3Disciplines and a trail of joy

The folks at 3Disciplines deserve thanks for putting on a well-organized, safe and interesting triathlon event in the Muncie, Indiana area. Communications in advance of the race were clear and helpful. Event registration was simple and quick, even with the temperature checks. Race instructions were informative rather than a self-aggrandizing announcer listening to himself talk. Everything came off really well.

It wasn’t the world’s largest event, but that was rather the point. It was quite simple to social distance the entire day. The venue of the park lent itself to a good overall vibe. While the lines for the indoor toilets got a bit hinchy, participants kept their masks on and kept their distance.

Into the water

The reservoir in Muncie is large enough to attract bald eagles and osprey. I saw both species of raptors soaring over the water as the athletes gathered to start the swim. I share that information to afford some perspective on the scope and scale of such an event.

The Half Ironman distance came first, then the Olympic. The Sprint followed later.

That’s a ton of organizing to accomplish, especially in the era of Covid-19. Despite the major hurdles overcome to put on the event, some apparently ungrateful jerk accosted one of the race organizers and said, “Well, you can tell this isn’t Ironman…”

What kind of idiot says things like that? In a year when the pandemic cancelled everything in sight, the Muncie crew collaborated with the Mayor and police and medical teams to set up the swim, protect the roads, and staff aid stations safely. Who cares how the Ironman people do it? It’s completely irrelevant.

I watched all this organization with admiration as we shuffled down the hill toward the water to hear race instructions and behin. It was a warm enough morning that we weren’t freezing and the reservoir water temperatures were 68 degrees at the start. Near perfect conditions.

There was a stiff breeze already blowing by the 9:30 start for the Olympic triathlon, the event I’d chosen to do. My wife was already out swimming the first leg of the Half. Our friends Kerry and Mike Behr were doing the Half and Olympic as well. She greeted me at the end of the line and we headed toward the first buoys with a bit of trepidation at the growing chop.

The law of the lake was to keep buoys to the left. I breathe to the right, so the trip toward the turnaround I faced the waves and took in a few accidental gulps of water. A year or so ago that would have freaked me out. these days I’ve learned to feel for the movement of the water and read the timing of the waves I swam fairly straight and hit the turnaround at 19:58.

That’s about what I expected. Despite the lack of swim practice this summer, I wasn’t tired. On the trip back I picked up the pace and returned in 16:00. The only thing difficult about the swim was keeping the mask on the whole time. I didn’t catch Covid, but there were a few dead minnows trapped in the elastic ties.

Crawling out of the water, I thought I hit the transition button yet learned upon getting on the bike that I’d actually missed. So my watch kept running as I trotted slowly uphill. Looking at the GPS track of my swim, I’ll take major credit for the relative direction and sighting. Damn, I’m pretty good! The trip out was tracking against the wind and waves. The way back was much more direct. Goddamn, I’m really good!

T1 travails

During transition a man at the rack behind me lay on the ground clutching his calf. He was clearly in pain, a situation made more uncomfortable by the fact that his wetsuit remained wrapped around his ankles. Asking the obvious, I called out: “Cramp?”

“Yes!” he replied. “I never get cramps.”

Most of us have been in a situation like that at one time or another. It’s easy \to get leg cramps during the swim. Sometimes they don’t show up until transition. After getting my own wetsuit removed by taking off the fat little timing chip band to roll the last bits around my ankles and feet, I stepped over to help the athlete curled up on the ground.

It took thirty seconds to finish getting his wetsuit off. His hands were gripped around his calf the entire time as I pulled firmly on the stubborn neoprene clinging to his calves. Finally the suit popped off his feet, but a grimace still covered his face. “Damn, this hurts…” he muttered.

Nothing I was doing in the race was important enough to ignore the needs of that guy curled up on the ground. I’d body-marked his arms and legs that morning. We’re all in this together in one way or another.

