Tied to the whipping post

Christopher Cudworth:

When do we turn away from violence, or do we run away?

Originally posted on Genesisfix's Blog:

By Christopher Cudworth

dscn9203.jpgThe Sirius XM Classic Rock channel blaring through my speakers last night featured a song by the Allman Brothers titled “Whipping Post.” That song is technically about the songwriter’s mistreatment by a woman who is unfaithful to the point of emotional pain. He draws the comparison between repeated “whippings” by his gal to being flogged by a whip.

That metaphorical use of a whipping post surely grabs one attention. The idea of being tied up and beaten bloody is not an appetizing thought. In fact the Starz cable series The Outlander recently featured a scene in which a Scottish rebel is beaten bloody to the point of flesh flying away from his back by a sadistic British officer trying to exact punishment and extract confession of disloyalty to the English king.

It doesn’t work. The Scottish lad refuses to emit a cry even when his back is lacerated…

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Any world that I’m welcome to

By Christopher Cudworth

Bubble OneOn the way across a wet field this morning I glanced down to see two bubbles intact in the grass. It was impossible to tell how long they had existed or how they got there. Were they the product of a child’s play the night before? Or were they more mundane, the result of someone washing their car in the nearby apartment complex.

Bubble TwoThey looked like two little worlds unto themselves. The entire universe was reflected in the surface of those small spheres. Infinite colors. Infinite everything

By day’s end of course they would be gone. No bubble of that nature lasts forever. But those of us that have blown bubbles and watched them float away, some big and some small, revel in both the creative flair and the ephemeral nature of their existence.

As kids we purchased giant bubble makers. A foot across, they would release bubbles larger than the size of your head. These creations would blub and float and then congeal into slightly droopy spheres. Some preferred to run after these orbs and pop them.

I always loved watching them move across the yard on their own accord. Invisibly moved by some draft of air, they were a world unto themselves.

It seems that we have so many thoughts and dreams that work just like those bubbles. As a young boy I wanted to play pro baseball, then pro football and finally pro basketball. Some of those sports I actually played well enough to make teams and win championships.

Bubbles of change

It was never my “dream” as a child to become a runner. That bubble came about much like the ones I found in the field this morning. My father refused to allow me to try out for the high school football team. Tough as I was at that age, a child of 5’10” and 128 lbs was ill-suited for the game of football. Winning the local Punt, Pass and Kick competition meant nothing either. Those skills were about as related to playing the real sport of football as throwing stones at a bird on a fencepost qualifies you as a pitcher.

So it was that I became a runner, and loved it. From there the dream evolved into an obsession at times. Through high school and college and beyond I lived in a world that revolved around running. Fall, winter and spring there were cross country, indoor track and outdoor track seasons. Then came summer training as well.

Real world bubbles

The running bubble persisted even after college. As a competitive road and track runner I set all my PRs post-collegiately. That improvement sustained my notion that the bubble was worth chasing a while longer.

But by the time I was in my late 20s and married, I chose to essentially pop that bubble. And within a year of cutting back on the training commitment my times expanded and it was no longer so fun to race. I’d decided there were other worlds worth pursing as well.

My Runner’s World and Running Times magazine subscriptions ran out and I did not renew them for a while. I kept running for fitness however, and enjoyed my weekly mileage without obligation of racing or facing those pressures so readily applied in the competitive years.

I now know that I might have turned down a few more excellent years of racing. But there are no regrets. The world I’d chosen was fulfilling enough.

The RUNNING poster is available for $20. Click for information.

In the interim, I wound up serving the running world in interesting new ways. I’d renewed my magazine subscriptions to have something interesting to read and to keep pace with the world of running. When an article of mine was chosen for publication in Runner’s World, it was noticed by a race director in Lake Jackson, Texas, who asked me to donate artwork similar to that published with the article. I did so, and that set off a relationship with the Brazosport Run for the Arts that lasted five or so years.

In the third year I turned the artwork I was donating into a RUNNING poster for the race. It earned the Runner’s World Cream of the Crop award as one of the Top 5 running posters in the country that year. In succeeding years I did other posters as well. It made the trip fun every year to have some excitement built around the awards ceremonies. The race also featured world class runners from Kenya and America’s leading distance talent. Even the prodigious Eddie Hellybuyck made an appearance one year. His wife was his agent, and we sat around the breakfast table exchanging running stories like old teammates. It actually felt good to be back in the running bubble again.

By today’s world class standards and a marathon record of 2:03-something, the career of Eddie Hellybuyck with a 2:11 PR seems almost quaint. Yet running 5:00 pace for a marathon is still a relatively rare commodity in today’s running world. Even local 5K and 10K races are seldom won in paces much faster than that. The world of running has evolved and improved in some ways and not changed all that much in others.

Now that I’ve somewhat returned to the world of running and love the world of cycling and triathlons too, it feels a bit like coming down in Munchkinland. The colors and characters in tall socks, clown shoes and bodysuits all seem so exaggerated. All our newest gear looks like it was designed by representatives of the Lollipop Guild.

It’s yet another world, and welcome to it. It’s called going with the flow.

Because as Steely Dan once sang:

If I had my way I would move to another lifetime

I’d quit my job ride the train through the misty night time

I’ll be ready when my feet touch ground wherever I come down

And if the folks will have me then they’ll have me

Any world that I’m welcome to

Any world that I’m welcome to

Any world that I’m welcome to

Is better than the one I come from

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The 10 things that you’re not doing for your running that are holding you back

By Christopher Cudworth

TrackYou’ve hit a plateau. Stopped improving. Stuck in a rut. Can’t figure out which distance is best for you?

That means you’re not doing something right. Here’s how to fix it.

1. You’re not running fast enough often enough

Speed work once a week does not cut it folks. Long slow distance and even race paced training will not make you faster. You need to set up workouts that put you in a zone where you’re running as much as 20% faster than your race pace. Only then will you push your muscles into a response rate that makes race pace feel slower than it actually is.

2. Training in your racing shoes

If you don’t put on your racing flats except for race day, you’re blowing the opportunity to teach your body, especially your feet and legs, how to act during race conditions. Buy some racing flats and train in them once a week.

3. Shorten your stride and increase your leg turnover

Most runners have a really slow cadence in their footstrikes. Overstriding is the fastest way to slow yourself down. Cut down your stride and increase the cadence and practice that on the track at known, empiric paces. You will see improvement.

