through the water. A long distance swimmer by trade, she doesn’t mind the challenge of compressing those skills into shorter events. But it does bring a chuckle. She turns to my companion Sue, how also completed her first full Ironman last summer, and says, “How exactly did Ironman prepare us for this?”

And of course, the answer is; “Not much.” But that’s the nature of everyone inside the natatorium it seems. Stand on the blocks and give it a go. A little more chlorine for the ages. That’s the indoor swim vibe. And you gotta love it.

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Pins and picks

Pins and PicksCleaning off the top of my dresser is always an exercise in personal topography. The year tends to pile up in patches if you don’t get around to shoveling change into the jar and sorting through the many things that are so easy to toss on the dresser.

And this morning while cleaning up, two things stood in juxtaposition. A race number with pins and a set of guitar picks.

The pins and the race number are indicators of that very public commitment you make to participate in an event. You prepare for such things with training, fully knowing your performance will be out there for everyone to see.

The guitar picks, by contrast, are these days a somewhat more private matter. I play songs between writing projects, and try to perfect them to the point that they feel good to play. Some chords can be tough to do in progression. So I practice, and it seldom makes perfect. But it’s a great stress reliever to play music. And it’s fun.

I once shared in the leadership of a church Praise band. For the first few years, my job was rhythm guitar. That means you play the chords, keep the beat and help the band stay on track. For six or eight years I played on Sundays, and even wrote a song, performed it live and that was pretty well received.

For years, I played under the leadership of a talented couple. One played piano and sang. The other had an amazing voice and led the singers. We turned rock standards into church music and played that litany of Praise songs that all contemporary services play. Some of it really sucks. The key changes are maudlin. The lyrics repetitive. But they become standards anyway. Who knows why?

But when our lead couple left the church for other opportunities, I was left with other musicians to lead the thing and we made do. In fact, we made some decent music together. Some weeks I even served as the leader.

My training in the music field technically ended in the 7th grade. But for many years, I sang in the church choir. Not extremely well, grant you. My voice in most circumstances is just passable. On occasion, it actually sounds nice.

Then one day after leading the Praise service someone told me that I should sing more. But I know my limits, and which songs I can handle. Others take my voice to places it does not want to go. That’s a bad scene. Like barfing in the transition area at a triathlon.

It’s always a similar endeavor with endurance sports, is it not? It takes personal courage to give singing in public a try, and it takes guts to go out there and swim, run or ride until you can’t anymore. Sometimes you’re in tune for the day. Sometimes you are not. When you get out there and sense that you are “off key” somehow, you have to make the best of it whether you like it or not.

Ooops

The last time I performed in public on guitar, a horrible thing happened. I’d gotten there early to prepare because I was going to do a painting live during the service along with playing in the Praise Band. There were people running around fixing up the tarps so I would not get paint on the floor, and that was my focus too.

And regretfully, I went out to tune my guitar alone. There was just one problem. The tuner was not set to the 440 mhz it needed to be on key. It was set higher. When I came back to play, it was too late to change it.

When the music started I immediately heard my guitar was out of whack. But there was nothing I could do. I felt a rush of angst and embarrassment, and disappointment that my rhythm guitar would be absent on a piece that needed it.

It wasn’t the first time things like that have happened. And it won’t be the last. Whether it’s forgetting your cycling shoes or helmet, or having no battery in your acoustic guitar for the amp, things happen that are “in your control” and yet “out of your control.” Those are the tarsnakes of this life. But they should not stop us from trying.

Thus the picks and the pins both are a reminder to be prepared the best you can. And to clean off your dresser now and then.

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Would love your feedback on my shirt graphics

Creating shirt graphics for We Run and Ride. And through that process have come up with a philosophy that expresses the goals of this blog.

There is a front graphic that looks like this on a white shirt with black shoulders. (cycling)

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And a back graphic that is looking like this with a couple centering tweaks.

WRARShirtGraphic

Would love to know what you think.

 

Thanks!

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Get your FTP face on

Cyclists love empiric data. As they say in so many endurance sports, the numbers don’t lie.