Bikeville

Walking my bike out of transition, I noticed that the watch still read Swim. “Dangit!” I thought to myself. Fortunately I’d peeked at the watch to know the real swim time, and that gave me confidence that I was on the way to a half-decent performance. Still, I needed to get out of transition mode. I hit the button and hit it again. Time to bike.

I have this problem with triathlon racing. A bad habit of sitting too far forward on the saddle in cycling. I don’t ride a true tri-bike yet. My Felt 4C road bike is outfitted with aero bars. But even when I raced my Specialized Venge road bike in Sprint events, that ugly cramping sensation happened during every race. It hampers me on the run quite a bit.

While it sounds like a simple problem to solve, it’s a subtle issue of bike position versus power. Add in windy conditions or bad roads, and the eagerness to keep up the pedal pressure gets away from me. Two weeks ago in Madison during the Half Ironman I paid particular attention to the propensity and kept shifting my weight backwards. For sure, the fit probably isn’t perfect on a road bike for tri-biking. But we make do during our transitions through the sport.

The biking was no horrible, but not that great. All I wanted to do was get through without cramping my ass so tight I could not run.

Novice to expert

Essentially I’m still a novice in this sport myself. This summer I did my first-ever Olympic distance triathlons and my first-ever Half Ironman. That first Olympic in Springfield was a slow and painful effort after the bike. My hamstrings cramped in the ninety degree heat and the 10K took forever. This race in Muncie was a much-improved 3:06, a time that placed me third in the 60+ Age Group behind a speedster named Christopher Niquette who raced a 2:31 Olympic to finish 8th overall behind the winner Brad Radowski in 2:15. In many ways the sport of triathlon is an ageless endeavor.

I finished third in my age group, 53 seconds behind the guy in second. Perhaps if I hadn’t stopped to help the guy with cramps I’d have finished second. But what would that have mattered? Isn’t it better knowing that the universe is an incrementally better place because you helped get a wetsuit off so a guy with cramp could get back to business? I think so. How about you?

A community on the go

We all start somewhere in this sport, usually by taking up one of the three disciplines, then adding others as we go along. After my race, I chatted with a middle-aged woman that had introduced her long-term fiance (they are going on nine years of engagement–– it works for them, she told me…) to running. He moved quickly from doing 5Ks to running 26.2 marathons, then added on the cycling and swimming. Now he’s a multiple-time Ironman.

That made me think about my own incremental entry into the sport. First I did duathlons because swimming was not yet in my repertoire. Going back to 2003, I took swim lessons expecting to start doing triathlons, then tore my ACL playing indoor soccer. It would be ten years before I’d get back to the idea of doing multisport events.

After a year of duathlons, I managed a couple Sprint triathlons. In those early days, swimming the 400-600 meter open water distance was a real test of courage. We all have our own share of starting blocks and stumbling blocks. Increasingly, I talk to people who no longer like to cycle on public roads for fear of being killed. This year, people struggled to find places to swim given the Coronavirus restrictions on health clubs and public beaches. Even training on running paths had a cringe factor as people struggled to understand the risks of airborne disease particles. This has been a strange year. But even in this odd atmosphere, we still need to find ways to improve.

Somehow over the past year I’ve improved my swim times immensely, can always manage on the bike, but it’s the running that I still (and always will) truly enjoy. That, and doing these events with the woman that I love. We’ve shared a ton in the eight years we’ve been together. Time flies when you’re having fun.

The run course

The last six months I’ve been running negative splits on most of my runs. That delivers a sense of freedom, which means that I had a sense of confidence trotting out onto the run segment.

I was pleased to find out that the run course involved a ton of trail running. The surface was a mixed path of compacted dirt and rough gravel. After an opening 8:30 mile with a bit of a side stitch from trying hydrating well into the bike, I smoothed into a solid stride and started to roll. I was free and feeling good. Honestly I was in Runner Heaven, like I was back in high school and college cross country. So I started passing people.

The course wound through the woods and emerged on the road to a distance turnaround at 3.5 miles. At that moment I was like “Whoa, how’s this going to work?”