4. Run more hills, more often. 

If you can’t find a hill on which to train, run stairs. Going up puts pressure on your feet, ankles and knees, forcing you to use your quadriceps to drive your stride and your hamstrings to pull the leg through. It’s strength work.

5. Speaking of strength work…

Do it all year round. Go to the gym if you can and do hamstring curls, weighted knee bends (holding 10-25 lbs in each hand) and work on your core with planks and pushups. That’s all it takes. Stop making excuses and get stronger.

Julie on bike6. Find an alternative sport

Cycling is a great compliment to running. So is swimming. You need these activities to still train when running fatigue makes your muscles or joints sore. But here’s another hint: play some hoops or tennis to build tensile strength in your joints.

7. Train with people better than you

If you don’t get into a group that pushes you, the training you are doing will never hold up against the competition you want to beat. Being pushed is vital to getting faster.

8. Stop making excuses after races

There is no such thing as “I could have had a better race.” You didn’t. That’s because you’ve trained your brain to prepare for giving in, then justify it later. Woulda-coulda-shoulda is no way to behave. It’s okay to say “I didn’t do as well as I’d like” but to say you COULD have done better is not the path to salvation. Use your shortfalls to find ways to get better. Using your excuses to take the pressure of yourself does not help you improve.

Helicopters with runner9. Enter a race that challenges your perceptions

It’s easy to find races close to home that hardly matter. It’s another thing to do somewhere and invest in the process to put some happy pressure on yourself. Then get rest, dedicate yourself to the cause and don’t fritter away your preparations by staying up late drinking and eating the night before. Sanctify your efforts and you can challenge your perceptions. If you’re used to doing long races like marathons, jump in a 5K again. If you’re looking to go up in distance, use the simple rule of only doubling your racing distance at first. This is a process, not an insane path to hurting yourself.

10. Keep your most precious goals to yourself

Talking your life away is not the way of a champion or even a good weekend warrior. There are some things best kept to yourself, and your deepest goals are something you should share only with those absolutely closest to you. That counts your coach or other confidants.

There you have it. 10 practical ways to get better at running. Don’t say you weren’t told.

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There’s no sin in enjoying the ride

IMG_0242

After a summer of staring at the cyclometer and measuring up to the Strava app that tells us where we rode, how we rode and who beat us on every pedal stroke, it seems like a good idea to dispense with all that and simply ride.

After a morning visit to church on Holy Cross Sunday, in which Christians are invited to contemplate the true meaning of being nailed to a slab of wood and bled to death, it also seemed to make sense to get out and make sense of the world.

There’s a relationship between those two modes of suffering, you see. The athlete’s propensity to suffer and the Christian’s will to embrace the torture and death of Jesus Christ as salvation for the sins of the world are tied together at the very knot of being.

article-2013327-0CF455CA00000578-386_634x383What else could explain the patent suffering of the athlete nailed to the bike at the perineum of being? Clipped to the pedal for miles of agony. The bike is a cross of sorts. It helps us through the catharsis of daily life. What’s that saying? “It never gets easier. You just go faster.”

And another saying: “When you’re wrestling a gorilla, you don’t quit when you’re tired. You quit when the gorilla gets tired.”

In other words, the competition of life never relents.

Except when you choose to relent.

Which meant that my companion and I drove our cars to a choice spot on the northwest side of St. Charles, Illinois, and rode our bikes 31.5 miles on a loop that climbs up and over a high point near Burlington, Illinois. We did it without suffering. We did it without pain. We did it together for the sake of enjoying our joint levels of fitness and to enjoy the company we share, and our time together.

That’s no sin.

8-devil-guy-crazy-tour-de-france-fansBecause I for one do not embrace a faith of total suffering for the sake of religious dedication. You won’t find me with metal barbs piercing my flesh underneath my business suit to remind me that Jesus died for my sins.

Sure, there’s a time and a place for appreciating sacrifice.  But there’s also a time and a place for breathing in the sunlight. I mean that both literally and figuratively.

We rode happily into a southwest breeze that seemed more amused than tortured by our presence. It was not hard climbing the hills once we’d warmed up. But we decided jointly not to kill it on the climbs anyway. Just ride.

Looking over at her face in 5:00 late summer light it dawned on me how much time we’d spent together on the bike this last year or so. Just last week we thundered through an approaching storm, wind and rain, with neither of us complaining, just enjoying the ride for all its possible misery. So we’re not daytrippers. We don’t avoid the difficulty.

Cud RacingThere is always time to consider our sins and enough time to punish the soul. It is just as important to come to grips with what you can let go, and do it. No sin in forgiveness either, or forgiving ourselves. That’s what the Christian aspect is truly all about.

It’s not just blood on the cross or flesh on the ground, ripped from the back of a penitent Christ by Roman flogging. The crown of thorns that sometimes feels like a bike helmet? It’s okay to remove it. Set it down. Even ride without it on days when the pedaling is slow and the tires are fat. Ignore the risks. Enjoy the ride.

This whole penitence thing does have its limits. There’s a fine line between Holy Cross and Holy Shit, it’s time for a break.,

And when you cross that line, you may find the sun shining, the breeze pleasant and the pedaling magnificent. You might find yourself in a little slice of heaven, or perfection.

That’s where we found ourselves yesterday. In case you never understood that kind of existence, the bible supports that too. This life is not supposed to be all misery.

So don’t be so cross with yourself. There’s no sin in enjoying the ride.

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I’m going to get Nicholas Cage to star in a movie about my running and riding career

By Christopher Cudworth

nicolas_cage_festival_de_venise_mostraIf I got hair implants I’d look just like Nicholas Cage. That makes me think the resemblance might work perfectly in the opposite direction. And that’s why I’m going to write a screenplay about my life as a runner and cyclist and ask Nicholas Cage to play me in the movie.

He can’t be that hard to get these days. After all, he’s starring that horrible farce of a concept movie called Left Behind. Sure, the authors of those books made millions if not billions playing on the violent fantasies of frightened Christians hoping Jesus Christ is coming back to whisk them off to heaven soon.

photo (72)It’s a perfect Nicholas Cage plot, of course. He’s always played tragically misplaced characters in his movies. Weatherman was about a guy abused for his climatological instincts. He kept getting hit with stuff thrown at him by other people.