And yet most endurance athletes with any amount of experience grow pretty good at lying to themselves. It’s a necessity some days. When the cadence drops and the wind is bullying down your throat, you don’t really care if your RPMS hover in the low 70s rather than the mid90s. If a bigger gear gets you through the miserable miles on the wheel of the rider ahead, all good. Cadence be damned.

Which makes the act of riding on a stationary bike in an FTP test something quite interesting to face. The commiserative moaning and groaning about the pending pedalfest was fair enough warning that it would not be easy. But what about cycling ever is? I’ve only been on a bike three times this year. The warmups feel hard at first.

So it could have been embarrassing when the coach went through the numbers one by one after the class had completed its 20-minute FTP. My numbers were singularly unimpressive. My engine does not crank out high wattage by dint of will. I already knew that. I’ve been at this endurance sports game since I was twelve. Learned to accept that without a healthy base, you’re nowhere.

After the event, another coach quietly asked me, “Were you happy with your FTP test?” Of course not. I muttered, “No.” And that’s about all there was to say. The numbers don’t lie, you see. 168 watts on average is nothing to brag about. The resounding silence is real.

Sweat Shop Two

But it’s nothing to be ashamed of, either. Because my focus during the ride, whether this was smart or not, was on keeping my cadence at or near 90. You can see from the early spike that the gear I was assigned to ride was not going to happen. And the 220 level I was assigned was just eyeballed from the outset of my setup at the Sweat Shop. It was not based on any prior data.

There was no way my riding was going to continue at an output of 280 watts. My legs would have imploded. Yet one gear down felt manageable. Sustainable. My legs were feeling it, and there were 19 minutes to go.

So I kept my eyes on the RPMs. What else was there to do? One could argue, since my watts were well below the threshold of 220 assigned by the Computrainer, that was a mistake. I only crossed the red line into Gloryland a few times.

cud-racingBut damn was I consistent on that cadence. I stared at that green bar with intensity the whole time. Coach came by and said, “I like that face.” Because I look like a haggard old hawk when I stare. Always have. Always will.

It’s my… “This may suck but I don’t give up easily” look.

During the test, Coach Rick came by a couple times and glanced at the red bar indicating my low wattage status. Nothing was said, but it was obvious Red is no one’s favorite color in an FTP test. I was bleeding watts, and it was not a pretty sight.

But my Green Happy Place continued on. Mr. Cadence, I was. Maybe I’ll adopt that name now that the local group of hospitals formerly named Cadence has been absorbed by a big Purple Monster named Northwestern Medicine. You can’t compete in the world of healthcare these days if you can’t push the Big Ring.

As for little old me, many times over the years I’ve been counseled by good cyclists to “stay in the small ring” for the first 1000 miles of the season. Don’t push the big gears until you’re ready and the legs have built up the small capillaries necessary to sustain both cadence and endurance.

An FTP test goes completely against this logic, which has, by the way, worked well for me a number of years. Build fitness on a base, then add in intervals, then speed. Works in running. Cycling. Maybe even swimming.

Don’t get me wrong. I go against conventional training practices all the time. Even though I run only 15-20 miles a week in training, I still do hard speed work once a week that makes up about 20% of my total runs. That worked to get me a 42:00 10k last fall, a two-minute improvement over the year before. That’s a pretty decent return on investment, I think.

Back when I started cycling seriously ten years ago, I raced in criteriums 11 times that first year. I accepted the fact that you need to go fast in order to improve. A local bike shop sponsors weekly criterium races at an underdeveloped industrial park near my home. Last year I didn’t race there at all due to other obligations and priorities. So my speed and wattage likely suffered for that lack of high-pressure riding. Criteriums, like the Computrainer, do not lie. You either stick with the bunch or you get dropped.Still, I rode homestyle crits on the big block near my house, and averaged just over 20mph on the Felt last summer.

As for Computraining, I expect the same principles to go to work. Repetition builds muscle, which builds aerobic capacity. Then you can build speed and watts. Otherwise, you’re just fooling yourself. Not facing up to reality. Fitness does not happen by magic. I have never been the guy with the automatic Big Engine. Yes, I was better than many at the running thing. But it always took work, hard work, to achieve a decent level of fitness. And I learned the hard way that I was not world class, or really anywhere near it. But not for lack of trying. Won my share of races, and am happy to have that in the bank of good memories.

