The eyes have it

Where do you look when you’re out riding and running? Do you gaze all around you, or keep your eyes fixed on the road or trail ahead?

It’s a blessing to be able to see, you see. People who lose their sight, or that were born blind still find methods of enjoying life. I’ve always been amazed at the lyrics written by Stevie Wonder, the blind musician that has given so perspective to this world despite his lack of visual sight. The contrasts he is able to capture in his singing of these words, such as these lyrics celebrating the joy of a newborn child:

Isn’t she lovely 
Isn’t she wonderful 
Isn’t she precious 
Less than one minute old 
I never thought through love we’d be 
Making one as lovely as she 
But isn’t she lovely made from love 

But also this, relating the grit it takes to survive in this world…

His sister’s black but she is sho ’nuff pretty
Her skirt is short but Lord her legs are sturdy
To walk to school she’s got to get up early
Her clothes are old but never are they dirty
Living just enough, just enough for the city (um-hum)

That’s why I never take my eyes for granted. Way back in 1980 I was told that one of my eyes had a retinal tear. The optometrist sent me to the Gunderson Clinic in LaCrosse, Wisconsin to have it burnt shut with a laser machine. It has held ever since, and I am grateful for that.

A few years back however, my eyes started to shed some viscous matter, resulting in an array of “floaters” in my vision. This frightened me because it came with some flickering light that might indicate a compromised retina Fortunately, things stabilized. But it reminds me that I need to go have an eye checkup.

As a visual artist, I spend a lot of time looking at things in unusual ways. My Instagram (@genesisfix) is filled with quirky observations of things I think are unusual or symbolic in some way. I only have 580 Followers, so it’s not like the world embraces my vision, but I take those pics for my own enjoyment, and because I crave something new in my life every day. I do it because I’m having fun.

That’s what the act of “seeing” is all about anyway. When we run and ride we get to see new things. Even on our everyday, run-of-the-mill routes, we can watch the sun come up another day, or study the long shadows at dawn or dusk.

When it comes to motivations to get out there and work out, the eyes certainly have it. For those who can’t “see” with their eyes, the ears play that role just as well. Stevie Wonder is proof of the fact that there is more than one way to “see” the world.

See what I mean?

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Some naked wisdom from the Old Guys at the pool

The pool is an honest place.

Many years back when I first took swim lessons with the aim of becoming a triathlete, I swam at a local recreation center attached to a high school. The pool was a 50 meter wonder once used by the perennial state-level St. Charles High School swim program. Most of the time the pool was split down the middle to a 25 meter length for daily use. But one could sense the history in the place, and how that water was once shredded by future Olympians and such. 

And then there was the locker room. I’d get there and change for my swim lesson. There would be a gang of really old guys literally hanging around their lockers in the nude. This seemed to be some sort of ritual for them. Because after the half hour swim lesson I’d come back to the locker room and all the same guys would still be hanging out naked in the locker room, chatting away their sagging manhood on full display. 

As for me, I’d change and be on my way. But the impression I got from those old guys was that life had become a strange combination of joy and sadness at the same time. 

The Senior Pool

Which reminds me of the recreation center where I swim these days. I’ve gotten to know some of the older guys through conversations over the last couple years. I always ask how they’re doing and how their workout routines are going. Several of them visit what I’d call the Senior Pool every day. The rec center keeps the water warm for people who aren’t really into swimming but do participate in rehab work and light cardio. 

This morning one of my favorite guys was sitting by his locker chuckling when I arrived back from my swim. He looked up and laughed, saying, “I guess it isn’t the 1950s anymore!” 

Turns out he was headed to the pool when one of his buddies pointed out the fact that he wasn’t wearing any swim trunks. Just carrying his towel with his portly old belly hanging out and his junk on display for the whole world to see. 

Out on the pool deck

That would have been quite a scene had he made it to the pool deck. The lifeguards are on probation by the pool manager for not paying enough attention while on duty. All the deck chairs have been removed and the guards stalk the pool edge like prison guards watching over the yard. 

And had my white-haired friend made it out there in the nude it would have been an interesting scene. He raised his own eyebrows at the thought of it as he described that near miss to me. “We used to swim in the nude back in the day,” he related. “And I always get rid of my trunks in the ocean,” he said. 