I’ve lived that reality. Back in the 1970s and 80s people threw stuff at runners out of car windows all the time. I got hit by water balloons, soda bottles and once was nearly clipped by a pair of randy underwear tossed out of a vehicle. I stopped running for a minute and tried to think what the heck that really meant. Turns out it really meant nothing. Some things are like that in this world.

And that’s very Nicholas Cagey too. He’s always staring into the camera with that “What does this mean” look of his. I can do that look pretty well. As well.

So the convergence of my life with the characters played in movies by Nicholas Cage set the stage for the story of my life in film.

CudworthEnglertWith a little makeup and a bunch of extra hair plastered on his head, Nicholas Cage can play a youngish me at 16 years old running high school cross country. Clad in short shorts and made up with one gray bit of enamel where a baseball once knocked out my front tooth, Cage will look the tragically needy type that most of us runners were in the 1970s. We ran for acceptance and to prove we weren’t wimps. It didn’t help that some of us wore crooked wire-rimmed glasses and had arms as thin as pipe cleaners. But we made do.

Sooner or later the film would capture my young self making out with a young girl in the back seat of an oversized 1970s car. She would have slightly crooked teeth and pale breasts. But that wouldn’t matter to a young Chris Cudworth trying to get some action while his older friends drove the car around laughing under their breath at the rustling in the back seat.

Then came the move to a new town, and making all new friends. Nicholas Cage would be great in the scene where my ability to dance actually made a strong impression on the girls and my new friends in the new school. Then came fall and cross country and a team that went 9-1 while the football team went 1-9.

It was heady times being pursued by the lead cheerleader who slept with the top runner each year. But I was too innocent and a bit dumb to truly recognize the potential of that situation. That would be a great contrast to the bold efforts leading the cross country team on the trail of success, winning meets and a district championship. We sang Who songs naked in the shower, a perfect misty scene for Nicholas to play up for pathos.

Then Nicholas could play me going off to college with a still thick head of hair. But not before the blowout end of summer party where we all drank ourselves mad into the night and went skinny dipping in the local pond that sat black and still in the night.

Proof that Nicholas Cage could play a younger and older me. I'm sure he'll love the role.

Proof that Nicholas Cage could play a younger and older me. I’m sure he’ll love the role.

College was a heady rush of long miles and competition for the Top 7 spots on the team. Cage would be perfect in the role, framed on the big screen with a rolling camera catching his carefully stitched hair blowing straight back while his desperate breathing filled the sound track.

Perhaps a dream sequence here, where Cage lies sleeping fitfully as flashes from his young life roll through his mind. The domineering father. Competitive sibling rivalries and fights. A swirl of confused and angry thoughts. Cage wakes to find himself in a cold sweat. He knows now why he runs.

The dream sequence segues into the sudden act of falling in love with a green-eyed girl under an August moon in Wisconsin. We see the walks in the woods, the holding hands across campus and some passionate lovemaking in the college dorm.

At this point in the movie the hairline of Nicholas Cage begins to recede, ever so much, to reflect the destiny of one Christopher Cudworth.

As the movie winds on the penultimate college meet comes around, with the dramatic chance to lead the team at nationals. Cage plays the 21-year-old me running those last 200 meters in slow motion. Because it really felt that way. Then the triumph. And the celebration with a college girlfriend.

4ad1e6849And then college winds down and with it the strange glory of college dreams and athletics. The real world impinges on the happy world of Nick/Chris and his girl. They split under a July 4th sky with lightning coursing through the thunderclouds.

And then sadness. But Nicholas is shown running through long Illinois nights figuring out what comes next in life. As he runs back into fitness, a new dream emerges. He loses a job in the Reagan economy (with film clips of the vacuous Great Communicator inserted for ironic value) and he decides to not go back to work for a bit. He runs full time. Begins to win races again. He starts to write a novel on a jury-rigged IBM Selectric typewriter. It is a story about competition, and running, and we see the typewriter letters racing across the page superimposed over the moving image of Nicholas Cage as Christopher Cudworth running down the Chicago lakefront at full speed. Lake Michigan flashes in the background, and the Chicago skyline. And as the giant letters increase in size on the screen the camera moves in to a closeup of the face of Nicholas Cage, now with a full on receding hairline. He is running with a squint on his face and sweat on his brow.

And then it ends. Black screen. And the movie title appears at full width.

COMPETITION’S SON.

Oh, and the riding part? That’s in the sequel.

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The fading light of September

By Christopher Cudworth

photo (89)The month of August is such a beautiful thing with its yellow flowers, flat blue skies and crickets singing up the twilight.

It lingers into September, this feeling that summer lasts forever.

Then it occurs to you the light is fading fast come evening. That bike ride or run starting at 6:00 finishes in burgeoning darkness. If any clouds mask the western horizon the murk settles even quicker.

Last evening my companion and I managed to get on the bike by 6:30 and headed south with the wind. To the northwest the clouds looked like dirty dishwater. One lonesome cloud to the east, lit by evening sun, stood pink among a sky full of oyster shells around it.

We rode on a wide industrial drive and dialed the bikes up to 25 mph. Then the road curves and we cut through the wind from behind our backs, then the side. On we went together, spinning and winning some prized exertion.

Heading north the sky began to spit and sputter. Our sunglasses flecked with raindrops. “Here it comes,” I smiled and she chuckled something like, “Whatever.”

She is a resolute gal on the bike. Sometimes I cannot read her feelings or form for the life of me. She simply doesn’t let small things on the ride get her down. Not rough roads. Not spiraling winds. Not hills or heat or aching feet from riding hills in the heat on a long day in Wisconsin. She rides. She deals with whatever comes.

The stretch of road from Eola and Butterfield north into Fermi Lab is closed to traffic these days. A broad gate blocks the entrance where one could once happily enter the lab property from the south. It has long since been closed to the public. We creep our bikes around the gravel path and set up to ride again. The road is rough. Badump badump badump we go.

The wind is in our faces now, and the rain. We ride side by side because it feels like cheating to draft on this section. He strong legs work through each pedal stroke and by this time in the summer we are fairly fit together. It’s fun even though the conditions…well, they suck. That is one of the tarsnakes of riding. Sometimes the worse the weather, the more the ride means.