Fortunately, my mountain bike wheel is now repaired (broken spoke) and my Specialized Rockhopper is ready for some miles in February. That will be good base work.

And yesterday, in a tantalizing moment, I got to glimpse and lift the new matte black Specialized Venge Expert bike that was ordered and assembled for me at Mill Race Cyclery. As soon as I pay off the rest of that baby with cash, and after a bike fit, it’s mine to ride.

Venge

Because while I love the Waterford in terms of look and feel, it has never been fitted to my body. I jerked the seat way up front for last night’s riding and who knows if that was the right or wrong thing to do. I was just guessing. I’ve been wobbling back and forth during every ride in Computraining. Surely that’s a bit of wasted energy. You think?

Like most things in life, guesswork about the bike gets you nowhere fast. Which is why we all do FTP tests. To remove the guesswork and figure out what kind of bloody watts we’re all cranking out.

It’s something you have to face sooner or later. Might was well get at it.

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Why stuff like fashion, sexism and ageism matter to those who run, ride and swim

So yesterday’s rather long blog about Victoria’s Real Secret might seem to be off the subject of running and riding and swimming.

But I think about these things because they do relate to the worlds of running, cycling and swimming. And multisport as well.

For example, in reference to the evolution of women’s specific exercise clothing, and how it took years for women to get what they wanted (not just what men thought they wanted)  I saw this interesting meme on Instagram this morning. It was posted by trichicks.

Suit Up.png

It’s pretty clear some serious thinking goes into women’s specific clothing. And it’s so easy to take these details from granted. But over the years, I’ve watched the evolution of women’s specific apparel, and to me it’s personal because the women friends in my life matter to me. I get happy about the thought that all women can share in activities that used to be for men only. .

And as my blog yesterday also discussed, there’s still a lot of body shaming going on, and it’s coming from both men and women. For example, I also stumbled this morning on an article about what Susan Sarandon wore to the SAG Awards (that’s the Screen Actors Guild) and the nasty messages people posted on Twitter about her cleavage. They said she was too old to wear a low cut outfit. They made jokes about the “sag” awards as if showing her 60+ breasts was shameful. But here’s a photo of Susan Sarandon. She looks great and stands up well against all the other gals showing their cleavage. It’s her goddamned right.

Susan.png

Oh, and that’s Piers Morgan weighing in below the photo. “Very tacky, Ms Sarandon,” he snarks.

Yes, there are situations in which women step over the line when it comes to what they wear. We’ve all been to that 4th of July party where an elder gal at the party is falling out of her dress. People wish she would just put it away.

But I also admire women that decide to wear what they bloody well want. It’s a bold, happy statement for an older woman with ample breasts to just put it out there and say, in essence, “Deal with it.”

But that’s not precisely the case here either. Susan Sarandon is wearing a quite lovely bra under that white jacket. And it’s just like I was talking about in the blog yesterday. Underwear has become outwear, and in its context, that is a statement about owning your body. It’s the same with wearing a sports bra out to go for a run. Perhaps you cover up to go to Trader Joes. But when you’re running, you can wear what you want.

The same goes for men and their bike shorts, by the way. It doesn’t hurt to put on some nice baggy shorts if you’re going to the grocery store after a ride. And really, tight-fitting clothing does have its place in many societal situations.

Helen-Mirren-helen-mirren-32853620-2000-2020Yet there’s also an ugly bit of ageism going on against Susan Sarandon. Why is sheHelen Mirren being busted when Helen Mirren has made a similar go of it with her aging body and been celebrated? This idea that women are not allowed to age is ridiculous. Certainly Helen Mirren was a young beauty. Yet she’s just as stunning in her elder years.

She even posed nude and that was also a wonderful statement that aging does not mean you’re all used up.

Think about the finish line of your typical triathlon or running event. There are women crossing that line with wrinkles and aging skin. Their bodies may not be what they once were, for certain. But there is great beauty in perseverance.