The dating scene

I get a kick out of him and his buddies. They’re often carrying on these loud conversations in the locker room. A couple weeks ago one of them was checking in with my white-haired friend about a relationship that he’d struck up with one of the ladies at the pool. “How’s that going?” one of the fellow geezers teased. It was obvious what he meant. 

“All good,” my white-haired friend told him. “I fed her. Gave her a rubdown. It was all good.” Then he chuckled. It seemed like there was more to the story. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know all the details. 

There’s a sort of naked wisdom in the honesty among all these old guys. At some point it just doesn’t pay to hide your intentions or anything else in this world. This worldview draws on the symbolic truth that once upon a time people wandered around locker rooms naked without worrying that anyone else was looking at them. That’s all changed thanks to decades of conservative fear-mongering about the supposed dangers of locker rooms and the dread that someone might be looking at you with some sort of intention. 

In other words, we’ve traded what used to be an honest world for one ruled by ignorance, fear and prejudice. I think the Old Guys have it right instead. They might have a tendency to overstay their naked welcome in the locker room, but at least they have the confidence to know that a naked body is not a sin unto itself, nor a temptation in a practical context such as a locker room. 

 

 

Posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, Christopher Cudworth, swimming | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

We surely can’t spank our way to world peace

Growing up in the era when corporal punishment was doled out without much thought, I received my share of spankings from parents, teachers and the like. Those spankings were supposed to motivate me to better behavior. What I recall instead is the raw feeling of defiance in the face of often unjust decisions about why I supposedly “deserved” a spanking in the first place.

For example, in the first grade I was playing a game of Stratego with a classmate. We were perched on either side of a desk during an inside recess because it was raining that day. I loved recess, and dearly missed the stimulation of going outside to play.  But we were making the best of it by concentrating on a board game. 

Game upset

Then some clumsy kid collided with the table and knocked it over, scattering all the game pieces across the floor. I jumped up and shoved the kid. That’s how we settled things at home. I had brothers. It was an instant reaction.

The teacher supervising the classroom that day swooped in and hauled me out into hallway for punishment. “You can’t push other students,” she chided me. Her name was Miss Paloney. She retreated to the classroom and came back out with the school paddle. Her hair was pulled back so tightly on her head that her forehead shone under the hallway lights. She wore the type of glasses where reflections obscured her eyes. Her grim face presented a frightening specter to kid six years old. But that German Mennonite tradition in southeastern Pennsylvania believed in spanking kids on a regular basis. 

She told me to drop both my pants and underwear to my ankles. I did as she ordered and stood there with my bare bottom exposed in the school hallway. Then she spanked me hard with the paddle. I was shocked and embarrassed and angry all at once. Nothing about the experience taught me anything about engaging in better behavior in class. No one punished the jerky kid who carelessly crashed into our desk to ruin the game. Where was the punishment for that kid? 

Strong sense of justice

That sense of injustice raged within me all that day. From then on the sight of Miss Paloney filled me with anger and distrust. If that’s how justice was destined to be meted out in this world, who could be trusted? What else was to be expected? 

That wouldn’t be the last time I received or witnessed a paddling. All the way through sixth grade the teachers kept at it. One kid named Richard defied all attempts by the teachers to collar his behavior. The male teachers all owned large wooden paddles drilled through with holes. These were kept hanging in the classroom as a threat. That year teachers broke nine paddles over the butt of Richard. We could hear the violence smack of wood on his body out in the hallways. Then he’d head back to class with a stern grimace on his face. 

Results and outcomes

Fifty years later I heard that Richard had just gotten out of prison.  The paddlings clearly had not had the desired effect of correcting Richard’s behavior. Probably there were problems at home that drove Richard to be so defiant and refuse to obey the rules. Who knows what Richard’s family circumstance had been? Was there ever an attempt to actually counsel the kid?

My little world

Looking back, I realize that having a father with a temper and going through schools where teachers used paddles to beat children in the hallways disrupted my sense of safety and well-being. By the sixth-grade, I was starting fights at the slightest hint of criticism from my peers. That proved to be a phase. But then I started pumping all that anger and determination into sports, especially running, and not always to a healthy degree. My self-esteem was sometimes too wrapped up in that part of my identity. 