Tarsnakes wait to take you down. Across the intersection of Pine we go, curving into the wind with the rain horizontal and piercing. We’re at 20 mph again, into the gale, and we trade pulls. The light is pretty much gone now, dimmed even further by our cycling shades.

The long last stretch we ride to the west remains a windfest. We top 20 again and trade even more pulls. Then we approach the east gate and the rain lets up. We’re sheltered from the wind by a break of trees and all seems calm. A big truck pulls out from the industrial park ahead of us and she jokes, “Maybe he’ll help us get a light this time.”

Twice that evening we had not registered as real traffic to the stop light sensors at two other intersections. You fake it through on those occasions, riding into a red light hoping it will turn green for your side too. These are the things that motorists just don’t get. Our skinny bodies and bikes and tiny blinking lights barely show up in the big dark world as autumn lurks. We have to make it up as we go along. The rules of the road often don’t apply to those of us on bikes and on foot. We make it through however we can.

SchwinnAnother three miles home through town we keep the speed high and enjoy the sensation of rolling along in the half dark. It reminds me of being a kid again, of riding the Huffy 3-speed and occasionally borrowing the big yellow Schwinn Paramount owned by a friend. We’d ride around the little town of Elburn at night, crossing under streetlights in all seasons, not caring about cold or darkness. No helmets. Just hair to protect our heads, and lots of it.

At home we peel off our sunglasses and laugh. “It’s not that dark after all,” I joke.

“Yeah, right?” she chuckles in return while fiddling with her Garmin and Strava. At least someone’s paying attention to us. The satellite above the earth has watched our ride, traced our signals in a big square route that looks contrived on the app map.

We dismount and store the bikes. The next morning she is going for a run on her training schedule. The day dawns at fifty degrees. Chilly. Raw, even.

This is how it goes. We ride the summer right off our backs it seems. The tan on our knees fades with the light. Candles take over from citronella. The mosquitoes hang in there a week, hoping for one last suck of blood before buzzing their way into oblivion.

It’s not all bleak. There will be more mornings bright and warmer than we thought possible. It’s just this first burst of autumn that sets you on edge. The whirr of your bike tires matches the hum of crickets in the ditches. That can’t last forever. But every revolution counts. “The earth keeps turning,” she wisely notes as we enter the house.

Indeed it does. And so do we.

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Playing hooky on the road

By Christopher Cudworth

ferrisWhen Ferris Bueller took his famous day off from school, he was able to pack a lot of activities into playing hooky. Ramming around with his girlfriend and nervous buddy was a work of art for Ferris. He knew how to play hooky the right way. 

Those of us less blessed with such skills were glad for the few occasions when sneaking out of school was possible. It was always a relief to have a ready-made excuse like an orthodontist appointment to get out of class. That was an obligation too, so the playing hooky part was reduced the small window of joy when your mom or dad picked you up from school until you came back to class. 

If you were really lucky the appointment might let you skip math and social studies and get you back in time for gym class before lunch. That was a good long time away from studies. Then all you had to deal with was the growing tightness in your teeth from the work of the orthodontist. 

Really playing hooky by faking you were sick required a bit of talent too. With Ferris the trick of getting the thermometer to read a bit higher (a fever!) was just part of the act. But that was just the start of playing hooky…

feris friedn

Anxiety

There was always a bit of a guilty, lonesome feeling when you’d actually fooled your parents into letting you stay home from school. You could hear the call being made to school, “Chris is not coming in today. He’s not feeling well…” your mother would say. Then she’d come back into the room and check you one more time before heading off for the day. 

My mother worked as an elementary school teacher so she was gone from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 or so. That meant eight hours of lonely bliss and usually some more guilt about the unfinished assignment that made me want to play hooky in the first place. 

First there was morning TV to watch, often focused on the model hotties on The Price is Right. Then came the soup your mother set out and finally some actual sleep, or drawing, or doing something stupid you could not do if you were actually at school that day. 

Playing hooky from work during later stages in life had much the same pattern. But as a guy with nearly perfect attendance at work I never had much use for playing hooky. One day I was invited at 10 a.m. to the home of one of my fellow salespeople for the newspaper where I worked. When I arrived at his house three salesman were sitting with their feet up watching TV and eating snacks. “I can’t believe you’re doing this today,” I offered. 

“Today?” one of them replied. “We do this every day!”

FBgirlfriend

Anger

Honestly that really ticked me off. I went home to talk with my wife that evening and was exasperated while explaining to her that all of them had better sales territories. Business tended to roll their way. My territory was weak in retail and required a lot of hustling around to stay in good graces with the business owners to earn the few advertising dollars they had to spend. 

Ironically two of those salespeople with their feet up on the coffee table that morning went on to become managers at the company. I’ve often wondered how they would have felt if they’d known their top salespeople were now sitting home watching Mayberry R.F.D. and the Dick Van Dyke show. Just like they did. 

Running away from guilt

The only time I truly played “hooky” was during the lunch hour. Occasionally I’d find a place to change clothes and go for a run. The one fitness club in the community where my sales territory was located did not then have a shower. It was pretty much one of those “lifter” gyms where huge dudes and overwrought gals trudged in and out to lift major weights. There was a basic locker room with one light bulb. I’d run, come back, towel off, thrown on deodorant and head back to the streets and more advertising sales. 

I’d also change in the basement of a friend who owned a downtown barber shop. He had a hot tub so I could at least rinse off after a run. 

We’ll drink to that

Too many beers may have contributed to a hallucination of an apparition below the street during Ironman Wisconsin.

Too many beers may have contributed to a hallucination of an apparition below the street during Ironman Wisconsin.

My schmoozy boss didn’t like any of us taking time for workouts during the day. His idea of a perfect lunch was two or three martinis with a client, closing a deal on more business. Anxious young man that I was, drinking during the day simply made me more nervous. I could never process details after drinking alcohol during the day either. So HIs way was not My way.  

Getting in a run during that era was equivalent to playing hooky. Never mind that having time to think and process some of the pressures of sales might actually help performance and productivity. 

Changing times?

It seems like companies have grown in their perspectives in these categories of thinking. But most still have policies limiting employees to one hour at lunch. You can’t get to a club or get changed and get much of a workout in that way. People do it but one wonders whether the mental benefits of exercise are compromised by the stress of having to rush through so much. 