In an interesting alignment with the Internet gods, this morning I also watched this hilarious and biting video from Amy Schumer. It’s about the Last Fuckable Day among Hollywood actresses. It throws the bullshit expectations of age and women’s body image out the window. Watch it and laugh. And just try to get that image of white spiders out of your head.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon - Season 2

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON — Episode 0291 — Pictured: Comedian Amy Schumer on July 15, 2015 — (Photo by: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Of course, Amy Schumer rips these perceptions up with regularity. She talks about sex and body parts and wears her own weight with gloriously feminine panache. Her movie Trainwreck admits this is not always a pretty process. The character she plays has genuine issues about commitment and relationships. Well, duh.

But how many times have you seen a woman out for a run with a little bit more weight on her body than she’s probably like and thought to yourself, “You go girl.”

Because for whatever reason she chooses: For health, for weight loss for sanity…that’s a choice she’s making that day. And generally, that’s a good one.

Of course, society can be cruel in such circumstances. Men can shout out the windows of their cars. Whether for compliment or insult, street harassment is still an issue for women.

So it all fits together you see. Just like I said in yesterday’s blog, it’s all about respect in the end. Showing it. Giving it. Expecting it in return. Respect is the foundation of all relationships, public or private.

And respect is the foundation for social justice. Running and riding and swimming play an important societal role in this evolving world. They teach us how to respect the effort of others. Give us empathy for their struggles, and our own. We can align and share these experiences with people of different cultures, races, gender and orientation.

That’s exactly why I write this blog. And always have. And always will.

 

 

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Victoria’s real secret

Boys are like BrasVictoria’s Secret is one of the better merchandisers on this planet. They use every marketing technique available to sell product. From direct mail to text marketing,  email to producing that annual underwear fest they call a TV show. It’s all about moving product. 

I get their emails and mailers because I try to do the right thing and buy what my girlfriend wants. And we’ll get to what that actually means. For the moment, what really intrigued me was the Subject Line of an Email received in my inbox from Victoria’s Secret.

It said: “BOYS ARE LIKE BRAS.”

That made me laugh out loud. Really? Why is that, I wanted to know? Well, it turns out we’re hardly one of a kind. Because the email opens up to a subhead that reads:

So. Many. Options. So why choose just one?

Okay, I get it now. Boys are kind of like bras. Girls do try them on for size. Some they keep. Others they dump. It’s just like Elle King’s recent bop-hop song X’s and O’s

Well, I had me a boy, turned him into a man

I showed him all the things that he didn’t understand

Whoa, and then I let him go

Now, there’s one in California who’s been cursing my name

‘Cause I found me a better lover in the UK

Hey, hey, until I made my getaway

This is the age of female empowerment after all. It took Cosmo magazine 30 years and thousands of headlines telling women how to please a man, and get pleasure in return. And then Victoria’s Secret came along to ostensibly aid women in achieving that goal. As if pleasing a man really takes much effort.

But honestly, I don’t think that’s the real reason why most women buy sexy little bits of underwear. If you learn your way around a Victoria’s Secret store (and guys, you should) it becomes apparent that women’s panties are not about you at all. Panties are essentially a pretty, disposable item. 

For one thing, panties don’t cost all that much. They’re really a loss leader to get women buying other, more expensive items like bras and sprays. You can get six pairs of panties for only $27.00 during one of those VS specials. That’s about the same price guys pay for a set of Hane’s tagless tee shirts at your local Kohl’s store. Think about that for a minute. We’re starting to dial in here. Stick with it.

Those men’s tee shirts last about a year and then the cotton starts to turn a sad grayish color and the material gets floppy around the neck. At that point, most wives secretly dump those old tee shirts into the shoe polish bin and magically a new set of tee shirts appears in the drawer. It’s a simple science. All you need to know is a guy’s chest size and replacing tee shirts is easy. The old tee shirts go off to the thrift store and the old briefs or boxer underwear get tossed into the garbage. 

