What one small bird can tell those of us who run and ride

By Christopher Cudworth

OvenbirdThis time of year is peak migration season for songbirds. Millions of birds are moving south for the winter in search of food sources and warmer temperatures.

It’s a tough go, made even tougher by the fact that in the last 250 years there have been a lot of obstacles erected in the path of flying birds. Tall buildings in Chicago regularly knock thousands of birds from the sky. By necessity and out of compassion a volunteer crew of avid birders moves through the city streets from dawn until rush hour each morning collecting dead birds and shipping stunned but still living birds out to the Willowbrook Wildlife Haven in Glen Ellyn where they are rehabilitated if possible, and released.

The birds that aren’t collected are often eaten by crows or gulls, which also move through the city at dawn scarfing up free meals. Up to 5000 birds a season are rescued and released. Many of these are rare or precious species of birds whose populations have been impacted the last 200 years by human changes to the environment.

Fight or flight

IMG_1152Humans have a lot in common with birds you see. The adverse environmental impacts that affect birds include pesticides, pollutants, habitat and wetland loss. Climate change of any type, warming or cooling, is also known to have major impacts on bird and human populations. The somewhat ironic fact now is that anthropogenic (caused by humans) climate change is turning tables on everyone who lives on the planet. Birds and humans are now interlinked in new ways.

There is talk that climate change may reduce bird populations by millions. Entire species may vanish from the earth, creating a mass extinction on par with past decimations wrought by meteor collisions with earth, volcanic eruptions and long term climate heating and cooling brought on by natural shifts and systemic change.

This time climate change is happening so fast the effects are measurable by visible degrees. The rate of change is unprecedented. Ice core samples in the Antarctic show consistent, regular cycles of climate change over 800,000 years, but never has a spike like this one occurred. As a carbon-spitting race of beings we’ve spiked the climate punch.

Strange histories

IMG_8455Climate change deniers like to point to the long and ancient history of earth as a sign that human beings could never affect systems so big and large. Ironically these perspectives are partnered with religious view that contend the earth is not that old, perhaps 10 to 30,000 years old, tops. Collectively these views are held by something like 30% of the American population, the exact figure that matches up with diehard conservative voters.

What an odd, contrarian mix of beliefs it is that forms the alliance of climate change deniers! Meanwhile changes to our weather produced by global warming confuse the issue even more in the minds of those who choose to deny climate change on ideological grounds. Here in Illinois last winter we had the coldest, snowiest weather imaginable. Some seemed spitefully content to grumble “so much for climate change,” yet they should have listened to their own words. Climate change was exactly what set up a new Polar Vortex that sent cold air rushing down from the arctic.

Big patterns

We’ve known about systems like this for a couple centuries now. The Gulf Stream keeps northern Europe climatologically stable. Without that warm water from the south, Europe starts to freeze. Climate change could screw with that.

Already we’ve seen glaciers melt away from major mountain systems. There is concern that reduced snows in the mid-Rockies could result in river systems drying up across the central United States. Irrigation in California due to drought is already messing with agriculture and the ecosystems of that state. Major economic, political and social changes have already been implemented to contend with changes at that scale. Is it a symbol for what’s to come on a global scale?

Rolling changes

IMG_0330So you can see that we humans and birds are dependent on the same natural systems to sustain us all. And how does that affect those of us who run and ride?

A few love to jest that warmer weather would be a welcome adjustment in the northern climes. Some speculate that in 100 years the climate of Chicago could be just as warm as New Orleans. We know from the fossil record that entire continents once received much warmer temperatures. Massive tropical environments hosted dinosaurs that grew to huge proportions because there were food sources and the environment to sustain them.

But when the climate changed, things got serious and massive die-offs occurred. It can still happen. Denying the impact of human effects on the atmosphere and the climate does no good. When big picture climate change gets really rolling, there’s no stopping it. It’s like trying to stay away from the peloton as a solo rider. We could all get scooped up by the fast pace of hot weather brought on by global climate change.

Tiny signals

I studied that little ovenbird carefully this morning. I’ve seen birds that were stunned before. This one sooner or later got its wits back together and flew away. That bird was victim of an artificial circumstance. The reason birds hit windows is that they perceive the reflections they see as a reality. They fly right at the window as if it were a woods in which to escape.

The only way to change that perception in birds is to alter the false appearances by placing objects on the window that warn them off. It’s not just cosmetic. But its also not perfect. Sometimes birds still hit the windows even when there are stickers or other prevention measures set up.

Chipping SparrowIt’s almost a perfect parallel: the human race is about to strike a giant window of our own making. We’ve placed an obstruction to a healthy future in our own path.

The impact on the human race could be severe. There could be droughts that kill crops, loss of water sources leading to major international conflicts, and changes in the oceans that could lead to flooding and radical shift in population centers.

It’s not alarmist. It’s common sense. More than 90% of the worlds scientists agree about the facts of climate change. It’s not some political conspiracy or partisan plot to get funding for science. In fact it’s the opposite way around. The people who don’t want to fund climate change prevention seek only to keep money for themselves and protect a status quo that is costing the rest of us dearly. They are selfish bastards, in other words.

Human nature

IMG_1165Let’s apply some theology and some logic here to consider the contentions of climate change deniers.

If on religious grounds you determine that humans cannot effect something so large as the order of creation, how do you explain the fact that the Bible chronicles the creation of a fallen world based on original sin. If human beings can’t affect the order of creation, then the Bible is a lie.

If on economic grounds you contend that preventing climate change will adversely impacting existing industries, then you refuse to consider the direct parallels between an economy and an ecosystem, both of which are dependent on healthy environments to survive.

If on political grounds you contend that dealing with climate change is a waste of money compared to other social issues, then you’ve divested your politics from common sense, because a nation is first and foremost composed of the health and availability of its most resources. Climate change puts those resources at peril and risk.