Now that I’m running my own marketing business there is a still a feeling of playing hooky if I go out for a run or ride during the day. It’s taking some time to realize that my main priorities are getting the work done, and done well. When that happens is not so important as how the client feels about the work, and how it works for them. 

So the occasional bike ride does happen at noon, usually an hour or so in length. Then I get back to doing the project with a fresh, enervated mind. 

It’s not playing hooky if you’re still contributing to the progress and the process of creativity and productivity. The more schools, companies and organizations that realize that, the better the world will be. But we’ve still got a long ways to go before feeling like we’re not playing hooky on the road. 

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On becoming an Ironman or something like it

By Christopher Cudworth

An Ironman competitor runs up the spiral transition zone from the lake to the parking deck and bike racks.

An Ironman competitor runs up the spiral transition zone from the lake to the parking deck and bike racks.

The mission of Ironman weekend in Madison, Wisconsin was clear.

Drive up to Madison on Saturday. Hang with the Experience Triathlon crew for the pre-race dinner. Get up early to watch the swim start at dawn. Work as a volunteer during the middle part of the day at the first water station on the marathon course. Gather again near the capitol building to cheer ET people on at the halfway mark of the run. Then grab a bite to eat and wait for the marathon finish. 

It was a long day for all of us. Of course it was not so difficult for as for those competing in the Ironman 140.4 in Madison. As in…2.4 miles of swimming takes a bit of energy. So does 112 miles of biking. And running 26.2? Yeah, there’s that too. 

But for 2400+ people there was nothing they could think of better to do on a Sunday than compete for 8-16 hours. In fact the typical Ironman these days draws numbers like that, for which most local 5Ks would give their eye teeth. People pay quite a bit for the privilege of drawing themselves down into the abyss of fatigue and pain. It costs $675.00 just to enter the race. 

Entering an Ironman

Want to enter an Ironman? They’re held in some interesting places. According to BlurtIt (a website with which I was not previously familiar…) there are 7 Ironman races on mainland US each year. These include: Ironman Arizona, Ironman Coeur d’Alene, Ironman Florida, Ironman Louisville, Ironman St. George, Ironman USA in Lake Placid, Ironman Wisconsin and Ironman Hawaii. The world championships take place in Kona Hawaii for a total of 8 U.S. Races.  

That means about 14000 people will compete in an Ironman race each year in the U.S. with income from entry fees alone at about $9.5M in 2015. 

The line to sign up for the Ironman 2015 Madison race stretched 300 meters. And that's just for people who volunteered this year.

The line to sign up for the Ironman 2015 Madison race stretched 300 meters. And that’s just for people who volunteered this year.

So these are pretty big events in terms of logistics and budgets. The very next morning after Ironman, Wisconsin, the line to register for next year’s race stretched out of the Monona Terrace Convention Center for 300 meters into the parking lot. The orange shirts of this year’s volunteers colored the line because helping out means you get to register early for 2015. 

Brand me an Ironman

The Ironman brand seems to have gone beyond even the top marathons in terms of event pull and draws. A visit to the website documents the worldwide influence and events including Half Ironman events, Sprints and Olympic distances. 

Fans seem to love the events, and thousands lined the Wisconsin course in downtown Madison. Six deep in many places. Out on the hills west of Mount Horeb even more fans lined a series of steep climbs titled the Three Bitches, all situated in the unglaciated driftless region south of the Wisconsin River. 

Like all Ironman races, the course in Madison is a combination of urban and suburban environments where the start, finish and transitions take place. Then the rides take off through the country into scenic terrain. The runs begin for most in mid-day glory and end in ignominious but still-thrilling darkness. In Madison, it all centers around the capitol building with its 15-foot-tall statue of a woman holding an Ironman Water Bottle. 

Okay, we’re joking about that last part. But the city does pretty much turn itself over to the Ironman every September. The finish itself features the opportunity to circle the Capitol toward a narrowing chute filled with bright lights, thumping music and the chance to have your name announced with the words, “You’re an Ironman!” 

But I’m not an Ironman

Our merry band of Next Years. Suzanne Astra. Glenn Robieki. Julie Dunn. Lida Kuehn.

Our merry band of Next Years. Suzanne Astra. Glenn Robieki. Julie Dunn. Lida Kuehn.

Of course if you’re new to all this Ironman stuff, the whole scene is a bit immersive. There’s really no half way in the Ironman world. You’re either training for your first Ironman, recovering from your last Ironman, planning for your next Ironman, or wearing Ironman gear ranging from Ironman watches to every other conceivable piece of clothing, gear or skin onto which an Ironman logo can be stitched or grafted. Ironman tattoos proliferate on those who complete the Big Kahuna 140.6. 

Yes, it’s a bit rich, and overkill. So is the mentality in training for any event in which you’ll be moving for half a day. When you’re in the company of other Ironman athletes or wannabes, the question comes up all the time. “Are you doing an Ironman?”

Between ten and 30 times the question unfolded in my lap over the long weekend. Sometimes it came from sympathetic husbands or wives who, in seeing you in the company of a future Ironman athlete, asked you almost sympathetically. “Are you doing the race next year?” Then they handed you either a beer or a Kleenex, whichever seemed appropriate. 

Too many beers may have contributed to a hallucination of an apparition below the street during Ironman Wisconsin.

Too many beers may have contributed to a hallucination of an apparition below the street during Ironman Wisconsin.

I got asked the Ironman Question by hotel clerks, waiters and one bum lurking in the sewer below the street right on the race course. I was staring down at the water trickling beneath the sewer grate when a wise old bearded face appeared below my feet. His eyes creased shut as he winced, “Are you doing an Ironman next year?”

Okay, I might have been imagining that thanks in part to the three beers I’d just ingested at Capital Brewery restaurant in downtown Madison. The entire town is one big party for Ironman weekend. That’s Madison… 

And there really are some strange people in Madison and always will be. It’s a (thankfully) liberal town with a healthy dose of artsy hobos who sit on park benches talking as if they held their Ph.D’s in Park Benchiness. They look smart for homeless folks, in other words, and there’s no telling where they come from. One homeless yet well-known personality was named Art. He was a giant of a man and a window-washer by trade. His fame in the city led someone to produce a set of bright orange tee shirts that read, “What is Art? Art is a Window Washer.” So there you have it. Life imitates Art, and art washes windows. But he’s dead now. 