Practically nothing

It’s a more complicated process in the other direction. It’s a practical fact that women never hurl piles of used panties or bras into a sack and drag them to the thrift shop. As any woman can tell you, that’s just plain gross. There are too many things going on down there for even healthy women to recycle underwear of any kind. And when a bra has finished its service, it won’t even function as a decent slingshot. All these trifles and nothings that women wear under their clothing are fashionable, but ultimately dispensable. If they happen to look sexy, that’s simply the tradeoff for the practical realities of being female. There’s even a transitional store for younger women that goes by the name PINK. It accomplishes the same purpose. 

Unmentionables

So this is a kind way of explaining why there are so many kinds of panties, and in so many pretty colors and patterns. They are camouflage for the gritty fact of being a female. That’s Victoria’s real secret. Make a woman feel pretty through the earthy verve of being a woman and all that it entails, and you have won her heart.

I know I’m right about this because as you’ll note, there is no male equivalent to Victoria’s Secret. Not unless you count Gander Mountain or Cabela’s. Or perhaps a local Under Armor store.

It is interesting to note that the sports industry has gravitated back to the idea where controlling your junk is again a priority. Back in the 60s and 70s men wore jockstraps, which were nothing more than utility thongs with side bands. And they worked.

Deny it all you like, but there was an autoerotic aspect to jockstraps with that stretchy pouch to hold a man’s wank and jewels. Any guy that says he never got a hard-on while putting on a jock is a complete and total liar. Of course, at the age at which most boys began wearing jockstraps, all it took was a stiff breeze to generate an erection. So the premise of that argument is slightly flawed. But you get the drift. 

From jocks to flops

New BalanceThen jockstraps went out of fashion, replaced by running shorts with built-in briefs. These were, at first, an unsettling development. The flop-around factor was considerable, but one got used to that pretty quick. There was a liberating aspect to having your crank flop around inside silk shorts.

This was the 70s, after all, the decade when lots of body parts were flopping around. Women’s breasts drove the jiggle factor that took over our TV sets. Programs like Battle of the Network Stars and Three’s Company were about little more than erect nipples and bouncing breasts.

You may recall that during that same period, some groups of women actually burned their bras. That turned out to be both an iconic and an ironic act. In the short term, all it did was draw even more sexual attention and objectification to women. Not all political actions have straight line results.  

But perhaps there was something else going on. Those old-style giant white bras were sexual in a Rocky Horror Picture Show sort of way. The taboo of those massive undergarments was the entire dynamic. Burning those bras was opening the door to a different kind of revolution.

Because along came the women’s revolution in athletics. No longer did women want to truck about in what amounted to giant white torture devices. The sports bra was invented, and at first, they were all white and had all the fashion glory of a potato sack with the potatoes still stuck inside. Then came the invention of Spandex, which was turned into tights and shorts and finally stretchy bras that were slightly more flattering and functional. Then these garments evolved into yoga pants and athletic wear of a thousand variegations.

Brands for women

It was no coincidence that during the feminist revolution, bras underwent a comfort revolution as well. Women of all sizes wanted bras that not only fit, but worked to prevent breasts from flopping around too much. It was only 30 years ago that the first sports bras emerged on the market. It wasn’t until women took over the process that gals got bras and shorts that actually fit their bodies. Now there are brands for women such as Athleta and Title 9 and Lulomon that specialize in clothing women actually want to wear to work out.

So, if you’re a guy who wants to buy your gal something she really likes, it pays to ask a few questions. That goes for just about everything you ever buy for a woman. Even an engagement ring. Just ask. It’s not that hard. You’ll likely learn a ton of interesting things about how she thinks before the conversation’s over. It’s an Eternal Rule. If you actually listen to what a woman is saying, that will be greatly appreciated. And so will you.

The other Eternal Rule is that while it might appear that women are dressing for you, they’re really not. You’ll note that while Victoria’s Secret also sells workout wear, including sports bras and tee shirt bras and bras that just plain look pretty, there is always a practical issue underlying all these pretty things.

Fashion choices

BrandiYou’ll note that some of the sports bras women can buy are worn without a shirt over them. If women choose to do that, it is a man’s job not to stare. Not all women are imitating Madonna, who started the whole trend of wearing regular bras over her clothes.

Athletic women are far more like soccer player Brandi Chastain who tore off her jersey after winning a soccer game and did so in an enthusiastic, unadorned celebration of life itself. That act generated a lot of controversy, yet in the end, it produced a remarkable change in attitudes toward women athletes. One of respect. 

