A first letter home from college cross country season

By Christopher Cudworth

Letter HomeIn 1975 I was a freshman at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. In stark contrast with admissions practices of today, I had not made my decision to attend Luther until July that summer. My application to Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. had been accepted but came with the proviso that I would start my collegiate career with academic probation. Even at a naive age I was aware that was a slap in the face. 

By contrast Luther showed confidence in me, noting the high level of extracurricular activity in high school. They must have forgiven my C average, perhaps at the urging of my potential coach and mentor Kent Finanger.

It all happened so fast between July and August. Suddenly I was on campus early for the cross country season and what an indoctrination to distance running that turned out to be. The team had a full compliment of talented runners already. But the freshman class that year was exceptional. No less than six of us had run sub-15:00 for three miles in high school. Two were All-State runners from Minnesota. Another lived right there in Decorah.

We would all become friends for life. But not without a compelling share of trials, injuries, girlfriends and studies first.

Memories of those first runs at Luther include a six mile run up and over Palisades Park, a set of bluffs overlooking the Upper

The road in Palisades Park ascends the hill that contains these bluffs.

The road in Palisades Park ascends the hill that contains these bluffs.

Iowa River and downtown Decorah. The run raced along at 6:00 pace from the get-go. By the time we reached Palisades the group had separated into clumps of runners clinging to each other in hopes of sticking out the hills. Up we went. Then up again. The view of Decorah from 150 feet above the valley was stunning. I also recall being faintly dizzy from the exertion, and almost frantic to keep up.

The downhill included a spiral taken at sub-6:00 pace. Then we caught the dirt road heading back toward town and campus. The blue and white shirts everyone wore spoke Luther blue, and it struck me that here I was, a real college runner.

All that new sensation struck me in amazing ways, and in a set of letters back home I tried to process all that was going on. Here in full context is what I wrote that first week of September, 1975:

“Dear Family,

It’s absolutely beautiful here lately. The weather has not essentially changed (only cooled off) since the first day. There are slow, dew-laden sunrises around 7:00 that seem to start in the west. The sunlight falls on those hills before it gets over the mound in the East. It’s 8:00 Monday morning. Classes are getting on now, and as all these students pile into building they leave puffs of breath in the 45 degree air we have.


Racing for Luther College at the Grinnell College Invitational.

I’m feeling good because I’m all over my 2-day flu, the bug that kept me out of the intra-squad. My fever hit 101.0 and my head and glands throbbed–I thought I had Mono. It was agonizing to miss that meet. I’ve been in the Top 5 consistently. I’m going to train again tonight, however.

Classes have been alright. Nothing anywhere near above my head yet. I have read a lot thought, 2 or 3 chapters of several paperbacks. I read–cover to cover–“Louis Agassiz Fuerters, The Singular Beauty of Birds” at the library. Not as good as I would have expected, but nice nevertheless. I’m going to investigate paintings from some stuffed birds in the Bio lab–could be fun.”

Work was a bitch. Sunday I worked 10:30 -1:30, and 4:19 to 7:19. The brunch was easy–tending condiment tables. The night shift I was a dish unloader. Burnt my damn hands! Piles and piles of scalding plates. Mounds of trays. Blecchhh!!

Art class is OK. I sit with Kirsten sometimes, but mostly just any girl I like to watch draw. I’m always done before the others. My hand is freer.

Starlings whistling in the cottonwoods outside Main. I went birding Sunday morn. Palm warblers, goldfinch, chippies, House sparrow, killdeer, crow, water pipit, lark sparrow, ring billed gull, barn swallow, spotty, red head, downy, chestnut sided, nuthatch, grackle, starling, robin, house wren.

Hope you are well and doing fine.

Love, Chris

PS: PJ came home last Friday and his roomie had a girl in HIS bed. Paul kicked ‘em out and went to bed. We are thinking of awarding him the Sterling Bedpan Award for Heroic Deeds in Dorms.

PPS: How’s Greg doing in CC? Also, any birds around there?

Have been thinking of making a way home on Thanksgiving. Will probably have a ride back with someone (back here too).

Anyone who has nothing to do, write!”

What a different world it was, away at college, no social media. Not even a long distance phone to use with any regularity. Calling collect was frowned upon. It was just me and my hopes and dreams running in a new land, as it were.

Things haven’t changed for college kids in one significant way. Kids are still trying to find their way in the world. College is still a new experience, full of opportunities, challenges and chances to make bad decisions, or good ones.

And young runners still try to cling to the pace on new roads far away from home.  

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Sometimes a bump in the road comes from your side of the equation

By Christopher Cudworth

Not being the supremely mechanical type when it comes to bike maintenance, there are occasions when riding my bike is an experiment in physics. 

Like yesterday. When I got to the group ride it was disturbing to notice that my front tire had a pronounced protuberance near the stem. I pulled the tire free after letting the air out and tried to wedge the inner tube into the stubborn space under the tire. No go. Time was flying by. It was time to go. 

So I sucked it up and rode with the front tire going thump thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthump

32 miles it did this. At a 21.2 mph average. 

At one point I wondered how much efficiency a bump in the tire like that could cost you. 1%? 2% 10%? Was I forced to ride that much harder just to keep up? But let’s face it: Answers to those kinds of questions are best not considered during the ride. Save it for later. 

Yet your mind goes back to those poison calculations when the pace picks up. Then the tire goes even thumpier, faster, and you look around at the $7000 bikes with carbon fiber wheels and carbon fiber athletes perched atop their carbon fiber seat posts on carbon fiber saddles and your brain starts to work on you. 

Then they pull away at 28 mph and try as you might, the gap forms and you’re off the back. Going thump thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpt

On top of all that there’s a mild cold working. Not the achey kind with snot and difficulty to breathe. Just the type that makes you a little cranky and lacking social graces. 

Then a chain falls off and you’re forced to ride 30 mph just to catch back on. But you do it, and start to recover, and someone goes to the front and picks up the group pace to 25 mph. You cling (or at least I did…) as long as possible and it becomes a losing proposition. 

One must consider the blame here. Before a group ride it always pays to do a mechanical check from front to back, top to bottom on the bike. No excuses. Check your tire pressure and put your brake lever by the pads down into position so that you actually have brakes. It’s the basics of biking. Otherwise you get to a group ride and have to learn to live with this: thump thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpt

Did I mention that gets a little annoying after 30 miles? And that you don’t really want to talk to anyone when that happens, because it makes you assess all your habits and what a loser you can be for not checking your bike before taking it out for a workout? 

It’s all part of the picture. We all have our good days and our bad days. But then my girlfriend put it in perspectives. “You know, when it’s all said and done, we can be grateful to be the age we are and ride as fast as we do.” And that made me a little less grumpy, except for the sound of my heart in my chest, fighting hard to restore balance in my struggle with a mild common cold. But my heart talked back going thump thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpt.

And for that we call all be grateful. 


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It’s about time you thought about time

By Christopher Cudworth

During one interesting but emotionally painful semester in college I studied the Philosophy of Existentialism with a professor named Richard Ylvisaker. We read the existentialism philosophers like Sartre and Camus. Somewhere along the way we encountered the concept of the irreversibility of time. It seemed like a solid notion that you can’t go back in time. Not without some miracle machine. Despite the many contentions of shoes like Dr. Who, the machine that can take us back through doesn’t really exist. 

Of course there’s no guarantee time travel is any bargain for those of us here in the present. The Simpsons dealt with many facets of time travel with Homer going back in time to screw things up

The idea of going back in time or controlling time in some way is all conjecture of course. Those of us who run and ride know this fact more intimately than anyone else on earth. We live and die by the clock.