Orange tee shirts abound

Those of us volunteering on the race course also happened to be issued orange tee shirts so that we could be identifiable while handing out a feast of race goodies ranging from flat Coke to brown bananas. Seriously, race food is pretty gross. The goo packs and other seemingly ingestible items could be mistaken for suppositories. Yet when you’re doing an Ironman you’ll literally eat anything they stick in front of your face if you know what’s good for you. You simply can’t swim, run and ride for more than half a day without eating and drinking. You’ll die. 

Which fortunately was not the issue in the lake this year. The lake chop was low and the swimming was sweet. Even the heat held off on the bike and run, barely reaching the high 70s. So those of us in orange tees did not look like the horrid result of some heat-driven mirage. We did our jobs for a few hours and then retreated to bars in downtown Madison to drink and cheer the runners on. 

Marching on our next stop in the Ironman Wisconsin Tour. Eats and relaxation after four hours of handing out food and junk.

Marching on our next stop in the Ironman Wisconsin Tour. Eats and relaxation after four hours of handing out food and junk.

The plot to succeed

The other goal was to get inspired to race 2015. Our group of four plus me was in attendance to volunteer and qualify to get in line for early signup for next day. 

That meant keen attention was paid to the condition of all those competing. Were they fat or skinny? Tall or short? Big boobs or little boobs? Was anyone throwing up? The answer to all these questions was Yes, and maybe somewhere. 

Ironman people come in every shape and size, including unreasonably out of shape looking human beings who can still go the distance. In fact this former track runner cannot conceive any range of attributes that actually make you an ideal candidate to compete in the Ironman. Where distance runners are lean and cyclists are strong-legged, Ironman competitors look like they just spilled out of an XSport gym on a Tuesday afternoon in June. There’s no apparent rhyme or reason why any one of them is there or able to swim, run or ride faster than anyone else. They just do what they can the best way they can do it. And people cheer madly for their efforts.

 

A band of Experience Triathlon teammates blocks the setting sun while searching for signs of teammates running up the boulevard to the 14-mile mark.

A band of Experience Triathlon teammates blocks the setting sun while searching for signs of teammates running up the boulevard to the 14-mile mark.

The scene of an Ironman would be a horrid joke if it weren’t compelling in its outlandish, determined sort of way. There were people completing the race that I would not have bet $10 on to finish a local 5K running race, much less 140.4 miles of everything you can throw at them. 

Which is part of the appeal, we must suppose. It’s not about being a pro, or lauding the pros. It’s about promoting the idea that You Can Do It. That’s the plot to succeed. 

The long way home

Therefore the main theme (as mentioned) when you’re decently fit and in the vicinity of an Ironman or an Ironman training club is this: When will you do an Ironman. People repeatedly ask you if you’re all tuned up and ready to go for the next Ironman race. 

Conversations in such quarters feel like an Ironman slalom in which your primary goal is to get around the Ironman question without hitting any of the gates that would tip the person off. But when they ask, you learn to smile and say simple things like, “I’m still working on my first sprint triathlon.” But I’ve also been sarcastic at times, responding, “No, I tend to die when I swim,” or “I’d like to do an Ironman but I need a lobotomy first.”

This rather drunken fellow and his comely mate were later removed for being a little too enthusiastic in their cheering while spilling beer on the athletes.

This rather drunken fellow and his comely mate were later removed for being a little too enthusiastic in their cheering while spilling beer on the athletes.

Not so funny

Among true Ironman aficionados I have learned the sarcastic replies are not very much appreciated. People take this shit seriously and turn away or leave you to find your own way home after the party if you diss their favorite sport(s). 

I don’t really think Ironman people are crazy. I really don’t. I’ve done plenty of crazy endurance stuff in my life and am proud of it. Why should I deny anyone else their particular brand of craziness? After all, our Presidential elections run much longer than they should as well and the results there are often crazy. 

What I really mean to say about the whole Ironman thing is that it’s a great equalizer in terms of human experience. It’s not “just” men or women or anything inbetween out there competing and completing the race. Your tits and ass or the size of your crank don’t matter in Ironman World. It’s how long and hard you can keep moving, and moving on. As a New Rule, men are no better at Ironman than women. Blacks are no better than whites, and vice versa, or whatever. Race and religion simply don’t matter, unless you consider Ironman its own religion, and there is some signs of evidence for that. 

It all has a religious feel to it when people come charging out of the darkness into the light. They raise their arms and slap hands toward the close of the race as if salvation were near. The Finish Line beckons, and that’s where you get to emerge from the hell of movement into the heaven of repose. That’s when you discover the mystery of becoming an Ironman, or something like it. Indeed. 

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Present and accounted for

By Christopher Cudworth

IMG_2214On Tuesday we went to yoga class at Shine in Batavia. A stand-in instructor led us through an incredibly smooth practice in which the mind fused with the moment. During her pre-practice talk she had emphasized the importance of being fully present. It’s not just the poses, she offered, it’s the mind as well that matters. 

Which reminded me of another practice years ago. The week before nationals in college cross country our coach had overhead some of us speaking negatively about training and how much we’d done. “We have an opportunity,” he explained, “And we must not let it pass.” 

To prove his point about the verity of our training plan and the nature of our opportunity, he had called leading coaches across the country to get their opinions about our program and preparation. One of the calls he made was to coach Ted Haydon, leader of the University of Chicago Track Club, home of world-record holders such as Rick Wolhuter, who happened to be from my hometown in St. Charles, Illinois. Our coach talked to other coaches from Wisconsin and smaller schools to gather input and prove to us that we should not view ourselves as burnt out from a tough competitive season. Instead we were ready to go when the national meet came along. 

He sent us out that afternoon into waning October light with simple instructions. “No talking. Just run.” For six miles we clipped along at the prescribed pace, saying not a word. 

It was magical. It was intense. It was what we needed to feel the moment and sense what was about to come. 

Later that week we placed second in the national meet despite the fact that we’d been fifth place in the regional. We beat all those teams and brought home the highest piece of hardware the cross country program had collected to that point. A few years later Luther College would rise again to take first place on a hot day at nationals. When other teams faded, Luther moved forward. That’s an art unto itself. It requires presence. 

Being present. And ready. 