At some point, I decided to look into the reasons why anger and angst played such a role in my life. Then one night in my late twenties I woke up pounding my pillow in the middle of the night, and realized: All that violence and a specific incident in my youth had wounded me. There are cogent explanations for feelings like that. The Livestrong website shares a bit of information about the effects of violence on children: 

Aggression in Children

“Physical punishment models aggression for children. According to Lynn Namka, EdD, physical punishment engenders more aggression in the child, even if it initially appears to stop the behavior. Children cannot always understand the difference between unacceptable physical aggression for which they get punished, such as hitting and shoving, and the physical aggression they receive as punishment. Corporal punishment can lead to increased aggression for kids in school, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

In other words, violence hurts the psyche. The effects of physical punishment and/or abuse do persist throughout the lives of those that experience it. Despite what some zealots like to advocate on behalf of corporal punishment (The Bible says it’s okay!) those hallway spankings never really helped anyone. Nor was it healthy to watch or hear other kids get paddled.

Social justice

Instead, what those experiences produced in me and likely many others was a massively evolved sense of social justice. In my case, I yearned to protect those who needed help and who could not protect themselves. I got some fights trying to stand up to bullies. Then the bullies communicated and targeted me specifically. Thus I wound up in a series of fights. This is how the cycle of violence perpetuates itself in our society. 

It’s the same with guns, where vigilante justice has emerged from an escalating love affair with more powerful weapons to combat the weapons already out there on the streets. The police are caught up in this cycle of violence.

Shooting other people is nothing more than a far more violent form of spanking. If someone does you wrong, you shoot them. That’s an acceptable worldview to some people. Forget “turn the other cheek.” It’s all about meting out punishment and forcing others into contrition. 

I’ve learned enough from sports to know that sometimes even winning feels like losing if it truly hurts someone. I’ve learned from life that dealing out punishment is not a satisfaction if it demeans your own character in the process. I’ve learned from caregiving that selflessness and sacrifice are far more important accomplishments than winning could ever be. 

And none of that did I learn from getting spankings as a kid, or getting browbeaten as an adult. If the world’s ever going to change for the better, that may be the first lesson we all have to learn. 

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Competing goals and the secret to life

Yesterday I mapped out a training program. How many days a week to run, ride and swim. It’s nothing crazy. 

Those are exciting to think about as I also fixed up my former racing bike and this past weekend picked up a set of Profile Design tri-bars so that I can ride aero on that bike and maybe peel a mile or two per hour off my competition pace in Sprints and Olympics this summer. I love doing triathlons for the peak experiences they bring. Fun to lace all that together. It’s both a mental and physical challenge. 

Yes: I still love to do all this. 

My book The Right Kind of Pride is sold on Amazon.com

The written word

Yet I also have some competing goals in life as well. For example, I have a pair of books nearly completed that will require some work to push for publication. Two months ago I spoke for a half hour with a literary agent who expressed interest in the projects, and my main goal is to go the traditional route when it comes to those books. Work with an agent. Find a publisher. Then promote. One of those books is titled Truly Sustainable Faith. The other is titled Nature Is My Country Club. Both have been a joy to write, and I work on editing and such every day.  

Just like my running and riding and swimming, writing is a daily discipline in which I engage. 

Art to produce

There is also artwork to produce. My latest solo show titled 
Road Trip was well received. People responded well to the twenty works I produced and exhibited at Water Street Studios, the gallery and collective where I worked as a Resident Artist the last three years. 

One of the Road Trip showpieces, a pastel mounted in an antique window frame. 

I’ll be taking some of that show up to Luther College late next summer to hold a show at the Center for Faith and Life on campus. My 40-year college reunion will be held in October. 

Which means that while my world has changed in so many ways, I’m still doing the things that I loved from way back when. Still painting, writing and running. Added the cycling and swimming, and that makes things busy sometimes. 

Some of my classmates from college days are already retired. They’ve got their finances set up and are either traveling, hanging out doing what they like or taking on volunteer projects. That’s their world. I’ve got mine. 

I look for inspiration everywhere I go. And often find it in the most interesting place. 

And even if I were retired, I’m pretty much sure I’d be challenging myself the same ways that I do now. In fact, while I ran my own little company and worked for myself a few years in a row, that’s what I did. With all that freedom to do whatever I liked, I focused on client projects of course. But I also signed up for the Resident Artist gig at Water Street, did some commissions and grew my work in new directions. 

They say you’re supposed to find the things you love and do them in life, and success will follow. Yet it is a little strange to realize that I’ve got competing goals when it comes to time. There are days when I have a little less motivation to get up and jump in the pool than I’d like, but there’s always the noon hour as well. 