But we do live outside of time in some significant ways. Our “best times” for a particular distance live in our minds like seperate realities. Our “PRs” or “PBs” (personal records or personal bests) are sometimes years ago. With age they become something out of reach. They can only be recalled with fondness or in some cases with digital verity. 

Is time standing still or racing ahead in this photo?

Is time standing still or racing ahead in this photo?

That’s what freaked me out the other day when I took a photo by accident while having iced tea with my gal Sue in front of Starbucks in Geneva, Illinois.

While scrolling through photos to post on Instagram that evening I noticed the odd image in my camera. A young women appears to be strolling right out of time and back into space. She’s entering the picture as if she emerged of the vapors. The front half of her body is in full clarity. The rest disappears into time and space. 

Spacing out

We’ve been warned by astrophysicists for years that our concept of time and space may be an illusion of sorts. If things in the universe get impacted by gravity or some other force that sucks up matter or light, the entire notion of time and space can get bent, warped or fractured. We hear about worm holes and other extreme compressions of space that might enable time travel if we could enter them and survive. 

Timing in

My own experience with time compression is limited, yet profound. During the national cross country meet in Rock Island in 1978, I was nearing the finish of the 8K race knowing that I was our 5th man, and thus a key to our team’s success. Rounding the last turn toward the finish, it felt like time began to slow. Every sound around me seemed to squish. I was keenly aware of every step and as I passed other runners, it felt like I could will them behind me. 

We placed second in the nation that year behind North Central College. The third place team was just a point or two behind us. The fourth place team just a few points behind them. It had all come down to those last few yards. 

For better or worse there were other races over the years where time seemed to slow. The feeling that you are unable to make up any ground on the runner or rider ahead of you can make it feel like time itself is your enemy. It’s as if you’ve entered a bad dream and can’t seem to make time work on your behalf. 

Dream time

Which is also weird because time does not seem to function the same way in dreams as it does in real life. Even the act of dreaming is compressed. So much happens in dreams. Our mind invents or relates all kinds of strange things. We wake up and try to figure out what it all means and struggle to connect the dots. Yet some dreams feel so powerful they almost replace reality. 

The Bible shows us moments when people vexed by dreams struggle to understand their meaning and how it affects their concept of time and place. At one point a great king keeps having the same dream and asks all his courtiers what it means. Finally he encounters someone that can interpret for him. It goes like this: 

28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:

29 “As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. 30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.”

The predictive nature of the dream is not a happy scenario for the king. It points to times ahead when the king will lose his kingdom and his people are scattered. That happened a lot back then. Being a king has never been an easy gig. 

Easy times. Hard times. 

Which is why statements such as “Your time has come” can have either  positive and negative connotations. 

Those of us who train and compete within the constraints of time recognize the significance of these moments in the continuum of existence. We purposely place ourselves in positions where decisions must be made.

Do we go with the surge in a running race? Jump the gap and get on the wheel of the group ahead. 

These are critical decisions because they determine how well we are able to keep up with others in time.

The same thing happens in our lives and careers. We speak in terms of “getting ahead” in life. But are we talking about time or compensation or well-being? The answer to that question is “Yes, all of the above.”

Yet even people who get ahead in life can suddenly look back and realize something might be missing. Too many of us tend to live with regrets as a result. We think back on how things might have been different. If we’d just done this or changed that.

Certainly that happens with almost every race we run. “I should have run faster on the third mile” we tell ourselves. But we didn’t. And we can’t change that. “Wouldhavecouldhaveshouldhave” is not a dependable life philosophy. It’s an excuse for not living in the moment, responding to the challenge or Carpe Diem. 

Changing times

Some moments in time are so important they can be life-changing. When you say the right thing at the right time to the right boss, you might get a promotion. 

Similarly when you capitalize on your training and racing and break through to times you never thought possible, it is like a “time out of mind experience.” 

For these reasons I love the mystical lyrics from the Steely Dan song Time Out of Mind

Son you better be ready for love
On this glory day
This is your chance to believe
What I’ve got to say

Keep your eyes on the sky
Put a dollar in the kitty
Don’t the moon look pretty

Tonight when I chase the dragon
The water will change to cherry wine
And the silver will turn to gold
Time out of mind

One of my favorite sayings in life draws from reading a book in college Freshman Studies. I’ve quoted it many times before but it always has significance. “The purity of the moment is made from the absence of time…” was a phrase drawn found in the book Ambiguous Adventure by Cheik Hamidou Kane. 

The concept is simple, but it’s implementation is more profound and complex.

Doing the things you love makes time slow down. Being in love makes time more real and meaningful. Loving and being loved in return makes this world a better place. Do you notice the theme? It is love that ultimately drives our concept of time and appreciation of life.  

It’s about time you thought about time. After all, it’s all we’ve got. So I’ll leave you with this gift to take with you on the road today. The perfect little set of lyrics from Time Out of Mind that you can sing to yourself as you pedal, run or swim. 

Children we have it right here
It’s the light in my eyes
It’s perfection and grace
It’s the smile on my face

Time Out of Mind




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A middle school cross country meet may be the most inspiring event you can attend

By Christopher Cudworth

Jackie Robinson West Little Leaguers have been an inspiration to watch.

Jackie Robinson West Little Leaguers have been an inspiration to watch.

Here in the Chicago area the Jackie Robinson West Little League team inspired the city with its victory in the US championships and took second place overall in the Little League World Series. The performance of those middle-school aged kids and their personalities was truly inspiring. 

But you don’t have to win the national championships to give inspiration to others. 

Running buds

Yesterday evening I rode over to Rotolo Middle School here in Batavia, Illinois to watch my backdoor neighbor Beau Cunningham compete in his first cross country meet of the year. He’s now in 8th grade, but everyone who knows him jokes that he’s 13 going on 30. He’s a fun-loving kid with a serious mind.

I’ve known him since he was born, have babysat for him on a number of occasions and watched him grow his lawn-mowing business into an actual enterprise with nearly a dozen customers and a nice shiny riding mower. Frankly we were glad he finally traded in the smoke-blowing Montgomery Ward monster that sounded like a military vehicle on some occasions. 

For a thirteen year old kid, Beau is very much his own man. That is not to say he is not subject to the same vagaries as other 13 year old young men. He’d be the first one to tell me that no one is perfect. We talk at times about life and work and play and always he’s up for a chuckle about the foibles of being human. 

BeauAnd to that end, we’ve shared quite a few conversations about what it’s like to be a runner. He’s following in the footsteps of his older brother Alec who just graduated from high school and is headed to DePaul. The Batavia cross country team made it downstate last year for the first time in its history. No small feat in the competitive Chicago region. 

Beau has been running for a couple years with the Accelerators Running Club, a local organization that gets kids involved in running. The coach has a great attitude about involvement and is encouraging without being pushy. 

Called to run again

In fact Beau is the one that encouraged me to come run at a summer cross country meet a few years back. I had not raced in several years and it felt great to race on the grass in a park where I’d done training years ago. I finished three miles in exactly 21:00 and the spark to compete again was re-lit. That day I had wound up running the last mile with a young woman that had passed me in the first mile. When I caught up I told her, “Run with me, then kick it in at the end.” She did just that, sprinting the last 200 meters. That inspired me too. 

So it was fun to cycle over to the middle school and watch the boys and girls race a two mile course. The open fields of the middle school are perfect for parents to see their kids in action. The well-designed course has some short climbs on it to make things interesting. 

In the first mile Megan Ronzone pursues her able competitor from Yorkville.

In the first mile Megan Ronzone pursues her able competitor from Yorkville.