Was the course straighter on the way back? It wasn’t. My Garmin showed a total distance of 6.5 mile for the finish of the run course. Some folks were disappointed by that, but I didn’t care. I was honestly cooked at the 6.2 mile point but hung in there till the end. It was a blast. I’ll break 3:00 next year for sure. This course was tough, especially with the windy conditions. The hills were challenging too, but they made the whole race interesting rather than some merciless slog through some God-forsaken industrial complex or burnt out public park.

Not everyone was a fan, including my wife. She was sore as heck coming off the run course, but still won her age group for the Half-Ironman. Her swim was solid and so was her bike. The gravel trail was not her favorite part of the race.

For me, the really tough part was wearing a mask during the swim. (Okay, I’m kidding about that part.) Thanks to 3Disciplines we all got a chance to play outside. For that, I was grateful as heck.

Posted in running, swimming, triathlon, tri-bikes, triathlete, trail running, 13.1, 10K, triathlons | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Why you can’t trust your devices for every decision on training

Yesterday I ran an easy seven miles through a forest preserve and back. It was warm out again, so I didn’t run hard.

When I got back home and saved the workout on my Garmin Fenix, the data was shared over to my phone and spit back as a report. I was surprised to see that the Garmin app characterized my run as UNPRODUCTIVE.

I’ve teased and joked about my UNPRODUCTIVE training with my wife. It seems no matter how fast or slow I go, the Garmin shoots back that warning that I’m doing something wrong.

After that last run it said something like: “This is slower than your recent efforts. It may indicate that you are tired from training.” That is ironic, because it often says my runs are UNPRODUCTIVE…because I’ve run faster than usual.

Dangers of overtraining

Way back when I was training 60-80 miles per week in my early 20s, it was common for me to put in too many hard efforts close together. That led to injuries, colds and other breakdowns. One day during the start of a thirteen-mile run with a South African physician named Sol Epstein, I described the fact that I had frequent sore throats and was fatigued. He listened patiently for a mile or so to my naive complaining, then turned to me with a suddenly loud voice and said, “You’re fucking overtraining!”

He was right. But I was a product of that era. The philosophy back then, at least among the runners with whom I trained through college, was to go hard all the time. We typically ran our twenty-milers at between 6:00-7:00 per mile. The next day we’d do speedwork. We might have a race on Tuesday, do more speed work on Thursday, then race on Saturday. Sometimes on race day, we’d warm up four miles the morning of the race, jog a mile before competing in the five-mile race, then cool down a mile. Back home after the meet we’d run four more miles. The next day we’d do another 15-20 miler.

Out of my fucking mind

So it was shocking to be told by my runner partner Sol that I was out of my fucking mind trying to train so hard all the time. He was part of the racing team from the Runner’s Edge shop outside Philadelphia. Most of those guys in that group were far better runners than I, possessed of 10K times in the 30:00 range, or below.

I learned from training with them to do long runs much slower for 15-17 miles, but finish fast. Our speed workouts on the Villanova University track were quick, yet restrained efforts at a prescribed pace. That experience of training with them changed much of what I knew about distance running.

Data-driven lifestyle

These days, it is empiric data produced by devices that rules the world of endurance athletes. Yet that data is valuable only to the point that you can effectively interpret it relative to conditions. Some of those factors are definitively subjective, such as windy conditions, that don’t show up in pace-per-mile results. It’s true on the bike, too. That means assessment of a specific effort remains under the power of your judgment.

So there are days when my supposedly UNPRODUCTIVE training brings a smile to my face. The slower pace I ran yesterday was not the product of undue fatigue. I kept the pace modest for the precise reasons that my Garmin typically tells me that I’m going too fast. It’s all about managing your collective effort. I knew from years of training that my body wanted a run at 9:30-10:00 pace. Only the last mile or two were faster, down around 9:00. All good.

Likewise, on days when I feel good and rip through an 8-miler with negative splits down below 8:00 pace, Mr. Garmin may report that I was UNPRODUCTIVE and all I can say to my watch is two simple words.

