On commitments equal to our obsessions

american-flag-on-the-moon

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylYPm7V2qCU

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.

Connections

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

Identity

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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Let’s talk about sex and the parallel pursuits of running, riding and swimming

You knew it was coming sooner or later. The sex talk. After all, we’ve covered all sorts of other subjects on We Run and Ride. From body parts to body functions, diet to flatulence. It’s only natural we touch occasionally on the subject of sex.

I have this friend who is a football coach. He insists that the only reason his players go out for the sport is to get laid. Seriously. All that mind-crunching, bone jarring, ligament-tearing action is designed for one thing: to get girls.

That makes sense if you’re a guy. The males of most species of animals on earth spend a considerable amount of time in elaborate displays of their fitness. Honestly, the goal there is to get laid, and lots of times if you’re lucky. For example, the Alpha male often does all the breeding in an elk herd. The rest of the elk basically gets to stand around and jerk off, which can really hurt when you have hooves.

You can’t beat fun

Chris Cudworth 3That reminds me of a phrase our college cross country coach used to yell to us during  practice, “Ah, boys, you can’t beat fun!”

And we would mutter in reply, “Yeah, it’s like a sore dick.”

To have a sore dick means you either just got laid a lot or have had to take matters into your own hand. To quote Jackson Browne: “Rosie you’re all right, you wear my ring…”Yes, we’re talking about masturbation, which is part of sex, but certainly not the whole part. Guys do it. Gals do it. Monkeys and sea otters do it too. Whacking it one way or the other is part of being alive.

I know a guy who proudly claimed to have whacked it seven times in one 24-hour period. But the real goal of sex of course is to not have to whack it. The goal is to get someone else to whack it for you. Fappy may be good when necessary, but f****** is that much better. Usually.

Biblical support

Sexual union is both a plain object and the ultimate mystery of the universe. Even the Bible can’t resist a good sex tale. Consider this excerpt from Song of Songs,

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
    for your love is more delightful than wine.
Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
    your name is like perfume poured out.
    No wonder the young women love you!
Take me away with you—let us hurry!
    Let the king bring me into his chambers.

Oh boy. Now things are cooking.

On being horny

We all know what it’s like to be in our prime, horny and young and eager to find someone to hump. The entire Hollywood movie industry is founded on such fare it seems. Same with the Internet. Without porn the whole thing probably would not have been successful. Our sex drive makes us hungry for content that feeds our sexual minds.

The question is whether the sex drive is tied into our mutual hunger for speed. Is it sex that makes us want to run and ride and swim faster? Are we prepping ourselves to attract a mate or simply catch up with one? Then again, we could all be running away from our own sexual needs. You can’t run a 10K with a hardon, now can you?

The gals rule

It has become evident over the last few years that women have sex drives just as valid and driving as men. This is distressing to many who view the gals daily exposing themselves on Reddit Gone Wild as a depraved sign of moral and cultural decay.

Yet one wonders if those women don’t now something about themselves. After all, how long in life will they look like that? It either takes the fortune of good genes or a lot of work to keep a body in good shape. As women move along in years and they work through having babies or simply combat the vagaries of aging, they might try to recover the body they once had. In that process there are health benefits including prevention of heart disease, one of the biggest threats to women’s health. It’s all part of a convergence of image and desire.

So the sex drive and the strength of self-perception that goes with it may perform a valuable role in women’s health just as trying to keep fit and not get out of shape and become less desirable does for men.

Speed of life

It all comes down to speed. The more we keep moving and the faster we are able to go, the more we’re prepared in some ways to play the mating game.

Then it’s often a matter of being smart enough to go slow. To revel in the moment and let the whole sex thing build to its natural climax. It really is miraculous that we spend all that time trying to go fast only to turn around and slowly screw ourselves into a state of happy exhaustion.

Uh oh

What about the perils of lust and sin? Are we all just biological humping machines or is there a higher moral standard to which we should all be held. There’s good news and bad news on the whole sin front. This bit of scripture from the book of Mark comes down on the razors edge of what lust can do, and what you should do about it.

“And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…”

Well, the Bible is full of parables and symbols and metaphors. I guess we can take this whole thing literally and pluck out an eye when we lust after others. But that would leave another eye to lust away at will.

Or, we could consider that the “eye” as it were stands for sexual desire. Which would mean that whacking off or rubbing one out to release sexual tension might actually be a rational response to irrational desires. Of course with some people, it might take several “eyes” a day to reach a state of sexual calm. Hence the joke about the sore dick we used to make when our coach told us that we “can’t beat fun.”