The After Party at the Sno Fun Run brought out the best in me a few years back. Just, relax. 

Because that’s the thing that I have also learned to do after all these years. Stay motivated even if things don’t fall together in the moment. Being flexible and determined is a form of discipline as well. 

My earnest advice is to forgive yourself and keep moving in life. Don’t forget to let yourself rest now and then as well. That becomes more important as you age. Not because you can’t handle it if you try, but because it’s not a sin to treat yourself well, and be kind within during times of adversity. The trick is to find ways to compete and do what you love without killing yourself in the process. 

That’s the secret to life, right there. 

Posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, Christopher Cudworth, competition, cycling, healthy aging, healthy senior, mental health, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Leave a comment

Years of kicking ass is still not enough for these guys

Dan Johnson (far right) and his Run N Fun teammates placed second in the 60+ team XC national championships. 

This past weekend the national cross country championships were held for Open runners, Masters 40+ and 60+, to name a few. A former Luther College teammate named Dan Johnson, about whom I’ve written on a couple occasions, finished sixth overall in a per-mile pace of 6:06. That’s a really wonderful accomplishment. 

Dan’s team Run N Fun placed second overall in the men’s 60+ category. Nice job fellows. 

The guy who won the 60+ individual title is named Joe Sheeran. He’s a product of Illinois where I live. He competed for Eastern Illinois University back in the day and led their team to a national championship if I recall correctly.

Joe was a terror on the roads as well in the early 1980s, winning big races and competing at a national level for a number of years. Over the last 10 years, he’s won a number of masters championships on the roads and in cross country. 

At last weekend’s national XC championships, Sheeran averaged 5:49 per mile on a 8K cross country course. He’s 61 years old and thus seems ageless in many respects. Dan and Joe are examples to all of us who want to keep running as fast as we can for as long as we can in this race we call life. 

It goes to show there’s no excuse for not running hard if you can. So go out and run harder today or these “old guys” like these will keep on kicking your ass. I know there’s nothing I like better than passing people with ages much younger than mine written on their calf or arms. Kicking ass if fun at any age. 

Go out and kick some of your own. 

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One Baloney sandwich, a bag of fritos, a Suzy Q and a bottle of Coke

These days information on nutrition for athletes is everywhere. There is nutrition advice specific to individual and multisport athletes. There is nutrition advice for Ironman triathletes. You can’t turn around without finding nutrition advice on your feed, or in ads, or on the TV.

But it wasn’t always that way. 

During the early days of distance running, there was more advice about what not to eat than about foods that might boost performance. Our cross country coach encouraged us to avoid eggs for the most part. It was believed they could produce sideaches. Same with Coca-Cola, where caffeine was the enemy, and the amount of sugar messed with your bloodstream. And donuts. We weren’t supposed to eat donuts. 

So I abided by that advice during the season. I was so disciplined about it that I did not touch a Coke from August through November. That was tough for a high school kid to do. 

But then my family moved to a different town and our coach said nothing to us about nutrition. Thus my junior year in high school I began the habit of eating what I wanted for lunch. That lunchtime diet consisted of one baloney sandwich, a bag of Fritos, a yummy Suzy Q snack cake and a can of Coke. 

None of those foods is actually “real” in terms of origin. Baloney is made from who knows what shards of formerly living things. Like hot dogs, baloney is best left unexamined. However I dared look it up and Reference.com gives that rather sanitized version of what’s in baloney:

“Some brands of bologna are made from a combination of pork and beef and on occasion, turkey is added. The nutritional value of bologna varies depending on the meat used to make it. Since it is a processed meat, it is high in sodium and saturated fats. Bologna is mainly sold sliced and ready to eat, though some people prefer to heat it up before consuming. Bologna sandwiches are a well-known lunch item in the United States.”

I likely slapped that baloney on a couple slices of white bread and layered it with American cheese slathered with mustard. By lunchtime the mustard would soak partly through the bread creating an absolutely scrumptiously moist patina suited for a Baloney King. Then it was time for the Fritos!

The Fritos were just fun to eat. The shapes and all.  Then came the Suzy Q, both purchased down the hill from the high school at the local Blue Goose Supermarket where I knew the owner’s son. It was all so downhome and simple that I looked forward to it every day. 