Fuck. You.

That said, I do love knowing what the exact pace of my run, ride or swim turned out to be. I also love looking at the maps because they are a gratifying visual record of a workout, no matter how good or bad it went. It also helps knowing my pulse rate, elevation changes and relative cadence. But I’m not so tied to data that I can’t deal with not knowing these things. I’m not a total convert to a data-driven life on the road.

My wife wants me to get a power meter for cycling. But I think back to a year that I rode without any devices at all. No cyclometer. No watch. No nuthin’. Just rode. I needed that year to rediscover the love of riding. A part of me loves the notion of freedom too much to tie myself to a power meter or a heart rate monitor. People swear by them, I know. But I prefer to swear at my supposedly UNPRODUCTIVE training and laugh it off if Mr. Garmin doesn’t like what I’m doing.

Posted in 10K, 13.1, competition, cross country, race pace, swimming, training, training for a marathon, TRAINING PEAKS | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Skin checks, the Big C and the body politic

This morning I visited the dermatologist for an annual skin check. My father had skin cancer and it’s nothing to mess around with. The sight of his bald head ground down to red patches is enough reminder to get my own skin inspected by a professional.

I have one small bump on the upper side of my right arm that they shot with novocaine and took a sample. Rather than engage in speculation and self-diagnosis, it seems much wiser to have a doctor do the work of determining risk.

There have been enough health scares over the last eight years to convince me that it’s never a bad idea to go to the doctor when things look the least bit hinchy. Back in 2013 I had a sliver that caused an infection that could have cost me a middle digit on my left hand.

V marks the spot where the surgeon opened up the top of my finger. Notice the scars from flame-driven wart removal as a kid. I guess my left hand is jinxed.

That was followed a couple years later by a case of cellulitis when our family feline gave me a nip for petting her the wrong way. I’d never heard of cellulitis and did not know how serious it could be until it showed up on my right hand. That led to antibiotics that killed my good gut bacteria and led to c.diff., a potentially life-threatening disease.

So I don’t mess around with even the smallest signs that things are out of line. Last year an infected tooth almost killed me too. You could rightly say that infections are my weakness, my Kryptonite.

As for the current threat of infection in this world, the Big C threatening us all is Covid-19. I listened to a radio discussion with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN this morning. He was discussing the recent vacillation on information distributed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The website posted a notice that Coronavirus is now known to float in the air “like smoke” said Gupta. Then the CDC took it down again. That raised concerns on many fronts. Was it a political move to force the CDC to comply with the Trump Administration’s directives to quell information about the pandemic?

I cite this incident because, as I’ve just shared, it is far better to be cautious than ignore the threat posed by infections in the human body. Dr. Gupta also shared that many Covid-19 victims experience serious holdover effects and symptoms that include compromised conditions of the heart, lungs and other organs. “You do not want this infection,” Gupta intoned.

Long haulers

There’s a word now for Covid-19 victims whose health is long affected by the infection. They are called ‘long-haulers.’ Nothing about that terminology is a joke, or meant to be so. Like many infections of the human body, the initial symptoms and response are not the gravest threat to long-term health.

For example, the aggressive treatment of my cellulitis resulted in a complete disruption of my gut function. I truly could have died from that.

200,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the United States. Seven million have thus far been infected. That’s during the good weather part of the year.

Back in early 2020, the United States Postal System was scheduled to send out sets of five face masks to every American. While the science of face masks was as yet undetermined at that point, taking precautionary measures is never a bad idea. That’s why people get vaccinated against potentially deadly or physically devastating disease. Vaccinations for smallpox, polio, measles and other infectious diseases have protected millions of lives.

Conspiracy theories about vaccinations still abound. For a while, there was serious traction around the idea that vaccinations cause autism. Famous personalities such as Jenny McCarthy preached against vaccinations. The term anti-vaxxers applies to millions of people who still claim that vaccinations, not the diseases they prevent, are more dangerous to human health.