The race is on

When the girls race commenced two young women took it out fast. The runner from Yorkville has a quick stride and took the lead. She was followed in the first mile by Megan Ronzone, whose smooth stride belies her age. She’s an 8th grader but runs with the maturity and form of a much older runner. 

For the first 1.5 miles the Yorkville girl held the lead by 10 yards. Somewhere in the Back 40, out of sight from the crowd, Megan made her move and strode home for the victory. 

The Yorkville girl finished strong, just 30 yards back. She walked with eyes gleaming and furiously engaged in a review of her race.

Megan Ronzone finishes her race at a strong pace.

Megan Ronzone finishes her race at a strong pace.

The glint of competition was still sparking off her sweat brow and her breathing wheezed a bit in the humidity. She was the picture of

Megan and her mother Liz Ronzone posed together after the race.

Megan and her mother Liz Ronzone posed together after the race.

determination. Every man and woman who ever competed in a race could draw lessons from the look on her face. 

Megan cooled down and met back up with her mother Liz, who chuckled that she was just about as sweaty as her

daughter from traipsing around to cheer her on. The two paused for a picture in the late summer sunshine. One could only imagine how many more photos there will be of the triumphant daughter with obvious talent and the mother who clearly appreciates the opportunity for her daughter to shine. 

Jack DeTraglia rounds a corner in full stride.

Jack Whitcomb rounds a corner in full stride.

But it’s not just the “winners” at a middle school cross country meet that count. Every child out there running got equal cheers it seemed. The importance of such physical activity is so clear these days. There is triumph in every footstep. 

My friend Beau did well in his race, which featured a brisk early gallop down the starting hill. The race centrifuged quite quickly and it was up to every kid to make up his mind on his own how fast to go.

Ines DeTraglia, whose father and mother are triathletes, competes in the two mile race.

Ines DeTraglia, whose father and mother are triathletes, competes in the two mile race.

Some bounded up the short hill near the center of the course with a burst of determination only a middle school kid could muster.

These programs have pumped new athletes into the high school program where the freshman class of cross country runners is bigger than ever. There is perhaps no purer sport on the face of the planet, and its participants often achieve good grades because the discipline involved in running is effectively transferred to the classroom. Persistence. Perseverance. Creativity. All those traits help you excel in running. They also help you study and learn.

Plus there’s no more loneliness of the long distance runner to worry about. Kids who run are no longer the outcasts or the skinny geeks or nerds. They are runners, plain and simple. There’s much to admire about that, and be inspired.

Note: A reader of this blog Nancy Mansfield pointed out the following: “Hi Chris Just FYI~the RMS cross country team went to state the last two years. Erika was on both teams. Last year was the first time that both the girls and boys teams placed 2nd at state.


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Bling me up Scotty, I don’t want to be Left Behind

By Christopher Cudworth

My Bling

My meager collection of recent bling may mean salvation someday.

So my duathlon race this past weekend was not just some narcissistic attempt at self-aggrandizement. The real reason I competed was that I wanted the bling. Needed the bling. Because bling, in case you have not heard the truth behind it, is your path to salvation. 

Oh sure, you’ve heard a lot about the Second Coming and the fear of being Left Behind. All that’s well and good if you’re freaked about by the Book of Revelation and Daniel and all that transfer of symbolism to predictive reality and the so-called Rapture. There’s even a new movie soon to arrive in theaters titled Left Behind. I suppoooose some of you will actually go watch that sort of tripe. But I recommend you read this book by Barbara Rossing first, “The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation.”

You see, you don’t really owe any attention to folks like Timothy LaHaye and that Jenkins fool who writes with him. They’ve made millions off the fears of people who can’t seem to read the Bible with any clarity on their own. So they fill in the gaps with all kinds of scary shit and their books fly off the shelves. Never mind that Jesus himself would have kicked their theological arses for playing loose with theology to line their own pockets.

But when there’s money to be made, some religious people are never far from the coffers, it seems. Why else would Jesus have had to kick out those money-collectors from the temple? The business of God and Bucks are like pure gravity to some people. 

My girlfriend Sue is pretty well assured of transport to another planet thanks to her prodigious collection of racing bling.

My girlfriend Sue is pretty well assured of transport to another planet thanks to her prodigious collection of racing bling.

Bling your way to salvation

If you really want to get off this earth, there’s a much better way. Because I was recently visited by aliens who coasted down from the heavens during one of my longer bike rides. They tailed me down County Line road before I figured out that shadow following me came from something more than a dogged cloud. So I looked up and saw the UFO in which they were flying along, waving happily at me as I cruised along with the wind. 

“Nice cadence!” a strange voice came through an alien loudspeaker. “But slow down! We want to talk to you!”

So I pulled the bike over and stood by the side of the road while they parked the UFO in a nearby cornfield. They had a little trouble parallel parking by the road but I instructed them on how to back up between the telephone poles and finally they got the damn thing parked respectably. 

It was a little surprising to hear the door creak open like it was almost rusted shut. “It’s this humidity,” the alien told me. “Why are you getting so much rain in Illinois this year?”

“It might be something to do with global warming,” I offered. “We’re working pretty hard to screw up this planet.”

“Yeah,” the alien agreed. “We have to admit that Mitch McConnell is one of ours. It’s all part of the plan, you know.”

“What plan?” I asked. 

Notice the symbol on her outfit? The aliens have been trying for years to tell us how to bling our way to another planet.

Notice the symbol on her outfit? The aliens have been trying for years to tell us how to bling our way to another planet.

“We’ve got another planet all set up for you about six light years away. We’ve been studying your culture the last 32 years or so and it’s obvious there are some people who just hate it here. So we’ve been studying who should get to come along to Earth Too, we like to call it. And we’ve got a system all set up to determine who gets to go.”

“Fascinating,” I responded. “How does it work?”

“Well,” the alien said, scratching one of his two heads, “We figure that people who sit on their fat asses all day and boss other people around should not get to decide how to live on the next planet. So that cuts out most of the current Congress.”

“And government workers?” I asked. 

“Well, that’s a cliche you know. You can’t tell me a Postal worker sits on their ass all day. They walk six or eight miles a day delivering the mail. So despite what a certain segment of the population likes to believe, there are many great government workers out there. They’ll have every opportunity to avoid getting Left Behind if they feel like it.”

“Yes, you mentioned that. How does it work?”

“We’re working behind the scenes with hundreds of what you call races across the country. Events, yah. Like triathlons, duathlons, running races, marathons, half marathons, Ultras. Then there’s bike races, criteriums, road races and mountain bike competitions. Every event in which there’s a finish medal is part of our program. It all comes down to the bling.”

“Really…” I asked in wonder. 

A Star Trek actress sports her triathlon wetsuit with bling already attached.

A Star Trek actress sports her triathlon wetsuit with bling already attached.

“Well, we’ve been sending clues all the way since the 60s, with Star Trek,” the alien told me with one of its heads. Then the other added, “Take a look at the insignia on the Star Trek costume. It’s a piece of bling pointing towards the sky. Remember ‘Beam me up, Scotty.’? Well, that’s what we’re going to do. But you have to earn some bling first.”

‘Fascinating,” I responded. 

“Yeah, so you better get signed up for that duathlon you were thinking about. Quit avoiding the issue. You know you can do it. And tell all your active friends, those triathletes and such? They need to complete the race and get their FINISHER medal or they won’t be able to be beamed up when we come with the Mother Ship to upload Team Earth Too.”

“How will we know when you’re coming?” I dared to ask. 