It’s all about being ready for that moment when opportunity comes along. It’s also about not undercutting your preparation by saying things that bring doubt to the forefront of your mind. 

That makes you present and accounted for. 

There is a paradox of sorts in being present. The shorter the race, the more intense the mental preparation and positivity must be. For sprinters that moment of opportunity is short and sharp. 

For distance runners and cyclists in longer events, the idea of presence must be sustainable. That is, you often have to recharge your brain as you go along. That takes discipline. You learn that in training. Then racing. All things point toward a certain day. It is the accounting of presence in what you do along the way that matters so much to your long term success. 

IMG_2157

Wisdom pops

Of course bad things can happen that take your mind off the goal. The morning following the amazing yoga session the ball of my foot started to sting like I’d been stung by a bee. It swelled after that, then turned purple as the day wore on. 

Apparently a blood vessel popped, possibly as a result of putting pressure on my left foot while doing side planks in yoga. It hurt when I was doing them, so perhaps I was a little too “present” and ignored a warning sign that trouble might be brewing. 

We endurance athletes all do that at times; muscle pulls, stress fractures and sundry other aches and pains crop up thanks to our ability to tune out pain. We’re so present we ignore the presence of those warning signs. 

That big gear you pushed in cycling 50 miles can come back to haunt you with knee pain the next day. That means you should be present enough to maintain a higher cadence rather than mashing along. 

Or you get done running and figure out that you’ve run 30 seconds faster per mile on a rest day. You feel so good, but the next morning there’s a dull ache in your foot or knee. Your body is telling you “Back Off.” 

Presently wise

A few weeks back while doing the first speed workout I’d done in several weeks due to achilles problems, my hamstring twinged and that was that. I pulled out of the workout and walked it down. It was better three days later when I started running again.

So being present has all sorts of iterations when you think about it. Being present means accounting for all kinds of responses from your mind and body. 

There’s no easy path sometimes. We learn our lessons the hard way. 

But one of the best ways to figure out what you should do is to shut down distractions and focus on the moment. What do you really feel? What is your body really telling you?

If you’ve done your preparations well, your body and mind will tell you, “We’re ready to go.”

That’s how I felt in the days leading up the first duathlon I’d ever done. I was excited even though training had been cut a bit short by tweaks in injuries that were now healed. 

So here’s the moral of the story: Being positive, realistic and present really is the greatest present you can give yourself. 

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Is sex before competition good for you?

By Christopher Cudworth

Is God Dead? No one can tell. They can't take their eyes of Susan Sarandon's geography.

Is God Dead? No one can tell. They can’t take their eyes of Susan Sarandon’s geography.

National Geographic wants you to know that having sex before competition might affect your performance. The linked article says it might be good for you, or it might be bad for you. Frankly we’re a little surprised here at WeRunandRide that this article did not appear in Time Magazine or Newsweek. Those two publications are famous for articles about controversial topics that teach you nothing at all about what the cover story or headline says it is really about. 

For example, back in 1966 Time did a cover story titled Is God Dead? The article leads off with this tantalizing bit of scandalous questioning (by 960s standards): “Is God dead? It is a question that tantalizes both believers, who perhaps secretly fear that he is, and atheists, who possibly suspect that the answer is no.” 

That’s a great start to an article if you want to confuse the ever-living crap out of people. But that’s the spirit of inquiry at most big publications. Magazines like Time or Newsweek or even National Geographic can’t actually afford to take sides and come to a conclusion about anything lest they be really informative on something an lose reader interest. That’s because these days most people don’t want to read anything that might actually change their opinion on a subject. They’ve worked too hard to build their fortress of partisanship and rock-hard convictions. God Forbid something should come along and knock down their house of cards.

That’s why more and more magazines focus on saying little while publishing articles such as this dandy cover headline from the July 2014 Runners World, which reads: “Run Strong. Stay Cool. Train Smarter. Hydrate Like a Pro. Get the Best Gear.”

Notice where that headline leads. Most of these articles are really designed to lead you to the interests of the advertisers, who pay for the magazine to be published and distributed to your doorstep or your Internet portal. See, there’s really not too much to be written about running or riding or swimming that wasn’t first published back in 1972. That’s when we all ran in zero elevation shoes, pushed on a light pole to stretch our achilles and stayed to the right side of the road so that no one would hit us on our bikes or during a run. It’s simple. 

But these magazines have a great stake in having you come back month after month in hopes of finding that secret training formula that will turn you into a world class runner, rider or swimmer. But if they give you actual answers there would be nothing left to publish, and no reason to come back for more. That’s how magazines have operated since the dawn of time. Even the Bible has the same philosophy. Just give them enough to be dangerous, and then invite them back to church each week to tell them another cryptic way to find God, be happy and keep your soul intact. 

Insufferable

But that reticence to actually teach rather than titillate might ultimately explain why so many print magazines are suffering these days. Instead of actually having the guts to tackle an issue in full, they walk a line that basically frustrates readers into thinking they’re not actually bright enough to get the real point and meaning of the article. That makes everyone feel smarter for trying even when they’re no wiser for having read 900 or so words on a particular topic 

Why else would National Geographic be writing about sports and sex? Isn’t the job of National Geographic to wander around the world taking pictures of Afghani women with spooky eyes so that we can all stare at her and marvel at the commonality of the human condition? 

Titillating publications

Wanna have sex? She dares you to stare at her boobs.

Wanna have sex? She dares you to stare at her boobs.

Yes, that’s exactly what National Geographic is supposed to do. Except National Geographic The Magazine wasn’t titillating enough all on its own to survive. Those photos of naked African women with their breasts hanging out were great for young males dying for titillation in the 1960s, but too much competition came along. As a result, most magazines have moved online where people can interact with the content and give wise opinions like, “I would agree with this article in principle but I don’t agree with it in principal. And I blame the Democrats for that.” 

Actually the article in National Geographic about sex and sports appeared on their website back in 2006. That was two years before Barack Obama was elected, so we can’t be sure if Obama is really at fault for an increase in athletes having sex the night before competition or not. We do know that plenty of people are complaining Obama is taking too much vacation and playing too much golf, and Clinton played golf and had sex in the White House, so there must a connection of some sort. That’s how Fox News looks at these things. 

Truth about golf and sex

In truth most men only wish that things like vacation and golf would lead to sex. In fact the only thing that really leads to more sex is a huge pay bonus that enables the household to buy an entirely new kitchen. That will definitely get you laid. 

