Racing toward a slightly different conclusion

By Christopher Cudworth

CopsA few weeks back I posted the photo shown in the featured image with a joking comment that it was good the police had the porta-potties protected. One of my conservative “friends” on Facebook went ballistic. He shot me a terse lecture about respecting the police with a warning that I should thank them for their service, not ridicule them.

As it so happened, I had already done that. I politely stopped during the running of the Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon to thank them for working for the race.

Taking note of the assault rifles hanging on front of their bodies, I also regaled them with a story about the time my family and I had were on an archeoastronomy trip in southwest Colorado. Early on the morning of June 21st, we rose before sunrise and drove through the cool desert night to arrive at Hovenweep National Monument in southeastern Utah. Our goal was to arrive before sunrise and station ourselves at an ancient native American (Anasazi) astronomy site to witness a solstice event that has been taking place for an estimated 1000 years.

Armed and dangerous

We were joined on the trip by a trio of armed federal agents wearing assault rifles over their shoulders. Their presence was deemed necessary because a few weeks before a pair of armed criminals had gunned down a cop in nearby Cortez and escaped into the wilderness near Hovenweep.

As the sun rose a sliver of light shone across a spiral shape carved in the face of a rock. Only once a year does the light reach that petroglyph. It once told the tribes who lived in the area that the time was right for planting. That was back when the desert was perhaps a bit more verdant and growing crops was possible.

Of course I didn’t tell all those details to the police working the Naperville Half Marathon. I simply told them that we appreciated the guards that morning in Hovenweep. The idea that there might be armed criminals roaming the Utah desert was the least romantic notion on our minds at the moment.

I asked my children that morning of the solstice event if they minded the presence of the armed guards. “What guards? What guns?” they asked innocently. That taught me that not everyone has the same sensitivities and sensibilities about guns. But how can we expect children to understand such concepts? Kids don’t necessarily understand what guns can do, or why they’re necessary. But neither do so many adults, who engage with guns at a childish level, believing as fact what they’re told that guns lead to a civil society and protect our freedoms better than rule of law.

Frontal assault

Because… why are assault weapons necessary for cops to carry? That was the point I was trying to make with my ironic post on Facebook about cops protecting the porta-potties. Of course their mission on race day at a marathon site is much broader than that. We all know what happened in Boston a couple years ago.

But then again, we need to keep asking questions about this growing militarization of society and the need for police to use grenades and tanks to do their jobs. That’s what’s happening, people. It’s an arms race and the police believe they are either going to win or die.

Thanking police for their service

Road signsI’ll never state that police presence is not helpful at races. At every race I’ve attended I’ve thanked police for their service. Frankly I get the feeling they sometimes see the frantic stupidity of it all and keep their mouths shut. Police have to look at society a lot differently than those of us who never work in public service. They see the ugly side of human nature every day. Domestic violence. Rape. Murder. Robbery. Car crashes. Vandalism. Heartbreaking cruelties even to animals and children. It’s hard for a policeman not to be a cynic about the very foundations of society. Bigotry. Racism. Protests against social injustice. Campus rape. Drunken driving. Bar fights.

Our police operate in a different universe, and on a daily basis that universe spins around while the rest of us go about our merry business. The police are no different from the characters in the movie Men In Black. The dialogue goes like this between J and K:

“People are smart, they can handle it.” 

“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.”

Cops are also people. Yet the person who is a cop is also capable of dumb, panicky behavior. I was once leading a 10K in a northwest suburb of Chicago. The police officer driving ahead of me on the course approached an intersection and suddenly hit the brakes. Flying along at 5:00 per mile pace, I could not stop and wound up flopping over the back of the trunk of his car.

Obviously in the moment I was a bit upset. I yelled at him but his real goal was to make sure there was no traffic that was going to plow through the intersection. Ramping back up to speed, I waved and shrugged in thanks.

It was an interesting moment of human interaction. The policeman was doing his job but so was I, in a manner of speaking. (I was sponsored as a runner by a running shop at the time). I still won the race but had to tell the story of how the police car almost cost me the victory. If I’d hit my knee on the bumper, for example…

Not so easy

Nothing about being a police officer is easy. I have friends and associates who work in law enforcement. I also wrote an article about Conservation Police Officers and learned that they are not only responsible for wildlife but are also fully commissioned and trained state troopers. One of the officers interviewed had related that it was highly necessary to compartmentalize what he daily saw in his job and the need to come home and function as a father. The two worlds were dichotomous.

We hear the same thing from soldiers returning from war. The blood, gore and destruction are too much. Add in personal injury and massive disability caused by war injuries and it is almost criminal what we ask our soldiers to do, and we too often treat them like aliens when they come home. It’s an almost impossible split between war and civil society.