“Oh, it’s just like Matthew 25 or whatever. ‘You will never know the day or the hour,’ blah blah blah. We figured it would be best to keep a little biblical intrigue involved. Otherwise people won’t get the concept of being swept away and leaving others behind. It’s like the Ultimate Race, you know.”

“That sounds kind of serious,” I told them. 

“Well, it is serious,” the aliens said in unison, as if they’d been practicing for a week. In fact they glanced at each other and smiled. One of them even laughed a little. 

“So what does a person like me do?” I inquired. 

“Keep your bling handy at all times,” the alien said in a warning tone. “Hang them somewhere for easy access. Even keep one at work, but only if you’re not independently wealthy, have a $9000 bike and all the time in the world to train. We want all kind of athletes on Earth Too.”

Remember to sport your bling.

Remember to sport your bling.

“Well, that’s good,” I admitted. “Because I’ve slowed down a little bit in the last 30 years or so.”

“Wimp,” one of them blurted. The other head gave a disgusted expression. 

“You’re doing fine,” the first alien finally said. “But do your stretching and a little strength work. The gravity on Earth Too is slightly higher anyway. You’ll lose an average of 13 seconds per mile in a 5K. But there’s nothing we could do about that. Expect to weigh about 16 lbs. more on a 150 lb. frame as well. And your tits will sag quicker too.”

“Um, I don’t exactly have tits,” I told them. And that’s when one of the aliens giggled a bit. I got the feeling that sexual attraction was a slightly different issue in their world. 

So that’s the ticket to a better life, I guess. Get out there. Compete and complete your next race and keep your bling on full display. Wear it proudly until the day the aliens come calling and ask you to hang your bling around your next. Then you’ll be swept away to Earth Too where there reportedly be more Clif Bars and Jelly Belly packets than you could ever eat.

It should be a wonderful place to live, even if we’re all a bit slower due to increased gravity. 

In the meantime, display your bling proudly, and wink at those who know the score when it comes to not being Left Behind. It’s our little secret. But it doesn’t mean I won’t leave you behind in the next race if I can. 








Posted in Christopher Cudworth, cycling, duathlon, half marathon, marathon, running, swimming, Tarsnakes, triathlon, We Run and Ride Every Day | 3 Comments

DUzed and Confused

By Christopher Cudworth

Starting lineIn the days leading up to my first duathlon this past Saturday morning, I kept experiencing a strange sensation. I was excited about it. Excited about racing. Excited to try my hand at my first genuine multisport competition. 

The excitement was strange because other than some bike racing on and off the last 8 years, there have not been many competitions. Too many other things in life necessarily drew my attention to want to race with any frequency. When your life is infused with caregiving and the challenges that go with it, the last thing you really want to do is add more stress, even fun stress, to your existence. But we make the best of our life situations. That’s the most important thing. 

Training daze

Finish Run TooThe other adverse factor in preparation for my first duathlon has been a persistently sore and unreliable achilles tendon. Even when I took steps (no pun intended) to fix the problem with a visit to the pedorthist, the first result of running in the enhanced orthotic was a pulled hamstring. It tweaked then yanked during a speed workout stupidly done the first day the new lift was installed under my forefoot. 

That left me in a painful daze for almost a week. The embarrassment of pulling out of that workout with triathlon peers was no fun. Limping around the track when everyone else is smoothly finishing their interval sets brings all sorts of negative thoughts to mind. “I’m too old” is one of them. And “I was stupid to try this with new shoes and orthotics” was another. 

I put the stupid aside and kept walking around the track that evening because I believe in tomorrow and know from experience that the injury was not permanent even if it was stupid. All the fellow athletes on the track have been where I was at that moment. All were encouraging. 

Still, when I went back a week later to the same track, the appetite for speed work had not returned. I went home and rode the bike instead. Later that week I scheduled a massage therapy session as well, because the twinges from my stupid bike accident a month earlier had not subsided completely either. Perhaps you’re picking up a theme here. There was plenty of stupid to go around in the runup to the race, which was frankly done on a whim. 


Finish RunSo I felt a bit like a re-assembled athlete standing on the starting line for the duathlon. Without much speed work to give me a clue on my real state of fitness, there was no predicting how the first run would go. During some tempo runs leading up to the race it got into my head that I wanted to try to go out at 6:00 pace. My reasoning was that I’ve always had that ability since I was 12 years old and first ran a 12:00 two-mile during a fitness test in 7th grade gym class. Why not now? 

There was just one rebuttal to that rhetorical question. 6:00 pace was exactly the pace I had been running for several 200s and a couple 400s three weeks ago on the track when the hammie went “twing!” It was rather presumptuous of me to think that 6:00 pace was going to feel comfortable given that bit of ugly recent history.  

But I haven’t been a runner for 40 years for nothing. And when the gun went off the body and mind responded. I wasn’t trying to run an exact pace so much as trying to find an intelligent comfort zone. Not having done dual-sport competition before, my main goal was to not blow up in the first segment. The race consisted of a 2-mile start, 20K bike and 2-mile finish. I didn’t want to do anything stupid. 

At the mile mark I turned the corner at 6:10 and could not help but be excited. A small smile crept across my face. The pace did not feel crazy or out of control. My lungs were not heaving and my legs were not weaving. I was not DUzed and confused. I was eager and happy to race. 

The second mile back went just as smooth, even with the long incline on the return trip. The race had separated itself out and I was in about 30th place or so overall out of 100 competitors. In fact that is where I’d finish, or thereabouts. That’s a key learning all by itself. 

Confusing goals

The men's age-group winner Bob Jones and several other competitors in the 50-59 age group were within 5 minutes of the overall winner.

The 2014 men’s age-group winner Bob Jones and several other competitors in the 50-59 age group were within 5 minutes of the overall winner. Click to view larger image. 

Going in I had researched the times for the 50-59 age group and learned from the splits that the top men had run under 12:00 pace for the first two miles and had come back in the return run in about 13:00-14:00 as well. I had no way of knowing what that might mean to my body. 

What I did recognize in the hours following the race is that the course might have been a bit short on the first run. So I went back the next day and rode the first run segment to learn that indeed, the true distance was about 1.94 miles. The difference was the 40 meters from the start to the run-in zone. There was some fudge factor in the initial run. So technically my run time was closer to 12:40 for two miles than the 12:20 I clocked on the stopwatch. 

Yet when you’re excited about racing, you take any gifts that come your way. So I was pumped heading into the transition zone. That’s where time slowed like a science fiction episode. I’m pretty sure my transition took me a full minute or so, embarrassingly accented by a final ten seconds trying to pull on my left hand cycling glove while standing at the bike start line with sunglasses fogged over thanks to 100% humidity and a sweat factor 12 on a scale of 10. Another key learning: It’s not called transition for nothing. 

On a roll

CycleThe bike section took 38 minutes to complete the 20K. That’s 19.6 miles per hour or so, which is not exactly tearing up the bike portion of a duathlon. I passed a few people in the early miles and then found myself rolling along in the company of one other cyclist who kept drifting back and then rolling ahead. Annoying. Or was it me? 

On a long incline over the I-88 overpass a pack of tri-bike competitors came roaring by with disk wheels and aero bars mocking my Felt road bike. I recognized the kit and bike of my fellow Experience Triathlon member Julie Logan who turned out to be second woman overall. I’d ridden with her once before and my girlfriend Sue noted the strength of her cycling. It was no surprise that she rolled past me at mile 7. She piled on ahead into the roiling mists of morning and I crested the hill on very familiar roads while telling myself, “Do what you can do, and be smart.” 

Transition to holy hell WTF is this? 