On the nutrition front,  the Fritos were also high in sodium. They also packed a few carbohydrates, as did the darkly textured Suzy Q, whose interior filling was like consuming sex on a bun. 50% more creme!

Then I’d wash it all down with a Coke, rich with another 25 or so grams of sugar, if not more. And that was that. Lunch in the early 70s. Three hours later I’d be out training with the guys running 6-8 miles every night. Or, we’d line up to race every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. We did that week after week for a schedule of 18-20 meets total. 

Day after day I’d consume my junk food lunch. Sometimes I’d substitute the Suzy Q with one of those Hostess apple or cherry pies. Again, there was less fruit in those things than there was serious content in the 1960s show Laugh-In. In other words, not much. 

Yet despite this diet, I ran well enough to lead the team to a District title and ultimately attract some interest from college running programs. I never told them about my secret diet of a baloney sandwich, bag of Fritos, Suzy Q and can of Coke. 

Yet somehow I think they knew. Because on college road trips were were fed sandwiches made by the college cafeteria. They were tightly compressed and the meat source was generally unrecognizable. A bag of potato chips came with the sack lunch, along with a soft and often spotted apple and a box of orange-flavored juice that looked like it had been milked from a Martian. 

Somehow we survived on that stuff as well. Which is to say that sports nutrition in the 1970s left much to be desired. It also built dietary habits that to this day are hard for me to break. The sweet tooth. The love of salt. The desire for the quick fix and buzz of Coke. All of it resonates in my system like the promise of a rush to an addict. 

I’m not happy about it. But at least I’ve come to recognize the source of my pain. Coming to grips with old habits, no matter what they may be, is the start to recovery. 

As for today, I’m sitting in Starbucks having just consumed a plastic platter of apples, cheese, hard-boiled (salted) eggs and a peanut-butter laden piece of soft pita or whatever the hell that was. And I feel good even after washing it down with rich hot chocolate. 

Old habits die hard. I just hope those early dietary years haven’t killed me already. 

Posted in aging is not for the weak of heart, Christopher Cudworth, cross country, track and field, training, TRAINING PEAKS, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

When it comes to gender power, look out below

I had a laughingly light discussion with my wife this morning  about the equipment we respectively sport “down below.” It started with me teasing her about the fact that her panties matched her toenails/ she laughed and said, “Well the bra is about to do the same.” 

Then she looped the bra around her chest so that the cups were facing backward, clasped the bra shut and spun it around into its designed position. I said, “You women have to do a lot of things that guys don’t.” 

“Oh,” she chuckled. “You guys have plenty of your own stuff to deal with.” That led to a very brief discussion about the vagaries of what guys and women respectively have to deal with down below. 

Body honesty

One of the things I most love about my wife is body honesty. As an athlete she shifts in and out of clothes on a regular basis. That’s a necessity, and as a rule of existence, athletes get used to getting naked into order to transition to the next stage of training or getting back to work. Those are practical realities

These days, and to its credit, the women’s athletic wear industry actually makes gear designed to compliment and support women’s bodies in all their shapes and forms. 

For guys or gals, it’s all about clothing that compliments performance. Thus there are subtle yet quite important differences in the design of certain critical pieces of equipment, such as bike shorts for men and women. The chamois for women tends to be a bit wider to accommodate sit bones while men have an extension that protects the genitals up the front. 

We all learn how to best manager our own junk. It is likely difficult for a man to imagine the tricks and trysts of managing a vagina. For women, the male penis might seem like an obstacle of sorts, particularly when compressed against a bike seat. Is there really such as thing as Penis Envy? 

Women clearly have their issues down there too. The rub of a set of bike shorts can make things sore for a woman in a hurry. 

But men have some odd challenges. I’ve gone numb in the penis several times when the bike seat or my riding posture are positioned wrong. That’s an odd feeling, to have no feeling at all in that most sensitive and typically responsive part of your body. It’s like “Hello, Anyone Home?”

That’s when the Joy Stick no longer feels joyful. That’s no fun at all. After all, for many men, whether they will confess it publicly or not, their penis is like a lifetime playmate or a feelgood friend. You don’t want to let the poor guy go numb and stay numb. 