So when we blithely throw soldiers into action for political causes that are either ill-defined or unnecessarily aggressive, it should make the nation question why and how we view imperialistic violence as so necessary to achieve our national goals. The same goes for our police officers. Why is America so content to force these people to live with the threat of unnecessarily dangerous weapons?

Working with police 

As a former race director I have worked with multiple cities and numerous police officers. That’s why I stop to thank them for their service.

But the abiding concern I have for police officers is not the nature of their service or even the mistakes they sometimes make. I’m far more concerned that their jobs as civic peacekeepers have been made untenable by the proliferation of weapons in American society. My legitimate question depends not on some liberal agenda. And I am a known and proud liberal and progressive thinker.

Instead my concern focuses on the natively conservative opening line of the Second Amendment, which begins, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state…”

That makes me think deeply about what many police officers now face on the streets of America. It’s an arms race out there. While the rest of us occupy the streets one day at a time for a merry little run through neighborhoods or cities, the cops are out there literally fighting for control of the property they are commissioned to protect. Now we’re looking at the full militarization of police forces in America. It’s necessary because America has no commitment to live by the first line of the Second Amendment. Conservatives lie when they claim to support the police and then refuse to hold anyone accountable for the crazed and unbridled “militia” now wielding guns at will and at large. We clearly no longer have a well-regulated militia. The NRA is the absolute worst enemy of the police here in America. There, I’ve said it. Now deal with it. Because it’s true.

Shooting up with ammo

There have been more than 400 school shootings since the Newtown massacre. It’s also a lie to say that all these shootings were the premeditated acts of people who are insane from the start. The plain fact is that high-powered weapons make people insane. With the pull of a trigger, an average citizen can unleash hell on people sending them into panic and fear. It’s control that insane people with guns are after. They can’t control their personal lives so they use force to exert some sense of manic control on the world they’ve grown to hate. And it repeats itself over and over again.

In response gun advocates promote the insane idea that average citizens need to get more guns to combat not only criminals with guns, but the government itself. That’s the same as telling a heroin addict they need more drugs to cure their habit. We’re talking about addiction to the idea that war on the streets is the natural course of American history.

Armed with bigotry

Sure, the bigots among us like to blame black people for all the crime, and black on black crime is a problem. But many of those wingnuts shooting up schools and shooting at police on the streets are far from black. Race isn’t the issue with guns in America. Guns are the issue with guns in America.

The police are the people who pay the price on the frontlines. They’re being forced to become soldiers in order to survive the onslaught of insanely liberal gun laws. Yes, you heard me right. Conservatives typically love guns, but the liberalities with which they interpret the Second Amendment by completely ignoring the opening lines of that troublesome bit of law, are responsible for a lot of bullet holes in a whole lot of human flesh.

Irony lost on America?

That’s why it’s important to use irony when pointing out the fact that police are armed to the hilt and commissioned to do an impossible job. That dialogue from the movie Men In Black is absolutely correct. “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky animals and you know it.” 

That especially applies to people who feel insecure walking around in public without carrying a concealed weapon. It applies to people who think the government is coming to steal their home or property. It applies to people who vote for Republicans on the sole grounds that the GOP is in bed with the NRA, and frankly taking it in every imaginable political orifice as a result.

It’s not that I disrespect cops or their service to America. It’s that I disrespect people who pretend to idolize police officers for their service without any consideration for the real reason their lives and occupations are at risk. Those people are deceiving all of us about the Second Amendment and what it really means to respect the police.

I have readers who love guns and who love to tell me that I’m nuts and anti-American for my so-called “liberal” stance on such things. But the unspoken and ugly truth of the Ferguson incident, the Trayvon Martin shooting and a host of other cop-versus-civilian shootings is based on the whole idea of a kill-or-be-killed mentality underwritten by the gross proliferation of guns in American society. You can play any conservative tune you like to cover it up, but the cops are the ones who really face the music.


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Nothing wrong with a taste of humble pie for Thanksgiving

photo (3)The 18th Annual Fox River Trail Runners Turkey Trot was a cold one followed by delicious hot chocolate. That’s the way a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot should be, of course. With temps in the low 20s at best, and a snow flurry wind blowing from the northwest, there was no real incentive to go fast other than to get finished and get warm.

The race starts in downtown Batavia, Illinois and heads up the Houston Street hill. Basically that’s the biggest available climb in this river town. You run right up the west side of the Fox Valley, and it hurts. At least it hurt me. Without much of a warmup save for jogging to the very cold porta-potties, my chest felt cooked and my legs were suitable for carving if you like your meat rare with a side of lactic acid.

There were plenty of people to run with. More than 2500 to be inexact. The Fox River Trail Runners know how to put on a good race. There were plenty of turkey hats to commemorate the holiday race. A few reindeer and at least one greenish Shrek character made appearances as well.