Morals and morality

The moral of this story is that Victoria’s Secret is not really what you think it is. Sure, the company uses sexuality to sell its product. But in truth, that’s only part of the story. all that sexy marketing is in sum, a ruse to disguise the very practical fact of women want to feel good about themselves. The display pretty bra straps calculatedly layered to show off shoulders may seem entirely sexual, but it’s really not. It’s a fashion statement, and that’s a very different thing. Women (and some enlightened men) actually know this. It’s a brand of visual dialogue that leaps all the way over to the running track, and cycling gear, and swimwear, all of which have a function called performance. And that’s the metric by which women really want to be valued. Yes, it’s nice to be visually appreciated, but not at the cost of letting me be who I am

Fashion and fascism

Because fashion is such an accepted part of being human, it can easily be misunderstood. But as this dialogue from the movie The Devil Wears Prada explains, the underlying fact of what we wear is a reflection of a collective desire for attention and respect. The two can appear to be in conflict when women seem to sexualize themselves and then complain when getting unwanted attention from men. But it’s all part of a perpetually evolving dynamic in which women and all of humanity struggles for respect, equality and empowerment. Fashion is just one of the tools of that expression. This passage from the dialogue in The Devil Wears Prada describes the trickle-down effect of fashion versus the desire to make choices and empowerment of ideas on our own. 

This… ‘stuff’? Oh… ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean. You’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff.

If that seems Draconian and the product of a power-mongering control freak, then you’re paying attention. But in the end, it’s not that the fashion industry entirely controls us. It’s that fashion in all its forms both controls and reflects an individual and collective struggle for recognition, and freedom to choose.

Perversions

Those trends and choices are so easily perverted and exploited by mass communications and politics. One of the mistakes some political leaders make in seeking and wielding power is that they come to assume that the process of creating political “fashion,” their ideology, as it were, places them above the fact that people everywhere still have the right to make their own choices. They ultimately mistake, as Miranda Priestley did, their power for their purpose.

Tragically, when politicians begin to assume they are capable of making individual choices for people, controlling their rights, they have drifted out of the realm of political fashion into a brand of fashionable fascism.

That’s why some brands of male politicians cannot bring themselves to actually respect women even as they sexualize and worship them. They fear women’s bodies even as they desire them. This taboo is use as some sort of excuse to push women into roles or positions they may not desire. This male habit is even codified in the Bible in laws against women that proclaim them “unclean” during their menstrual cycles. And in today’s political climate, this “fear versus respect” internal conflict among some groups of men still drives them to politicize issues of women’s health and take away reproductive freedom. There is fascism in this brand of misogyny.

Confusing messages

Meanwhile, Victoria’s Secret sells millions of panties making some men think that all women are dressing for them, when in fact those women are dressing for themselves, and perhaps their friends as well. That’s simply approaching fashion in a signatory way. It sends signals of both choice and collaboration. It happens that some gay men are known to dress well, and it is also a signatory device.

But you’ll notice that at the end of the movie The Devil Wears Prada, the character Andy Sachs chooses to reject the more fascist leanings of the fashion industry, which demands that she conform and go along or be cast out. She walks away from her job with Miranda Priestley even though that position confers the young assistant with enormous power. She makes an even more powerful choice on her own volition, and goes into journalism. Because that’s who she ultimately is. She just dresses better now.

The real Victoria’s Secret

The fact that dressing pretty can make a woman feel good about herself, and her body, is the Victoria’s Secret men actually need to learn. It’s not about you, guys. It’s about them. And until you understand that you will never be in on the real secret. It’s called respect, and that’s the most interesting thing you can give to any woman.

But a nicely fashionable bag is a good gift too. Just know what you’re doing, lest you look like a fool.

Nate: Why do women need so many bags?

Lilly: Shut up.

Nate: You have one. You put all your junk in it, and that’s it. You’re done.

Doug: Fashion is not about utility. An accessory is merely a piece of iconography used to express individual identity.

Lilly: Oh! And it’s pretty.

Doug: That too.

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