A dialogue with the dawn

By Christopher Cudworth

IMG_0228Those of us who run and ride tend to be early risers. Some get out the door before the sun even rises. In winter we may not even see the sun during our workouts. Just cold trudging or riding in pre-dawn darkness.

Which is why this time of year in North America the dawn is of particular value. It lifts our spirits for one thing. It may not be much easier getting out of bed when the sun is just coming up, but once we’re out the door to discover the day, things take on a whole different look and meaning.

Perhaps those many mornings mix together a bit in your mind. Over the years even the best mornings blend together.

But then you face a fresh new dawn and begin your conversation with the morning sun. It may be red on the horizon. Then yellow. Finally it rises above the angle of the atmosphere and turns white for the sky.

We run or ride with the sun appearing to cross the sky above us. But of course that’s not what’s really happening. The earth is rotating and moving through space at the same time.

It took the human race thousands of years to figure that out once we started to record history in something other than oral tradition. For a long time it would have been blasphemy to suggest the earth was anything but the center of the universe. Our dialogue was with God alone in terms of creation. We envisioned our deities as existing in the sky. We talked to them up there. Many still do. We live in a prison of our own fantasies at times. Athletes still do point at the sky and give thanks. But their focus may be misdirected.

When we run or ride and feel the wind against our faces, it’s easier to realize that if there is divinity at work in the world, it is not just above us, it is all around us. We recognize that the wind in our faces and the sun in our eyes is a potent symbol for the challenges we face in daily life. We look for symbols of its force at work in our lives.

Yet when the wind is at our backs and the sun warms our shoulders on a chilly morning, we barely take time to give thanks. It’s so easy to give ourselves credit for those easy miles. Even if we do our workouts on our own, we are never really alone. The forces of nature and the people with whom we interact all feed into our efforts.

SunriseInstead it is always good to have an honest dialogue with the dawn. When things are simple and nothing has yet occurred to make you feel superior or inferior, give simple thanks for the fact that you can do this thing you do. You run. You ride. You swim.

Because it’s not just that life is short, or that time is precious. It’s even more than that. It’s that your mind needs to exist in the moment or you lose perspective too easily. You point at the sky rather than your own heart, and what you are called to do in this world.

So get on out there and have a dialogue with the dawn. Bring home what you learn about your own mind. Share it with others. A dialogue with the dawn can do wonders in your life.

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On track and happy for it

By Christopher Cudworth

TrackIn sync with cycling season my left IT band and left achilles have become troublesome. One can surmise there is something wrong with the bike fit, or else the riding form. But they also hurt while running, so much so that training on foot has been curtailed all this summer.

Last winter the achilles got tight when running 8 or so miles. A visit to the pedorthist recently resulted in a heel adjustment and that makes it better. I can run anyway. For a few miles.

Achilles tendons are not a body part with which to trifle however. The woman I spied at the Racine Triathlon with the big black boot and the forced smile (when asked what happened…) reminded me not to take achilles health too lightly.

On track

Yet I know my body pretty well after 40 years of competitive running and tens of thousands of training miles. I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing you can do for something that is chronically tight is to put it in a situation where it has to perform, within reason, outside its typical functions.

That’s the whole premise of yoga. Manageably stress the body and your setpoints improve in circulation, muscle strength and flexibility.

Well, speed work functions just like yoga for runners. You have to know a bit about what you’re doing, but speed work is a form of play when you do it right.

So I took my creaky legs and a back still-stiff from the bike accident 6 weeks ago and rode my mountain bike to the high school track. I was hoping it would be open. Too often these days high school tracks are gated affairs. The fence protects the precious football field, you see. The schools don’t want anyone running around on the grass during the summer months.

Fortunately one of the gates was open and I did not have to launch over an 8-foot fence like some participant in a Spartan race. I’ve done that when necessary, but my appetite for jumping to the ground from 8 feet in the air grows less each year. Too easy to pop something.

It was fun to warm up on the track even with the creaky leg protesting all the way. At 1.5 miles things started to smooth out and it was time for the workout. I ran the last two laps at sub-8:00 pace after an 8:52 first mile warmup, did some strides and got ready to go.

When you have not done speed work in a while it is best to take what your body will give you that first 200 meters. See what the legs will do, and be cautious with stride length. But passing through the first 200 I glanced at the watch and saw 48 seconds. Not the 45 I was shooting for, but still worth a good start.

My goal was simple. 4 X 400 this first time back to the track. Try to run 6:00 pace. Looking ahead I want to be racing at 7:00 per mile for a 5K in a Sprint Triathlon… whether I’m competing on a team or doing the race myself. (That depends on my swim progress. Ahem.)

History

As I ran those intervals a number of thoughts crept into my mind. I first raced on the Batavia track back in 1971. So it’s been more than 40 years of training and racing on that oval. That’s pretty cool if you think about it. I’m happy for the years of training and the ability I do have to run.

There’s a videotape of a meet held on that track back in 1973. I was a junior in high school and my dad brought a film recording camera to the meet. He captured the two mile race in which Batavia’s Tom Burridge raced a Crystal Lake guy named Bill Enright. It was windy and harsh outside, and their dual turned into a win for Enright.

I was entered in that race as well. The film captures me running with head slightly dropped because I decided that day not to wear my glasses. I needed them badly but was sick of pushing them up on my face to run. My thin pale face was squinched as a result of my poor vision and trying to run in a half fog. I didn’t even break 10:00. The two-mile felt unimaginably long on a track. Never liked the distance in high school. My best wound up being 9:57 and my mile time was 4:29. Really not too distinguished a high school career when you think about it.

Speeding along

By college my times dropped to 9:28 in the two-mile and 4:19 in the mile. After college those times dropped even further to 9:12 in the two-mile and I never raced a competitive mile at peak fitness. Based on relative improvements in other events and my workouts I would have been capable of a 4:15 or below. I always dreamed of running a sub 4:10 mile. It would have been interesting to try but the opportunity did not arise.

So there’s tons of history in my legs and memories to carry one around the local high school track. But there’s a funny thing about history and memories. They don’t really take you very far when it’s time to run the next interval.

Rising to the occasion

You still have to rise up on your toes and meet the day. So about the third interval when my body was warmed up it was time to get things moving. With the merest forward lean and a rise to the toes my first 200 passed in 41 and I finished the 400 in under 90. Sub-6:00. I used to run that pace mile after mile in training. It’s my target pace for racing these days. All those miles and years add up.

When all was said and done I was walking around the track when a fit young woman showed up to do her track workout. We talked about training and the difference between distance and sprint training. Turned out she’s a sprinter for Miami of Ohio, a Division 1 school. “Congratulations on that level of competition,” I told after a short discussion. She moved off to run and you could see the efficiency in her stride.

We’re all on track to our own objectives. The high school oval still beckons. The feeling of moving faster than normal never tires. Not in my life anyway. Not in my time.