And like most races it falls to me to wonder how in the heck I used to win these things. My best at four miles was 19:49, just under 5:00 pace. Today I ran steady 7:30s, almost to the minute. Seriously, finishing in exactly 30:00 is kind of a freakish thing to have happen.

Pace of life

The fact that I’m 10:00 slower over four miles than my racing peak is not really disturbing to me, yet it is a bit humbling. All you can say is nothing. If I was two minutes faster or four minutes faster what real difference would it make. The racing experience would not vary one bit. There would be tons of people around to run at the same rate. It’s like you’re just another chunk in the apple pie.

And that’s not such a bad thing. When my girlfriend came cruising in not long after I met her about 400 meters out and we ran in together. Coming back down the Houston Street hill we both put on the brakes.

There’s a lot of nutrition in humble pie, you discover. You’re part of the human race and not worried about any other sort of race; not speed or pace or color or clan. We’re all breathing oxygen and pushing blood around with our hearts. It’s a happy place to be if you give thanks for your health, the opportunity to run and the ability to do so. When it’s the main course, humble pie actually makes a pretty good meal.


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On commitments equal to our obsessions


The wind was even blowing on the moon tonight. And it was cold.

The wind is so loud outside it sounds like the trains that pass through nearby Geneva, Illinois every day.

This wind has caused the snow to blow sideways all day. There is a skin of ice on the driveway. The streets are slippery.

There was a time when I would still go out running in such conditions. I was skinny then. Too skinny and determined to let a little wind and bad weather keep me in. Those were different times.

Business kept me busy today, as did the construction of a new website for my business, 3C Creative Marketing. Still a work in progress. But there’s big plans ahead.

Now that I work for myself there should be plenty of time in the day to fit in a workout, right? That’s how it’s supposed to work. You become That Guy who is always at the gym. Always out running in the noon hour on the best of days. Always always always.

Except I don’t actually want to be That Guy. That’s not how it actually works. Conscience toward the needs of clients should and does take over. Workouts get put on the backburner.

It’s not that those of us self-employed types always procrastinate our exercise. It’s that we’ve worked hard to get here. Put up wit uncertainty and wondered aloud (to ourselves) if this s0-called business plan is fully actualized.

But it is. And we do. Work at it. We also know there are commitments equal to our obsessions. So we run and ride and swim when we can.

No real sense beating yourself because you want to be a success in life in more ways than one. Sure the winter wind seems like an excuse. The gym will call tomorrow if it does not let up. This past weekend with 45 degree temps let the running and riding go well. So it is not guilt, but motivation that calls.

Or so we like to tell ourselves. Ah, maybe a little bit of guilt. Let’s admit it.

But not enough to go out in this weather. Time for some ab work and some dinner.


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Let’s hear it for cross country running. Best. Sport. Ever.

An anthology of cross country running from early history to present day.

This video was shared on Facebook by Craig Virgin, two-time World Cross Country Champion. He appears in the video. But so do a lot of other great runners of all abilities.

Now I’m going mountain biking. See ya later.


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The dangers in acting your age

TrackOccasionally people will remark that I don’t look my age. While I appreciate the supposed kind intent of such comments, it also makes me wonder sometimes what they really mean.

What would it mean to them if I did look my age? And what factors are they basing their judgments upon?

We are harsh enough judges of appearances on our own. About three years ago the first real signs of age started to appear in my face. We don’t like them typically, but many are dictated by our heritage, our race and our family history. That and some hard miles in the hot sun, the cold wind and the freezing rain can conspire to age your face and body. Throw in a lifetime of typical worry, stress and challenges and the aging process takes hold in our appearance.

Weight of the world

Witness the manner in which most of our presidents age. They take office fresh-faced and eager and leave with a face worn from shouldering responsibilities the rest of us cannot imagine.

That’s why presidents don’t say much about the current president once they leave office. They know the job is difficult, and that being president of the United States or any other nation is perhaps the most thankless position of all. Your popularity ratings are dependent on the whims of an often fickle people that have long forgotten the good things you’ve done while remaining forever suspicious of anything you propose to do. You must also live with the fecklessness or pride earned by any of your predecessors and the people who served them. It’s no wonder age creeps up on presidents faster than the rest of us.

Thanks for that

Yet even at the basic level of a comment like “you don’t look your age” there is judgment at work. Compared to whom? Compared to what?

Chris 1985In the past year I have looked down at the skin around my quadriceps and knees to notice that it is not as tight as it once was. There are lines indicating sun damage and possibly reduced muscle size and tone underneath. My knees give away the fact that I have run more than 40,000 miles in my lifetime and have cycled nearly that much as well. Those tan lines that end at the lower thigh with my bike shorts are beautiful in summer but they also contribute to the autumn of my life. We try to warn our youth that too much time in the sun can harm them. But what did we do? We lived that way too.