Having never done a brick or any other bike to run transition in my life, the first 50 meters coming out of transition from bike to run were comically shocking. I wondered if it would be possible even to break 20:00 for the next two miles. A young man was just ahead on the trail and as I passed he turned his head to me and said, “I can’t MOVE!”

We were both stepping along as if the competition were now a bar crawl rather than a duathlon. The flat trail felt like an uphill. Yet by half a mile the sluggishness had subsided and it was now a question of establishing some rhythm and get in under 15:00. I figured. I saw Julie Logan again on the return run, minutes ahead of me now, wistfully taking note of her strong stride on the return trip.

Outtakes and key learnings

Sue Photo BombIn the last two miles it was my job to simply bring it on in without blowing up.

I went light on the hydration during the right for fear of puking my guts out in the final run. So it was my strategy to breathe deeply from the belly and keep the side stitches away. And it worked. Finally cameras were snapping and my cute triathlon-stud girlfriend Sue Astra was there to photo-bomb the official finish line images. How awesome is that? At least she wasn’t racing too. She’s as strong a cyclist as Julie I believe and it might have been too mocking to have them both pass me by on the ride. RRRggggh. 

The key outtake from this one was that the excitement never abated. It was fun to race again. Fun to push a bit, though not too much given this first attempt at combining the running and riding.

Here are some of the outtakes from the effort:


1. More people passed me on the bike than I passed. Some of that was cautionary. That means there is significant room for improvement there. A harder ride would not likely have slowed me down any more Ride In Closeupthan I was already slowed by riding 12 miles at race pace. I’m capable of 21 mph at that distance, perhaps 36 minutes on the bike would be in the range right now. Specificity of training is key. Work on long sustained intervals on the bike. Train like a time trialist rather than a criterium racer. It was a strange thing for this roadie cyclist to avoid drafting altogether. It seemed stupid in fact. But that’s the sport. 

2. Sub-12:00 on the first run is possible. Some decent interval training can help gain precious seconds. It isn’t likely I’ll attain 5:00 pace again in my running career. There actually are physical limits borne of age. Defying them has its limits. But the second run can be improved through endurance training. 

3. Transitions were an absolute joke. There’s no excuse to spend a full minute in both transitions. I had to untie and retie my shoelaces in T2. That’s an easy fix. Get some sport laces. Take out 50 seconds from those two transitions and I’m at 1:10. Lots of room for improvement there. I will admit that there might have been some benefit to catching my breath between efforts. So who knows? 

4. Aero bars will help. Getting into aero position will make the long straight stretches more efficient. My climbing was good. 

5. Stay excited! The next race on September 20 is a 5K run and 21 mile bike. Straight up, flat out racing. Let’s go for it!

I’m no longer so DUzed and Confused. 




Posted in Christopher Cudworth, cycling, duathlon, running, triathlon, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged | 2 Comments

The question of whether we are getting better in the long run

By Christopher Cudworth

Local 285At the age of 9 there is nothing more that I wanted on earth than to make the cut with the Local 285 baseball team on which my older brother had played. Tryouts went well enough, but when the names were announced mine wasn’t among them. I was hurt but understood there were many good players on the team. 

The next year I not only made the cut at Local 285, but contributed to a season in which our club won the prestigious Lancaster New Era Tournament. In the second game I began pitching in the middle innings and we won 8-6. The first game we’d won 26-0. 

The great thing about playing for Local 285 was learning the fundamentals. We were taught technique in everything from hitting to sliding. Then came fielding, how to charge the ball and make plays to the cutoff man. We were disciplined yet creative in our play. As a pitcher I had absolute confidence my fielders would back me up when the ball was hit. Those were some of the wonderful lessons in playing high level baseball. 

Our coach held us to standards of behavior that fit with the goal of playing good ball. We were not supposed to wear our baseball caps on anything but game day. No swimming was allowed on game day either. No wearing our uniforms except to the ballpark. We were not supposed to play wiffleball because it could mess up our swing and our arms, but that was a rule I broke quite regularly. I still think the hand-eye coordination was valuable with the bat, but playing softball in season was absolutely not allowed. 

It would be interesting to see how that team stacks up against youth baseball teams of today. We played by Major League Baseball rules with full stealing bases and all. We practiced twice a week and played a couple games on weekends during the summer months. 

Thinking back to the team structure, I know that we didn’t pay for anything to play. The team was sponsored by the Armstrong Tile United Rubber Workers. If you made the club (and that was the trick) everything was covered after that. No one payed thousands of dollars to cover tournaments, and we did not travel other than to play teams around the county. 

Did that limit our experience or keep us from being major league ballplayers? Not likely. Plenty of kids who came through the systems in Lancaster County went on to play pro ball. Tommy Herr was one of them. Bruce Sutter was another. 

I played baseball through my junior year in high school, when running took over. Yet Local 285 was where I learned a few things about my running ability. Following every practice the coaches had us do pushups and then run a lap around a pole way beyond center field. I loved that stuff and no one could touch me in the running game. The coaches made me do more pushups so that I could not win the run by so much. Then a few more. And more. But I kept making up the difference. The challenge thrilled me. 

It was a great experience playing for that team. Yet the season wrapped up before August. There were no fall leagues. No indoor instruction either. Come August the kids I knew would all gather and play baseball on local fields. We got better doing that as well. 

One wonders then whether all the investment in youth baseball today, with 80-game seasons, $200 bats and traveling tournaments is making anyone any better at the game of baseball, or any other sport for that matter?

I coached soccer for 10 years in one of the most competitive environments in the nation. At one point an aggressive new organization came in and took over the youth traveling teams that were an extension of recreational league. Everything ramped up from the paid coaches to the pressure to turn our kids over to a system where they might bounce from team to team. It was a European model for player improvement.  

I get that’s the way to develop real soccer players. But that was not the experience my parents wanted for their kids. So we stuck together, paid our $250 per season for 10 games and one tournament and lived with the fact that we would be designated for play in the Silver or Blue divisions rather than the Gold or Platinum leagues where the supposed superstars were all deigned to play. 

Yet when we scrimmaged the top teams in our programs we typically only lost 3-1 or so. There’s no doubt there was better coaching on the top teams. We still held our own. 10 out of 15 kids I coached went on to play high school soccer.

Years later when I was recalling the days of coaching those teams, my son turned to me and said, “Dad, I don’t remember a single game we played. But I do remember the practices. We had fun.” In high school my son came to me and said, “Dad, when I’m running track I’m 25% happy. But when I’m in drama I’m 100% happy.”

I told him: “Then the decision is made.” He went on to act and direct plays all the way through college and beyond. He’s studied improv in New York City, met major comedy stars and uses those skills in many aspects of his new consulting business. 

The point here is that we might be missing the point of youth sports with all this pressure to turn games and activities into a youthful profession. The three-sport athlete has virtually disappeared. Most sports are year-round activities or you don’t play at all. 

I think back to my training during the summer months between track and cross country in high school and it wasn’t that impressive. Perhaps I could have been a better runner and made it downstate had I put in 500 or so miles in June, July and August. By maybe not. I played basketball for hours at a time all summer. Played baseball too. Rode my bike for miles on summer nights. Once or twice a week I’d go for a run. And participated in summer track, but not with much intensity. 

When we turned out for HS cross country practice in August we got into shape pretty quickly. Freshman year my best time was in the low 17:00 range. Sophomore year I ran 16:23 for three miles. Junior year it dropped to 15:15 for three miles and as a senior I ran 14:49 for three miles but did not make it downstate because our sectionals had four of the top five teams in the state of Illinois. You can get as good as you like and fate can still intervene. 