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A 70.3 triathlon tale of perseverance, sisterly love and a coach who knows the sport

by Christopher Cudworth

Sisters Sue Astra and Julie Dunn enjoy a post-race smile.

Sisters Sue Astra and Julie Dunn enjoy a post-race smile.

Even more than the individual sports of cycling, running or swimming, triathlon is a sport of the early hours. The distances covered and the time it takes to cover them require an early enough start to accommodate all sorts of logistical needs.

It’s particularly true at a race like the Spirit of Racine 70.3 Ironman Triathlon. With more than 2500 competitors checking in and lining up on race day, the logistics are not just minutiae.

The swim alone requires massive setup for more than a dozen waves of age-group competitors

Sue downing a shot block before the swim.

Sue downing a shot block before the swim.

launching into the water. It all takes time. It all takes patience.

 

Containing energy

A triathlon starts early and involves a lot of hurry up and wait. There’s a lot of nervous energy. A lot of intense talk.

The sun rose to a glassy Lake Michigan surface that covered a 61-degree body of water waiting to chill the bodies of competitors even through Neoprene wetsuits. But that does not stop a triathlete. Of course it doesn’t.

Some do stare at the cold, 61 degree water as if it has betrayed them somehow. After all it is July. It is supposed to be a warmer lake. At least there is less chop than the previous year when the waves reached heights of 2 feet and sloshed all over the races of competitors in the swim.

The swim training is evident in Sue's back and shoulders.

The swim training is evident in Sue’s back and shoulders.

Everyone drank lake water on the north-south swim course last year, especially those who breathed primarily on the left side. This year’s swim was placid by comparison.

The gun goes off

When a set of sisters in the same 45-49 age group plunged in to begin their 6-hour journey, the wake left by their strokes was clear and well-defined. A great way to start the day.

Emerging 34 minutes later, Julie Dunn (the younger of two Schaefen sisters) and Sue Astra (Big Sis) came out smiling. The water was “crisp” some said, while others called it “refreshing.” The neoprene caps on their heads came off easily and the westsuit strippers gave a tug at the heels. Sue’s suit came flying off. Julie’s was a bit more difficult. “I have

Julie mounts her bike at 7:45 in the morning for a 56 mile journey on rough Wisconsin side roads.

Julie mounts her bike at 7:45 in the morning for a 56 mile journey on rough Wisconsin side roads.

these big calves,” she laughed after the race. “They couldn’t get the suit off over my legs.”

Then came the transition. Julie teetered on the bike a bit, then piled on up the hill leading out of Transition 1. Sue came along just two minutes later.

Both women had been competitive swimmers as kids.  Then life came along, and marriage, and kids. Julie the cheerleader was always the energetic one. Social and engaging.

Sue was a bit more the focused type, keen on drum corps and studies that led to a career in architecture and project management. Julie now works in HR.

As their kids grew there were difficulties in their marriages that led to divorce. The sisters found

Sue lines up to mount the bike.

Sue lines up to mount the bike.

each other again through the sport of triathlon. Each signed up to swim, ride and run with Experience Triathlon, a team based in suburban Chicago. Their coach Joe LoPresto himself had emerged from a career with IBM to take a risk and build a triathlon club that has grown exponentially with the sport. There are elite athletes and people just learning to swim, ride and run in the club. Joe and his partner Susie Cerra love them all.

The foundation of friends discovered through the sport and the Experience Triathlon team became an important support network as each sister lived with the changes each embraced on their own. Like most triathletes, they started with Sprints, evolved to Olympic and finally tackled the Half Ironman distance. As they reached their late 40s the lure of an Ironman still awaits.

Thousands of bikes await competitors in the transition area.

Thousands of bikes await competitors in the transition area.

One can see the training in the legs of the women as they respectively mount their bikes. Julie is the shorter sister, strong and compact. Sue is tall and lean with a 34″ inseam.

Sue is the stronger cyclist. Julie is slightly faster in the swim. Both love running but not the second loop of a half-marathon in a Half Ironman. “My feet hurt!” Julie lamented at the finish. “My stomach was giving me fits,” Sue groaned for minutes after the race.

13.1 miles is a long way to run after a mile of swimming and 56 miles of biking under 3 hours.

13.1 miles is a long way to run after a mile of swimming and 56 miles of biking under 3 hours. Sue starts the run.

Both sisters wound up prostrate on the ground for a few minutes after six hours of competition. They both finished right around the six-hour mark.

“My frickin’ feet,” Julie cursed, looking down at her toes for a moment. Last fall she ran the Chicago Marathon. It was her ankle that hurt then. But she finished that even too.

Sue Astra walked off the effort while gingerly munching a Subway sandwich while downing a cut-rate can of soda. “They went with the cheap stuff,” she laughed.

With finisher medals hanging around their necks, the pain and suffering slowly begins to ebb away. “What should we do next?” Julie laughs from her

The sun had risen over a glassy, cold lake. It later warmed to more than 80 degrees outside.

The sun had risen over a glassy, cold lake. It later warmed to more than 80 degrees outside.

position flat on her back.

“Ooohff,” says Sue. “Let’s get over this one first.”

At the team tent Sue gets a big hug from Coach Joe LoPresto. They have known each other more than 5 years. He’s seen her through countless races. A few months before the Racine race when injuries were nagging and her lower back was seized with sciatica, she called Coach Joe to wonder aloud if it was all worth it.

He sagely told her that she needed to take some pressure off herself. “You can do this,” he ultimately assured her. “Be thankful you have the talents you do. Stop worrying. Be present with in what you’re doing.”

The scene at most triathlons includes plenty of colorful, stylish spectators and support crews.

The scene at most triathlons includes plenty of colorful, stylish spectators and support crews.

That advice calmed her. And as if by magic, the back tension began to disappear. Could the two be related? There’s evidence that tension and back pain go together.

There was also the motivation that came with knowing that her sister was going to be doing the Racine 70.3, and it would not do to let her sister down.

So with a winter of solid 10-mile runs under her tri-belt, and a burgeoning recovery from rotator cuff surgery the previous year (due to a bike crash) Sue Astra slowly began to feel ready to take on the challenge.

In the hotel room on the morning of the race, sister

A crew of more than 30 Lifeguards receives pre-race instructions.

A crew of more than 30 Lifeguards receives pre-race instructions.

Julie has an earworm in her head. “I don’t know who sings it,” she laughs. “It goes like this though….”Girl-freeeeiinnnd!”

Over and over the refrain pops up in her head. Sister Sue just chuckles under her breath. She knows her sister well enough to know that she’s getting herself ready for what’s ahead. It’s still dark outside. The lake 12 miles east of the hotel is still 60 degrees, colder than the air outside.

But the early dawn does not daunt them.

At home after the race Sue takes the prescribed ice bath to soothe legs sore from 70+ miles of effort.