To the rescue

So what’s the answer? Sure, some sunscreen might help. But for the most part it is too late in the game to rescue my knee skin. Or the rest of me. I’ve lived too much to reverse all that. The goal now is to push forward and keep the body rocking. Take care of yourself, but not to the point of letting other people’s expectations or limitations define what you can or cannot do. The best solution to all this is to keep moving. That’s what keeps us young. We can slather all we want on the outside of our bodies and try eat healthier. That’s what keeps us going and supposedly safe from the worst vagaries of sun, weather and bad tomatoes. It seems like the things they tell us to do one day to prevent aging are the very same things they tell you the next year not to do.

But keep moving 

1978to2013We keep moving because that is the single most important answer to the challenge of “acting your age.” What does that mean anymore? It means we’ve stopped moving. Stopped being vital. Stopped believing in ourselves. Stopped thinking. Stopped being creative. But if you keep moving, none of that stops.

The right idea

I simply refuse to believe all that bullshit that says people beyond thirty years of age have no good ideas. There are investment types who won’t even talk to brains beyond those years. To them nothing truly new or original can emerge from a seasoned mind. Plain and simple, that is the worst type of age discrimination. Throw out appearances for a moment and consider what it means when someone tells you that you cannot possibly have a new idea. That is perhaps the most dehumanizing comment you can make about anyone.

Business leaders like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates started thinking boldly when they were young. Yet they also continued their innovative leadership well into their middle years and even senior years. Only cancer could stop Steve Jobs from his mission to change the world. Yet his ideas carry on. Not because he was young when he died, but because he thought young when he died.

The dangers in acting your supposed age are encompassed by the fact that you will limit your potential in life if you do. My knees may look a little saggier from now on, but that does not mean they cannot help me run, ride or swim. To hell with quitting. That’s the only time you really show your age at all. At any age.


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The truth about vitamin supplements and what you need to put in your body

VitaminsYears ago when I first started taking a multi-vitamin on recommendation of a doctor, I visited the pharmacist, who happened to be the father of a close friend of mine, and asked him what to expect when the vitamins kicked in.

My friend’s father had a profound stutter, so it took him a while to get the words out. But this is what he told me. “They’ll…..turn….your…..turds….dark…”

And that was my introduction to the benefits of vitamin supplements and what you need to put in your body.

So it struck me that we’re not really exploring the creative potential of vitamins. I mean think about it: If vitamins can turn your turds dark, couldn’t they be counted on to turn our turds all sorts of various colors? We could be crapping white turds or green turds if we liked. Heck, we could crap pink turds for all we know, and that would be a wonderful testament to certain fund raisers. If you really give a shit about breast cancer awareness, nothing will do more to remind you to eat healthy and avoid cancer-causing food than a bright pink turd sitting in your toilet bowl.

There could even be a social media campaign. I SHAT PINK! Buy some tee shirts with happy looking pink turds on them and we’re halfway home to real cancer awareness.

Before you accuse me of playing dark with a subject that causes so many women and men fear, panic and their very lives, may I remind you that I’ve been through all of that to the point of losing my wife to ovarian cancer. It’s one giant battle out there for research dollars, and there really is no governor on the tastefulness of it all. When SAVE THE BOOBIES is a campaign slogan about female breasts (and not oceanic seabirds) don’t stand there and lecture me about the bounds of grace and good taste.

Besides, what we’re really here to talk about is vitamins and what they can do for your health. My new multivitamin is by OneADay. And I’m sure there are vitamin experts out there who will call or write to inform me that these vitamins are not organic or have too much sodium or cause your pee to turn bright yellow (because they do) so I’ll just go on record in saying this is a total experiment on my part. It says 50+ right there on the label so they have to be good for me, right?

I didn’t know that we needed Vitamin K, for example. What the hell is Vitamin K? Is that a secret ingredient from the movie Men In Black? Are we all aliens or something?

There’s also something called Pantothenic in here. Here’s what WebMD has to say about that. “Pantothenic acid is a vitamin, also known as vitamin B5. It is widely found in both plants and animals including meat, vegetables, cereal grains, legumes, eggs, and milk.”

So in other words, if we were eating all those foods we’d get enough Pantothenic Acid and not need a Vitamin. If you looked at all the ingredients on the bottle you’ll realize that’s the case with everything you eat in a multivitamin. We’re simply not eating right. And I’ll admit that. I simply want them to invent vitamins that align more with what we do typically eat or drink in a day.

Here are a few suggestions for all you vitamin sellers out there on what to put in your products to make them a little more popular:

Vitamin W: Offers all the benefits of areal red or white wine, including the alcohol. Certain years of vitamins are more likely to be pleasurable than others, but don’t ingest the cork.