Overall the competitive environment in the early to mid 1970s was at an extremely high level. Craig Virgin had just set the Illinois state record of 13:51 or so that still stands to this day. But it was the depth of quality runners that was more impressive. Through the early 80s you had to run sub-14:30 to place in the top 25 year to year. The winning times for the next few years following Virgin’s record were in the 14:00 range. 

Luther Cross CountryThere were quality runners every year in Illinois for the last four decades. But the times and depth have not improved so much that one could actually say today’s runners are better than they were 40 years ago. The proof is absolute. Either you can run three miles faster on the same course or you can’t.

Fast runners were everywhere. The group of five freshman cross country runners who entered Luther College together in 1975 could all run sub-15:00 for three miles in high school. And that was at a Division III school. 

I get the similar impression that road race times are not any faster these days either. When flipping through Competitor Magazine or some other publication that shows results it can be fun for me to go through the local 5Ks and 10K picking out races that I would have won with my normal times of 15:00 for 5K and 31:20 for 10K. There aren’t that many regional runners posting those times. Does it matter? 

Still, it’s a weird phenomenon to me. With all the superior shoes and better tracks and 40 years of running knowledge now supporting the run community, shouldn’t today’s runners be superior to those of us who broke ground back then? As a running shoe guinea pig I put things on my feet that should not have been worn by mountain goats, yet we somehow found ways to go fast in them. 

I look at kids entering the running world now and they’re starting earlier than ever. Fortunately the experiences seem to be participatory and positive. The middle school meets I’ve watched are full of encouragement. Dozens of parents line up and cheer for every single runner on the course. In some ways the final kids get more cheers than the winners. 

That’s a hallmark of today’s distance events in general. One hardly sees reports of who won what race these days. It’s almost inconsequential to the event as a whole. Plus the general media has shrunk so much there’s no room any more to put the results of high school cross country meets in the newspaper. All that has migrated online where the churn of news is so heavy the results of today or yesterday have no more significance than the recovery four-miler you just ran. The combined effects of emphasis on participation, not just winning, and the proliferation of social media where you essentially manufacture your own press has turned every accomplishment, no matter how small, into a matter for cheering each other on.

But does that make us better in the long run, or simply satisfy our hunger for attention?  

Of course the fact that people pay so damned much to participate in events these days may also be having some effect on the overall celebration of who wins and who doesn’t. The runner or cyclist or triathlete who pays $60, $80 or $200 to enter an event––and wins––is technically no more valuable to the monetary gains than the athlete who takes two hours to complete a 10k. It turns out money is the great equalizer in the end. It might mean more to raise money for a good cause than to actually win a race. 

It all feeds into a massive maw of social competitiveness that has become less well-defined than ever in terms of understanding what’s important. 

The point here is substantive, not qualitative. The question of whether we are all getting better in the long run due to our participation sports is ultimately not one of comparison, but of reconciliation. We have come full circle yet arrived at a different plane of existence. With millions of moms now out there running, it’s no longer just the accomplishments of the kids that matters. And with millions of dads extending their active years through endurance sports, perhaps the appreciation for the role of youth sports will ultimately evolve, and change. 

There’s no doubt the quality of play exhibited by the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago deserves attention, or that young lady Mo’Ne Davis. Phenomenally interesting. 

It will be a great day when we begin to appreciate that the experience of our kids in youth sports should be targeted toward a lifelong love of fitness, health and activity. That will make us all better in the long run. 





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A hiccup over running a hick over

By Christopher Cudworth

28681777Yesterday a black SUV-Jeeplike thingy came within 10 inches of striking me on the bike. The buzz was clearly intentional as the engine was also roaring with acceleration as the vehicle passed. 

I get the whole “hate cyclists” thing. I really do. There are times when I get angry at where cyclists choose to ride on the road. But rather than run them down, I want to get out and help them better understand how to ride single file on busy, narrow roads. It’s not hard. 

At the same time we all wish people better knew how to separate hazards while driving on the road. This scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles illustrates the worst case scenario.That moment when Steve Martin realizes they really are driving the “wrong way” is classic. Not only are they going the wrong way, they completely fail to separate hazards on the road! In fact they pile right between two trucks. 

The scary thing about that clip is that it isn’t far from the truth with many people. Rather than think ahead to an approaching situation they bear down on and barrel through expecting the “other guy” to make room. The ability to separate hazards seems to have been forgotten since Driver’s Ed class. 

Either people just don’t care how they drive, or think they know better how to drive, or they use the road as their personal palette for expression of all sorts of emotions. 

Primal scream

It’s no small truth the fear poor driving decisions can create. When the SUV-Jeep Like Thingy buzzed me I screamed obscenities aloud. The aggression was disturbing. But not surprising. 

Because I’ve seen it so many times before. The Cultural Divide. That space between liberal society where resources are shared and the segment that believes “I’ve got mine so get out of the way” has gotten broader and wider. 

There are reasons. Cyclists and runners and swimmers tend to be an urban or suburban bunch. Not necessarily liberal, mind you, other than the fact that they believe sharing the road is generally a good thing. 

But just try riding your bike on rural roads where pickup trucks rule and people don’t really want to see your lycra kit with pretty patterns on it. Never mind the shaved legs and all.  It’s a Cultural Divide. 

Other worlds

Gander_HuntingWhich is why it’s quite interesting for a cyclist and runner and swimmer like me to step into a store like Gander Mountain where the Cultural Divide would appear to be on full display. 

Now for some background: I grew up as a hick kid. There’s still a lot of hick in me to this day. It has been swept over to the liberal side in the sense that I’m a birder and an environmentalist. I’m only a casual fisherman these days, and not anti-hunting. By my roots come from fishing, hunting and knocking around the woods getting dirty. 

All that backwoods stuff kept my worldview rather earthy all the way through my teens. My parents were farmers and I grew up kicking shit around a barn in Upstate New York.

When we moved to Illinois I still went to school with farm kids at a little high school in the cornfields. Yet many of my classmates were also from wealthy families recently moved to the country from the city of Chicago. And one day while standing there in the middle of the football field waiting for my turn to do the long jump, one of my track teammates walked up to me and said this: “Cudworth, you’re a hayseed.” 

And in many ways, he was right. I still preferred knocking around the woods to experimenting with the urban habits of some of my classmates, which notably included powerful bongs and street drugs. Here’s the funny truth: I was a hick athlete who didn’t want to try any of that stuff.  

Didn’t even have my first beer until I was a junior in high school. Can still recall the harsh rip of cold Stroh’s beer going down my throat. Then another. Then we were running around outside stupid and drunk as kids will do. 

But it didn’t make me any smarter. Or sophisticated. 

Sense of wonder

Great horned owl, acrylic on board. 11" X 14". 2013.

Great horned owl painting by Christopher Cudworth, acrylic on board. 11″ X 14″. 2013.

As the years went by my hickdom transmogrified. In college I still spent hours hiking the backwoods of Decorah, Iowa. Those wild hills were so beautiful and mysterious I began to write about them as well as paint the wildlife I saw day in and day out. That’s where I built on my sense of wonder at nature. 

So I was still a hick of sorts. 

That brand of hickdom has not entirely left my soul. I still love the outdoors. Camping. Riding trails. Running fields. 

The country brand

However I’m not a hick in the sense that I love country music, dress in camouflage and drive a pickup. That seems to be the message of how to behave when you shop at Gander Mountain.

To me that all feels like affectation. It has nothing to do with any of the experiences I had on the farm growing up. When I went fishing with my brothers in the Susquehanna River near Bainbridge, we sang Beatles songs to each other. Even a song snippet from the Revolver album was enough to make us smile. 