The Pope speaks

Recently none other than the Pope revealed a bit of scriptural wisdom that is driving conservatives crazy. He said, and I paraphrase, “We should consider that all laws that do not lead to Jesus and the love of Christ are obsolete…”

Which means that the definition of Christian love just got a whole lot broader from a sexual perspective. Seriously, it’s never really been a sin to whack off or rub one out. Not when it releases sexual tension and plucks out the eye of desire that might lead us to distraction.

More than one productive person has realized that creativity and productivity can be blocked by sexual desire. It’s a simple truth that an orgasm clears the mind. Perhaps that’s what the book of Mark was really talking about. The “eye” to which it refers is that of sexual distraction, not lust alone. God wants us to be sexual beings. We’re wired that way.

The lessons of the Bible point again and again to the fact that sexual excess is the enemy of a wholesome life. It’s not heterosexuality versus homosexuality. It’s not even sex within marriage that is the sole definition of fidelity. One of the key scriptural passages long used to indict masturbation was the story of Onan, a dude who was called to screw his brother’s wife in order to continue the family line. Here’s how it played out.

“Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother. But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother.” 

Typically, a long line of uptight people took that passage all wrong. The words “spilled his semen” were translated to mean that he jerked off. That was turned into an indictment of masturbation as a whole, called Onanism. But from the context of this passage we should actually derive that Onan committed coitus interruptus. He pulled out during intercourse,  in other words. Of course that is not that effective a form of birth control, and it was his intent to avoid conception that was the sin. In truth the story of Onan should be an indictment of the Catholic recommendation of the rhythm method as a superior and acceptable alternative for birth control. But of course that would mess with centuries of very stupid tradition on the part of the Catholic Church, which like the Pharisees has always leaned toward a control freak obsession with laws over love.

It’s not about sex

And please take notice that the lead character in the story of Onan is named “Judah.” That’s a symbolic name for the entire population of Jews. This passage is actually about Onan participating in propagation of the race of people known as Jews. Thus the story isn’t really about sex.  It is about following the orders of God to be fruitful and multiply the Jewish race.

But when it comes to sex, conservative people love to focus on how bad it is and that obsession makes them miss the real meaning of so much of what they’re reading. The same thing holds true with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s been presented as a clear case against homosexuality when in fact the real purpose of the story is to point out the injustice of abusing helpless strangers. That’s also the primary and real message of the Judeo-Christian tradition as a whole, a fact that is affirmed by the tale of the Good Samaritan who cares for an abused man when so-called religious leaders walk on by.

Freedom from unnecessary guilt

It’s important that none of us torture ourselves over sexuality or feel guilty where we need not suffer our own doubts. These attractions we’re feeling can be so affirmative, joyful and creatively constructive when we keep it all in perspective.

Yes, we’d all love to think that sex only occurs within the bonds of Christian marriage. But take a look at the story of Onan in the Bible! He’s literally pressed into service by his tradition to screw his brother’s wife! That’s adultery for hire. Traditions were strong about family life, but when rules needed to be broken, there were wholly (and holy) exceptions at work.

Levels of desire

In real life, there are millions of so-called Christian marriages where one or the other partner has a far different level of sexual desire. Some marriages become essentially sexless and the mate with sexual desire is left to fend for themselves. Literally.

Still other marriages are torn apart by sexual desires and infidelity, porn addictions and a host of other sex-related challenges. But there are constructive approaches to dealing with the full range of sexual desire. We’re not all calibrated the same. Some with uncontrollable desires aren’t  calibrated at all and need help coming to grips with their own biology. The appropriate response is to get help with those challenges, not force them into a funnel of judgement and condemnation based on really bad theological interpretations.

First do no harm

It is now clear that homosexuality falls well within the range of normal human behavior. The few indictments found in the Bible are the product of cultural aversions, not sexual perversion. We should discard these views as obsolete just as we disregard laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that have nothing to do with modern knowledge of medicine, science and biology.

That does not mean that harmful or abusive homosexual relationships do not exist. It is just as important that two partners respect and honor each other in homosexual relationships as it is in heterosexual relations.

Common sense

As for those of us who run and ride, there’s a certain amount of common sense to be gained involving ourselves in generally positive and physical activities such as running and riding and swimming. These can also provide a release for physical and mental tension. It’s not that we’re trying to  run away from our sexual selves. It’s more that we can form an identity of confidence and self awareness.

It happens that sometimes people going through life changes find themselves suddenly and dramatically attracted to other people who run and ride. It’s all about matching up identities. Let’s not deny this happens or pretend that marriages don’t get broken up by lust for life.

Finding our way

Way back in the early 80s I was introduced to a young married woman who began training with me on the roads. She was fast and attractive. Finally one of our runs resulted in a moment when she stood on her toes and gave me a kiss on the lips. The world began to spin and I did not know what to do. So I did nothing. She went back to her husband who frankly did not like the fact that she loved to run. He seemed jealous of her time and involvement in the sport in which she frankly excelled.

I’ve often wondered how that marriage turned out. She confessed that he was not affectionate toward her. Hence she went searching for that affection and affirmation somewhere else. These things just go together. The feed but are not constituted solely by sex. That’s just the expression of a set of deeper emotions.  Sometimes sex is just a method to find our true selves. And sometimes we run or ride a long way to find that out as well. It’s funny how similar those two pursuits really are.

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The top half of my body is blueberries, strawberries and grapes and the bottom half is cheap slices of green melon

By Christopher Cudworth

Fruit CupIt has often been said that we are what we eat. And if that were true we might look pretty interesting.

Those of us who run and ride try like heck to eat well and by proxy, to look great and feel even greater. But even when you try to eat well, life can be tricky.

For example, back when I lived in Philadelphia and worked downtown, I made it a practice to buy lunch from the street vendors all over town. There was some great food out there, especially Chilly Pheasestakes. I mean Philly Cheesesteaks. Those tended to clog your arteries and your brain as you can tell.

Get your fruity on

So at least three days a week I would find a fruit vendor and order a giant fruit cup instead. You had to watch those fruit vendors carefully. There was a game you had to play with them or they would fill up the entire bottom of the cup with cheap grade melon (especially watermelon) and then top it off with a few grapes and dribs and drabs of other fruit on the top. You’d get the appearance of a fruit cup when in fact you were mostly paying for water and fiber at the bottom of the cup.

Locals like me knew the game well and stepped close to the fruit vendor to say, “Not too much watermelon please.” That would let the fruit vendor know you were onto their game. If you were quiet about it they appreciated your discretion and would give you more of the good stuff like blueberries and other healthy edibles. Then you could go eat your actual fruit cup in peace while watching out-of-towners loaded up with cups that were mostly filled with watermelon.

Yes it’s a food industry

The whole world works like this you see. The entire food industry is based on the dynamic that food manufacturers (and yes that is the appropriate term) try to use as few real (and more expensive) ingredients as possible in the food you buy and eat. They also slowly shrink the size of their actual products while enhancing product packaging to make it appear you’re still getting the same value. It’s a wicked game.

Which means that we think we’re buying stuff that’s healthy for us and getting good value when in fact about 60% of what we ingest each day is actually equivalent to the cheap watermelon at the bottom of a Philadelphia vendor cup rather than wholesome foods like blueberries and strawberries and other stuff that stick seeds in your teeth.

Real food will cost you

It’s a lot of work to actually eat healthy. It also tends to cost a lot more unless you have access to local food markets. Step into any Fresh Market food store and you’ll find out that a bowl of fruit alone can cost you $37. Real food will cost you.

It’s the same way with fast food restaurants. That stuff you eat on the dollar menu isn’t really food. It’s the byproducts of things that look enough like food to pass as chicken or beef or fish. The whole idea that something like Chicken McNuggets is real food, or that Doritos have any real relationship to whole grains, or that Hershey’s chocolate is really chocolate is a giant ruse. It tastes like real food and stimulates our brains. But fake food is just that: fake.

Layers of existence

Which means that if we really are what we eat, and things were to settle out in the order of our bodies like some giant pie chart of human existence, we’d all be built like one of those Philadelphia Fruit Cups served to out-of-towners. A thin layer of fruit at the top underlaid by cheap melon and perhaps some remnants of a Philly Cheesesteak.

I work hard to avoid being one of those people who falls for all that phony crap, but old habits and naive notions are hard to change. I still believe the lies on packaging even though I know better.

But at least this morning at Graham’s 318 in Geneva, Illinois, I could see the layers of fruit in the cup and estimate that about 70% of the good stuff was still in there.

And perhaps I’ll run, ride and swim a little better this week as a result of not eating like the out-of-towner I know that I am.

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