Vitamin P: With the popularity of legalizing cannabis it won’t be long before the active ingredients in pot make their way into daily vitamins. Of course this is already possible in Colorado. Rocky Mountain Highhhhh….

Vitamin Eh?: This vitamin contains all the healthful benefits of living in Canada. Caution, this vitamin may cause repeated use of the phrase “Eh?” when asking questions or answering them.

Foxnewsium: This acidic element is only safe in small doses and may still cause anger and a propensity to join the Koch-sponsored political movement called the Tea Party.

Niceassium: Helps with formation of a healthy, round buttocks. Recommended by Kim Kardashian.

Steel: You have iron in your diet, why not steel? These little chunks of metal fuse the other vitamins together to make strong bones and a very thick skull. Good if you value convictions over common sense in your politics.

Merthiolate (as opposed to Iodine): Your mother used to spread this merth stuff all over your open wounds when you were a kid and you never questioned it. Now you can take a vitamin and turn orange without all the pain. However, it may also poison you.

Aluminuminuminum: No one can say that word correctly can they? Anyway, if you don’t want to get your aluminum through a vitamin just chew up a bit of aluminum foil. That is, if you can take the feeling on your fillings.

Viagra: That is a vitamin, right?

Cialis: Yah, that’s another ticket for a rigid wicket.

mitch-mcconnellVitamin MC-BC: Skip the tricky birth control stuff. Vitamin MC-BC works for both men and women by making them all look like Mitch McConnell with whom no one in their right mind would breed if they knew what’s good for them.

Well, that’s about it for vitamin education today. Hope you all grew in understanding of what vitamins can do for you. I can offer you a franchise for my new vitamin company. I’m sure you’ll want to invest in it.


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The Polar Vortex is talking and the birds know what’s good for us

It’s 13 degrees outside in Chicago today. The wind has the flags at my neighbor’s house fluttering madly.

SandhillCraneEasternMigration-791x1024But that is tame fare compared to yesterday’s reported migration of sandhill cranes over the City of Chicago. Apparently 5000 birds were tallied in just over an hour flying over the city toward the Jasper-Pulaski region where tens of thousands of wild sandhill cranes gather each year. Many of the birds funnel down through the eastern United States to Florida. A great number travel from points further west to Texas and the Gulf Coast as well.

The passing of sandhill cranes overhead is most definitely a mark of the pending winter season. These hardy, tall birds come back in spring before the ice goes out of area ponds. They find food in all kinds of conditions. They also know when it’s time to leave.
Sandhill Cranes, overflying White Rock, NMTwo Sandhill Cranes FlyingUsually they fly over a little earlier in the season. Often their migration takes place in the first week of November when most of us are out raking the final layers of leaves from our lawns. Sometimes the cranes are so far overhead you can’t see them in the sky at first. Then a pack of swirling dots appears. With wings fully extended the birds don’t even flap in many cases. They swirl their way south and east with primaries extended like giant fingers.

Such effortlessness is the envy of those of us who run and ride. There are very few times when we soar along without effort like a crane on the high winds. A couple years back a friend and I were cycling on a day when the winds reached 40 mph. It was tough going on the way out. On the way back the wind fell into line with the road we were traveling. We crested the rise on a bridge over I-88 and the downhill gave us an extra push of speed.

Our cyclometers showed the quick rise in pace, all the way up to 40mph on the flat. Then the world went silent. We were traveling the exact speed of the wind.

One wonders whether birds feeling these sensations or take them for granted. Cranes are smart birds but they certainly don’t sit around discussing their Strava segments. Then again, they don’t need Strava. They navigate using a combined set of anciently evolved senses that tell them when to leave and where to travel.  Some speculate populations of cranes in our region actually follow the glaciated ridgeline of the former breadth of Lake Michigan. In the span of evolution that 10,000 years that just passed means nothing to the cranes. Their collective memory is much stronger than a recent change in landscape. It takes a few millennia to adjust such things.

sandhill cranes-MIt is cold as heck here and hard to muster the will for a 4-miler. But the weather will moderate and it will be great to get out on the road again. We all take cues from nature in our choice of movement. The cranes love a strong northwesterly wind because it makes their job of migration easier.

As for me, I’ll take a calmer morning and wear my balaclava. The Polar Vortex is predicted to be strong again in the Midwest. It just might be enough to blow me inside to the treadmill where we’ll crane our necks looking at the rest of the folks trying to get away from winter.

Want to know more about cranes? Visit the International Crane Foundation site.


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Running and riding for Everyman

In a moment of social media weakness and curiosity, I hit the Like button on a Facebook page titled For Everyman Jackson Browne Fan Group. It’s the first fan group of any kind that I have officially or unofficially ever joined.