At home after the race Sue takes the prescribed ice bath to soothe legs sore from 70+ miles of effort.

They can feel what’s coming and know they love the feeling of being athletes on their own terms. Swim to salvation. Cycle to dreams. Run to completion. Feed yourself. It’s all part of being alive. Of being a triathlete. Of making sense of this world even when the event you’re doing doesn’t make all that much sense.

Then have a laugh. Share a hug. Bust a smile. It’s all good. It’s all very, very good.

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What Lance Armstrong has to say about the 2014 Tour de France

File photograph of Lance Armstrong taking part in a special session regarding cancer in the developing world during the Clinton Global Initiative in New York

Lance Armstrong does his best Rodney Dangerfield imitation. “Hoo. Rought crowd. I’ll be here all weekend. Don’t forget to tip your waiter or waittress.”

Hi folks. Lance Armstrong here. Yes, I’ve been watching the 2014 Tour quite a bit. Actually been streaming it through my iPhone in the Livestrong phone case while I’m out golfing. Because golf is actually pretty boring. And I’m not that good at it.

For one thing, the carts don’t go fast enough. I could ride a bike much faster than most of these golf carts can roll. I’d prefer to have a golf cart with pedals over these electric jobs with governors on the engines. Not much fun.

Between shots I tune into the Tour coverage and frankly, the television coverage is better than ever. Hardly a moment goes buy that isn’t covered by the NBCSN cameras. They’ve got choppers in the sky and motorbikes just like in my day. But somehow they seem to capture more and more of the agony experienced by these Tour riders. Hell, they even caught Andre Greipel lecturing Sylvain Chavenel about their crash on one stage. More like Andre Gripel.

It all brings back bad memories of the last Tour I tried to ride. You remember that debacle. I crashed and cut my face up. It was like Muhammad Ali in the later years of fighting. The magic was gone, but I kept on fighting.

lance-armstrong-6_2318734bThat’s right, I kept on fighting. Just like I kept on fighting even through all those lawsuits and the lies they forced me to tell. I might have come clean on my own had those lawyers not circled around like vultures over a Tour rider that fell off the Alps. But not, they wouldn’t let me come to grips with the era of doping and cheating all on my own. I might have even written another book about it. I even had a title all worked out: “It’s Not About the Dope.”

Because it really wasn’t. Not when you see all those riders crashing this year. When you hit the deck it doesn’t matter how much dope you have in your system. You’re all crashed and bruised up. Sometimes you can’t even bend your back to sit on the bike. Just look at that Andrew Talansky kid. Tough guy, but in the end even he had to abandon. The first rule of winning the Tour is you’ve got to stay upright.

That’s what I did for 7 great years, you know. I still have the jersey to prove it. And I think that’s why they haven’t come to take them away. Sure, the results no longer credit me with those wins, but the fact remains, I didn’t go down in flames or in a heap of blood and guts after racing more than 14,000 miles through France and all those other countries clinging to the Tour.

Froome. Gone. Contador. Gone. Talansky. Gone.

Nibali? He has all the looks of a guy in control. I know that look. I know that feeling. That’s all I’m saying.

He’s got a decent team around him, but nothing like the days of George Hincapie and all those guys. Sure, I pissed a few of them off. But at least I paid them for the effort. Not like that British pussy Bradley Wiggins. Talk about no class.

I’d have shown him who’s boss. His Sky team was decent but you know decent isn’t good enough when it comes to putting the hammer down the way I used to do. I was Lance tyler_hamilton_fractured_collarbone_1Armstrong, goddamnit. For seven years no one could beat me. Not Jan. Not Tyler. Not this guy or that guy. My success built Livestrong and turned cycling into a world sport rather than just a backlot cable offering. Remember that fucking Outdoor Life Channel coverage? You almost had to turn the knob to get that thing tuned in.

So let’s be honest, watching this years Tour de France has been a bit like watching an 8th grade obstacle course. Just enough talent and daring to cause trouble.

I know I’m in my early 40s, but maybe just maybe I could still do it. If only these doping sanctions weren’t hanging around my neck.

Well, my tee time is coming up. Time to mosey around yet another posh Texas golf course. When I’m done I might just ride the bike a little today. Hell I might even pull down one of my extra yellow jerseys from the closet and go climb the hills outside Austin.

And I promise you I won’t fall down. Remember my terror trip down that tarsnake road in the descent from Gap? That other dude went down in a roll and I rode the grassy bank and came out the other side. Like a shortcut through the park. Yes, I was good at keeping it upright. That’s what it takes.

By Christopher Cudworth

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Do you have a place to hone your speed?

By Christopher Cudworth

We all need a place where we go to get fast. It all depends on your circumstance.

We all need a place where we go to get fast. It all depends on your circumstance.

Ever since I was a little kid holding a watch in my grubby little fist waiting for the second hand to reach twelve, I have held fascination with getting faster.

Back then our side yard was the exact size of a tennis court because that’s what our side yard once was. Our home had been some kind of estate residence with a clay tennis court in the side yard.

For us it was a football field, wiffle ball stadium and for me, a running track.

At the age of 7 I used to sprint around that yard fast as I could. I was convinced that if I just willed myself to go faster, sooner or later I would.

Perhaps it had something to do with a more than rabid fascination with Road Runner, the cartoon character who was chased all the time by Wile E. Coyote. The idea of zipping so quickly from one place to another absolutely thrilled me. Later on the comics character known as The Flash also propelled me to notions of speedy bliss. Most recently the little kid with speedy legs in The Incredibles gave me that same childlike thrill with speed.

Well, it all came together in its fashion by the time I was a teenager racing in track and cross country. The love of speed and trying to get faster continued on through college and post-collegiately as well. I bought a lot of racing flats and spikes in hopes they would make me faster.

But the one thing that really helps make you faster is finding a location where one can really concentrate on speed. For me that place was the track at Geneva High School. It was 6 blocks from my home with an all-weather surface that had just the right amount of give and take.

Even a stretch of quiet road can be your place to develop speed.

Even a stretch of quiet road can be your place to develop speed.

Many cool summer and fall nights were spent circling that track. At peak fitness I did a track workout of 12 X 400 meters at 63 seconds and below. I even threw in a 59 for good measure. Not the stuff of world class runners, mind you, but pretty good for me. That track was home base for all my running PRs between 1 mile to 25Km.

When they erected an 8-foot fence around the track to keep out vandals it was too much trouble to borrow a key or else hop the fence to train. My favorite place to develop speed was closed off, and I wonder how many other runners suffered as a result of that decision to put the track inside a jail. It was all caused by some BMXers who decided that the middle of the football field would be a good place to build a jump mound.

Now the football field is an all-weather surface with so many lines on it for soccer, football and lacrosse you can hardly see the blue astroturf it holds. Under the stadium lights that field looks like a circus.