If on ideological grounds you maintain that climate change is the creation of a liberal faction that is always inventing social problems, then you likely refuse to acknowledge that social changes such as establishing equal civil rights have always been the province of liberalism. That’s a proud and demonstrable fact, and one that goes all the way back to the founding of the American Republic. Civil justice and environmental justice are inextricably linked.

We all have a lot at stake in terms of overcoming unsound objections to action on climate change.

In the same boat

It all matters to those who run and ride because our treasured activities really depend on a healthy climate and ecosystem. That’s what makes prosperity possible. Without that firm dynamic in place, life quickly turns to issues of survival. There is no time for leisure when food and water is scarce. There is no time for fun and running and riding when nations are at war over dwindling resources and land.

The bird on my front porch this morning was a patent little warning that human beings really can screw things up. And without really trying. We’ve wrenched the climate loose from its slow moving moors and are adrift in history. It’s not too late to throw ropes and pull ourselves back in. But the boat is moving even if some people refuse to see it.

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Time as measured by pumpkins and apple cider donuts

By Christopher Cudworth

Mo Pumpkins

America seems to believe that mo pumpkins is always better.

There was a moment in the mid-season finale of the Starz series The Outlander in which the main character Claire Randall Beecham Frazier (you’ll have to watch to understand) approaches a set of stones on the hill of Craigh na Dun in Scotland… where she can travel back through time. As she nears the Stonehenge-like gathering of stones, she calls out to her husband who is at the same spot in “the future” to hear her voice coming to him through the stones. Tantalizingly, his voice can also be heard by her in return. They near the same point in the universe but in fact are 300 years apart…

I won’t spoil the plot for anyone interested in watching the intriguingly crafted series. It’s not that it makes time travel seem possible, or even desirable. It’s that it makes time a commodity about which we should all be more aware.

My own piece of Scotland

I’m Scottish, and there is a spot in my life much like the hill of Craigh na Dun. It sits at the intersection of two roads in central Kane County. The roads themselves have been altered over time. At one point they formed an odd junction in which the curved road and its t-intersection formed a triangle among the cornfields. That spot seems to draw me back again and again. Many of my cycling rides pass that spot. It has significance to me.

Chris Cudworth 7The campus of Kaneland High School where I attended 8th-10th grade meets that arc in the road. Our cross country team would run that curve around a set of trees planted in a long semi-circle. For decades after I ran there as a freshman and sophomore in high school, an indentation from our many footsteps could be seen in the ground.

That trace of the past may have been meaningful only to me. Who knows if anyone else ever even noticed it, or knew its origins? But when I moved away to another school a part of me got left behind on that campus. It lurked as an artifact of times past just like the trace of the Oregon Trail that sits one mile north and east of the Kaneland campus. It only means something if you know the history.

Time on earth

The simple footpath that stood up through multiple mowings lasted for decades. It held the early secrets of my running life, those first moments when you realized you could really do something in this world if you worked at it.

Of course I’m no more important in the world of running than a million or more other runners with similar abilities. So I’m not suggesting there is any value to these memories other than a link to some sense of self.

But there are paths of a similar order that do bear greater significance, and to which so many others do have connections. I think of the cross country course in Peoria where the state championships are held each year. That’s where I watched Craig Virgin set the state record that still stands. Though thousands of other runners have tried, no one has ever run faster than Craig did that day. That time warp feels like a worm hole in my mind. I was there to witness history and realized even at that moment… the chasm of time between a talent like that and my own. Yet those connections are real.

For there is triumph in the feverish memories of our own efforts on a path around a thousand campuses just like the one on which I once ran. Our coach once challenged the Top 5 to complete the .87 circle in under 4:10 to earn a steak dinner. And we did it. So there are cogent miles of effort tied up in that space.

Being present

Sue and Chris and Guy

Getting in touch with our inner farmer.

It so happened that 40+ years later, on the very first ride I did with my companion Sue, she liked to pause on that same campus as her turnaround point of a 30-mile ride. So she plopped down on the very grass where I once ran as a kid and sat back with a smile to ask, “So, what do I want to know about you?”

You can imagine the sweep of thoughts going through my mind at that moment. Here we sat literally on the path where I’d once run my guts out as a 15-year-old sophomore cross country runner. We were also in sight of the cafeteria where I once danced so close with a girl named Joanie Hankes that I thought I’d absorb right into her skin. Or wished I could. So what do you say at moments like that? What do you choose to reveal about yourself?

It turned out we talked about a lot of things, especially our current interests and our growing interest in each other. She knew the story of how I’d lost my wife Linda to cancer several months before. She learned of my pride in that woman’s life, and her perseverance and character. That was ground we’d continue to cover together. The grieving process is individual, and I had nothing to hide. Life and time go on whether you acknowledge that fact or not. I had made the decision that time should not stand still.

Turning points

A few weeks later while riding with Sue she had a crash. I accompanied her to the Urgent Care Center and a rush of familiar sensations came over me. In eight years of cancer treatment with my wife I’d spent many moments sitting in waiting rooms as the medical teams gathered information about her.

Now here was Sue giving information to a medical team. They asked her name and she replied, “Linda.”

Then she quickly turned to me and said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you about that. I go by my middle name Suzanne. But my real first name is Linda.”

I was not freaked out. Just intrigued by the enormous circumstance of how odd life can be.

Time travels

Which brings us to the present and another spot not far down the road from the Kaneland campus. There sits an apple orchard and pumpkin farm that turns into a major tourist attraction each fall. The Kuipers family farm erupts each September into a fest of autumn goodies, honey-crisp apples and a hundred other opportunities to celebrate the transition of the seasons.

Last year my daughter Emily and I made a pilgrimage to Kuipers in memory of her mother. We both made it through the store until we hit the spot where they make apple cider donuts. That’s where we both lost it. The memories were still fresh from the year before. So we stood there and hugged in line without being able to tell the people around us exactly what the tears were for. But it was good. That was a place were my wife Linda and her family liked to go each fall. Our memory of her was partly wrapped up in that place. Even when it was hard for her to walk during the worst throes of chemotherapy, we still made it out to the apple orchard for fall goodies. She never gave up.