MI0001396501It’s not the only musician I’ve followed however. Back in the 80s a group of us in the Chicago suburbs became roving fans of a band called Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows. They were a blues-based band and Big Twist was a handsomely large man with a smooth voice and Chicago Blues cred.

We drank and danced wherever they played. But like Otis Day and the Knights in the movie Animal House, Big Twist never really knew who we were. Just another bunch of manic skinny runners with their girlfriends dancing at another smokey suburban bar outside Chicago.


So there’s no claim to fame in my worship of musicians here. I didn’t join the fan club hoping to someday meet Jackson Browne or anything like that. Yet this weekend there was a photo posted of Jackson Browne that produced an instant connection with the man whose music offers some of the most lyrically sophisticated songs ever written.

988425_363554373822229_5096783641057069547_nThe photo was of Jackson Browne in track shorts and singlet. He’s probably 14 or 15 years old in the photo. He’s captured in one of those unguarded teenage moments where the camera catches you in full youthful repose. Slightly self-conscious perhaps. Yet eagerly aware of what comes next.

That photo reminds me so much of teammates from high school track days. He also reminded me of me. Those skinny arms and legs. The 60s or 70s haircut. And then there were the shoes.

Running Flats

Those gum rubber running flats on his feet were the same kind of footwear our team wore at Kaneland High School in the cornfields of Illinois. Those “flats” were black with three stripes on the side. Perhaps they were adidas. Perhaps not. The whole running shoe boom had not yet evolved. They were the only type of running shoe available.

I recall picking out a pair at a local shoe store. The salesman watched me walk around in those new flats and said, “Now don’t wear them except to run. You’ll stretch out your calves too much because they don’t have a heel like your regular shoes.”

Indeed. Those shoes were minimalist because the track world didn’t know any better, or any worse. What followed in the next 10 years or so was a gigantic experiment in shoe evolution. It reached epic and silly proportions with shoes like the Nike LDV, a huge wedge of vee-shaped rubber tacked onto a woven synthetic upper. Those were Moon Boots and the precursor in many ways of the modern-day Hoka shoes with so much cushioning your feet never know what’s under them.

Back to the Future

CudworthKanelandWe wore those shoes to run cold laps around the high school on a circle of unforgiving asphalt that circled the main building. Many teammates came down with shinsplints. They would tape their entire lower legs to contain the pain. It usually did not go away until we moved practices onto the cinder track. Too much shock reverberating up the front of the leg tore muscle from bone. To combat this problem, some runners inserted plastic heel cups into heels of the shoes in an attempt to give them more stability. Essentially that anticipated the evolution in shoe construction. Nike’s Bill Bowerman was not far behind.

Running On Empty

So the fact that Jackson Browne ran around in the same somewhat inadequate running shoes was a real connection for me. There was an absolute relationship with the earth when running in those shoes. Running that close to the ground gives you a connectedness with all of reality that those who do not run seldom experience. You know what it feels like to cover ground. You know what it means to run alone. You also know what it means to run out of energy and hope, and to survive in spite of that. Jackson captures that feeling of running through life with barely enough rubber under your feet to keep going in his lyrics from “Running On Empty…”

Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive
In sixty-nine I was twenty-one and I called the road my own
I don’t know when that road turned onto the road I’m on…

The Pretender

When we’re as young as Jackson Browne was in that photo above, we do everything we can to try to understand the world. We seek out the funny and grapple with the serious. We lose our virginity in many aspects of life, and yet we keep on running.

And sometimes we run head on into the realization that life is harder than we thought it might be.

The very same summer that I began to listen an album by Jackson Browne titled “The Pretender” I was commuting an hour one-way to a summer job as a janitor in a tall office building that overlooked the hazy skyline of Chicago. That entire summer was like standing in the breach between youth and adulthood. I could feel it.

New BalanceAfter college I would go live in that city with a close running friend and running buddy. We were caught between our college world and the real life we would soon lead. I spent that summer training like mad and racing 24 times in a year. I won 12 of those races. It was both a real and pretend life at the same time. Soon enough the full time running would have to stop. There was a marriage and a family on the way. Then came more commuting and finding out how the real world works. Throughout it all however, I kept running because it kept me sane…

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening?
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye
And when the morning light comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again, Amen


Shaved LegsBy the time I took up cycling in my 40s it was an attempt to look ahead and balance my time on the road between running and riding a bike. It was fun to explore a new identity, to see yourself from an entirely different perspective. That included shaving my legs and not feeling like it somehow undercut masculinity to do so. In fact it felt the opposite. Like preparing for your own personal battles. No different than getting a tattoo or a piercing. A form of personal expression that matters in terms of commitment to that aspect of personality most vital to your soul.