But I miss my old training ground. The place where my fast-paced footfalls made no echo, and where my cool sweat fell onto the surface as I stood for three seconds panting after a hard interval. Then I’d jog a lap or a half lap for recovery, and do it all again.

We need places like that to help us get faster. We create a physical dialogue with our favorite running track. I’ve also trained in parks and on schoolgrounds where your feet ultimately map out a course. There’s almost a conversation you hold with the grass as you do repeats. There’s a certain pride in seeing that map of our passage.

There was a time as well when you could train on golf courses without being tossed off. That era is pretty much through. Too much litigiousness.

Fortunately there are some new tracks near my home that do not have giant fences around them. While I’m not as fast as I once was, it still feels awesome to lace up and run intervals as hard and smooth as you can.

Some things about your favorite places to train may never change. While others will.

Some things about your favorite places to train may never change. While others will.

Which made it interesting as well to be back on the campus of my Alma Mater, Luther College, where the track is now a smooth blue surface. When I trained there, it was a crushed brick surface that turned to mush in the rain. But the feeling of that place, training under the brow of the Student Union with the bluffs of the Upper Iowa River visible in the distance, will never really change.

Now that I race bicycle criteriums there are places where it is fun to ride circuits to get in shape for actual racing. I’m blessed to live on a street that abuts a park with three baseball fields and tennis courts. It used to be the high school athletic complex back in the 1930s. There’s even a patch of straightaway still visible in the grass from where the

Evidence of the old track is still visible in the spring.

Evidence of the old track is still visible in the spring.

cinders below the surface still tinge the soil. It still shows up even after the massive reworking of the fields late last summer.

So the oversized block around the park is .7 of a mile. Perfect for practicing bike racing because I can see all the traffic as I approach for speedy right turns. Granted I do not stop for the Stop signs. Usually I avoid high traffic periods when school lets out nearby or other peak periods. Kids stop and stare in their yards as I come whizzing past. Again. And again.

I know that I’m getting fit when the speed for 30:00 of racing tops 20mph on my own. Each summer I test myself on that criterium course.

Then it’s time to head over to the spot we call the Pelladrome. It’s an industrial park set of smooth roads backing up the Pella Windows distribution plant on Fabyan Parkway near Batavia. There were supposed to be multiple industrial buildings in the park but the economic crash of 2008 killed those plans along with acres of proposed industrial development right across the street. The roads are nice but the lots are empty.

So the bike racers show up every Wednesday night to race at the Pelladrome courtesy of ABD (Athletes By Design) the bike club run by Prairie Path Cycles and Mike Farrell, who once worked and raced for teams like 7/11.

You can get your ass kicked at any level at the Pelladrome. But that’s the point. You show up and race hard and if you still don’t feel tired, you can keep on riding along with folks at the CAT 1-3 level. No one cares that much. You either keep up or you don’t.

Because it’s all about the draft, and finding your place, and your sense of place. One week you might ride great and be in the sniff for the finishing sprint. The next week you might get caught out on a windy stretch and get blasted off the back. That’s bike racing. It never gets easier. You just make stupid mistakes.

Yet the net result is that you do get faster. Eventually. If you keep at it.

Then the association with that place becomes part of your psychology. Your preparation. Your salvation when you’re making a comeback, or testing out your new legs as a newbie or a pro.

It’s all about finding your rhythm and making it work for you. And a sense of place.

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Teams or not, it’s every man for himself in the Tour de France

By Christopher Cudworth

Peter Sagan defying the seriousness of the Tour de France.

Peter Sagan defying the seriousness of the Tour de France.

While being interviewed about his experience thus far in the Tour de France, rider Chris Horner of the Omega Pharma Quickstep team admitted that their pre-race meeting before a stage with 5 difficult climbs turned into a confessional of sorts. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he told his team.

For all the planning that goes into the team dynamics and individual performance in the Tour de France, there appears to be a clear dynamic that riders and their managers cannot control. That is, anything can happen, and often does.

Rider Matthew Busche is in his first Tour de France and has hit the deck in crashes no less than 5 times. Yet he’s resolute, and when the opportunity came around, he jumped into a breakaway that lasted dozens of miles before being caught by the peloton.

Such attempts seem fruitless until you see a rider like Tony Martin take it out like a solo train engine and ride to the finished untouched. Sure, he’s an anomaly. A world champion time trialist. But all those riders in the Tour are amazing. On a given day, and given some good legs, people can ride free and grab a stage.

It all depends on luck. And the weather. And the strange algebra of team politics and General Category desires.

It's every man for himself except when the Podium Girls dole out those little kisses to the category victors.

It’s every man for himself except when the Podium Girls dole out those little kisses to the category victors.

It’s just stunning how, in the world’s biggest cycling event, it turns out to be every man for himself. Even Chris Froome was not safe from crashing out. And he won last year. Nor Alberto Contador, whose bike dissolved beneath him somehow. Even world class riders have the same problems as some of us hackers. Remember Andy Schleck with his slipped chain a few years back? It cost him 39 seconds or so. Enough to lose the Tour by that exact amount to Contador.

Again and again this year it has become evident that the best-laid plans of every team can be dashed in a second. Hearing Busche interviewed one realizes that most of these guys, while having a plan set out by the team, are pretty much freelancing out there on the road. That’s because you can’t predict what’s going to happen with 180 guys flying down narrow, wet roads at 30 miles per hour.

Seeing these guys wrecked and exhausted, almost too tired to speak to the media after each stage, is both humbling and inspiring. When TJ VanGarderen was asked what his plans were going into the Rest Day, he said, “I just want to get to the Rest Day.”

They’re human. And yet they’re not.

But when Peter Sagan rides a wheelie over the finish line on an 11% grade at the end of a long, hard stage it makes you realize that for all the manic danger, these are still guys riding their bikes for love and money and pride.

It’s every man for himself. And then some.

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Metaphysical observations over a beer in July

By Christopher Cudworth

BeerWhile waiting for a birthday party to begin at an eatery in downtown Naperville, Illinois, I ordered a beer at the outdoor bar. My vantage point was pleasant, sitting at the corner of a marble-topped bar with just enough view of the other patrons to make things interesting if the wait got long.

I had the laptop propped on the bar to once-again proof the manuscript for my book The Right Kind of Pride. Today the first printed proof version is supposed to arrive in the mail. There are always a few glitches that pop up during file conversion and those are the responsibility of the author and publisher to find. That’s the obligation. To readers these glitches are a distraction. They undermine the quality of the manuscript as a whole.

But there is no such thing as perfection in the human realm.

So much of life is like that. We present our best faces to the world, but our flaws still pop through. So we edit, and we revise. We gain weight. We lose weight. We run and ride and swim and attempt to fix our form and write our own active story of better performance and hopefully, a better person is the result.