We’d purchase bushels of apples and her late father Melvin would peel them all and make dozens of apple pies and pans of apple crisp. Before his health failed and he died three years ago, Emily sat with Mel to learn the craft of his pie-making.

So you can sense the meaning of applies and pumpkins and cider donuts. They represent both the preciousness of the moment and the passage of time. They come together in one place and we are transported in some way.

Present hopes

90 lbs of pumpkins

Kyle lifts 90 pounds of pumpkins.

This year our little clan headed out to Kuipers for some fun and the day was magnificent. My daughter Emily and her boyfriend Kyle joined Sue and I for an afternoon drive and a wander through the Kuipers campus that has grown into a regional attraction. The weather was 80 degrees and sunny.

Just the day before I’d biked up the hill on the south side of the apple orchard with a couple friends and told them, “We’re heading there tomorrow.” In fact I’ve ridden past the orchard many times this summer. Every time the swirl of recent and past memories flow through my head.

Yet I don’t feel these memories the same way I once did. Maturity and age give you perspective than can be mistaken for ambivalence if you’re not careful. There were times in life when I felt emotions so passionately they threatened to melt me down like a ring of solder. My anger and love and competitive fury mixed together, making victories and losses feel like life and death.

Time has a purpose

photo (89)There was a purpose to all that. When life and death really did come along, I was prepared to deal with them. That’s what’s so hard to explain to people who might wonder what it is like to deal with the death of a spouse, and why it is okay to feel love again, and want that flow to return to your life. All of us encounter those cycles of time and life and death. Future, past and present seem to combine in those moments.

I love my children so much and it has been painful thinking about the loss of their mother this past year. As wordy as I can be at times, there have been moments when words or the opportunity to say them have perhaps failed me.

I did not lose my own mother until 2005 when she was 80 years old. By contrast their mother was just 56. She’d worked through cancer treatments so many times it seemed impossible she’d ever die. My method of coming to grips with that possibility involved writing my way through both the fears and blessings of all that we experienced.  That has helped me face all kinds of life challenges. I can only hope my example and love for them is sustaining. That and telling them that I love them.

Less fear

The fact of the matter is that I emerged on the other side of life with less fear. There was help. While my late wife was taking steroids to treat the side effects of surgery for cancer that had migrated to her brain, she once woke me up at 4:00 one time to tell me to go for it. Write my way to the life I wanted to lead. Do it, she told me. She’d seen me race and win and live life without fear when we were first dating. Get it back, she seemed to be saying. And so it goes.

Flipsides

That type of confidence in faith and hope has helped dispel any fears toward making it on my own. With the many challenges of forging your way in your own business, there also comes a freedom that makes life feel more real. I first felt the flipside of that emotion while being a caregiver to my father once my mother died. I realized his care was now entirely in my own hands, and that there were really no rules to follow. One learns to step up in that moment to accept the responsibility. You lose fear over making decisions and accept the consequences, both good and bad, of being the one who cares. 

So when our group of four wonderful souls walked around the Kuipers pumpkin patch it struck me that when it comes to making decisions in life, you either go big or go home.

PumpkinsThe pumpkins at Kuipers in fact looked like they were raised on other-worldly fare. The stems were huge and phallic. The bodies of those gourds stood two feet tall in some cases. There was a fecund quality to all of them, an inspiration in some ways to me. They cost 39 cents a pound and we bought three of them and stored them in the back end of the Subaru. We came home with $100 worth of popcorn, apples and apple cider donuts. So goddamnit, we went big and we went home. Who says you can’t do both? That’s how we’ve got to roll in this world.

Ironman pumpkins

Ironman Pumpkins

Sue Astra poses with Ironman Pumpkins in anticipation of her race next year.

In a week Sue and I will ride the Pumpkin Pedal down in Ottawa, Illinois. Last year the winds were so strong at times they nearly stripped the kits off our backs. It’s likely after a warm, dry and calm spell here in Illinois that we’ll see a shift in the weather for next weekend. It may turn cold or wet. But we’ll be there. She’s in the early phases of training for next year’s Ironman Wisconsin. Every ride counts whether it builds fitness or builds character. We’re traveling through time together now.  And through time, every effort counts for something.

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Running around the Garden of Eden and the Human Race

Adam-and-EveToday’s We Run and Ride features lessons in morality and some important thoughts about commitment to your training. You likely know how it all begins, for it is the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We enter the story at the point where Eve encounters a certain serpent in the Garden of Eden. The serpent tempts Eve by encouraging her to break the only training rules God had ever issued…

The Fall

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

And there you have it. The serpent sets up the first-ever stumbling block to a faith in God and commitment to a training program. Because the first principle of training is never to eat something you have not tried before, especially before a race. And given that Adam and Eve were ostensibly the beginning of the entire Human Race, they had pretty good reason to be careful in their preparations for the task ahead. 

But no, Eve thought she knew better. She elected to ignore the advice of her coach, also known as God, and venture into trees unknown for training food.

The_Bible_Adam-and-Eve6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Granted, we all make training mistakes sometimes. But this was a pretty big foulup. Because once Adam and Eve had fallen into the trap of thinking they knew better than their coach, a whole world of options opened up. The lesson they learned is that the truth may set you free, but there’s a whole lot of other junk that comes with it.

It’s a sin and a shame that Eve didn’t have the common sense to stick by the training schedule mapped out by God. The course they had laid out around the Garden of Eden was a great place to log the miles. Every day Adam and Eve would train together. He’d point out birds and critters along the way, giving them names and such. They ran as equals and enjoyed each other’s company. There was no such thing yet as lactic acid or fatigue. Adam and Eve could run and run and run all day and not get tired.

th-1There was just one problem. Training the same day without much challenge gets kind of boring after a while. That’s why Eve was so tempted by the serpent. Any break in the routine is welcome after you’ve trained the same way and eaten the same things for so long. A new piece of fruit sounded pretty good about then. So Eve wandered off the training path and found out that this new fruit not only tasted good, it made you feel smarter too! Hot damn this was fun!

The very next day she shared some of the Forbidden Fruit with Adam. He loved the new fruit too. It was almost better than a new flavor of Gatorade. But that’s getting a little ahead of the game.

As they started to train using the new fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden, they started to sense fatigue from running off the course God had mapped out for them. All of a sudden they felt an unfamiliar tiredness in their legs. The tree of knowledge had deceived them! Not only did they start to recognize Good and Evil, they now knew exhiliration and exhaustion as well.

“What have you done?” asked Adam. “This isn’t as easy as it used to be!”

“I know,” said Eve. “But if we train really hard I think we can get back to the shape we were in before. That’s how it works, you know. No pain, no gain.”

“Oh is that so?” Adam barked at her. “And who are you to decide how we should train anyway? God had it all laid out for us. Our path was perfect. Then you had to go tweaking our training program with this Forbidden Fruit stuff and now everything’s screwed up.”

“Relax,” Eve snapped at him. “It’s not like we’re completely out of shape. Yet.”

Just then they heard the sound of other footsteps in the Garden of Eden. “Run!” cried Adam. “God is going to pass us this loop! “

 “The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Adam_and_Eve_expelled_from_ParadiseWe all know what happened next. Adam and Eve had to explain why they broke the training rules God had mapped out for them. The story broke on social media of course. All the animals in the forest were now talking about what screwups Adam and Eve really were. “Like, Adam gave me this stupid name that I can’t stand,” one of the animals said. “Who wants to be called an oryx. Sounds like some part of your rear end.”

Thus the whole rebellion started in the Garden of Eden. All sorts of discord erupted among the animals and God had to strike their ability to speak because there is nothing more annoying than a bunch of dumb animals bitching about what they’re called. And that’s how animals lost the ability of speech.

And God was pretty pissed at the serpent for starting all this mess by tempting Eve and then Adam into breaking the training rules He had mapped out for them.

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring[a] and hers;
he will crush[b] your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

Then God turned to the woman, who really was in good shape by this time from all that running she was doing, and laid down the law about how it would be from then on:

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

To Adam, God turned and said. “And why did you have to be such a dumb shit? Things were all set up for you with this Man Cave I created called the Garden of Eden. If you’d have stuck around long enough I was going to give you the remote, for God’s Sake. Now you screwed it all up.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

“Well, that kinda sucks,” Adam said. And Eve just rolled her eyes.

“Now get outta here,” God said to them both. “This training facility is now officially closed. I’m not sure I’m going to keep it open at all. The upkeep was too high anyway.  Go find your own club, or build one yourself for all I care. And good luck with that running thing you’ve been doing. That’s going to hurt a lot more now too.”

But God felt sort of bad for the first two athletes on his team. So he helped them out. Sort of.

21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword, flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

And that, my friends, is the biblical explanation of why running and riding and anything else you do on this earth to stay in shape is so damned hard. It could have been easy if Adam and Eve had not broken the training rules. You could run forever and ever, right up until you entered the Gates of Heaven, then you could run some more. You’d be like the Forrest Gump of All Time and Eternity, running over the clouds and racing Ezekiel up that crazy ladder into the sky.

Of course we would still not be as fast as God. There’s only so much glory to go around.

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Making sense of things down the road

By Christopher Cudworth

RoadRoads are very symbolic objects. We use terms such as “somewhere down the road” and “on the road to success” because roads take us places we want to go.

We tend to take our roads so much for granted these days. But perhaps we should not be so cavalier.

Twelve miles west of where I live there is a remnant of the Oregon Trail, one of several branches of the wagon trail used by settlers to get to lands further west. The indentation in the ground where the trail once passed is several feet deep. The rut was cut by wagon wheels, pressed into the earth by hundreds if not thousands of people moving to a new life.

North and east of my home is a road called Army Trail. And yes, at one point it served military needs during the Indian wars in Illinois.

South and west there is a road called Deerpath Road. It winds through an oak forest where indeed there are white-tailed deer that are now considered more of a pest than a pleasure.

All these roads have a history of sorts. Some helped define history while others are more an echo of history and the success people have had in taming the landscape.

IMG_7075Of all the beneficiaries of success, cyclists and runners have to thank God for good roads. On a recent charity ride our group of cyclists found ourselves on a rough patch of road extending far to the west. Its surface was pebbled and shook the bike frame as we rode along. The high winds and rough roads slowed our pace by four to five miles an hour. It was a long slog for several miles. Those difficulties only came to full light once we’d turned off that road onto an entirely smooth surface. Then we glided back into a better pace guided by a favoring wind.

“Aaaaahhhh,” someone intoned. “That’s better.”

Runners can appreciate a good road as well. The dynamics are different, but road surface still matters. So does the camber. The angle at which the road falls off to the shoulder can put a strain on the legs on a long run. We tend to run against traffic for safety reasons, but that means the left leg is often striking a surface up to an inch or two lower than the right in some cases. Your hips bear the brunt of that cambered strike force. So do your knees.

Which makes it all the more special when a road crew comes along and installs an all new tarmac where there was once a crappy, pot-holed, tarsnake-ridden road. Recently a new road was installed on one of the most popular stretches of cycling route in our country. Campton Hills Road leads out of St. Charles to crest a glacial hill about 80 feet high. It’s one of the few climbing routes in our area topped only by the rise to Town Hall Road two miles west. That route of two successive climbs is where almost everyone who bikes central Kane County starts west for open country.

But the road was in terrible shape between the soccer fields west of town and LaFox Road three miles further out. There were sections of peppered potholes where your bike would almost come to a halt the road was so bad. These also tended to be in shaded areas where any moisture or fallen debris would make the road slick as well. It was dangerous to be cycling along and come to nearly a complete halt when there were cars bearing down on your from behind. The visibility is poor in those shaded areas as the shade was deep enough to obscure even brightly dressed cyclists.

IMG_6516We used to run that road quite a bit when I was in high mileage mode. The shoulders are basically absent however, formed only by short sections of gravel that fall away into weed-chocked drainage ditches. As runners we’d hop to it when running down the hill on Campton Hills Road. You don’t want to waste time in sections where cars some so close to you.

And there tend to be plenty of those. Campton Hills is the primary thoroughfare for traffic headed back and forth to subdivisions between Route 38 and Route 64, both state highways.

Then there are the thrillseekers, truck blasters and kids zipping out to the Mini-disc golf course tucked into the woods beside Campton Hills Road.

We’re perhaps fortunate there have not been more incidents in which cyclists or runners get hit or hurt on that section of road. The only recent accident was a cyclist in our group who was climbing so slow his wheel got stuck in a rut and he fell over and got a concussion. That was his own fault to a degree. But the condition of the road had something to do with it too.

So there is a blessing and a curse to the fact that Campton Hills Road was recently gifted with all new asphalt. It’s a safer ride for sure. But it also gives the illusion of a potential for greater speed to motorists as well. The road climbs a series of dips and half turns and that can obscure a runner or a rider using the road for recreation.

GregIt would not surprise at all if someday the City of St. Charles were to ban cyclists and runners from the road. There are plenty of moneyed folk out west of town who don’t like to slow their vehicles down on the way to work and other places. The same goes for another hilly road north of Campton Hills, where Burr Road takes a series of sharp, clean climbs on its way north out of town.

Drivers love the same types of roads as cyclists and runners, and that can be a problem.

All this rider can say is that the climb up the west incline of Campton Hills Road was a ton more fun yesterday. There were no rough patches to slow you down or force you to swerve to avoid a flat. Just smooth black asphalt as you hit the six degree section and finished up and over the hill. Then the ride down the other side delivered a 34mph spin at full velocity.

And then, a surprise. For some reason a 40-yard section of road was not re-paved. All the familiarly dangerous potholes were still there. I gave a quick glance to check for traffic behind and did a slalom through the rough spots. At 30 mph that takes concentration and reaction.

Then it was back to smooth road and a brief contemplation why the road crews left that one section untouched. Perhaps there were drainage issues to address there, and it would be done later? It would not be a surprise. The Campton Hills area is formed of glacial till, a giant mound of pebbles run through by groundwater. One side of the road forms a park thick with oak woodland. Natural prairie has been planted and managed there as well. The birding and nature study in that park is fantastic.

That’s the yin and yang of a beautiful road. It serves so many people there is inevitable competition for use of the space, and at what pace. Who is to say that the light flickering through the windows of a BMW speeding through the woods is any less relevant than the cool shadows and warm bursts of light on the backs of cyclists and runners?

We all pay for these roads in one way or another. They are the property of the commonwealth, you might say. It can’t be too hard for anyone to use them or it would be unfair to everyone.

The whirr of your tires on new asphalt is the sound of peace to many. That’s how we make sense of things on the road, and down the road. For better or worse, the road is where we do much of our thinking, or lack of it, these days. Give that some thought next time you share the road with someone else.

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The Endurance Athlete Matrix and how it can help you plan your life

ENDURANCE ATHLETE MATRIX 2

The world of endurance athletes can often seem complex. Balancing priorities can be tough when there are so many activities to balance.

It can help to have a tool to step back and assess your efforts. The above graphic illustrates the primary activities and values most endurance athletes use to plan their activities.

You will notice there is a somewhat oppositional construct to the Endurance Athlete Matrix; from racing to solo training, from performance-based to fitness and health oriented training.

ACTIVITIES

RACING The peak performance of individual and/or team effort.

COMPETITION Sub-peak races or events used to hone fitness.

EVENTS Fundraisers or other opportunities to test and use fitness.

GROUP EFFORTS Joining others for workouts.

SOLO WORKOUTS Any effort or training done on your own.

TRAINING Workouts planned for a measurable result.

FITNESS Activities done for general health, balance and cross training.

CLUBS A serious or even paid commitment to group workouts and racing.

VALUES

The “Inner Ring” includes four value measures that include:

GOALS The objectives for performance.

FUN Enjoyment of the activity or sport.

HEALTH Lifelong benefits and current status.

SOCIAL Relationships and bonds.

If you were to take this Endurance Athlete Matrix out a step and mark activities in which you participate each year, you would essentially be able to establish what percentage of time you spend in each category or activity.

Naturally workouts and training activities would dominate the activity level. But how many are done with a group as opposed to alone?

Also, how many types of events, races or competitions do you do? And how do you determine which are the most important, or how hard to tackle each one?

The truth is that simply being aware and keeping track of your annual matrix of activities can help put your fitness, health, social and goal values in order.

We hope this helps you assess your own objectives. Endurance sports are a great way to enhance life and enjoy fitness in a variety of ways. May you find your balance and your best performance as a result.

All graphics copyright 3C Creative Content, Christopher Cudworth

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Getting up to speed at Victoria’s Secret

By Christopher Cudworth

Apparently I'm not alone. A search on the web for Discarded Panties turns up a ton of images.

Apparently I’m not alone. A search on the web for Discarded Panties turns up a ton of images.

For a few years in the early 2000s I experienced a strange phenomenon. Everywhere that I rode or ran or hiked there were loose panties discarded by the side of the road. I found them in parking lots too. There were thongs and hiphuggers, grannies and gross examples of Saturday Night Fever tossed out next to beer cans, cigarettes and condoms. I could hardly go for a run or a ride without finding the detritus of some lovefest or other colorful scenario. It was like someone was conducting some form of performance art installation at my expense. The World According to Panties.

And then, it stopped. I haven’t seen any purple lacy things by the road for a couple years now. No triangles of fabric bearing kitty cats or skulls. Suddenly the whole panty thing vanished. I don’t know why. But I might have a clue. We’ll get to that toward the end of today’s blog. 

But first let us consider this whole panty thing in a fuller context, so to speak. 

Victoria’s Secret

What hides inside this bag could be the secret to increased speed in your running and riding.

What hides inside this bag could be the secret to increased speed in your running and riding.

Because just this week a marketing piece addressed to me from Victoria’s Secret showed up in the mail. Somehow my name got on their mailing list years ago and once in a while they ship me an offer for free panties. Usually I dutifully hand these along to my daughter and say “Have at it.”

Like millions of young women in America, her collection of underthings could probably be crumpled into a ball and held in one fist. I know this because I regularly transfer her laundry from the washing machine to the dryer, then on to the big table where we sort the clothes.

But you have to be diligent to avoid sending the panties along with the towels or somesuch. Panties cling to other layers of clothing like a Tom Cruise character sneaking up the side of a building in a Mission Impossible movie. Panties in the laundry always look like they’re up to mischief.

Faithful shopper

When the Victoria’s Secret mailer showed up this time I noticed that there was a coupon for a free pair of Hiphugger panties. So I asked my companion if she would like those and she told me “Yes, those are cute.” 

I know that discussing panties can be an indelicate topic. One of my riding buddies once engaged in a quite firm discussion with his wife about riding commando in her cycling shorts. He insisted to her that bike shorts were designed to protect everything down there.

“Not going to happen,” she told him.

He pursued the subject a bit further. Out of curiosity of course. She shut him down. “This topic is closed,” she responded.

Practical mysteries

These unabashed gals and guys are having fun at the UndieRun.

These unabashed gals and guys are having fun at the UndieRun.

That leaves the whole panties and underthings topic a bit of a mystery in the minds of some men. Yet the earthier women among us are all too glad to tell us why women wear certain bits of clothing, especially panties under bike shorts or other athletic wear. It has a practical purpose in terms of hygiene and protection as well as a sense of propriety. So there. Now you know all you need to know. 

That does not stop the whole panties subject from leaning toward blatant titillation at times. Walking into any Victoria’s Secret is very much like walking into the candy store as a kid. There are Sweet Tarts and Sweet Hearts and a whole range of other treats if you know where to look. It’s all just eye candy. And women seem to love them too. It’s almost like they want their butts to look cute. Imagine that. 

A real workout

There’s also an exercise section at Victoria’s Secret these days. The bras look much more pushup affairs than humble JogBras. They also cost a ton. The sexier stuff ain’t cheap. It never is. Another Catch-22 of the bra and panty world is that the more you spend the less you get sometimes. If you bitch about that, all it takes is for someone to hold up a pair of $9.99 granny panties and you’ll gladly pay twice that for 1/10th the fabric. Bring it on. 

It's a fine line sometimes between underwear and racing gear.

It’s a fine line sometimes between underwear and racing gear.

The same holds true for running shorts and cycling gear. A simple pair of racing shorts from Nike or Reebok or Newton or whatever costs about $45 these days. They are made of light fabric that you can hardly feel when you are running. Same goes for skinsuits in cycling. The whole purpose of workout wear these days is to feel and sometimes look like you’re essentially naked. There’s nothing between you and the world except a fiber-thin layer of fabric. If you’re lucky it holds your personal effects in place. Just don’t try to carry your keys. They’ll poke you in the crotch.

Some runners and cyclists have dispensed with the clothing ruse altogether. You can enter UndieRuns and Naked Bike Rides where the outfit of the day is your underwear or nothing at all. That’s called getting down to basics.

Panty factories

As I wandered through the Victoria’s Secret store at our local mall it occurred to me that there must be a giant panty factory somewhere in central China pumping out zillions of panties a day. Who really knew? Unless you spend time thinking about the incredible variety and styles of panties available on the market, you don’t really know what’s out there. So to speak.

But as I stood there considering the vast panty universe, a wry. soft-spoken gal with a British accent sidled up beside me at Victoria’s Secret. “They’re fayvh for twenty-five dollahs,” she told me in her thick English coo. “That means you’ll get the sixth payrh fffree. And you can chewwse from any shelf you want for those.”

This fellow seems happy enough to be down to his briefs for an Undierun. A pair of panties might make him even faster.

This fellow seems happy enough to be down to his briefs for an Undierun. A pair of panties might make him even faster.

Why, that little tart. She’s trying to sell me on a little naughty business. Here I was, all innocent and focused and such, sticking to the respectable rack (no pun intended) with the Hiphugger panties that matched the coupon. Now she was pointing me toward a tempting pile of lacy things two tables over.

I feel a tightness in my throat and decide that it’s too much to handle at the moment. My brain can’t process that many styles of panties it. Some have so little fabric they should not qualify as clothing. They are essentially a series of filigreed holes with straps connecting them.

Some other day. The pairs I’ve chosen for my gal will be a surprise and a treat, but anything more will have to wait. I scrape my eyes off the back of my Scattante sunglasses and head for the checkout counter. 

Under. Estimated

Those really lacy ones won’t do much good under bike shorts anyway. That’s the only real reason I was buying these panties for my gal anyway. Really. I mean that. My imagination was firmly focused on the task at hand. I swear it. There are no innuendos in this paragraph at all. It was the coupon’s fault. That’s what brought me there. No ulterior motives. (insert cricket sound here…)

At the check out counter the truth emerges. I turn to the checkout gal and say, “I’ll have to buy a bottle of wine to match each pair.” I don’t know why I said it. Perhaps I wanted to prevent any intimation that I might be buying those panties for myself. I’m sure they see the full spectrum of interests at Victoria’s Secret. There are all kinds of tastes in this world. 

Fast company

There male competitors demonstrate the speed a pair of panties under their shorts can add.

There male competitors demonstrate the speed a pair of panties under their shorts can add.

And who knows? Maybe a nice pair of panties under those cycling or running shorts would actually make you faster?  if you’re a guy who gets turned on by a nice set of panties, why not try it out sometime? Remember the character in Bull Durham who wore the garters under his baseball uniform? They helped him loosen up and throw harder. So to speak.

Which might just might explain why all those roadside panties seemed to disappear. Perhaps there are enough men out there that have uncovered the fact that sexy panties makes them faster?

Don’t lie to me. You’d do anything to take a minute of your 10K time or 15 minutes off your marathon. If throwing on a hot set of panties on under your cycling kit or running shorts would help you gain a 20% increase in speed you’d do it in a heartbeat. It’s perfectly legal even in the Tour de France. And they do understand kinkiness in France, I believe. 

But even here in America we’re all in the same game. Like the Kinks once sang:

Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls.

It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world…Except for Lola. 

Um, no.

Um, no. That’s not it.

So go get your Lola on, guys and gals. If a pair of lacy whatnots is going to improve your PR or help you become an Ironman (so to speak) then who’s to say it’s not a good training and racing strategy?  Don’t be so damned uptight!  The gal with the hot British accent at Victoria’s Secret will help you choose a pair of paintes that fits your needs and helps you find your speed. Whatever that might mean. Enjoy yourself. It’s the secret to success.

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Jouer la domestique at Le Tour De GiGi’s

By Christopher Cudworth

I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy — Tom Hanks

Riders no glassesLanguage is certainly a funny thing. Often the things we think we hear are not the things we’re really hearing. Or, others may hear them and take them to mean something other than what we are trying to communicate.

For example, on the drive to the start of the Tour de GiGi’s fundraising event to benefit a local Down’s Syndrome organization, it occurred to me that my water bottles filled with Accelerade were sitting at home in the fridge.

“I’ve got to stop here at 7/11,” I told Sue. “I’ll just buy some Gatorade or something.”

Heading into the store I saw one of several familiar faces working the counter. It was 7:40 a.m. on a Sunday.

“Good morning!” I chirped. They know me because I often stopy by for a Coke Slurpee on the way home from my companion’s house. Returning to the counter I attempted to make conversation but it came out like this.

“Fergot my waterbottles…”

“You want to play Lotto?” the man asked.

“No, my water bottles,” I clarified. “I forgot them.”

He stared at me. Then reached again for a roll of Lotto cards.

“No, no…” I countered. “Never mind…”

He rang me up and that was that. No more confusion. I’ve never played Lotto and never will. I’d rather win the Lotto, so to speak, through my own efforts.

Whether conditions

We rode to the start of the ride in a gathering wind. The bikes creaked on their Thule stands above us on the car. There was no doubt about it. This would not be an easy ride in the country no matter how fast or far we rode.

When we got there, a bunch of the riders were already talking about cutting down their efforts. “I’m only going 21,” I heard someone say. “It’s not worth it in this wind.”

I knew that Sue would want to ride at least 40. And so, seeking inspiration, I happened to glance at the giant dog’s head logo (perhaps it was a wolf) that served as the school mascot for Oswego East High School where the ride began.

“Look,” I said, trying to be funny. “They have an Angry Dachsund for a mascot.”

The rider one car over me looked up at me and then stared at the logo. She gave no reply. I guess I wasn’t getting through. Perhaps it was the wind. The Ill Humors of Autumn apparently obscured the Good Humor of my joke. Whatever. No one was in a laughing mood, it seemed.

Giving their time

At least the volunteers at check-in were cheery. Some volunteers really get it. They help you with whatever you need and show appreciation for your investment in their cause.

Of course the whole fundraising ride or run thing is sometimes lost on me. For example, why exactly do we pay money to ride dozens of miles when we could just give a check? It is a pretty silly concept.

“It’s the thought,” someone once told me.

“It’s an excuse,” I wanted to reply.

Out on the road

Anyway, admit it. Most of us don’t give another thought to the cause we’re helping once we’re out on the road. In a sponsored ride (that’s what we call them) all people care about is whether the blue or green or yellow arrows marking the course show up early enough to prevent you from riding straight into a corn field.

When the roads aren’t closed to traffic those kinds of things actually matter. The impatient drivers of cars and trucks and farm machinery don’t like waiting for cyclists as it is. That’s especially true when there are four or six or eight cyclist spread across the lane and weaving like a bunch of drunken French existentialists as they try to figure out whether to turn or not. They could just as well be arguing over the meaning and direction of life. So very French of us, you know.

One pissed off farmer

That must be what angered the farmer in his burnt red pickup and green cap with the hybrid corn logo on the front. He roared his engine as our little group of four cyclists neared a turn somewhere out in the corn desert. “Left turn!” one of us hollered over the roar of the wind as we neared the corner. Then we heard the honk of the truck horn as he roared between the group with his truck and pulled to a stop after making the turn.

“Uh oh,” someone muttered as the truck door opened.

So naturally I stopped to talk with the kind gentleman.

“Fuck you!” he roared over the idle of his engine. “I pay taxes for these roads.”

“So do I,” was my reply. “I drive a car too.”

He seemed momentarily dumbfounded by that. It’s like it was the first time he realized that cyclists actually might drive cars too. Or pay taxes. Or anything. We are simply The Other to a man who considers the roads his own. He owns them. Don’t you know that?

The wind was still roaring. It was a little hard to hear what he had to say next. But he launched into a diatribe about how cyclists ride four abreast and don’t let their farm equipment through. I had no doubt he was absolutely right. Cyclists can be a bunch of damned pricks on the road. I hate that about us too.

But there’s also the fact that the amount of time anyone is delayed by a group of cyclists usually amounts to about 30 seconds. Yet that 30 seconds seems to make the rest of the world absolutely crazy. That’s the problem. And it stems from a whole lot of deeper reasons.

The wheel world

It’s all about perception. Just a mile before the encounter with Mr. Green Cap I commented to our group that it was not surprising to see a sign for Republican gubernatorial candidate way out here in farm country.  “What, you mean the rest of the state gets to vote for governor too? Not just Chicago?” I was joking of course. But not really.

It’s true. There’s a political imbalance for sure in Illinois. We’ve got one fuqued up state, if you’ll pardon my French. All those upstate Chicago Democrats outnumber the downstate Republican farmers and suburban Tea Party angry bastards and as a result it means trouble when anyone who doesn’t look like they’re from farm country or “fully American” takes over the roads out west of megalopolis.

Of course the fact of the matter is that the Republicans haven’t behaved much better when they’ve run the state either. The last Republican governor wound up in jail just like our famous horse-trader Blago, who spends his days wearing orange in a Colorado penitentiary. Governor Ryan traded favors for trucking licenses and that led to a family dying in a blazing minivan because some truck driver didn’t know how to actually handle his rig. The roads aren’t safe for anyone, it seems.

Low ideals

You’d think we’d see all that corruption coming given the fact that our state is generally flat. You can see for miles if you stand up on your pedals and crane your neck over top of the 8-foot tall corn stalks now bending in the autumn wind. Before long the combines will rape the fields yet again, tossing all that yellow corn spunk into massive storage bins and then shipped out to ADM Corn Sweeteners out in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Or somesuch.

Our seedy past

The land here used to be prairie, you might recall. Most of the productivity of the earth was shunted underground where roots 15 feet deep turned into soil so rich the farmers who settled this state 200 years ago could not believe their good fortune. Now only 1/10th of one percent of the original prairie remains. There has been a cost to that conversion.

You can see how much soil has been lost or blown away when you study an old fence line. On either side the soil is at least one to two feet lower. That’s how we roll here in the prairie state and all across the corn crib we call the Midwest. Churn and burn.

So the farmers may claim they “own” the land but really, they don’t. They just borrow it like the rest of us, and much of it has been wasted.

Finally we’ve come to realize our folly in some respects and farm practices have changed to protect the soil. Yet governmental farm policies alternately seem to punish then reward farmers for abusing the land.

At the trough

No one dares cut off the farm subsidies upon which modern agriculture loves to feed, and that’s killing us too. We pump money into the land and extract high fructose corn syrup that makes us fatter, slower and perhaps a bit more stupid, hence my comments back at the 7/11. More than half the water consumed in the United States is used to raise beef. And other things we eat, pet and ranch.

Our habits and cravings are a perverse sort of gamble with health and fate. We grow corn to make ethanol that drives our cars that shoot out carbon dioxide that traps heat in the atmosphere, cooks the planet and causes global warming.

{Pardon my French}

So hey there, Mister Farmer. You’re actually a big part of an essentially fucked up system. We’re eating ourselves to death.

So shut the fuck up about paying your taxes to drive on the roads. Your fucking truck is also what’s killing us, dimwit. And those precious Republicans who vote to protect your farm subsidies every few years? They are the same political dorks who deny that human beings can have any effect change on the climate. Throw in the religious fanatics on the right who deny evolution, science and anything that questions grotesque American consumerism and you’ve got a pretty clear formula for the wrong kind of American exceptionalism.

This situation blows

These winds now blowing down to Illinois from the arctic in a Polar Vortex? They are very likely the product of massive climatological shifts occurring as a result of our heads-down policies on extracting and burning up fossil fuels and otherwise.

So at least those of us who ride are trying to stay ahead of the curve and ride through the wind when it comes to the slogging effects on our bodies rife with corn syrup, beef and other farm products coursing through our veins. If we hog the road perhaps that’s why. We simply behaving like animals, Mr. Farmer. Perhaps you can relate to that?

Le Domestiques

And of course none of this changes the fact that the roads cutting through all these billions of stalks of future corn syrup and ethanol make for a boring trip unless you have company with whom to share the ride. Our little band of four struggled through 25 miles of insane September wind until we finally turned south and east. But the break didn’t last for long. And by that time our 13-year-old fellow rider Grant was starting to feel the effects of high winds and some rough roads.

So we made the choice to serve as domestiques to our General Category rider. “This is how they protect the top rider in the Tour de France,” I explained to Grant, whose fair complexion and braces were the only things that gave away his young age. Otherwise his cycling prowess seemed spot on. When asked earlier that morning what he liked to do, his answer was simple.

“Ride,” he said.

And so we did. But when we turned north back into the wind for the final 10 mile stretch back home those young legs had a little trouble with the cadence. For good reason. The winds were gusting over 25mph.

This 50+ year old rider with a summer full of long rides in his legs was feeling the effects of the ride as well. So we talked about that with Grant, and how cycling is great as a lifelong activity even if a single ride in a stiff can feel like a lifetime. It still makes sense to get out there. He seems to get that.

That made it all the more fun when our young GC rider came cruising back up to us with half a mile to go after fading a bit in the last couple miles. Seeing my companion Sue riding up ahead on her Scott tri-bike, young Grant took off in a competitive sprint into the wind. The forty miles in his legs did not slow him down now. He chased down and nipped Sue at the finish as she chuckled at the competitor in him.

His father Todd has real reason to be proud of the kid. 40 miles in the wind with no complaint is a sign of great character in a child of 13. His riding skills were obvious with a good quick cadence, a low-slung profile and a growing awareness of the value of the draft.

Jouer la domestique was an honor to do for the kid. The ride was more interesting and it’s funny how much better you can ride into the wind when you’re doing it for someone else, not just yourself.

Perhaps that was the greater reason for the ride as a whole. We’re all domestiques for the causes we choose to support. Ride on.

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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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