Golfing? Not so much? Going golfing generally gets you higher credit card bills because if you’re the man of the house and go golfing for five hours you are going to have to deal with the fact that your neglected wife will want some retail therapy, preferable at a cute little dress shop where everything is overpriced and the women attendants flit around your darling wife telling her things like, “That looks great on you.” And she will agree. 

Advice about cute dresses

In case any of you guys didn't know, this is what a Cute Dress looks like. Memorize it an issue a compliment next time you see one.

In case any of you guys didn’t know, this is what a Cute Dress looks like. Memorize it an issue a compliment next time you see one.

Which brings up an important point. If your wife comes home from a cute little dress shop and you get home to find her admiringly transfixed with a pile of new dresses on the bed the very best strategy to get yourself laid is to tell her, “Those look beautiful. But they’d look even better on you. Why don’t you try one on and we’ll go out to dinner at the cute little place by the river where they serve wine in purple paper cups.”

Even National Geographic can tell you that’s some smart thinking, right there. It’s one of the tarsnakes of sexual pursuit that the harder you focus on the subject, the farther you drift from the goal. The way to a person’s heart is always through their interests and feeling good about themselves. It’s not the zippers that count. 

A few words about athletes and sex

But the reason National Geographic even got talking about athletics and sex is because athletes tend to run around fucking like little monkeys if they get the chance. Being in shape and being around other people who are in shape is just about the biggest aphrodisiac in the world. Lord knows the Olympic Village is typically one giant humpfest from the Opening torch to the Closing ceremonies. That sound you hear coming from the Olympic dorms is not the screech of some powerlifter working on their form. That is an Olympic-sized orgasm shared by two athletes wired for sexual success. 

Athletes are known to be pretty decent lovers. They are at peace or even thrive in their bodies. They are healthy enough to have sex, unless they’re on steroids, in which case their wooden nuts have been known to catch fire and explode into testicular flames or simply fall out like to numb little marbles with no other purpose than to roll under the cabinet and gather dust balls. Pun intended. So stay away from steroids. 

Hyper little distance monkeys

Here is an early morning photo of a distance runner hanging around hoping for sex.

Here is an early morning photo of a distance runner hanging around hoping for sex.

Distance runners tend to be really hyper lovers. They’ve got all this stored up energy and no fat to hold them back. Making love to a male distance runner is, I have been told, like fucking a gibbon. All arms and legs and opposable thumbs. The only thing missing is the prehensile tail, and there are rumors some male runners grow those now and then out of sheer hormonal fury stored up from miles of training. 

Then there are the cyclists whose super hot girlfriends in short little skirts stand around near the finish line looking like they’ve just wandered off the streets of Monaco. Go to any cycling competition, even the women’s races, and it seems like these short skirt girls are there. Some of them actually ride, but more of them perhaps spend more time riding the cyclists themselves. That would be certainly be an interesting for National Geographic to research and write about. Because it perhaps would provide real information about whether athletes do better or worse in competition after having sex.

From personal and associated experience it has been my observation that a bit of good sex of any sort is a very relaxing way to spend time the night before a competition. Many of my teammates over the years have even showed up at the team bus looking rosy and happy the morning of a meet. There is simply nothing more life-affirming than morning sex. One teammate literally ran from the bedroom in his spikes to line up and run a 4:18 mile and win the race. So don’t tell me sex is bad for athletes. 

Crazy Squirrel (Callospermophilus lateralis)The love given and received in the act of lovemaking is the most natural exchange of good feelings known to humankind and beyond. I’ve watched squirrels humping in trees. One has not lived until you’ve seen two squirrels smile with their big orange teeth and those cute little ears. 

That would make a nice photo for National Geographic too. 

One giant gene pool

Triathletes are evolving into one homogenous, transexual gene pool of fitness madness.

Triathletes are evolving into one homogenous, transexual gene pool of fitness madness.

It’s also becoming evident that the gene pool of the triathlon community will someday merge into one giant organism. That’s because triathletes are typically a little incestuous within their own sport. Scientists have studied the potential effects of this and determined that by the year 2056, all triathletes will have interbred, merging into one tri-umphant race of beings thanks to the power of recombinant DNA and a few too many energy bars. All those hyper-rich foods will someday make sex between triathletes unnecessary. They’ll simply be able to rub websites and transfer sperm and eggs like frogs in some Amazon forest. Both women and men will be able to give birth, and all children will be bornwater in a burst of Gatorade and Shot Blocks. The umbilical cord will be fixed to the drawstring of the wetsuit and able to be pulled free like a parachute cord. Welcome to sex and procreation between triathletes in the future. These abilities may re-define the notion of the core family and traditional marriage, but evidences points to the fact that process is already under way. 

Sex and sex and sex and sex and look at meeeeee….(Mick Jagger)

Mick Jagger never let too much slow him down. Why should you?

Mick Jagger never let too much slow him down. Why should you?

So let’s get down to the matter of conflict and purpose about sex and sports. Many coaches will tell you that having sex is bad for you leading up to competition. According to National Geographic, it’s never been proven one way or the other, except by the athletes themselves, who go humping their merry way to PRs and such without ever telling the coach.

We know the truth, don’t we? Sex helps rid you of anxiety, the killer of all motivation and determination. It can also make you feel loved, the most powerful force in the universe. Athletes know that sex doesn’t hurt your aggression the way coaches would like to make you think. Nor does it distract you from focus on the event if you accomplish the deed within reason. 

So we say go out and do it. Even Nike told you so. Just Do It. Hit It. Make IT Happen. You’ll run, ride or swim faster. But even if you’re not faster, you’ll still be a happier person, which is why we do all this shit in the first place. 

Just be advised that bad loving isn’t so good for performance. For all the good things that good sex can do for your performance, remember that good sex means having respect for the other person. And if you don’t have time for that when you’re in the Olympic Village, at least consider the importance of mutual lust and trust. These things are not just important for the whole sex thing to work, they help your head as well. Bad loving leads to bad performances. So you might as well make it good, very good. 

The End. 

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Posted in Christopher Cudworth, cycling, duathlon, half marathon, marathon, running, swimming, Tarsnakes, triathlon, We Run and Ride Every Day | 4 Comments