So much philosophy mixed with the physical. The things we do like running and riding almost exist in the metaphysical. But let’s define that:

Metaphysical: 

a: concerned with abstract thought or subjects, as existence, causality, or truth. 

b: concerned with first principles and ultimate grounds, as being, time or substance. 

Yes, that’s it precisely, isn’t it? Running and riding and swimming truly are metaphysical acts. We draw greater significance from them. They are not mere acts, but meta-acts.

We live in a near Meta culture. The movies we watch now flirt with the idea that everything is an abstraction. Even an abstraction upon an abstraction. The song Reflektor by Arcade Fire captures that notion.

This-Is-the-End-Michael-CeraThe recent Meta-flick This Is the End starring Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill and James Franco (to name a few) addresses the idea that modern movie actors are a Meta commentary on the act of acting itself. When the characters in the movie lampoon their own acting careers, the audience is in on the joke. We laugh at Michael Cera being harpooned by a streetlamp because his career is obviously at the end of that long arc where he played a certain kind of character over and over again. His innocence is skewered and we watch him gored by the power of the devil himself. That’s a very Meta moment.

We’re all Meta characters in some sense. The person we are now may not be the person we will be in an hour, a week or a year. Soon enough we’re gone entirely. Our memories remain.

Which is why living in the moment is both so important and so difficult. We crank those pedals and measure our cadence and get home to look at the cyclometer or Strava and sum it all up with empiric data. And yet still we ask: What the hell did I just do? What does it matter? Did I just run 8 miles? Swim a mile? Other than the fact you are tired, you can hardly tell sometimes.

BarThese are things to contemplate while drinking a beer or two or three at an outdoor eatery on a Monday afternoon in the middle of eternity.

It’s been an interesting year working for myself and working on the book and trying to sum up a shitload of things that have happened. It’s hard to even call any of them Good or Bad. They just are. I’m just here. So is everyone. Anyone. All of us. Meta People.

We are concerned with First Principles and Ultimate Grounds. What is the metaphysical’s role in defining who we are? Our first principles may be that we run or ride or swim. That’s the only way to cut through the crap. Pull back the veil. Feel and be.

These activities actually exist outside the bubble of abstract pursuits for money or success or whatever measurements society uses to measure its respective cultural values. Some chase religion or God and come home screaming that they’ve won. Salvation. Hope. The Lottery.

Meanwhile other people are so convinced they know the mind of God they are literally heaving bombs at each other from every angle. Others are packing weapons in defiance of the Christian tradition of turning the other cheek. They conceal their ugliest, fearful motives instead, just in case they get into a situation where someone else might shoot at them.

It’s like denying the calculated and calibrated intent of the Rhythm Method while simultaneously denying women the right to use real birth control. One tries to justify fucking for pleasure within the confines of religion while the other actually makes it possible. The intent is the same. It’s only the method that’s different. Metaphysical sex. First principles. Ultimate grounds. Hypocritical.

These are all pre-emptive attempts at breaking down the cultural abstract. People tricking themselves into feverish philosophies, then hiding Cadillac Gutbehind Meta bullets and Meta bombs.

They drive Meta vehicles too, proudly ramping their Escalades down the boulevard as if that makes them somehow better for owning them. They view themselves as existing uphill from everyone else without recognizing that going downhill is not that impressive a feat. Everyone can do that. It doesn’t matter if you do it in style or not. In the end, you can’t take it with you.

The potential abstractions grow so thick they become like giant gnats against which the hand swishing in front of our faces feels like the windshield wiper of our soul. The words mix. You Meta boy. You Meta girl. You Meta person that could help you in business. You Meta person that could change your life. You Meta friend for a long ride or a long run.

IMG_0215And then you look down and see your own reflection in the lens of your sunglasses, and you sip your beer and look around one more time to see if the people you are supposed to meet for the birthday party have arrived as yet. And you wave, and they wave back. You put on your sunglasses and carry your beer to the table you’ll occupy. And the Meta moment shifts. The abstractions have to wait for a moment, or an hour, or until the next time you sit with a beer at a bar with light clouds floating over head.

And you think, “How far should I go tomorrow? The weather’s supposed to be good.”

Earlier in the day you rode through two different rainstorms. You wondered if they meant a damn thing. Was there something metaphysical you were supposed to learn from coming through the rain. It hurt when it hit. The white lines were slippery and the tarsnakes obscured. But you rode and you rode. And then the sun came out again. It really did. Through sunglasses the world looked amber and sweet.

Downright metaphysical.

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What stopping for a patch of glass can teach you about cycling and running

By Christopher Cudworth

In the middle of a 30 mile ride I was cruising the road shoulder in Elburn, Illinois to allow the big truck traffic on Route 47 through the center of town to safely pass by on my left.

Just across the tracks in town the shoulder glimmered with broken glass. I hit the brakes but not soon enough. My bike tires crunkled and crinkled across the glass. So I stopped, gently turning the wheels under the touch of my cycling glove to remove any potential glass shards from my wheels.

I was swearing loudly about glass on the road when a voice from the other road shoulder reached me between the noise of the trucks. “Do you need a tube?”

A fellow with a landscaping getup was calling out to me from across the road.

“No, I think I got it.”

But his interest sparked mine. So I pushed my bike across the street to thank him. And he asked, “How often do you ride along Route 47? Very far?”

I explained that part of one of my main training routes, a 20-mile route that loops from Batavia out to Elburn and back does indeed us the road shoulder along Route 47.

“Is it safe?” he asked.

What a loaded question. No roads are absolutely safe. The shoulder on Route 47 is about 8 feet wide. So I ride it and keep an ear open for big trucks. There usually isn’t much debris even though the road is heavily traveled.

“I got T-boned,” the landscape guy explained to me. Then he pointed to his lower leg and began to explain the plates, screws and multiple surgeries required to piece his shattered lower leg together. The limb was thicker than it should be, like a wooden peg. “It took 8 surgeries,” he told me.

I winced and told him how sorry I was that it happened to him.

“It on Keslinger at Pouley Road,” he explained. “A 16-year-old kid accelerated across the road and hit me square. I flipped up on the hood.”

Bad luck. Dumb luck. Sucky odds. You can call it anything you want. The fact is we’re all exposed to the inattention, aggression or distraction of motorized vehicle drivers. Of course I didn’t require some driver to knock me cold. I ran into a downed tree on a bike path. Did it all on my own.

But the conversation continued with my newfound cycling friend explaining that he now uses front and rear lights even in daylight.

“I like the white flashing light on the front. Even in shadows you can be seen,” he explained.

As I rode away into yet another rainstorm it struck me that safety is a perpetual pursuit. In the end, it’s really the only thing any of us chasing.

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Cid Carver finds peace and family through the triathlon community in Israel

Cid Carver, triathlete in Israel

Cid Carver, triathlete in Israel

By Christopher Cudworth

Cid Carver is originally from northeast Ohio where her interests in sports and international politics were perhaps innocent and marginal at best. 

Finding her place in the world

It was only after she moved to her adopted country of Israel several years ago that both of those interests grew and converged. “I’m Jewish by heritage,” she explains. “But not by practice. Funny story, I came here on this 10 day free trip that Jews can do between 18 – 26 years old. It’s called Birth Right. I had no connection with the country. I didn’t know Hebrew or anyone here. But after 10 days I made my decision to live here forever. I loved it here and wanted to stay. So I got citizenship after two months of being here without going back to the US. Eventually I did return for my clothes, etc. Now I do go back once a year.”

Making triathlon connections

Training on roads among rugged Israeli hills

Training on roads among rugged Israeli hills

Carver was not a triathlete when she arrived in Israel. But as she experimented in the sport her love of movement and a new sense of place combined to form both a bond with her location and the community of athletes it hosts.

“Athletes are athletes, and when you are on the bike or in the pool or at an ultimate frisbee tournament, it’s about training together and being judged by your abilities and not by where you are from.”

Bombs away

But recently one of the challenges of training in her adopted country is the challenge of missiles literally falling from the sky. In July 2014, the group known as Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni Islamist organization with an associated military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has been heavily on the attack. The group regularly fires rockets at major cities trying to disrupt the Israeli state any way they can. 

Swimming, cycling and running make up part of every day

Swimming, cycling and running make up part of every day

Many of those missiles do not get through. Most in fact are intercepted by the defense system known as the Iron Dome. According to MSN.com, the mobile missile defense system is “designed to fire guided missiles at rockets that threaten to hit populated areas while ignoring others.” The Iron Dome is partly funded by American money and has recently reported a 90% success rate in taking out rockets launched by Hamas. 

The few missiles that hit cities such as Tel Aviv still cause disruption in the daily life of Israel. People in several cities have been injured by Hamas rocket fire. Israel has returned fire on Hamas targets including known homes of Hamas operatives. Hamas in return claims that innocent civilians have been killed. And so it goes. On Monday, July 14, 2014 it was reported in the Chicago Tribune that 17,000 residents of Gaza fled their homes as Israel conducted a campaign to level suspected strongholds of Hamas militants. 

The violence appears ready to escalate with each new strike. And as always, the international community struggles to contain such longstanding conflicts. 

Training on the seashore

Training on the seashore

Keep calm and carry on

Trying to carry on with daily life is interesting enough. Add in something as wide-ranging as training for a triathlon and one can see why some people adopt the attitude Cid Carver describes as “living in the bubble.” 

“People simply believe that we won’t be touched. It’s because we are less affected by it here in Tel Avi. But there are rockets being launched at us about every thirty minutes. So the pressure is always there. In Ber Sheva, Ashdod and the other cities in the south, they are getting hit year round. The rockets never stop in cities closer to Gaza. It’s just now they have bigger ones that can reach Tel Aviv.” 

In many ways the attitude is similar to that of Britain during the German bombing raids of World War II. Life has to go on. But that does not mean you ignore your welfare altogether. Usually.

“You normally have 15-30 seconds to run to a shelter when the sirens go off,” Carver notes.  “Or in my apartment building, you go to the stairwell. This morning I was sleeping and the sirens sounded. I woke up my roommate and we ran to the stairwell. We waited for the crash. And then I cycled to work. Life as usual.”

Away from the hubbub of Tel Aviv and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts

Away from the hubbub of Tel Aviv and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts

Open lanes

At one point in mid-July 2014, the rockets aimed at Tel Aviv got through the Iron Dome when Cid Carver and her fellow triathletes were outside training at a downtown pool.

“I must admit, being in the swimming pool while the sirens go off and watching the Iron Dome hit a missile is very surreal.I was just about to get in the pool, I was filling up my water bottle and I heard the sirens. People stopped, and I was looking at the life guards and my friends who were in the pool and everyone just, basically stayed put as we waited for the explosion. I turned to my friend (an Israeli who recently did Ironman Austria) who gave me a hug then started laughing and said, “Perfect, look the lanes are empty, yalla! We heard the explosion and saw the smoke. Then we dove into the pool and continued the workout. There was nothing else we could really do about it. I was here in 2012 during Pillar of Defense and so this is the second time I have heard the sirens. So I am more used to it, but your heart sinks.”

When asked what she meant by her heart sinking, she says simply, “Fear.”

Finding family

Carver's social life is centered around triathlons and moves out from there

Carver’s social life is centered around triathlons and moves out from there

The triathlon community is Cid’s family in Israel. “I met a women who moved to Israel 30 years ago and she became my adopted mom. We went to Amsterdam to do the marathon together, I call her my Ironmom. When I moved here I knew no one. I wasn’t a triathlete or anything, just trying to find my way and slowly, as I ran my first race then signed up for my first triathlon I made friends. Friends that are also now family. I don’t go to the bars, I call my friends to swim or run or bike. And that is way better.”

She also recently met an Israeli man with whom she shares other activities. “He surfs and asked me to help him run a 5km in 25 minutes and we rock climb together. He is the first guy I’ve met who is not intimidated by me. That is one of the tough parts about being a determined female athlete,” she laughs. “He has his stuff and I have mine and then we have our stuff. But we’re always staying active.”

Recovering from loss

Cid Carver is finding her way in the world after the loss of her mother to suicide. “I got into sports as a kind of therapy,” she says. “It is a way to keep yourself moving forward, connected and happy.”

Her goals and training include plenty of movement, including a three day bike ride from one end of Israel to the other, 180km a day. “That gives you an idea of how small Israel really is. That you can cycle the entire length of the country in three days. All the cycling teams do it each year.”

Long cycling events can start in the forested mountains of Israel and wind through rocky deserts

Long cycling events can start in the forested mountains of Israel and wind through rocky deserts

She will also participate in a cycling event called the Dead Sea Gran Fondo. “You start at the lowest point on earth and ride UP!” she laughs. 

The country also sports a running relay event covering 220 kilometers. “Tell all your running friends to come!” she urges. “It’s a great event.”

Sports marketing

Which brings Cid Carver to the other reason in her love of sports: She longs to market Israel to the world. “I’m going to take an intensive 2-month Hebrew course and work part time, and then hopefully build up my base to work in marketing with one of the races or organizations. My dream though is to showcase Israel to the world in a positive light through sports!”

Not everything in life needs to be serious

Not everything in life needs to be serious

The contrast between daily life in the nation beset by rocket bombardment and her hope of bringing the world to Israel through sports is not lost on her. Her take: “Sports is the only place where language and religion don’t matter.”

While that might be something of a blanket statement, and a bit innocent perhaps, the point is well taken when looking at events like the recent World Cup soccer tournament, where Iran’s football team carried the hopes of a nation that has been targeted by economic sanctions and ostracized by the world for its political philosophies.  

Carver knows she cannot necessarily solve all that. But she sees hope in the personal connections made through sports. “I have met some amazing Arab cyclists and swimmers and it doesn’t matter where we come from. We are all racing and training together,” she says. “Sports is community building, and the races are like summer camp. It’s the time to reconnect with friends and do what you love. Everyone.”

To give perspective on what it’s like to train and race in an entirely new environment, especially one as recognized and perhaps infamously documented as Israel, I asked Cid Carver to answer a series of questions about her training and racing: 

Are there special obstacles to being a woman/female athlete in Israel? 

The number of women athletes in triathlons in Israel is on the increase

The number of women athletes in triathlons in Israel is on the increase

While I don’t say or think there are any obstacles to being a female athlete, it’s more that I wish I saw more females participating in the sports and on more of a competitive level. In May, I participated in a relay race that was 220KM from the northern most border, running south, all over road. I was on a team of six and we were all women. We were all very competitive women who have all moved to Israel and we met here. And of course we wanted to aim for the podium, personal records and making it through the night without sleep. The added bonus was the navigation in the cars, so there we were, six women, driving two cars, running off road and navigating in a foreign language and when we won were quite pleased! And we were the only all female team to have entered the race out of 7,000 people.

In the triathlons, there are even less. In the half Ironman distance race in Elat, out of the 1,500+ participates there were only two women entered in the half distance from ages 18 – 29, myself and a good friend. And for the sprint and Olympic distances in my age category (25 – 29), it’s a good day if there are ten of us. We’re starting to see more girls in the kids and teens, which is awesome! And lots of women in the 35+ categories, but slowly this is changing.

What are your racing goals and event planning for 2014? 

Competing fulfills Carver as it builds her friend network

Competing fulfills Carver as it builds her friend network

Race goals and event planning is my favorite part of the sport. My biggest goal is to improve my 5km, 10km and 21.5km times in triathlons. I am focusing on and doing all sprint triathlons for the year to reach my other goal of being #1 in my age category here. I’ve already completed 4 races with 1st and 2nds, the season just ended and we will resume in September thru November. November I will do one Olympic, the last race of the season and then for the third year in a row, I’ll do the 1/2 Israman (half ironman distance race) in Elat, Israel. Where there my goal is to beat last years time.

There are of course some fun events along the way, such as two off road races I’ll run in, a 3 day bike ride from the north border to the south and maybe some time trial events in the fall for cycling, but the big goals are above. I am planning at the moment to do my first ironman in November 2015. It’s like a drug, the more you do the more you want to do and to see how far you can go.

Is there a community of athletes with whom you train or do you do a lot solo? 

Doing the triathlons and sports was my way to integrate into Israeli culture since I didn’t study here, I didn’t grow up with the language and I didn’t do the army, so I needed a way to make friends. I am on cycling team, they are a non-competitive oriented team, but it’s all what you make of it and I love the group. I swim a lot with friends who I met at the pool or in the sea with friends who I’ve met at races. And then running with friends, we have our own small group or I’ll run after my cycling practice up to 6km with guys from the group. It’s more of my social life than training, at least that’s how I feel. 

I like to feel that I’m not stuck or to rigid, it’s more enjoyable to ride with friends as well. This is what we do in our free time, we all still have jobs, so it’s important to love it and the people who you surround yourself with in trainings to get the good vibes.

If you were to prepare someone else to come to the Middle East as an athlete, what would you tell them? 

LIfe in the Middle East is colorful, fascinating and sometimes dangerous

LIfe in the Middle East is colorful, fascinating and sometimes dangerous

The Middle East is quite a large region, but I can give some tips for traveling to Israel as an athlete. First, it totally depends when you arrive here, but the weather. The summer is hot, humid and nearly miserable. You have to start at 6AM, otherwise you’ll melt. The winter, well it snowed this year in Jerusalem, so it also can be quite chilly. But, like any adventure, check the seasons and the norm and prepare accordingly.

As far as culture and race atmosphere of the races. From what I’ve heard, it’s a little less organized and everything has a large personality but in a smaller venue, lots of life and energy, but not so shiny and fancy or showy. It’s a great environment and much more laid back. Don’t expect to be pampered here. 

Also, in terms of triathlons, from what friends have said, there are less mile (KM) mile markers. And in the water or swim section, and I thought this was standard since I have not done a triathlon abroad yet, there are usually 2 guys in the water, one on a paddle board and one in a kayak, or sometimes a jet ski. There are sometimes helpers near the finish of the swim to help you up if it’s wavy. There are less signs directing you where to go and the people at the corners usually won’t be guiding you, you just have to be aware of where to go, look at the map before and follow the people in front of you, prepare.

What is your background leading up to moving overseas? HS? College athlete?

Clearly Cid Carver was head over heels about show jumping

Clearly Cid Carver was head over heels about show jumping

I actually rode horses competitively, show jumping in high school and in my senior year of college I ran on the cross country team, but the longest I ever ran was a 10K until I did my first half marathon in March 2012. I went to the gym a few days a week and would do the stair master, pretend to lift some weights and swam occasionally, but I was never serious about sports. Until I bought my road bike in June 2012, I’m actually not even sure the last time I had ridden a bike, except beach cruisers here and there on vacations.

What attracted you to triathlon/running/biking & swimming. 

When I first moved to Israel I was working to get my citizenship and I needed something to do and training for a 1/2 marathon was something I’d always talked about, so I signed up and started training. I met some friends along the way, did it and loved it. But running was boring for me, so I started investigating other options. The only other race I found advertised in English here, was the 1/2 Israman ironman distance race. So I bought a second hand, alumnium road bike, a pass to the pool, signed up and was hooked.

How does the medical/fitness advisory community operate where you are? 

The fitness community is pretty great and organized.This is not something I’ve thought much about. We have medical insurance for all of the events / races for sports injuries, and the doctors are good. Our health care is public, and everyone has medical help if they need. 

There is I believe a sports/ fitness committee, but on the national level or government level I am not familiar with it.

What are some of the greatest attributes of where you live, outside of fitness, etc? Favorite places or new discoveries.

A prior trip to Machu Picchu whetted Carver's interest in the world

A prior trip to Machu Picchu whetted Carver’s interest in the world

First, the people. I love the culture here. Everyone is crazy friendly and open and willing to help you or say hi or to train. I have met some great friends sitting at cafes, or in my regular bike loop in the morning or at races. It’s a small community of cyclists and triathletes, so you see a lot of familiar faces and become friends or training partners, so I like that closeness and willing to help your neighbor attitude. Honestly though, the culture and people are open and treat you like family, everyone is like family.

Saturday is Shabbat and there is no public transportation in the country and nothing is open, so at 6am – 10am it’s super quiet and perfect for bikers!

Carver plans to work in sports marketing someday

Carver plans to work in sports marketing someday

Work is awesome. I’m at a start up and we are pretty relaxed but also extremely serious, it’s a nice balance and I find that people are more human, and connected to one another. I moved to country where i didn’t know a single person or the language and now can’t imagine my life anywhere else.