Which brings us to sensuality, the flip side of raw equipment management. And as the world has discovered through the likes of Cosmo magazine and other pro-liberation media, women have as much or more capacity for joy down there than do men. Multiple orgasms are the Holy Grail or female sexuality, and whether they’ll admit it or not, men are fabulously jealous of that incredible capacity. Turns out that Vagina Envy may be more real than we might like to think. 

But again, there’s no joy down there when things are roughed up or abraded by sweat and friction. Sensuality ducks and covers under those circumstances. 

So while male and female anatomy down there (and up there too) seems so vastly different, we also know there are people who possess both male and female characteristics. Either they possess physical attributes or their gender identity is malleable. Both are actually legitimate outcomes of human evolution. 

It is disturbing to see how many people in American society are determined to shove these people aside or force them to choose on category or another, only to criticize them when they do. Talk about gender hypocrisy and false clarity. Yet it isn’t always an easy determination to decide whether certain athletes are more male than female when they clearly exist somewhere in between. The world of sports continues to struggle with those human dimensions. 

I know several transgender people. One of them bears the same name as me. They’re just Chris. Leave it at that. 

I recall being a kid and worrying that my first and middle name were a bit gender neutral. To make matters worse, my mother often called me Chrissy. She did this all the way through my high school cross country and track career. My competitors would hear my mom calling out that brand of encouragement and mutter cynically to me during races, “Go Chrissy go!” 

And my middle name is Lynn. Not much help in the machismo department. I was always worried people would not consider me macho enough. Peers were always testing the will to stand up to teasing and bullying. Friends and foes alike.

That said, most of us athletes in the 70s and early 80s waltzed around naked without a thought about other people seeing us in the buff. We didn’t obsess about penis size either. And Man Grooming? Wasn’t on the radar back then. The same went for women in the “down there” department anyway. In retrospect it all looks a little funky. Those Playboy photos from forty years ago bear testament to the need for the little trim that kept things in shape, as it were. But that was far from the often bareback preferences of the present age. 

Let’s not forget how skimpy athletic fashions and general clothing wear sometimes became in the early 1970s. Short shorts rolled into fashion for women and the body revelation had begun. I clearly recall standing across from a particularly well-built classmate in our little high school out in the cornfield. At the age of fifteen, I could not help admiring her crotch in tight-fitting white shorts. Those years were like one giant hormone rush. I don’t even recall going to class some days because my brain was a thick ball of testosterone. Could. Not. Think.

Yet I still knew so little about female anatomy the mysteries of it all just about killed me. With no sisters of my own to witness through their blossoming years, the female anatomy might as well have been a nebula forty million light years away. Until, of course, the whole sexual exploration thing began. Bob Seger captured the glory of all that in his sing Night Moves: 

I was a little too tall
Could’ve used a few pounds
Tight pants points hardly reknown
She was a black-haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points all her own sitting way up high
Way up firm and high

But for all that cross-gender mystery, interactions within our own gender were well-adjusted to social dynamics such as taking public showers. That was before culture was browbeaten by conservative fears that our chastity and privacy were at risk. As a result, kids have reportedly retreated from public showers in high schools across the country. My high school teacher friends say that taking showers together just isn’t done these days. Pity. That was a great place to sing songs together. 

Nowadays the public forum of social media is like one giant shower stall. The human body is exposed more than ever.  And that’s okay. Bared asses and breasts (but not nipples) appear every day on Instagram, and none’s the harm. Even the risk of a little male or female Camel Toe is a statement that our respective brand of genitals do not define us. What you have down there isn’t so important as what you make of it in terms of celebrating the power of whatever gender you possess. And that’s the way it should be.  

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In the heart of un-darkness

6:00 a.m. on a winter’s morning

My wife popped up to ride the indoor trainer at 4:45 a.m. I crawled out of the warm bed at 5:15 and dug out the running stuff from the TYR bag resting by the foot of the bed. Admittedly I’d already scrolled through the list of Likes and Comments on Instagram, whisked through the Notifications on Facebook and watched a hilarious video of Bryan Cranston celebrating his 60th birthday on the Jimmy Kimmel show. 

Perhaps I’m not proud of the grip social media has on my conscious mind, but winter mornings demand a little light and the phone is all-too-willing to provide it. 

Outside, the skies were still dark. Or so it appeared from inside the house. When it’s cloudy overnight where we live, the sky never gets truly dark. The lights from the auto dealerships two miles to the south take care of that. So does the glow from nearby Geneva, where the lights from shopping malls illuminate the sky. And in St. Charles as well, a pod of wan light washes across the otherwise dark horizon. 

Light and dark on suburban streets

I’m used to running in the dark. There’s a predictability to it if you do it long enough. Best not flirt too much with the road edge, which can be uneven. It’s typically easy enough to see the pavement cracks except when a car is approaching and the headlights blind you. Then it’s necessary to raise a hand and shield the eyes for safety. 

Welcome to the heart of un-darkness, where a little light is a blessing and a lotta light can be a curse. It is the space I long occupied as a paperboy in the early 1970s. I’d cover the route in darkness, especially on the side of town where streetlights were spaced far apart. Along I’d roll, pedaling a Huffy three-speed bike with caliper brake (whoooooaah). Even in deep snow I’d roll around the slushy streets with that often-heavy bag of newspapers over my shoulder. That was a 5:30 a.m. job to earn probably $8.00 a week. But I was motivated and did a great job. The Christmas tips proved that to me. 

I share these experiences to convey the sense of familiarity one can develop with moving about in the un-dark. When people ask if it’s hard to run or ride before it gets light, I do recall there was ever a time when I crashed the bike or stumbled enough to fall while moving about before dawn or after twilight.

Of course, I’ve run into fallen trees in broad daylight and tumbled into the landscaping by tripping over a curb on a bright summer day, but I cannot recall a single time when I crashed or fell all the way to the ground while it was dark out. 

The un-darkness of the soul. 

Perhaps, like a person lacking sight or hearing, one develops an extra sensitivity to training in the dark. The un-darkness is, in fact, its own world, a realm in which one moves about with senses operating in a different fashion than normal. 

I recall reading those Carlos Castaneda books about the teachings of Don Juan, a mystic warrior whose insights included how to transcend the physical world. I can’t say anything like that has happened to me, but there have been some weird moments over the years when I passed by a human figure in the shadows who would not say hello. The dark is privacy, to some degree. But so is the half-dark.

It’s not loneliness exactly, but alone-ness that sometimes matters to the soul. That feeling of being someone, or something sentient is important. You exist in a space between the worlds. Never mind the coming day or the approaching night. This little world of un-darkness is just about perfect for the soul seeking answers from the sound of footsteps or the whirr of tires. 

Running in winter un-darkness can seem dank and foreboding. But there’s also running in the summer night with just shorts and a pair of shoes, or cycling home after twilight has fallen, when the nighthawks course under the streetlights and one arrives tired and happy, on your own driveway thankful for the gift of it all. 

And the un-darkness of the soul. 

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The more things stay the same, the more they change us

I know. You think I got that saying in the headline wrong. The traditional statement is to sigh and lament, “Well, you know. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Well I say, fuck that. 

We’re all familiar with how fashions change in men’s ties. For a while they’ll be real fat and gaudy. Then they slim down and go all conservative and trim. Then they expand to medium sized with all these gaudy colors and for all we know, there are abstract images of penguins fucking seals in the patterns. But you’d never know it unless you ask the actual designers, who are likely laughing behind your back and snickering into their sleeves as they snigger and chortle, “PENGUINS FUCKING SEALS! THEY’LL BUY ANYTHING!” 

Or MAYBE it’s other way around. Maybe it’s seals fucking penguins. We have evidence of that at least. Those fashion designers are so environmentally sensitive, you know.  

Caption this one yourself. 

I’ve likely had ties with that type of pattern on them.  I’ve also had ties in all kinds of widths and lengths and knots. But there’s hardly any demand to wear ties any more. So for the most part, my tie collection sits in a closet undisturbed until some slightly formal occasion comes along requiring one of fifty or so ties to be hauled out of it’s bin like a snake from a wicker basket. Be careful, they might bite. 

Old but looking for polish. 

Then there’s the tasks of shining my shoes. That’s something I still like to do now and then because I believe that shoes should not be left to look like two hardened shells of wrinkly cow shit. Women with taste notice these sorts of things. If your shoes look like shit, they’ll think you look like shit too. 

As noted in yesterday’s blog, I recently restored a bike to riding condition that I’d crunched by driving into my garage with the bike on the roof rack. It’s been an expensive wall ornament for a few years.

But now it’s back. It cost me some money to fix it up, because everything to do with cycling costs money. Yet it’s often worth it to go back in time and bring something back to life that you once loved them and could love again. The more things stay the same, the more they change. 

Old but looking for fitness. 

That’s one of the ways that we all keep things from going stale. Whether it’s going back in time or picking up the pieces somehow and moving on, the sameness may be familiar but it’s also a foundation for change. 

More than one endurance athlete has hit a plateau or a stale period in their life where nothing feels new. Sometimes they try to re-invent themselves. But others go back to what worked for them in the first place. They might re-unite with a former coach, or go training on some favorite trails or roads. 

In some sports, it’s far more difficult to use the same to create the change. I’ve seen former swimmers stand by the pool and nothing about getting back in the water feels like fun to them. When you’ve trained thousands of meters in the pool at all times of the day, it’s hard to find something new about any of it. That’s certainly understandable. Yet there’s still a shred of hope…

Fortunately open water swimming does offer an opportunity to do something a little different than swimming multiple laps in the pool. No walls for flip turns for one thing. I’m still gaining confidence about open water swimming but the first time I did it a few years ago the experience was revelatory. Grant you, I had a wetsuit on so my attitude was bolstered. Whatever works. But it was fun. Liberating. 

Just open water. That’s all. 

Now I’m trying to build strength so that I can honestly engage with the water in any circumstance and at almost any distance. Hopefully I’ll grow in efficiency so that swimming a mile or more without a wetsuit is well within my province. To do that will require plenty of laps in the indoor pool. That’s all necessary to get the type of freedom one seeks in the outdoor environment. To seek change, sometimes we have to labor through the sameness. True in workouts. True in life. Just like the lyrics of John Lennon’s song Revolution: 

You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead

It’s also true on the bike and running as well. We ride indoors on the bike all winter (so much of the same…) to build fitness for those harsh March days when the temps get above forty and it’s time to prepare for the big wide world with real hills and wind and weather.

Some take to the running treadmill as well. It’s hard some days to take the sameness of these routines. But that’s the point here: The more things stay the same, the more they change us for the better when it matters. 

Posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, Christopher Cudworth, cycling, cycling the midwest, healthy aging, marathon training, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding your motivation

If only the motivation to work out were this easy to find…

It would be nice if the motivation to work out and improve performance could be stumbled upon like some glowing blue object in a video game. “Oh look!” you could marvel. “A big chunk of motivation! I’ll put that in my digital fanny pack and go do 30 miles on the bike in a freezing rain.” 

Typically, it doesn’t work that way. Yet motivation can come from strange places. Even the purchase of a new pair of running shoes or a cool new kit top can turn out to be a motivating force if you let it. 

That’s tight

I recall the year I was given a new set of Tinley running tights for Christmas. Those damned things were so comfortable and well-designed I wound up running more just to enjoy them. That spring I dropped my previously lagging 10K time out of sheer circumstantial momentum. 

Out of the wreckage

Back on the road in matching red and black

Recently I decided to fix up the Felt 4C bike that I’d crunched by driving into the garage with the bike still mounted on the roof rack. It wasn’t much more than a 5-mile-an-hour collision, but the front fork was definitely toasted. Since then, I’ve had several bike aficionados study the frame and they found no cracks in it. So I bought the Felt a new front fork and with a couple other tweaks including a new seat stem and stainproof black bar tape the Felt 4C is back in action. 

I’d forgotten how smooth and that light that bike is to ride. I love my Specialized Venge Expert for its stolid right and smooth shifting. By contrast, the Felt 4C is a different ride, but it’s a nice one. So that was the bike that provided a chunk of needed motivation yesterday. I took the Felt out to ride 16 miles in a raw wind and 40-degree temps. Yet it turned out to be fun. 

Call me nuts

Even on grey days, the motivation to work out can drive you to great things

Some people call that kind of thing nuts. But it’s true that people who don’t run or ride or swim think a lot of the things we do are crazy. Thus my motivation is seldom either gained or lost from those who don’t know what it’s like, on a cold and blustery day, to finally turn around and ride with the wind after you’ve worked five full miles into the cold gale. Then the ride goes silent but for the whirr of the wheels on smooth asphalt. The speed picks up and the rewards are real. 

In fact, that moment in time is very much like scooping up a little green digital power pack in a video game. So I’ll take back what I said at the start of this blog. Motivation is nothing more than the energy and will to enjoy what you’re doing, and you can find that almost any time if you’re looking for it.  

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