Fountain of Sorrow

It turns out it has all been a journey to conceive the mind. Who could conceive the depths of insight that would emanate from the mind of that young man in the photo above. Jackson Browne. He has written music and words that fill spaces of the mind so powerfully it is hard to conceive where they come from. That’s genius of course. We aspire to it and are drawn to it at the same time.

The saddest lyrics have at times pulled me through darkness of the soul. Wrestling with anxiety and depression and the reverberations of what those coin flips can do to your heart and mind is often difficult. But rather than wallow in the fact that we are sometimes alone in that venture, there is hope in the possibility that others share both the struggles and the joys in life. It truly is a fountain of sorrow in which we are washed clean.

But when you see through love’s illusions, there lies the danger
And your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool
So you go running off in search of a perfect stranger
While the loneliness seems to spring from your life
Like a fountain from a pool

Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight
You’ve had to hide sometimes, but now you’re all right
And it’s good to see your smiling face tonight

For Everyman

Photo Copyright Christopher Cudworth

Photo Copyright Christopher Cudworth

See, we all need other people to help us find our way. Some of us turn to heroes such as Jackson Browne because of their ability to reveal the universal message in the madness. There’s a restlessness in all of us to find those answers. Sometimes by traveling so fast toward them we can miss opportunities along the way. Take the wrong path. Go seeking when we should just be listening. Running fast when we should be running slow. And the other way around as well.

Seems like I’ve always been looking for some other place to get it together
Where with a few of my friends I could give up the race
Maybe find something better
But all my fine dreams well though out schemes to gain the motherland
Have all eventually come down to waiting for everyman

Waiting here for everyman
Make it on your own if you think you can
If you see somewhere to go I understand
Waiting here for everyman
Don’t ask me if he’ll show baby I don’t know

But thank you Jackson Browne for helping us comprehend that we’re never really alone, even when it feels that way.

Everybody’s just waiting to hear from the one
Who can give them the answers
Lead them back to that place in the warmth of the sun
Where sweet childhood still dances
Who’ll come along and hold out that strong and gentle father’s hand?
Long ago I heard someone say something ’bout everyman


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The secret life of Walter Mitty runs through our veins

By Christopher Cudworth

Walter-Mitty2There’s a scene in the Ben Stiller movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” where he’s standing in the park with the character played by Kirsten Wiig and Walter completely spaces out. His mind is on something completely different than their conversation. Because Walter is a dreamer.

The James Thurber short story on whose premise the movie is based recounts the semi-heroic life of an inveterate dreamer. The point is there’s a little Walter Mitty in all of us, of course. That’s what makes the story and the movie so relevant to so many people.

Walter, please…

secret-life-of-walter-mittyAs a complete and total dreamer as a kid I especially relate to Walter Mitty. Not all the Walter Mitty has been drained out of me. Some people call what I do “attention deficit disorder.” But that doesn’t really capture the nature of what it means to be a dreamer.

Dreamers can be complete optimists or basically depressive. Dreaming can come from that anxious place where reality is concussive and dry. It can also come from a rich vein of hope and aspiration.

Mitty Marathon

I once dreamed that I ran a 2:26 marathon and it was basically effortless. When I awoke it felt as real as having actually done that race. I believed in that dream. In many ways it was as real an experience as any race I’d ever completed. All of my contemporaries from college raced about that fast. Some faster.

There was just one problem. In preparation for the only serious marathon I ever raced, back in 1985, I made a critical training mistake by running a 20-miler the week before the Twin Cities Marathon. At the starting line I felt washed out and cold. It was 30 degrees. I was wearing only a tee shirt.

mitty marathon pixYet my Walter Mitty personality was not to be deterred. I joined up with a group of marathoners running 5:30 pace. The group was led by none other than Don Kardong, 4th place Olympic marathoner and noted running humorist. He was a bit of a hero to me in other words.

So it felt good to buzz along in his company  (he’s the tall guy in the red shirt 4th from right…I’m in the red tee and white singlet) and a group of 10-15 other guys shooting to run sub-2:30. It lasted for me through 16 miles when hypothermia took me out of the race. My tongue was blue, as were my lips. I weighed 140 lbs. at 6’1″ at the time. Rail thin. And freezing.

My former college roommate pulled me off the course and my Walter Mitty experience was over. The dream slowed to a walk and a jacket was thrown over my shoulders. But until that point it all felt like a happy dream. All those miles and years of running had poured into that race in some way. Our group chatted and Don Kardong cracked jokes. It’s amazing how communities of fellow dreamers can form like that.

Happy dreams

the-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-teaser-trailer-skateboardingThere’s a little Walter Mitty in all of us who run, ride, swim or do triathlons. It’s the dream of bigger achievements that pulls us into dreamland. Living a life that is more exciting than our own. That’s what makes that scene of Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty rolling down and Icelandic road between mountains so symbolic. It’s about a release of the soul. You can view that as sad and delusional. But perhaps you should better view it as inspired.