Though we spent hours in the field, none of my birding buddies ever liked country music. In fact my best mentor in the field was a biology teacher with a sophisticated grasp of music and a beautiful voice. He sang in church, a fact I did not learn until his funeral. Then it made me cry. Most of what I learned from him in the field, other than new bird species, was a great library of dirty jokes. 

Hick factors

So I suppose there’s a real gap of sorts when it comes to interests and tastes. And perhaps there’s more than one kind of hick in this world. Or hayseed. Whatever you want to call it. I’m one still. I admit it. 

I still find it disturbing to go shopping at Gander Mountain and be subjected to that brand of music that seems so regressively dim-witted. The twang and harangue, you might call it, rife with that ugly brand of false patriotism that confuses God and country so easily. As far as I’m concerned, America is only exceptional in one way: a segment of our population has always fought for individual equality in terms of race, gender and orientation. To me that’s the purpose of the Constitution and all it’s Amendments, plain and simple. 

One cannot make generalisms about whether that’s true with Gander Mountain customers or night. Fishing and hunting obviously attract diversity. Outdoor sports are enjoyed by blacks and Asians and Indians and other Indians as well. 

It does make me wonder; if country music and camouflage seem to be the dog-whistle hallmarks for outdoor sports like hunting and fishing, what is the music and symbol for those of us in the more urban sports of running, riding and swimming? 

No better symbols

8-devil-guy-crazy-tour-de-france-fansMy companion noted that we’re no better than anyone else when it comes to cloying self-identification. “We have our ovals and logos just like everyone else.”

She’s right. We proclaim our identities one way or another. 

Which probably doesn’t help the road wars any. When it comes to identities, the human race is always measuring each other up as “the other” in an attempt to grab some social advantage. Some argue that’s the entire enterprise of politics. Those who succeed in getting elected artfully pit one group of people against another to earn votes. They leave the divides intact in time for the next election. Then they add more fuel to the fire. That’s how America got where it is today. We’ve allowed ourselves to be duped into fighting with each other while the politicians and wealthy oligarchs gobble up the money. 

It has made the world a much harsher place. 


One wonders however, if at that moment when a driver actually or accidentally strikes a cyclist or pedestrian out of aggression, if there isn’t at least some shock of recognition and hiccup of humanity that runs through them after they’ve just run over another human being. 

The blood is just like their own. The limbs. The exposed bone. The lurching breaths and pain. The ambulance and the lights and the gathering crowd. This is it. You’ve done it now. The anger makes no sense even after the point is made. Suddenly The Other is one and the same. 

And any other viewpoint is a crying shame. 


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Running around the sport of golf

By Christopher Cudworth

Sue and Chris on golf courseA friend of mine once said to me, “I love golf, but I hate golfers.”

When asked what he meant by that, he explained that the sanctimoniousness of golfers was what bothered him. 

In case you need a definition of that word, here it is:  sanctimonious; holier-than-thou: making an exaggerated show of holiness or moral superiority.

As a person with a lifelong affiliation with golf thanks to a father who absolutely loved the game, I grew up around golf courses and golfers and agree there can be a certain trifling reverence for golf that perhaps it does not deserve.

I lived next to the Meadia Heights Golf Club in Lancaster, Pennsylvania from the ages of 5-12. Of course I wound up golf caddying at a very early age. It was horrid. What joy is there in lugging the bag of a golfer around a hot golf course? The money was good I guess, but to me it always felt like four hours of hell. Listening to golfers mutter about their previous shot or the upcoming attempt to hit the ball near the hole never fascinated me. It was only when the movie Caddyshack came out that most of us who suffered through caddying and hated it felt vindicated in any way. This exchange alone describes everything you need to know about caddying. 

Carl Spackler: So I jump ship in Hong Kong and I make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas.

Angie D’Annunzio: A looper?

Carl Spackler: A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I’m a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald… striking. So, I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one – big hitter, the Lama – long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga… gunga, gunga-lagunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, “Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.” And he says, “Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.” So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

Caddy cred

As this story indicates, it was a caddy’s job to guide the golfer in all those respects. Later in life I even took to a business journal and defended the caddy for Tiger Woods who took credit for some of his success. Pro golfers shouted the caddy down, but it is hard to argue that there was not some relationship between the discipline the caddy brought to his craft considering the lack of titles Woods won after he cut the caddy from his employ. There’s more to golf than hitting the ball, it seems. Yes, we all know how pro golfers spend time on the range and handle pressure. But that’s their job. Dissing someone who helps you do it better is no way to show true character. 

Something in me always bristled at the sense of entitlement shown by so many golfers. Some golfers barely acknowledged their caddies during the rounds I carried. In the caddy house it was always known who amongst the club members were “good guys” and who were not. The dour, red-faced jerk who could barely look you in the eye might have been a profound success in business, but that didn’t change our attitude towards him on the golf course. Of course some of that might have been anxiety borne from being a poor golfer. No one likes to admit that.

Golf cheaters

To avoid the shame and save face some golfers even resort to cheating. One of my former bosses was a great cheater. He fudged his scores and could be seen using the foot wedge to get out of tight spots when his errants shots wound up in the rough or worse. We all had to bite our tongues while filling out the scorecard. His 8s magically transformed into a 6 on a regular basis. He was petulantly defensive in other areas of his life as well. Which proves that golf often is a masterful reflection of one’s true character.

It was amusing but distracting to play with players who got so angry at their game they lost control. During one outing with some other businessmen we were treated to a constant stream of blue language by a man who owned a local printing company. His cursing took off like a flock of birds after every shot he hit. After a while one of the other players in our foursome drifted over to my side and said, “Printing must be a tough business.” 

Golfing social

Golf is a social game, I will grant you that. With no real degree of physical effort involved, other than swinging the club and walking back and forth to the cart or from hole to hole, players are free to banter and jest if they feel like it. Many drink or smoke or flirt with the cart girls if they can. 

Women golfers have had to struggle for respect in the predominantly male sport of golf. Recently one of the leading golf magazines featured only its second woman on its cover. She was the hot wife of a pro golfer, not an actual player. So sexism rules supreme in the sport of golf. Even pro women golfers must consistently deal with the emphasis of looks over ability. Cute blonde golfers with nice legs, short skirts and perky breasts get plenty of TV coverage. So there’s even a racial tinge to the enterprise of women’s golf. 

Running around like golfers

Contrast all this with the evolving premise of the sport of running, where fully half the participants in major marathons and other running events are women. Sure, there’s still fascination with looks in all sorts of sports, but the equality that comes with the “open road” and getting your ass visibly kicked has taught plenty of men to respect their female counterparts in endurance sports. 

There are other factors of equality as well. The daily involvement in running has a far lower economic threshold than does golf, where equipment, course fees and other costs make it prohibitive to participate. 

Indeed, golf as a sport in America is somewhat hurting right now, at least at the local level. There are so many golf courses and not enough people willing to play them all. Course fees are high as a rule, averaging $36 for a round of 18 holes according to Golfsmith.com. Even Dick’s Sporting goods recently released the entourage of golf professionals hired to staff their golf equipment departments. The demand simply wasn’t there. 

That’s not to say that the sport of running is cheap, either. Entry fees even for 5K races now top $30 on a regular basis. Half marathons, marathons and ultra-distance events cost even more, often topping $100. Triathlons can cost hundreds of dollars. 

But that’s only if you choose to compete in races or events. Millions of men and women run or ride without participating in paid events. That’s the biggest difference between a sport like golf and an activity like running. Even a day at the golf range costs you money, and it’s not much fun chipping golf balls around a local park. In many places it is discouraged due to the divots and the possibility of striking a resident with an errant golf ball. 