But, I like paddle boarding on the weekends or scuba diving in the south in the red Sea. There is amazing marine life here. Nature and hiking are incredible attributes as well. Some of the trails are breath taking. When I’m not training, I’m planning hiking trips.

Also, there is always something to do. Always an event, concert, volunteer project, so I love just taking part in what is thrown my way.

And the weather. Israel is really unique. We have the desert in the south, the entire coast is along the Mediterranean and then the north is hilly, green and lush and it will even snow in the winter. So you get to experience difference elements in a very tiny, compact space. It’s easy to get around, and takes no more than three hours to drive the width of the country, and no more than 8.5 hours to drive from north to south.

Has there been a big adaptation in diet and training for you? 

Life balance includes plenty of outdoor time and also good, healthy eating

Life balance includes plenty of outdoor time and also good, healthy eating

Everything. When I was in college at Suffolk, University I rarely cooked and was a college kid who lived off of quick meals and bar food. When I moved here, first everything is organic and the go-to food are fruits and vegetables or hummus. Not to be cliche, but I do love hummus and it does go with a lot. Generally I eat a lot of whole grain sandwiches, salads, home cooked meals from friends or sushi or at one of the vegan restaurants. Eating out here is also easier, most of the food is healthy, it’s organic and not processed. When I visit the states or Europe, I can feel the difference and how heavy food makes you abroad and that your choices are limited. Cookies are also a big part of my diet, I have a sweet tooth.

I also wanted to share with you the responses from two of my friends. 

The first is from my friend Aviva, who said switching from miles to kilometers has been rough. And she mainly mentions the conversion centers and the booths, that in the states it is more of a spectacle and here, well, not as big, not yet that is.

And from my friend Elyssa: “I think the biggest adaptation for me was finding the places to train. It’s much more widely available in the states, because more people are doing it. For me also, it was dealing with a different schedule and not having as much control over my free time, but that’s personal I think  more so that something that is specifically different from Israel to the us. In Addition, in Israel there are not as many people on the courses directing you, and in the state’s you will see people scuba diving and a life guard every 2 feet, here you might see only 2 life guards, not bad, just different and a bit more free and like a scavenger hunt to figure out the course.”

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Racing the first criterium of summer reveals the inner mind

By Christopher Cudworth

FroomewigginsThere’s a funny thing about cycling, especially competitive cycling, that no one really likes to admit. When you’re in a race there is really no time to look up.

Just ask Chris Froome, the 2013 Tour de France champion who crashed three times in two days and wound up looking like a wind-whipped scarecrow along the side of the road. He hadn’t even reached the cobble sections of Stage 5. Talk was rampant about his team’s choice to leave ex-champion Bradley Wiggins back home. It just goes to prove that while it always pays to look ahead on the bike, it’s also the stuff behind that can come back to haunt you.

Those of us who ride appreciate the challenges of staying upright in competitive situations. That first crash sent Froome to the deck without ceremony. It is unlikely it was his fault. Just a touch of a wheel and down you go.

Pileups

It can happen anytime. I’ve witnessed 8 or 10 riders piling into each other on a group ride when someone up front hits the brakes. Crunch. Clickety click. The sounds of spokes tangling. People cussing. A few hit the pavement. Then everyone gets back up, checks the equipment and rolls on.

Sure, in competitive running races people sometimes fall. But not nearly so often cyclists go down. Usually not so violently either. I ran steeplechase in college and saw a couple “wrecks” over time, but not as many as you’d think.

None of this went through my mind before racing my bike last night. We cyclists are a little bit crazy that way. While it might take a month or 6 months or a year from a marathoner to forget how much the last race hurt and want to run 26.2 miles again, a cyclist can crash and get road rash and have a sore ass for weeks and still get back on their bike because they miss riding.

I was leading a running road race one time when the lead cop car hit the brakes at an intersection. At 5:00 pace I was floating along too fast to stop and wound up bent over the back of the vehicle. “What the fuck?” I yelled. The cop just shrugged and drove on. I swallowed the adrenaline and ran on.

No worries

Our racing experience tells us things like that can happen. But standing on the line with other CAT 5 cyclists I was so relaxed it was like riding to the grocery story. A newbie rider in similarly modest kit attire, not team stuff, rolled up next to me. “What do we do in these races?” he asked.

This was my first race back in two years. I knew the answer. “Draft,” I told him. “Don’t break the wind for yourself at all costs. It all comes down to the last two laps anyway.”

Then the whistle blew and we rolled off for 8 laps on the Pelladrome, the rounded-corner rectangular industrial road where the Athletes By Design club hosts weekly practice crits.

Shiny bits

During warmups I noticed a large patch of glimmering glass bits on the back straightway. I made a mental note not to swing out too wide there. Not just because of the glass, but because the wind would eat you up anyway.

For 6 laps I held my own. Then we caught the warmup group of the CAT 1-3 riders and the CAT 5 race got split. Some took the inside (smart) route while 5 of us rode around the outside. By the time we caught back on we’d used valuable energy.

On several laps the wind was circulating so strangely through the group that the bike was whipping back and forth. Not out of control, but out of reaction to turbulence. We hit a top speed of 29 and averaged 23 for the race. Not terribly fast. But not bad for a windy night on the Pelladrome.

Then came lap seven and the hard break on the front stretch. Switching into even higher cadence I tried to jump from the second group to the 4 riders pulling away. I got within 10 meters before they hit the backstretch and the wind seemed to suck the juice out of my quads. I held that space for a bit and then lost them into the hard wind corner. Two other riders came by me with the wind. I kept my head and waited for sanity to return to my thighs. Then I notched it up to 22 again and caught the two stinkers that had passed me up, finishing about 40 yards back of the front sprint. 5th place in the first race of the season. I’ll take it.

My starting line friend came rolling up in warmdowns. “Nice job. I thought I left you behind.”

Crazy needs

Nope. There is still some fight in me. Still some crazy need to test the legs against other riders. Then I realized. I had hardly looked up during the entire race. Just kept my eyes on the wheels and riders in front and beside me, and rode with that inner dialogue that comes with racing. We live in a tiny world in those moments. By necessity. By choice. By excitement at being involved in this little competitive environment we create.

Then came a 40 minute cooldown watching the CAT 1 and 2 group whale away on each other. The whir of their tires pulled me in. I rode faster and faster as the cooldown proceeded. The inner mind works in strange ways when riding bikes. What’s cool is hot, and what’s hot is cool.

And then alongside me the noise of a tire going flat burst forth like a piston in a machine. A rather heavy rider in an all-black kit had ridden over the glass zone without looking down. His expression was priceless. That awful feeling of a flat under your wheel. At least his race was over.

That’s bike racing for you. Just ask Chris Froome.

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