Living like Walter

the-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-1I’ve gotten to live out a few of my dreams. Not all of them have been confined to my head. Not of all them were the product of an inattentive, distracted mind. There have been races where I emerged at the front. I have crossed the finish line first on many occasions.

You don’t have to win to accomplish your Walter Mitty dreams, and you don’t need to let others define whether those dreams are worth having or not. Granted I’ve been a critic of some forms of graceless striving. That includes my own as well as that of others. Yet when you go out to view an Ironman or other triathlon, or even a local 5K it is hard not to be inspired by what you see. Everyone in their Walter Mitty world, doing their best.

Wake up calls

walter-mitty1But from the time I was awakened in elementary school by a teacher calling my name to give an answer to a question I did not hear, I’ve know that I was a dreamer. I believe those dreams are in many ways the very fiber of who we are. They may not help us pass algebra. In fact they may make us fail. Or lose that promotion. Or cost us relationships. The world demands our attention, but sometimes we fail to give it. Timing is everything.

The long way homeIMG_6488

A few years ago I set up this long bike ride back from Dixon, Illinois to my home in Batavia. The route was well-planned and the country roads it took were awesome. Even though the ride was not spontaneous, it defied a lot of common sense in terms of what people expect from day-to-day behavior. What good was my ride going to do the world? How would it serve the cause of social justice or contribute to a better country, culture or career?

The answer is that is was something quite the opposite. Not an escape from reality, but an enhancement of the moment. There was a purpose in riding from one place to another. It served my soul to do that. That’s what dreams do. They serve your soul. They also serve it up to you for inspection. Consideration. Actualization.

I let my mind drift at times during that ride. In fact there are whole segments of the ride that I do not recall at all. Walter Mitty was steering the bike during those moments. The internal conversation was as real as the external travels in which I was engaged.

Just be still

Looking outside the kitchen window just now, the world appears still. There is no wind. The leaves have all fallen. In my yard they have been mowed into fine particles in anticipation of spring, when I will rake them up and spread them over the garden soil and throw more soil on top of them.

We make our plans, but we dream them into place first. The world turns even when all seems to be stillness and winter. A bird flits into the scene. It captures our eye. It reminds us of a thousand other birds we’ve seen. Then it flies off. Suddenly we notice our heart pulsing in our chest. It was not there just seconds before. The secret life of Walter Mitty runs through our veins. It brings us life. It stirs our brains. It calls us into dreams, and back again. We keep moving from dreamland back into reality again. It’s in our blood.


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Getting stoned is not what it used to be

stone-5None of us gets through life unscathed by health issues or other calamities. Having had my own share of bump-ups the past few years; broken collar bone, infected finger, dim-witted bike crash with stitches in my chin and a bruised lower back, I’ve come to respect that the world actually conspires with time and fate to demand a little accountability of us all.

Which made today a rather interesting adventure.

I’ve joined this productive group called BNI, a business networking organization. Part of the process of getting to know fellow members is to hold one-on-one meetings to discuss business and personal perspectives.

There was a meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. and I got myself ready after a morning of intense writing for my marketing clients. I even broke out a pair of brand new black shoes purchased last summer on a 2-for-1 deal at DSW or some other outfit.

Dressed all in black, I slid into the car and felt a strange little twinge in my left lower back. Thinking it was just the cold weather, I backed the car up and began driving to the appointment.

By the end of the block the pain had begun to emanate directly from my left kidney. It hurt like heck. And worse.

StonesHaving put myself through a considerable amount of pain over the years, including sidestitches from running that bent me in half, I know how to handle pain when it hits. This was different. My hands started to go tingly and numb. My head ached. A sheen of sweat built up on my temples. This was something weird.

So I called the woman I was supposed to meet for the appointment and grunted to her voice mail that I was not going to make it to Panera Bread at 11.

Then I turned the car around and headed for the emergency room. It took 10 minutes to get there. I sat in the driver’s seat cursing for the lights to change. I took back roads after that and finally whipped into the emergency room parking lot with the spins.

Getting out of the car I patted my back pocket and realized that I’d left my wallet at home. Earlier that morning I’d been purchasing software to run my new website and had left the wallet under some papers on the counter. Standing at the entryway to Emergency, I stood up straight and the pain began to ease. Whatever was causing it had passed.

small-kidney-stonesAnd that might be just what it was. A passing kidney stone. I’ve never had one before but there’s a first for everything. If they’re big enough I’m told they are worse than the pain of childbirth. And that comes from women I know that have gone through both.

So I went home and drink so much water today my brain is floating. You never know what’s gonna hit you next. And that’s true from the outside and the inside.


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