Liability and litigiousness of that nature has evolved to the point where runners are no longer welcome on either public or private courses. The way golf courses figure it, there is enough risk that paying customers will get hit by wayward golf balls. Why accept the risk that some runner could get hit when they haven’t even paid to be on the course? 

The risks of getting hit by bad golf shots are genuine because frankly, most people who play golf are actually pretty bad at it. Here’s a video just to make you laugh, a kid practicing his golf swing ricochets a shot off a tree and hits himself. 

It has made me sad over the years to lose the opportunity to go running on golf courses. There are very few courses that allow runners to run on their property. I learned to run long distances on that golf course in Pennsylvania where I grew up. One of my neighbors used the course to train for his long-distance running career in which he competed for Penn State and ran a 4:04 mile. 

Running courses

In high school and college our cross country meets were often held on golf courses. For years the national Division III cross country championships were held on a golf course in Wheaton, Illinois. Sure, the turf got a little torn up, mostly in areas dominated by rough, but the real damage to golf courses was always slight. 

Running down a fairway in light training flats or competing in running spikes on short grass is one of the most liberating sensations you can find in running. Crossing firm turf with a bit of give is a bit like running on an all-weather track. 

And perhaps you’re not even aware there is such a thing as Speed Golf? That’s right. There are leagues and everything. Check it out. 

Golf hazards

There are hazards to running on a golf course. I was training once on a golf course near my place in Paoli, Pennsylvania at twilight. Buzzing along on 400 meter intervals run from tee to green, I failed to see a red rope strung in front of an approaching green. My thighs hit the rope at 5:00 pace and I flipped like a button on a string pulled tight. Lying there (writhing actually) on the cool grass made me feel like I’d landed in another world. 

For a long time after college it was hard to relax while playing golf because there were so many associations with competing in meets on golf courses. My mind would go back to a race recollection and I’d be distracted for the next shot.

When I was running in golf course meets there were distractions as well. At one point during a four-mile cross country race against the University of Northern Iowa, I had grabbed the lead and was rounding a corner next to a pond. Up popped a bird known as a phalarope. As an avid birder I was so tempted to slow or stop to identify the species, which I had potentially never seen before. My desire to win the race won out over the goal of adding a new species to my life list. But it was a tossup for a second or two. And I did win the race, the only time I took a victory in college cross country. 

Improving with age?

Sue swingsAs I’ve aged my running abilities have waned a bit. My golf game however, has improved. I now shoot in the mid to high 80s on a regular basis. That’s a little better than bogey golf most days. I don’t play very often, probably 3-4 times a year. So each round is a treat. Most recently my companion and I played a pretty little golf course called Lost Nation out by Dixon, Illinois. She wore a cute little golf skirt and has a very nice swing. We had fun, then had beers and chicken wraps on the deck overlooking the first tee. 

The next morning we took a run from the cabin where we were staying and snuck out onto the golf course. Morning dew still covered the fairways and the mower guys were out buzzing the greens. We stuck to the edges of the fairway and cut across the rough, putting in three miles on the course where we’d played golf the night before. “This is wonderful,” she told me. 

My legs appreciated the soft turf. I thought back to all the times I’d run on the golf course over the years, and how I grew up wandering free and wild, sometimes chasing deer through the woods next to the course. Those feelings were such a contrast to the idea of lugging someone else’s golf bag around the course while they groused about their golf game. Perhaps that is why I still run around the sport of golf rather than take it so seriously. 

The New Golf? 

One thing golfers can thank runners for: golfing footwear is immensely improved thanks to technologies borrowed from running shoes and cycling. Golf shoes used to be little more than wing tips with cleats attached. Now golf shoes have carbon fiber soles, curved footbeds, arch support and countless other features that make better shoes for golfing. 

I have read several articles recently suggesting that running, cycling or triathlon could turn out to be the “new golf” when it comes to building connections and networking in the business world. 

That remains to be seen. It’s pretty tough to converse in any depth when you’re cycling on a windy day. It doesn’t get much better in a triathlon either. We must assume that most of the socializing and networking takes place in association with these sports rather than during the actually running, riding and swimming that takes place. 

It’s an evolving world, for sure. Let’s all go play around. 


Posted in Christopher Cudworth, cycling, half marathon, marathon, running, swimming, triathlon, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Running at the speed of light, or something like that, according to Strava

By Christopher Cudworth

My last run on Strava provides proof of the incredible results I've gotten from recent training.

My last run on Strava provides proof of the incredible results I’ve gotten from recent training.

I just ran 126 miles in 9 minutes and 35 seconds.

That’s an average of 4 seconds per mile.

That puts me around the world in about 14 minutes on a 354 foot elevation gain. 

Getting faster

I bet you did not know I had that kind of speed, did you? In fact I’m thinking of calling up Usain Bolt to challenge him to a 100 meter race. At the rate of 4 seconds per mile I think I can leave him pretty much in the dust. 

The training

Of course you might ask how I got this fast. Well, it took some work, I’ll tell you. Months in the weight room for starters. I also did some deep knee bends and some burpees. Those always made me faster. Just ask any junior high gym teacher. 

Changes in Diet

I also changed my diet a little bit. Mostly that involved a few more packs of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. That seems to have helped a bit. Thanks to my new diet my former training pace of 9 minutes per mile is now improved to 9 minutes per 126 miles. And that rocks. 

Secret Formula

Maybe it all started with that mix of Gatorade and Accelerade I accidentally created earlier this summer. With a water bottle half full of Accelerade, I dumped a bit of Gatorade in there and man was that must have been a powerful bit of drinkee-poo. Because look at me now. 

The Right Gear

The only problem with running as fast as I do now is keeping my clothes on, In fact by the time I finished the last few miles of my 126 mile run at just over 4 seconds per mile, I would up completely naked. Clothes just dissipate in that kind of wind, and your skin stretches a little. So it’s important to use lotion when you’re all done to help your epidermis snap back into shape.

Fortunately people can’t even see you when you’re moving several hundred miles an hour. Makes you feel like a real superhero. 

Agility and Speed

Another problem running at that pace is how to avoid running into things. You have to learn to look ahead a little, like an entire county at a time. You have to know the terrain pretty well overall, and stay off the main roads because some motorists just freak when they figure out there’s someone actually running much faster than they can drive. It upsets the whole power balance of the road hierarchy, you see. How can drivers claim to be King and Queen of the roads when their precious vehicles are outmatched by someone hurtling by them on foot?

God Forbid I should ever ride my bike that fast. Their heads would explode in jealously and rage. 

Cross Training

In truth I am considering the idea of applying my newfound speed in a cross country trip by bike. If I can double my speed by using a bike that would put me at 2 seconds per mile. At that rate I could cross the country in a oretty decent time. Indiana and Ohio would not seem so boring.

Perhaps I can even afford to lose a second or so per mile by carrying packages or delivering drugs. Might as well make money with all this speed. 

Increased Volume

Anyhoo, I hope you’re impressed with the results of my training this past few months. Obviously at these speeds my training volume has had to increase quite a bit. I’m now running 1000 miles a week, which means quite a few pairs of running shoes have bitten the dust these last few months. Fortunately because of my forefoot strike and rapid cadence I can essentially wear the cheap shoes that cost less than $100. 

Yes, it goes to prove that a few tweaks in diet, training and raw speed can work wonders. I’m planning to do a duathlon this coming weekend. I hope to finish in under a minute. That should win my age group. I might even have a shot at the overall. And at my age, that’s saying something. 


Posted in Christopher Cudworth, cycling, running, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments