The unnatural dilemma that faces us all

Gull Against Dark Sky.jpgI’m going to admit something to you. I’ve been on what amounts to a forty-year guilt trip. It all started when I was about fourteen years old. That’s when I seriously took up running in track and field and cross country. Much of the training for those sports takes place early in the morning or in the evening. Those also happen to be the best times for birding.

It didn’t get any better when cycling entered the picture, or swimming. Those activities also often require early departures or getting out of the house for pool time.

Gull Darkness.pngBut when spring comes around each year and birds migrate through our area, I feel guilty if I let the spring go by without finding some interesting species somewhere along the way. That means getting out the door by 6:00 am to get on site in time for the dawn chorus, or the departure of ducks from the wetlands.

Yet something’s changed in the last year that is making my unnatural dilemma less conflicting. We moved to a house that backs up to a wetland. There are birds that come to that wetland that I once traveled miles to see. Notable among them are sandhill cranes. These formerly uncommon birds were once an annual treat during their March migration. I recall the first time my brother and I watched a flight of 400 Sandhills heading straight north over our house in St. Charles, Illinois. We heard them first. That’s often the case with sandhill cranes. Their voices carry long distances.

We stood there in awe as the giant silver birds passed over in a long see formation. Then we danced around in street because it was such a treat back in 1973 to see even a couple of these birds. A very few bred in highly protected spots here in Illinois. They were considered rare enough that their nesting sites were closely guarded secrets.

These days, thanks to environmental laws that have improved habitat availability and reduced poisons that harm wildlife species, sandhill cranes have made a successful comeback. They are quite common now even in Illinois.

Which is why two different pairs of the birds have been seen in our backyard. They have even walked up to our bird feeders for breakfast or lunch, depending on their mood.

So my guilt over not seeing any cool spring birds is partly assuaged by the fact that they now come to me. The same holds true with the formerly endangered wood duck, a classy-looking waterfowl that I’d see once or twice a year along the Fox River. Their numbers were quite low forty years ago. Installation of wood duck nesting boxes has helped the species grow in population.

Last year we had fourteen wood ducks marching from the wetland up to our bird feeders to munch on corn. They were wary birds but for some reason felt better about walking to our feeders than flying.

We also have hawks of several species and great horned owls that will sing throughout the night during winter or breeding season. On top of that there are sparrows and even warblers that can be heard singing in our backyard.

On top of our daily wildlife sightings that include coyotes and rabbits and squirrels, I regularly get out for nature hike. This past weekend the walk too me through Nelson Lake Marsh, an Illinois Nature Preserve about a mile from my home. And again, a trip to that property used to require a drive of 6-8 miles. Now I can actually run there, course through the preserve for four to five miles, and run home again. This is my scouting method, and I can often count 20-30 species of birds simply by hearing them and cover all sorts of habitats from wetland to woods to restored prairie. So the diversity is thrilling.

Come late spring the bobolinks return to the fields along with meadowlarks, kingbirds and sedge wrens. From the wetlands come the sewing-machine voices of marsh wrens, and from the woods the plaintive calls of wood pewee, one of several flycatcher species that call the preserve home. 

I’ll trot through and survey the various habitats, then come back out with binoculars on a day when I take a break from running. That doesn’t mean I don’t still feel torn by running on days when the birding would clearly be fantastic.

Out on the bike it’s a different story. Covering so much ground in typically open country, there’s no real time to pause and look at a kestrel on the wire above. The landscape is a fauvism. One’s concentration is often focused on the pavement directly ahead.

Sandhill callingBut as I type this, the calls of forty cranes have come down from the sky above. They are moving on a brisk spring day, headed to whatever breeding grounds they favor, likely to the far north. Their voices are built on 60M years of evolutionary change and development. But perchance they do not sound much different now than they did 10M or 30M years ago.

So all the while this guilt trip over whether I should run or ride or swim or bird is really rather silly. Being able to access the things we love and enjoy in this very brief life we human beings have on earth is really the name of the game. Everything else and all the guilt-fed considerations are really an unnatural dilemma. We’re given this gift of life somehow, and those who treasure it get the most from their experiences. Those who can only snipe at others and blame the world for not giving them what they want will receive exactly the life they deserve. Fat of mind and stupified by their own narrow vision, they will hide in the self-proclaimed glory of their personal worth and never see that the world has much more to offer than what they are so determined to steal from it.

And that is the unnatural dilemma that faces us all.

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Time in the Saddle Alone (TITSA)

IMG_3008Last night I parked the car at the train station so that my wife could drive it home after her commute. That gave me the chance to ride 20+ miles during the hour and a half of good light still available.

Riding north from Geneva, I climbed up to 834 feet above sea level. The view from up there used to be quite dramatic forty years ago. But between urban development and the growth of trees, the City of Chicago 35 miles away is no longer visible.

I rode up those hills steady and smart. Full pedal strokes. No mashing. Used the full pull of the shoe on the cleat.

Up on the flats, the wind was stiff out of the north as I rode west. It pushed me and relented as I went along. There was no need to fight it. My goal was time in the saddle. Trust the legs will gain strength with the hours. Settle yourself on the bike. Ride in a good position.

This is the sane way to get into cycling condition. To find good form, you have to practice it. Time in the saddle is how you get there.

So is time alone in the saddle. It’s far too easy in the early season to get caught up with a group that turns you into mashed potatoes halfway through the ride. There’s time for all that once you have 10-15 rides in you. Then it makes sense to get pulled along, and do some pulls yourself.


Before that, the body doesn’t know what to make of the extremes. No pro goes out and does a four-hour ride at max effort to start the season! Why do amateur riders tend to do that to each other? It makes no sense.

Though I’ve ridden now for 15 years, I still know more about running than about cycling. But I know that it never paid off to run at maximum effort all the time. It paid instead to train slow for the bulk of the early season and build a base. Then progressively add intensity over a period of weeks. That’s how you get in shape.

But cyclists often pride themselves on pushing to extremes and not asking any questions. It seems to be part of the unspoken psychology of the sport that one should never inquire about the suspected pace, or worse yet, dare to question or complain whatever goes on with a group. It’s considered better form for some insane reason to hang on until the legs give out and eventually get dropped than to ask, “Hey, what’s the planned pace today?” That’s like a confession of weakness.

I have to say that triathletes can be even worse about this dynamic than traditional cyclists. Once a tri-guy or gal gets down in aero, they might as well be encased in a space suit. They tend enter their own world, and riding in the draft is a foreign concept to many. That’s not true for all of them, but I think you all know what I mean.

Fortunately, there are exceptions.

Sue In AeroBecause that’s not the case with my wife Sue, as we’ve worked out a system of riding together no matter what bike she’s on. I tend to ride in her draft on longer rides because I don’t ride with aero bars and she’s not interested in riding in my draft as a matter of training principles. So we share some of the pulls, but not too much. Many days she’s frankly stronger than me, but there are days when I end up guiding us home as well. Last summer we did rides of three and four and even five hours together. Not every second was perfect, but we also split off sometimes to get some riding in alone. Good partners know how to compromise. I think we do that well.

It’s too bad when cyclists fall into the trap of riding whatever pace their insane buddies choose to hit on any given day. That’s why time in the saddle alone (TITSA) can also be so important to your own fitness and sanity. There’s an honesty and patience that comes with making your own way through the spring winds, over that first season of hills and home on the flats with the wind behind your back. It’s all liberating. And finding your pace and space in the world without the initial pressures of riding with others is a good thing.

So the ride last night was a nice little base-builder that provided a chance to think ahead to when the weather gets warmer and the legs have more juice than they do now. TITSA is the way to go.



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Bringing Just Do It to life

IMG_2770I don’t recall if the Nike brand slogan Just Do It coincided exactly with the peak of my competitive running career, but I know that I lived it just the same. The very early 80s were a heady time in the road running scene, with tons of elite and sub-elite runners duking it out at distances from 5K to Half marathon. In 1984 I raced 24 times and won about half those races.

A year after that tremendous investment of energy, I’d effectively completed the course of the competitive surge that had began after college and lasted into my mid-twenties. By fall of ’85 I’d decided to back off the training and start looking at other things in life. But not before getting married and giving all my groomsmen a set of Nike Air Pegasus running shoes. They were silver with grey swooshes and matched our tuxedos with flair.

Those shoes were purchased through the Running Unlimited store that had sponsored a racing team on which I competed for two years. The top tier of guys on that team included Olympic Trials qualifiers in the marathon and one guy who just missed by 20 seconds. Several had 10K times under 30:00, so I fell somewhere in the middle of the group overall.

Runner’s Edge

That was the second Nike-based racing team of which I was a member. In 1982 I’d signed up to race for a team out of Paoli, Pennsylvania sponsored by the Runner’s Edge running store. That team also had Olympic quality runners from whom I learned more about running in six months than perhaps all the racing and training I’d done before.

Mostly that meant slowing the hell down on longer runs and finishing with a flourish to test the legs when tired. That ran counter to the methods we used in college in which we ran 6:00 pace all the time. Practices essentially consisted of race-quality efforts every day, including twenty-mile runs done in two hours. With no water.

I’m not sure how that made us faster in races of 5 miles. But that’s how we did it. So the training knowledge gained over the years from high school through my early 20s was a mix of good and bad.

Market changes

In 1982, the job I held in marketing for Van Kampen Merritt required moving to Philadelphia in a consolidation of resources. Eight months later the whole marketing department was given the heave-ho because the VP of Marketing wasn’t giving the sales team what it needed to succeed. I was given $7K severance and a pat on the back.

The sudden change stung a bit. Armed with that bit of anger and the harsh realization of finding new work in a relatively down economy, I moved back to Chicago to live with a close friend in the city. Arriving in Chi-town in the months of May1983, I dialed in and started running for all I was worth. I mean that both literally and figuratively.

You talk about your Just Do It moments in life? This was it. I figured there wasn’t much to lose at that point. Deep down I knew that I’d never be world class or make it anywhere close to the Olympics. But I did want to try to be the best I could be at running. This was my one chance at it. There simply isn’t a second go-round in life. Just Do It.

Ready for action

Nike RunningAfter a summer training on the trails of Lincoln Park, by fall I was ready for some real racing. Right out of the box I took a win at the Run for the Money in Arlington Heights. I ran 31:53 on a course that a fellow competitor had personally measured and shared that it was more than 200 meters long. So I knew I was fit. After a couple more wins in smaller races,  I won the Frank Lloyd Wright Run in Oak Park in 32:00 flat on a winding course. I didn’t break the race record set by Tom Mountain, a better run than me, but in terms of concentration and control of circumstances, beating 3000 other runners was a significant point of triumph. I enjoyed every step of that victory, which happened to deliver a real silver cup as the top award.

By that point, I really was Just Doing It. There weren’t many other immediate obligations in life. Those results produced an offer to join the Running Unlimited racing team. The sponsorship included free Nike running gear and a couple pairs of Nike shoes along with steep discounts on anything else needed to train and race. The contract called for competing a minimum of twelve times in 1984. Just Do It.


That turned out to be a sweet year. It was defined by a shared love of competition with the other guys on the team. In several races, we gobbled up the top ten positions on the day. I’m not sure how that exactly helped the reputation of the shop, because it shut out other runners from the podium and age group placings. But it sure was wild competing with eight or nine other guys wearing the same spare white and blue running uniforms.

For races on the track that season, I chose a of Nike Air Zoom spikes. They were white with a sky-blue swoosh. Light. Airy. And fast. I ran my PR for 5K on the track in those shoes. The race was held at midnight at North Central College. Only the purists in the running community were still there running that late at night, but there were plenty of us. Some twenty-five runners lined up and I can still recall the sensation of cool air flowing over my bare shoulders in the featherlight Nike kit. We knew how to dress to run then. The less, the better. Flying along at 4:40 per mile pace on an early May evening. The experience of running does not get any better than that in this world.

Just Do It

In a world where so much else is the product of relativism, group approvals and decisions made by committee, the choice to Just Do It your own way and live with the outcomes is a pure one indeed. There is no room for compromise when it’s just you and your feet on the ground. At one point after the big surge of running was over, I observed in the presence of my mother that perhaps I’d been a bit self-indulgent. She corrected me: “No. I liked your intensity,” she told me.

There’s a lesson in that.So it’s no apologies and no regrets when it comes to how it all turned out during my phase of Just Do It. That brand of drive still lives within me. I just finished writing a book about the effects of hypocrisy in religion. It’s called Sustainable Faith. It has taken a year-and-a-half to write, plus thirty years of study in matters of theology. Much of the book was formulated and even written in my head while out running or riding. Sometimes I’d have to stop and blurt an idea into my phone so that it would not be forgotten.

The writing process for a book is much the same as it is for training and racing in running. You put in the bulk effort to build up a base. Refine the base with some reorganization and editing. Throw in a few bursts of creativity to shake things up. Find the voice that’s trying to emerge. Re-write and re-edit. Then fine tune with some speed reading to see how it all holds together.

And suddenly, you’ve just done it. Now I’m sending the book out into the world for some feedback. You have to have as much courage to Just Say It as it takes to Just Do It. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. But the process is always worth it. Always.

Christopher Cudworth, 2018


Here’s an excerpt from my new book titled Sustainable Faith. It opens with a glimpse of what John the Baptist brought to the world of faith…

Sparks of rebellion

While John’s approach to preaching and prophecy was remote by nature, it certainly didn’t cease its influence outside the city limits. Like all good prophets, he made sure his voice resounded within the temple walls. He railed against the hypocrisy of their country club lifestyle while people suffered in the streets. He branded the religious authorities a “brood of vipers” for lashing out like a den of snakes when questioned about their legalistic ways. Thus John used what we might call ‘guerrilla tactics’ to “make straight the way for the Lord.”   

Of course, his accusations earned anger and scorn from the religious authorities he targeted. His criticisms were taken as a threat to their reputation and job security. Some likely feared that a full-blown rebellion could spring from John’s wilderness movement. Yet all that was part of the plan. John’s assigned task was to make the self-righteous and entitled feel anxious over the falsehood of their authority. It worked because there is nothing more daunting to the self-acclaimed elite than a truth-telling prophet with seemingly nothing to lose.

Then along came Jesus.

If you’d like a chance to preview this book and give feedback, write me with your email address at





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Have you ever been poisoned?

Jimmy Johns.jpgThe weird tale coming out of Great Britain is that a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia remain hospitalized Tuesday and in critical condition after being subjected to some kind of nerve gas. That was obviously an attempted murder over some perceived transgression. Possibly it was the work of Russia. But that country denies any involvement. Surprising, huh?

Back here in the states, people are getting poisoned every day. But it’s not by the Russian government, at least as far as we know. It’s from fast-food joints and restaurants.

Take a visit to the website if you want incentive not to play Russian Roulette with fast food or anything like it this week.

Here’s a few samples of what you’ll find.

Location: Chicken Rico, Merritt Boulevard, Dundalk, MD, USA

Report Type: Food Poisoning

Symptoms: Diarrhea Fever Nausea Vomiting

Details: The staff from A local high school visited Chicken rico in March 13th around 3pm. We ordered a variety of foods from the menu with the coming thread in each meal being chicken. All 6 customers were ill the next morning from diarrhea, nausea and fever. 2 employees missed work the next day due to illness.

And this:


Brush with death

The reason these are fascinating to me is that I have had food poisoning on a few occasions. None was worse than the incident in which I dined at a Pizza Hut following a national track meet at Calvin College in Michigan. I ran a steeplechase race that afternoon, and it was hot outside. But after the race, I felt no real effects from running in the heat.

But in the middle of the night, I awoke with vicious stomach pains and began to violently throw up. That lasted for hours. My teammate counted the number of times I went to barf: 27.

By morning I was lightheaded and weak. I’d lost 7 pounds off a 140 lb frame at 6’1″. My coach came in and was not too concerned. But I told him, “Take me to the hospital or I’m going to die.”

The hospital staff treated me with fluids for severe dehydration. The experience was frightening, and I literally could have died.

For years I thought it had been heat stroke that made me sick. Then one day it dawned on me: I’d eaten an entire medium pizza that night at Pizza Hut.

Papaya don’t preach

People get sick like that every day from spoiled food. It doesn’t have to be fast food either.


Sour milk see

It is likely that our bodies ingest some level of bad food every day. There’s an hilarious new commercial for McDonalds where two guys succumb just from sniffing the bad milk from their fridge. I find it enormously funny. Some people hate the commercial, but they probably haven’t lived with single guys who never clean out their refrigerator. I can be accused of the same in my not-so-recent past.

I will confess to the occasional Egg McMuffin or Wendy’s Single in my diet. Neither is particularly good for you. But at least I haven’t been poisoned so far.

Perhaps is the Internet’s answer to a worldwide Russian plot to poison all of us.

Freaky sick

So we’ll close with this one, a real dandy from Jimmy Johns, whose owner wants to make be barf because he loves jetting around the world trophy hunting for sport. If only his own food would attack him for once, the world would exact some revenge on the real assholes of this universe.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, track and field, we run and ride, We Run and Ride Every Day, werunandride | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

There is a God if you want one

IMG_6536.jpgJust past the peak of my obsession with running, somewhere in my mid-20s, I’d made the decision that enough was enough. I’d taken a couple years to work part-time at most and dedicate my time to see how good I could really get at running. It was time for a change. 

The answers to my questions about how good I could get were satisfying to me, if not entirely conclusive. Perhaps a couple years of training might have gotten me down to 30:30 10K that I’d hoped to achieve. I still think that time would have been possible,  under the right conditions. But things are never perfect.

Plus at 26 years old, there were other obligations of life starting to call me. I’d get married in 1985, have our first child in 1986 and dig into my first real professional position in 1987. I kept running, but not with the same competitive obsession. 

With maturity came the dedication to family that should kick in about that age. And as we got into the rhythm of being parents, the routine of going to church became a consistent part of our lives.

Looking for God

That was how it was when I was growing up as well. My dad and mom dressed us up in cute little suits and took us to church at a Presbyterian church in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I loved Sunday school for the different set of friends I’d find there. And a boy named Tommy Golden always made me laugh. So it was fun learning bible stories and hanging out with God.

I used to stare up at the arched ceiling of that big church and wonder if God was floating around in the vapors. But a sign never came, so I had to be content with the beauty of the hymns we sang. The reward for my dedication came later at People’s Drugs where my dad would take us after church for a ‘sticky bun’ and a Pepsi.


Something from those days must have stuck in my brain because even after our family moved to the Midwest from Pennsylvania, I decided on my own initiative to sign up for confirmation class at a little church in downtown Elburn. Our class was filled with all kinds of people and it was like we’d formed our own little community.

Plus I lived next door to the pastor of the church. He once came over to play ping pong with me in our spacious attic on the table my father made for us. Somewhere during the match he realized he was going to lose, and I heard him mutter the word “shit” when he missed one of my slams. That’s the moment when I realized pastors were human.

Campus Life

During high school, I joined the group Campus Life, an evangelical youth ministry run by students and advisors from Wheaton College. Their goal was to create a safe environment for kids to explore Christianity. My goal was to get the cute girls from other towns to go out with me.

While I accomplished that goal, my adopted mission was to challenge the often formulaic presentation of Gospel as fact. At one point a counselor pulled me aside and said, “You’ll never be a Christian if you keep asking so many questions.” That didn’t stop me. 

Then I eased off into Luther College, an institution named for the man who launched the Reformation by challenging the Catholic Church and its indulgent habits. The faith I took away from the college experience aligned with my earlier instincts that the “unexamined faith is not worth having.”

Running for my life

I also ran thousands of miles during four years of competition in track and field and cross country. During the middle of a bleak junior year when the weather felt it came out a cold version of hell, I had my first real fight with depression. This coincided, but was not caused, by enrollment in a class titled “Existentialism.” We read books by those dire philosophers Sartre and Camus. Then we sat in class with a professor who would squinch the skin of his forehead together in passionate consideration of the words we were reading. He was one intense dude. Some of my answers to his questions were not well-received. That is how college should be. Get your ass kicked a little. 

But I’ve always thought that guy was a little bit like God. What other visage do we have to go by? We’re told by scripture to refer to God as the Father, and his son Jesus is an assistant coach of sorts, but also one with God. Then the Holy Spirit is floating around too. That makes up the Trinity. The God Squad. 


Too much of that ontological theology stuff is garbage. My relationship with God is much more honest than a pile of terms. I admit that I’m a flawed human being and ask for insight. I confess that I’m a dick sometimes, and possibly a bit arrogant. But I also ask for help in finding and helping those in need. And try to respect all people. That’s the spectrum of faith. 

Some of that, the more angry, dismissive part, squares pretty well with being a competitive runner. Being a dick and being arrogant to some extent helps you when you’re standing on the starting line amongst people who trying to beat you to the finish line. When you’re in stellar shape and know you have the ability to win, that is no time to be conciliatory. You go do what you’re trained to do. 

During the opening mile of a five-mile race, a competitor once turned to me and asked, “How fast are you running today?” I think he meant to collaborate on the pace. But I turned to him and barked, “Faster than you.” Then I took off at sub-5:00-mile pace and won the race going away at 24:45. It was not my calling to help him in that moment. 

Credit where due

When I finished, there was no call to point a finger at the sky and thank God for the victory. That would be truly arrogant. To assume that somehow God favored me over the other competitors that day is as absurd as claiming one could run to the moon. For one thing that’s a very long way. And for two, there’s no oxygen or traction.

Some things we clearly do on our own, and the thing for which we can thank God about that is simply being alive. We’re all composed of the same carbon and juice. Our blood saline is similar to saltwater. We go from dust to dust, trading genetic material and DNA for all we’re worth. Then the worms and germs come to eat us up and transfer that energy to some other life form. And unless you donate your body’s organs to help others or let science carve them up for research, that’s as close as we come to reincarnation.

Beating hearts

Inside that shell is the beating heart that drives it all. Mine cannot meet the pace that it once did back in my 20s. The body naturally slows as we age.

And what of the mind? During all these years of a beating heart and the movement of feet in shoes and on pedals, how has the mind fared? What can it tell us about the nature of being? And is there really a God?

I think I know the answers to all those questions. I really do. And it’s this: There is a God if you want one.

That is not to say we create God ourselves, or that God does or does not exist. Those are questions designed to defeat the purpose or meaning of our existence, which is to commune with creation.

Interesting exercise

How we do that is a personal choice. And having spent 60 years of my life attending church in one form or another, it was an interesting exercise to sit down and make a list of all the things I did in those roles. That’s what I did in church this past Sunday. 

It all added up to years of this and that. Taught Sunday School to middle schoolers for 10 or 15 years. Did the same with High School Youth Group at church. Sang in the choir for 15 years. Played in the Praise Band and even led the damned thing for a while. Served on church boards through building projects and pastoral transitions. Endured countless conservative sermons at the former church we attended where condemnations of evolution, homosexuals and the liberal social agenda were a regular thing.

But in the meantime, I was challenging the kids of the people who sat in those pews to realy think about life. About God. And where the two intersect. I followed no books or guidelines. Just opened the door and welcomed those young minds into the space where God could indeed enter in.

Why did you stay? 

You might ask, “Why did you stay?” And my answer would be, from a sense of duty and commitment to principals that mattered, such as family, and friends, and keeping one voice alive in that space of dogma.

But even my late wife tired of the constant harangue pouring out from the church denomination in which she’d been baptized and confirmed. So we said our cordial goodbyes and then refused the political invitation by some members of the church elders to say bad things about our former pastor.

One of the things that I’ve learned from all these years of religion is that the church can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be the height of evil. In times of joy or crisis, the body of Christ can be quite sustaining. It’s those patches in between where drama is lacking and people get bored and bickering that can produce the heights of evil and the depressing antithesis of God.

What prayer can do

I’ve been through the death of a spouse, and I know what prayer can and cannot do. I’ve had prayers directly answered, and I’ve learned that some forms of prayer need to be reconsidered. Asking for miracles is not a good habit to abide. Accepting the miracles that can occur if you keep an open heart and mind is a very good practice.

That is why I say there is a God if you want one. My atheist friends are content to ignore that invitation, and I don’t judge them. But I do think everyone has a god of some sort. A thing they trust either in the universe or themselves. That is what I was trying to find as a child looking up at the ceiling of the church in Pennsylvania.

And that is what I have been communing with during all these years. God is a very mobile dude (like the Big Lebowski) if you keep an ear open. I once lay on a pole vault pit after work, so angry at some transgression by a co-worker that I could not even stay at home with my wife and kids. And somewhere out of the gray sky above me, a voice spoke and said, “Forgiveness.”

I went to work the next day and forgave that guy every wrong thing he was trying to do. And two weeks later, he was fired from his position. Sometimes giving in is the most powerful thing you can do in this world. Just ask Jesus.

There is a God if you want one

So like I say, there is a God if you want one. At times in life, I’ve made other things my God. For a while, running was one of them. I gave it my all, and more. And having experienced that level of zealotry and the self-indulgence it can ring from your soul, I quickly recognize it in others. As John Irving once wrote through a character in his book Hotel New Hampshire, “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.”

All that means is that with focus, we can achieve many of the things we set out to do. Having a God isn’t like that. It’s a combination of pursuing truth and letting it come to you. That is the race we set out to run from birth. Learning our limits and at the same time, pushing them.

That is the God of existence.

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Age 60 going on 200

UsainBolt100MeterDash.jpgThis morning’s track workout consisted of 8 X 200 all out with a 100 meter walk-jog between. It was an experiment to see how much torque the internal engine could take. The test went well enough, but also revealed a few insights that were eye-opening.

The fifteen-minute warmup was a cranky one thanks to the lingering effects of a mild cold. As colds go this was not a bad one at all. It started Monday and is winding up today. My body aches a little as bodies do when fighting the common cold. But it wasn’t the hacking, coughing, phlegmy kind of cold that I used to get when training so hard my body teetered on illness every other week.

Leaning tower.jpegLeaning into gravity

Once the warmup was through, I did the requisite bathroom visit to make sure the workout would not be interrupted. When you’re going to test something, it is important to eliminate as many distractions or interruptions as possible. If Galileo had dropped his spheres of different mass from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and one of them had hit a clothesline on the way down, we might not have the theory of gravity as we know it today.

Alright, that’s an exaggeration. Some discoveries are inevitable. Learning the effects of gravity and how to measure them falls into that category. But we’re all good at deceiving ourselves, which is why the battle for sobriety is often an all-or-nothing proposition, and why making dates with porn stars when you’re already married is never really a good idea. Taking unnecessary risks only promises to increase the gravity of your situation.

Flying in the face of probability

There are indeed absolutes in this world, yet most of them hide behind the specter of how we view them. But the fact that Usain Bolt has run the 100 meters in 9.58 seconds is an absolute marvel. It seems superhuman. But in our own way, we can all be superhuman. We just have to try.

Which is why I went to the track to test how fast I can actually run 200 meter repeats at the age of sixty years old. The running track is an absolute. It is precisely measured, so we don’t go about fooling ourselves. Except for a couple elderly gents walking the inside lane, I  had the entire facility to myself. A clear track means an honest test.

So I ran the 8 x 200 workout and this is what I learned. While I’m not as fast as I used to be, I’m still able to run reasonably fast compared to most of the running world. The best I could manage this morning for 200 meters was 41 seconds. That’s four to six seconds over the 37.5 pace I was hoping to hit on at least one of them. That means I need to gain 3.5 seconds of speed at 200 meters to run the equivalent of 5:00 mile pace. At sixty years old that is not that bad.

The world record for the mile among men at the age of 60 is 4:51.85. Age 65 is 4:56 and age 70 is 5:21. But here’s the shocker. The dropoff from age 55 to 60 is tremendous, because the mile world record for a 55-year old is 4:35. Age 50 goes down to 4:25. And the age 40 mile world record is 3:57 by Bernard Lagat.

As for my personal record mile, it will sit at 4:19 forever, because that’s what I ran in college, which is 64-65 seconds per lap, or 32-33 seconds per 200 meters. I’m not even going to pretend I’m able to run that quickly at my age.

I’m currently going through 100 meters at 20-22 seconds. To run 5:00 pace will require 18 seconds per 100, or about twice as slow as Usain Bolt! But for me, that’s not a huge gap between where I am and where I want to be. With some practice I think I can get there.

Just breathe…

Part of the challenge of keeping the pace for 200 meters is the oxygen uptake factor of running the full 200 meters at 100% effort. It’s not as easy as it sounds. The last 100 of each interval was 1-2 seconds slower on my four fastest 200s, which were 41-42 seconds each. Then I slowed down overall for the last three, running times closer to 44 seconds. Admittedly, the last one was at 46. But that’s still just 23 seconds per 100. So it wasn’t a total collapse. Perhaps I should rest more than 100 meters between intervals.

I could really feel it in the lungs. They aren’t used to working at maximum effort like that. I’ve been running interval 400s at 6:30-7:20 pace depending on the week. That is coming through the 200 at closer to 50 seconds. That’s the other objective of these faster 200s, to make my training pace of 6:30 per mile feel easier.

Not quite a miler

cudrunI was never all-out speedy.

My all-time record at the 200 meters, as far as I can recall, is a not-so-blazing 26.7. And my best ever 400 was 55.5. For a skinny middle distance runner, that’s not terrible speedy.

But that helps explain why I never got faster than I actually did at the mile. I didn’t have a miler’s raw speed, so technically my PR is 4:19. But that was run in college, and I got  faster at every distance after I graduated. My PR at 5000 meters in college was 15:01. I ran near 14:45 for the distance three years later. So I honestly think a 4:16 mile was within my reach given the workouts I was doing with repeat 400s at 60-63 seconds.

Too bad, so sad, I never tested that fitness in an all-out mile. I did win a mile race in a Friday night race that summer of maximum fitness in an easy cruise at 4:22. I was saving myself for a Sunday morning 15K that I nearly won before succumbing to a competitor with a sub-30:00 10K and sub 2:20 marathon to his credit. So I was supremely fit at the time. Part of me wishes I’d gone all out in that mile to see what I could really have run.

Days gone by

These days it is hard to imagine being able to run that fast. My body just can’t do it. The body that I now have is some 40 pounds heavier, for one thing. I weighed 140 at racing weight during those peak years. I weigh 185 these days, with hopes of getting down to 175 this summer during training. Can’t lie about it. I’m thicker now but with no regrets. For on thing, I also don’t get as many colds, or look like a stiff wind could snap me in two.

If I’m lucky (or something like that) I’ve got perhaps another 30 years on this earth. Maybe I’ll keep running till I’m 80. There was a guy with an Air Force jacket at the track doing little run drills on one end of the track. He told me he just turned 79 years old.

If I live to the age of 90, I’ll reach 2047. And if I reach one hundred (which I doubt) the year will be 2057. If I were to go all biblical or Green Mile on you and live to be 200 years old, the year would be 2157. Wouldn’t that be a trip. I’d have to be Benjamin Button.

It’s good to think about mortality, because without awareness of the preciousness of life, days go by and we take them for granted. So for now, I’m experimenting with going as fast as I can so I can stay in one place.

Every endurance athlete knows the battle with gravity is eternal, until it’s not.




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Blackbird time

Red_winged_blackbird_-_natures_pics.jpgEarly March is always a time of keen transition in our part of the world. The cliches about “in like a lion, out like a lamb” seldom hold true in black and white. Furthermore, as a distance runner for more than forty years, I’ve been coddled by lions and stomped by lambs.

Only one thing holds pure and true in the month of March. That is when the blackbirds return. The call of a red-winged blackbird from a fencepost or an overhead wire is a sure enough sign of spring that one can let down ever so slightly.

These are hardy birds, mind you. They frequently fly through snowstorms to get here in Illinois by early March. And what’s the rush? Well, the males want to be ready and on territory by the time the weather actually shifts, typically in late March or early April. Until then, it’s a back and forth process with blackbirds setting up shop on suitable breeding grounds only to flock back together when the weather turns bitter cold again.

Their survival instincts tell them when to turn on the hormones and when to shut them off. Birds in a flock depend on a collective wisdom assembled through millions of years of evolution. The birds we see today are the product of the survivors of experiments in feeding and breeding. Any fatal instinct or turn of bad luck weeds out individuals that don’t get to pass on their breeding stock from one generation to the next.

Weeding out the weak

It’s a whittling process, much like the manner in which the pace of a race weeds out the slower competitors until but a few remain. And as numerous as blackbirds can be in some areas, they still constitute the tip of a spear that goes back millions of years. This is what’s so insulting about the notion that all this nature we can witness is the result of some slapdash effort by God to toss it together in a few days. That worldview places human beings at the top of the order and dumps the rest into some weaker category of existence. But it’s not true. Every living thing we see on this earth is a massively refined product of time and yes, of tradition.

That’s why birds of feather flock together. It’s tradition that keeps birds and all living things alive. It may not be cognizant tradition in the manner of which we’re accustomed to thinking, but it is tradition just the same.

The other way around

If anything it is humans who imitate nature, not the other way around. Those running routes we established in college all had names. We branded them after landmarks found along the way. Thus one of our favorite running routes in college was named Wonder Left after the sign for the Wonder Cave billboard at the counter corner of Route 52 and Meadowlark Lane north of Decorah, Iowa.

We’d proceed from campus up the long hill out of the valley and typically face a north wind in the spring season. There was nothing blocking that wind for another 500 miles north. It was all low hills and cornfields from us to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota.

The wind would roar in our ears as we plied our way through it. Yet somewhere along the way, I’d hear the sound of a red-winged blackbird calling from a wire. And I’d think, “This is only temporary.”

April chill

Typically, it was. Yet some springs winter would hold on well into April. Which drove us to manic lengths trying to fix our hopes on some day to come where we could actually run outside in shorts, not baggy sweats. One chill April day that was marginal enough that we could actually run in shorts in the high forties or low fifties, some at the back of the pack started up a chant, “The weather sucks! We want spring!”

This went on for a mile or two before we arrived back on campus so sick of the damp air that someone stopped and yanked off their shorts and ran past the whole team. That pair of pale butt checks set off a springtime alarm of sorts. We all stripped naked and held our running stuff in our hands to gather at the door of the college union. Then on the count of three, we all spilled into the cafeteria stark naked and running in a furious clambering line.  “The weather sucks! We want spring!”

He who hesitates is lost

But one guy hesitated back at the door. He was twenty yards behind when he finally decided to make a break for it and follow us naked through the cafeteria. Big mistake. Once the crowd inside the cafeteria was warned, a few football players or some other gathering of big guys was ready for the next wave if it was going to come. They leapt up and grabbed our teammate and tied him to a post with his own clothes. He was a shy dude by nature, you see, so that had to be agony.

Years later our little Luther College became known for a ritual called Naked Soccer . The whole notion makes me very proud of my alma mater. Granted, it was probably snuffed out, a sign that the administration feared the seemingly inevitable incident of raw sexual harassment or worse. But I still don’t believe that getting naked is, on its own, a true crime.

Butt cheeks on patrol

It was the right thing to do back when the weather simply wouldn’t cooperate, and our little band of blackbirds was sick of migrating through the chill of March. Now that butt cheeks are far more common in the public eye, the only thing scandalous about the notion is the exposure of a penis or two. And in the case of men, that generally turns out to be a shrunken proposition when the air is cool.

But we did have one teammate that simply couldn’t run naked due to the fact that he was simply too well-endowed. That made it even funnier to most of us when he had to stick with his jock when the rest of us were stark naked.

Such are the antics and traditions of men and blackbirds. Driven by hormones against the raging spring winds, some of us show our epaulettes while others have to keep them under cover. Nature is a patient teacher however, willing to wait out the vagaries of all this behavior to find out who really wants to survive, and why.

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What I’d go back and say to my fifteen-old-self

Unincorporated MeTurning fifteen years old tends to be a watershed moment in life. The freshman blues abate and the fear of junior year obligations is not yet upon you. Hormones rage but the looks to complement those desires are perhaps not all there.

Thinking back to that point in life, I managed to find success in the things I loved to do. My abilities in art were starting to take shape. An interest in wildlife and birding was deepening. I already loved writing and sucked at proofreading, which proves that some things never change. That is the challenge of some sort of attention deficit disorder. I prefer to call it artistic deficit disorder. In any case, it made some aspects of school at every level a real challenge.


Like most fifteen-year-olds, I could also be rather moody. Yet my brothers and I loved to make each other laugh, and so did my friends. So the pendulum tended to swung, sometimes to extremes, depending on the circumstance.

The summer before my sophomore year in high school I’d grown angry at the world to the point that I drew a picture of myself surrounded by curses and promises to show people that I wasn’t the skinny, worthless kid they thought I was. Yes, the drama was mostly inside my head. But it felt real enough to me that it motivated me beyond what everyday likes and desires might do. So I put that anger to work.

I believe there’s a little inherent anger that exists in all of us. So thank God I found the sport of running when I did. It helped wick away the angst of being a half-formed teenager. My relationship with teammates was crucial to keeping my self-esteem intact.

See, the early 1970s were by definition of culture a highly critical, cynical period in this world. It felt like much of America was immersed in a chiaroscuro painting. The dark and light was visible in the news. New York City was a pit. The Vietnam War raged on. Nixon was a dark soul and Gerald Ford was a dim light.

Burning up inside

FirefightersI was not immune to all that. Nor was I immune to the teasing of friends and enemies. It made me burn inside, and want to set fire to the world any way I could. My father dearly wanted his boys to avoid the likes of his own academic struggles, but he chose on many occasions to wear us down with exasperation rather than build us up through communication. So I sought consolation with other father figures in life. We all do that to some extent.

Truly, my dad tried in so many ways to help us. But the back and forth aspects of his personality and pressure-filled financial and work circumstances made it tough for him to act confidently. That turned our lives inside out at times.

There is no question he was a good man at heart. He helped me make many good decisions about life that were right in line with who I was. He helped me sell my paintings when I was starting out. He supported my choice to run a paper route, and drove me around on really cold mornings, a rare occasion to talk a little. But when I was fifteen, he also wanted to chop my hair down to the roots and had little patience for other choices I wanted to make on my own.

Advice from the future

As I look back on those days, I realize there were better ways to respond to all those situations. So this is what I’d tell my fifteen-year-old self if I could go back to 1972 and say “Listen, Chris, I have a few things to tell you…”

  1. Girls can be your friend. That sounds simple enough in concept. But the very real friendships I made with girls were often called into question by my male friends who questioned why I would want friendships from them rather than trying to turn them into girlfriends (and thus get sex.) But I loved my female friends because they talked with me about things in different ways than my guy friends. I had no sisters, so I struggled with the whole  ‘girls as people’ perspective one gets by having female siblings. The structure of their bodies and garments and hair and patterns of speech were intimidating to me. So I’d go back to tell my young self to just relax. Girls will like you if you make them laugh. But also listen. Pay attention to what they’re saying. And care. That’s the biggest point of all, to truly care.
  2. Be patient and live in the moment. Teens (like me at the time) tend to bounce from one source of stimulation to the next. Back in 1972, it was always one sports contest after another. Then a dance would come along. Then a bonfire. We’d arrive at these encounter points looking for who-knows-what to happen. It always felt like there was pressure to prove yourself every second you were alive. I’d tell my fifteen-year-old self to let that stuff roll. Great things happen when you’re not trying to turn every moment in life into a big event. And don’t be so goddamned shy.
  3. Stop fighting yourself. Let success happen. Gosh, I’d get nervous before big running meets or games. But the truth about nerves is that there are two kinds. There is the nervousness that comes with wanting to achieve based on the hard work you’ve put in. Then there are nerves that come about from having a fear of failure. It seemed I had little control over which of these nerve sets would arrive and when. But I experienced both, and my advice to a fifteen-year-old me would be to learn the reasons why I was a “good nervous” at times and not let the “bad nerves” take over.
  4. Do the hard stuff first. Procrastination is the royal bain of every teenager. Putting off homework that was hard was a 24/7 habit in my case. The simplest lesson I’d share with my teenage self is to get the hard stuff out of the way. It’s a lesson learned from years of practice now, but I sure could have used it in 1972. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  5. Let anger motivate you, but don’t let it rule you. It’s easy to get pissed off in this world. I still do. To my credit back in the day, I used anger at times to run harder and prove to myself that people could not get the best of me. But as life often teaches, the force of anger can come back to bite you. When anger gets mixed with a little anxiety or depression, things can get ugly fast. My own children have at times had to help me with this. But thanks to growth and time, things are better. Going back in time, I’d simply tell my fifteen-year-old self to figure out what the source of anger really is. And is it justified, or is it merely an excuse not to deal with some sort of fear or insecurity? I think my fifteen-year-old self would actually listen to that. After all, I kind of know the guy.

And that’s it. Perhaps life could have been a bit smoother with a little advice from my future self. Which simply means it make sense to listen to the conscience of my present self, and not make life so complex when it doesn’t have to be.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, PEAK EXPERIENCES, running, track and field | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Life and death in the March wind

Bird Feeders.jpgIt snowed here in Illinois this morning. The birds gathered around our feeder were manic for the little bits of food that remained after the last refill. I drove down to Woodman’s grocery story and brought back bags of bird seed, some suet, a woodpecker block and a mesh bag of thistle.

“There, you little bastards, eat hearty,” I told them.

So the red-winged blackbirds and the grackles spaced themselves around the base of the feeder to avoid competition. Then a few female red-wings showed up. They’ve arrived on schedule about two weeks after the males.

But they could not avoid the inch-wide snowflakes coming down from the sky. Their peeps and warning calls filled the chill air, and then everything went silent. We heard the rush of wings as birds scattered into flight. The shape of a hawk swept past the kitchen window and five seconds later a big old red tail was perched up in the cottonwoods across our lawn. For the next fifteen minutes the blackbirds hung tight in the willows where that the red-tail could not get them. Whether birds can tell the difference between a bird-hunter like a Cooper’s hawk and a rabbit slammer like the red-tail, it is hard to say. The smaller birds stayed hunched and hidden just the same.

Then a few forgot all about the hawk and flew back down to feed. Like the families who lived by the sea in the Pearl Buck story titled The Big Wave, the birds of this world live from one threat to the next. They forget their last fear in order to go about the business of eating.

Dove feathersSome of them get eaten as a result. The feathers of a mourning dove lay strewn around the lawn twenty feet from the feeder this morning. Doves are fast food fare for Cooper’s hawks, who come winging around the house as if it powers then with centrifugal force. The birds at the feeder don’t stand much chance against a hawk flying at that rate.

Even if a small bird makes a getaway run, those Cooper’s hawks are built for flying through the woods in fast pursuit of their prey. Birds of the accipter family such as Cooper’s and sharp-shinned and goshawks are all capable of turning their bodies and wings on an axis to slip between the columns of thin trees. They make the adventures of Tom Cruise in a Mission Impossible movie look like Amateur Hour.

Even if they miss in their initial pursuit they are not above landing on the ground and running around a bush to chase out the sparrows or other songbirds who think they’re safe in the confines of a dense hedge or juniper. But they’re wrong. The Coop will harass and trot around the bush (I’ve seen them do this) until the little birds panic and the hawk darts after them to grab one of them in mid-air.

Then the hawk pins its prey to the ground or carries them up to a tree limb where the plucking can begin. They clean away the bothersome feathers and expose the flesh. Then they eat it raw. If their prey is not dead yet, and this happens more frequently than one might imagine, the starling or woodpecker pinned under the hawks long toes strains with the agony of being eaten alive. I’ve witnessed that too.

Yes, nature is red in tooth and claw and beak. This idea that there was ever a time in history where that was not the case is absurd. I’ve read the musings of creationist websites that insist that all creatures were at one point vegetarian. That includes giant dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex, who supposedly only developed an appetite for red meat “after the fall” or “after the flood.” Granted, the bible doesn’t specifically mention animals eating each other.  But it does say something about “I give you these plants for food.” So they the creationists take that to literally mean even animals with teeth designed for killing and ripping flesh for food were somehow content to gnosh on leaves and berries. And that’s why I think creationists and biblical literalists are terribly stupid people. They literally make shit up to justify their fears that their worldview has become irrelevant. Anachronism is like that. It can’t deal with the present, so it focuses upon the past as the only source of truth. And it’s a lie.

Common Grackle.pngWhen it comes to seed and plant eaters, it seems even the birds don’t abide by the rules doled out to their kind. In fact, the opposite it often true. Creatures that we typically associate with eating seeds are not above taking meat into their diet. On many occasions I’ve seen birds called grackles gathered around a road kill. They’ll even eat their own kind.

And one time while sitting on the front steps with my son, just chatting and watching traffic go by on a spring afternoon, a grackle flew down and pounced on a house sparrow. Then it bit its head off and ate the damn thing.

But crossover meat-eating is not just limited to birds.  I’ve also seen a grown deer chomp a small bird right out of a mist net and gulp it down like a chunk of beef jerky. Classically, we think of deer as relatively peaceful vegetarians. But nature doesn’t always abide by human rules or expectations.

Among wild creatures, none of this natural carnage is the result of anger or any other emotion. The predator and prey relationship is as old as the microbes that commenced the long route to multicellular life on earth. It has always been an “eat or be eaten” world. Female praying mantis breed with males and then eat them. I have met a few women in my time who would like to have dined on the flesh of a feckless male. Even Hall & Oates sang about Maneaters.

But the interesting part of that formula is that at some point, human beings evolved a conscience and a moral code about how to behave toward each other. It doesn’t say so in the bible, but we can assume from the Thou Shalt Not Kill commandment means we’re not supposed to eat each other either Granted, in emergencies even people of conscience have been forced to dine on human flesh. But even then, some people are pretty choosy about what they will or will not eat.

Crow in Flight.pngIn some of the races in which I’ve competed over the years, I’ve been the predator tracking down the prey ahead of me on the course. There is little remorse on those occasions when we’re the dominant ones. We all seem to love it when we have the chance to vanquish our competition and eat them alive.

But I also remember races in which I was being chased down by competitors. It’s an awful feeling knowing you’re going to get passed and left behind.

Out on the open roads, there is no more helpless feeling than being a solo rider up ahead on the road when a group of riders spies you. Few cyclists can keep ahead of a group of 10-20 cyclists riding as a group. They become the amoeba waiting to suck up every last  bit of your DNA. They swarm around you as they pass. Then you get spit out the back like a piece of genetic waste. Sometimes you’re lucky to survive with your soul intact.

That’s a horrible feeling. But once in a while if you play it right and spare yourself the drag of fear or the tingling feeling behind your ears, you can save energy and slip into the group and be pulled along. Then you’re a bird in a flock where the hawk of the wind can’t get to you. The whirr of tires all around you is both comforting and compelling. You find your space or position on a wheel and can concentrate on becoming part of the whole. Suddenly you’re part of the predatory pack on the hunt. You might even catch sight of another rider ahead on the road.

If you have a bit of conscience left, you secretly hope they’ll notice the pack and get swept up as well. Or perhaps you become merciless as a Cooper’s hawk on a cold March day. You glance at the rider you’ve just caught with a bit of disdain. The formerly powerless can quickly become the greatest of persecutors when given the opportunity to slaughter others at will.

There’s a moral lesson in that for all of us. People of real conscience never lose compassion toward even our competitors. As Jesus once said, “Love your enemies.” I think he meant something more than offering forgiveness. I think he show us that real strength and faith comes from a will to bring others into the fold of strength.

To share power is to share love. Everything else is just cannibalism. But beware the fellow with the gammy leg.




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What stresses you out?

GASP1Standing at the starting line of the Gasparilla 8K in Tampa, I had cleared my mind of just about everything in preparation for the race. But that had taken some work. My wife’s race started at six in the morning, so there was a bit of waiting around to do. Chasing out onto the course to see her pass by was a tiring run of a couple miles. It was hot out, and the thought of using energy any other way than running my race seemed like a dumb idea.

So I lay there half-snoozing on a row of uncomfortable chairs where a sports massage would soon be doling out muscle rubs for all those seeking help after their half marathon race.

That’s where my brain went to work digging up things to worry about.

That shouldn’t happen on a vacation trip, but it does. As a person who normally deals with inherent anxiety, I’ve grown adept at understanding that the anxious brain loves opportunities like that. “Why not fill the time?” it asks, as the monkey mind goes to work.

That’s why I’ve also developed a set of baseline strategies to keep the anxious mind in line. The first thing to understand is that typically, there’s nothing truly to worry about. So I use the phrase, “The drama is all inside your head” to cope with worry.

Pressure is self-inflicted

Former middle-distance world record holder Rick Wolhuter, who hails from my hometown of St. Charles, Illinois, once put it well. “Pressure is self-inflicted.”

That was way back in 1979 or so that he said that. But not much has changed about that simple principle. There are healthy kinds of pressure you put on yourself. That helps you train and prepare for a race or other event. There are also unhealthy kinds of pressure, the kind you let creep into your brain that is full of self-doubt and fear.

That’s the “drama inside your head.” You need to be the director of your own play, you see. Don’t let the many actors jumping around the stage of your thoughts take over the scene and ruin the whole play.

Acting the parts

In order to control the drama, it needs to be separated into parts. It’s like taking a stage full of manic-depressive actors aside and talking them down or up from their fear of doing their parts the right way.

The Family Budget Actor needs to be pulled aside where real money matters can be considered. Tally up the speech that actor has been practicing and break it down. Parse out what can be done immediately but know what needs to come next.

The Weepy Woman of Past Failures

That’s how the process works. Beware the Weepy Woman of Past Failures. She can drag the whole play to a screeching halt. And talk about drama! She’s wail about the reasons why you lost a job thirty years ago and try to make it seem like you’re in the same situation now. “Ohhhh nnooooooo!” she’ll moan. “I’ve seen this play beforrreeee!”

That’s how it goes. Round and round with ruminations and anxieties. All while you’re sitting there waiting for an 8K to start. That’s a pretty sorry mindset, but the anxious know how it works. Most of us figure out healthy strategies to calm the mind and quell the nerves.

Fears within

Because you really don’t want that stuff roiling around in your mind during a race. It’s counterproductive to the thinking you really need to do in order to compete at your best. Besides, there are specific fears within the realm of swimming, riding and running that need to be addressed in the moment. Open water? Lots of hills? Heat or cold on the run? Yes these are legitimate concerns. So it helps to clear the mind.

It can also help to understand the things that stress you out in everyday life. Here’s a list of my little vexations. You’ve surely got your own. Do yourself a favor and write them down on paper. It is enormously empowering to have that list in front of you so you can organize the actors and put your drama in its place. Be the director of your fate.

  1. Passwords. Keeping track of passwords for websites and bill-paying stresses me out. They have to be changed all the time and it’s hard to keep them all in one place. Then you go to pay a bill and realize it’s the wrong or outdated password you just changed and have to start all over again. Then the site tells you: “You cannot use a previous password for this site.” Aaaaahhhhhhh!
  2. Social media. The stress of participating in social media is now being recognized as an actual detriment to our emotional health. When people post about their success and such, it puts pressure on us to compete. Then there are political fights, arguments over issues and flat out volumes of information to take in. Stressful.
  3. Smartphones. Our devices actually function to re-wire our brains. All that instant response amounts to chemical changes in the brain that function like sugar-cravings or even drug addiction. Dopamine is a real thing. It produces cycles that we don’t even know we’re enduring.
  4. Diet and nutrition. It’s really hard to eat well these days. There is sugar in everything we eat, it seems. Then there’s the debate over which is worse for our bodies, carbohydrates or fat? It all adds up to a daily stress less in trying to avoid eating things that will kill us.
  5. Sex as a taboo. Don’t get me wrong. Sex is wonderful. Most of us appreciate a healthy sex life. I think it’s healthy that the buttocks of the world are no longer considered taboo, and that nipples and even a camel toe or dick through a pair of shorts is no longer scandalous. By contrast, it is the repression of healthy body image the realities of sex and gender and orientation that are vexing society.
  6. Politics. You all know my views. These are devastating times and there is not a day where the Orange Liar does not perpetrate another scandal against the Republic.
  7. Dreams. Are just weird. They take all these anxieties and combine them in a Moulin Rouge of tortured sleep.
  8. Fears. There is no greater stress than basic fear. As FDR once said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” But that’s the hardest thing in the world to manage.
  9. Work. I love my current job and it is relatively stress-free except for the part where social media drives opinions that simply aren’t true, and it’s my job to provide accurate information to quell them.
  10. Age. I don’t really stress emotionally over age, but it is a stress on its own as the body changes and the face wrinkles and time works its wonders.

Fortunately, there is one sure cure for all these stresses. And that is gratitude. Being grateful for what you have and what you can do rather than what you can’t is the surest way to get your stress actors to settle down and behave.

Be grateful. Then be calm. Find peace. And go run or ride or swim. Those are the best pathways to gratitude.

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