Infection and cancer

Here’s what everyone should consider when it comes to saving lives relative to infectious diseases. There are even known links between infectious diseases and the other Big C, which is cancer. The National Foundation for Cancer Research shares this information:

“Cancer is a group of diseases defined by abnormal cell growth and caused by genetic defects.  Most of us know that these genetic defects can be inherited, caused by environmental factors such as smoking, drinking, obesity and a lack of physical activity, as well as exposure to radiation and pollution.  It is not commonly known, however, that many infectious agents, including some viruses (oncoviruses), bacterial infections, and parasites, can increase one’s probability of developing cancer.”

None of us lives a perfect life when it comes to the things we ingest or absorb in our lives. The world is now filled with chemicals that infiltrate our food, the air we breathe and water we drink. These toxins accumulate in our bodies over time. Even people who attempt to eliminate these threats from their existence are still prone to cancer. The late Linda McCartney (wife of Paul) was a known proponent of good eating. Yet tragically, she succumbed to cancer.

My late wife ate well and exercised regularly. So did the late wife of my former roommate and teammate Keith Ellingson. Both women passed away from ovarian cancer.

But had I not chased my wife to get a checkup with her gynecologist during a stage in life when her menstrual cycle was disrupted and profound, that cancer might never have been discovered. She might well have died within a year. Instead, supported by physicians and nurses who guided us through medical advice and treatments, she lived eight good years, long enough to see her son and daughter attend college.

Private and public empathy

Knowing the effects of that experience on our lives, it stuns me that some people are so selfish with their personal beliefs they refuse to wear a mask while out in public. I challenge all those who avoid basic self-regulation for health protection to consider the lives of those threatened by this pandemic. While the very young seem safer than most, the disease is not all that selective in who it ultimately impacts. Those who contract it warn that it is devastating on many fronts.

All it takes is a bit of empathy and concern for others to realize that infectious diseases are preventable if the truth is know about them. What people don’t understand is that the truth when it comes to medical advice is often is an evolving process. What is known needs to be shared, then revised as more or better information is discovered. This does not defeat the value of medical advice. Not does it excuse hiding the known truth about diseases like Covid-19 in the early stages of its spread. That is what was done by President Donald Trump. He lied to all of us. That’s not a CNN or MSNBC hit job as some like to claim whenever bad news emerges about Trump. The President willingly confessed the fact of his dishonesty to Bob Woodward. He was not coerced or misquoted. He was exposed for what he is: an inveterate scoundrel and liar.

This revelation is proof that the nation is under threat from an infection far more serious than any disease known to the human race. That disease is the propensity to lie for selfish reasons and greedy ambitions.

The Bible is rife with verses covering the pains caused by greed. Here is one notably specific verse that applies to what we’re seeing from our President today:

2 Peter 2:3 ESV / 252

And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

Silence of the shams

It is remarkable how silent the so-called Evangelicals are on the topic of Trump’s greed. They avoid the pain caused by his lies with claims of so-called moral equivalency by stating that “all politicians lie,” as if that were a defense of a prodigious slanderer, liar and brute. Even when his lies are directly quoted back to him, the President either denies that he ever said them or was somehow misunderstood. He is a sociopath whose deceptions are a massive contributor to the fact that 200,000 people have died on his watch. All through support and silence from the sham religious faction that calls itself evangelicals.

Self-care and beware

We’re all trying to take care of ourselves the best we can. With all the running and riding I’ve done under the sun, even the swimming too, I visited the dermatologist today to get my skin checked. Fortunately there seems to be no major issues. No bleeding sores or blackening formations on my skin. But one cannot be too careful in this world. It’s all about engaging in self-care and beware.

That is why I’ll be voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris this November. I believe in the protections of pre-existing conditions in the Affordable Care Act. I believe all people should have access to medical care despite their financial condition or their relative insurability. I believe that a significant portion of our current health care insurance system is a corporatized sham of profit-making that leaves millions of people completely out of the loop. I don’t think Donald Trump gives a damn. Neither does the Republican Party. They only thing they care about is holding power, enriching those that can keep them there, and claiming it’s all about ‘personal responsibility.’ Which is another way of saying, “We don’t care if you die.”

If the Republicans win, the cancer of Trumpism will expand. If they lose, it is still rife within our nation. It will take the chemotherapy of truth to root out the infectious parts of our nation; those that embrace racism, vigilante justice, denial of science, hatred for intellectualism and rationality, and religious bigotry as a worldview. These are the deplorable factions about which Hillary Clinton rightly spoke during her 2016 campaign. She was absolutely correct about all of them. The reign of Trump has proven her perfectly right, and even upped the ante. The nation’s worsts instincts have migrated from deplorable to despicable in the blink of an eye.

It will take strong medicine to quell the disease of Trumpism. Let us pray that the body politic of democracy can survive the necessary treatment.

Posted in aging is not for the weak of heart, death, diet, evangelical Christianity, game of chicken, life and death | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is there anybody out there?

I guess I’m Old School in more ways than one. Not only do I train with relatively little hydration, preferring to stop for sips rather than haul water around with me, I also avoid wearing earbuds while out running or riding.

Never have I grown used to turning my head into a music receptacle during longer runs. I recall the onset of music headphones with the Sony Walkman. Experimented with it. Didn’t like it. Didn’t do it. Left it to the joggers to own that experience.

Along came Apple products including all sorts of iPods. Generations of them came and went. Some of them are still lurking around as drawer detritus in various parts of our house. Tried them too. Left them home. Love the open air instead.

Even corded iPhone earbuds are fading away now. Runners seem to prefer the uncorded solution, and who can blame them? No one likes that flapping cord.

These days, people are quite keen on tuning out the world. For that purpose, nothing better than having music pouring through earbuds to block out the sounds of nature, traffic or conversation.

Fruitless hellos

That is why it is largely fruitless to say hello to runners on the trail these days. It seems that 50% of the people you meet or pass are tuned in or tuned out. I can’t help myself. I still say hello.

I can tell that my wife is sick of me trying to greet these bud-driven runners. I think it exasperates her to hear me talking to people that don’t hear what I’m saying. It probably reminds her how long I’ve been around the running scene (forever) and can’t seem to change my ways. I’m the Old Guy that still says hello to people while out running.

It will take a while to break the habit of saying hello. In my earlier, competitive days I was typically too focused to care about saying hey to anyone. But not entirely. While training on the Chicago lakefront and through Lincoln Park I met many nice people by starting up conversations. I even scored a few dates that way.

Times have changed. Now that social distancing is a “thing” even on the trails, people don’t want to be bothered by anything outside their carefully chosen bubbles of concentration.

So I’ll have to choke down my hellos or be deemed an Old School Interruptor. Life outside the earbuds still goes on, but some people don’t want to recognize it.

It all raises the question Pink Floyd once asked: “Is there anybody out there?”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A run of luck with Glen Kamps

The perpetually smiling Glen Kamps.

This morning I met up to run with one of the leading personalities of the Illinois running world. That would be Glen Kamps. We go back a long ways to the early 80s when he was first working for Dick Pond Athletics on the road running and track circuit. The chain of stores is one of the leading resources for running gear (and wrestling too) in the Midwest.

I’ve written previously about Glen because he’s beyond a fixture in the Illinois running scene. In my estimation, he is in many ways the “face” of running for many people in the running and triathlon scene. He’s been appearing at races with the Dick Pond Truck for decades. And about that face: Glen is almost perpetually smiling. It would be hard to find anyone that knows more names and faces in the world of running than Glen.

Our friendship shares history with the Dick Pond brand because along with many other so-called “older” runners in the Chicago area, I shopped for running shoes when the legendary Dick Pond himself sold them out of his garage in Glen Ellyn. Over the years, Glen has lovingly affirmed my running career by sharing recollections of races past and efforts present.

A house wren singing.

These days I enjoy texts from him that often arrive early in the morning. Glen enjoys birds like I do. Some of his texts will feature a dark screen and audio of a bird calling in the trees before dawn. He lives next to one of the best birding trails in central Kane County and some of his bird texts have turned out to be fascinating records of species arriving in migration. We’ve actually gone out birding together a few times now, most recently this past July with his wife as we walked through the Campton Hills Forest Preserve calling up eastern bluebirds and rufous-sided towhees.

But for all of this long association, Glen Kamps and I have never set a time to go running together. We fixed that this morning. It was a joy running with him. The man has an efficient stride. He’s shooting for a half-marathon in a month or so and is working on building his goal pace over the entire length of the race. Right now he’s on target pace with his five-milers, but recognizes there needs to be an endurance base to build upon.

Incremental progress

Over the last year I’ve been doing longer runs and shared with Glen that by adding a mile each week, I was able to overcome some hip tightness and fatigue problems while building overall endurance. We’ll probably do a few more runs together before his target race, a “virtual” competition in which he’ll head to the Great Western Trail to put in his 13.1 miles.

We finished our run at sub-8:00 pace for the last two miles. Glen runs pretty smoothly at that pace, so I think his target or goal pace is achievable. But we’re both seniors and recognize that getting the body going in the early stages of a race is the most challenging part of any effort. So we strategized and I encouraged him that by running negative splits in practice he can rehearse how to spread his racing effort over the length of a half-marathon.

Legacy of support

I am so grateful for people like Glen Kamps in my life. His legacy of support for running is unparalleled. There are a number of groups that hail from the St. Charles Dick Pond store, including Walk to 5K, marathon training groups and the racing team. Each of these helps people achieve their goals at their respective levels.

During our run, he stopped to pick up a shiny dime on Dean Street. “That’s lucky!” I cheered. He explained that his extended network of Dick Pond runners collects found change or empties pockets into a jar and they rallied up more than $1900 to contribute to the Salvation Army. They took the money to purchase food at Aldi Foods. When the company found out about the program, they matched the donation and wound up giving $4000 in food supplies to people in need.

That shows the beauty of incremental caring. Contributions don’t need to be huge to make a difference in this world. It’s all about getting the word out and encouraging people to participate. That’s not always easy, so it’s great that organizations like Dick Pond Athletics gives back to the community.

The Pond franchise is a regional treasure on many levels, and the running community is better for its stewardship. As for Glen and I, well, I’m glad we finally got to run together. Friendships like ours are like a really good pair of running shoes. They never seem to wear out.

Posted in 10K, 13.1, aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, cross country, half marathon, marathon, race pace, racing peak, running | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why I’m not an RRCA coach…

A few years back, I signed up for a Road Runners Club of America coaching clinic over in Michigan. I hosted an art exhibition of my own work the Friday night before leaving for the clinic. Gathering up my stuff at 8:00 p.m., I prepared for the trip only to be hit immersed immediately in a driving rainstorm.

There was thunder, lightning and the path of the storm on the Weather Channel app showed that it would follow the exact path I was taking from northern Indian up through the southern part of Michigan. I tried driving in that mess for twenty minutes, then turned around. The conditions were life-threatening.

But I was told, “Sorry, no refunds. And no, you can’t apply your fees to a future clinic.”

Nice, huh?

I was angry but decided to let it go. Then an invitation to host a clinic appeared in my email feed. So I set all that up and hosted a clinic at our fitness center. I purchased all the food and drinks, organized the space and made sure that everyone had what they needed during the two days were sat in the classrooms.

Between those duties, I listened carefully to the lead speaker and participated in group activities. The range of experience among people participating in the clinic was a bit startling to me. Some of them appeared to have little knowledge of what it took to become a better runner, much less how to coach others.

One exercise involved writing workouts for a fictitious runner whose relative attributes and lifestyle issues we were supposed to accommodate in prescribing workouts. I’ve written enough fiction to know that developing a character is not a straight-line process. They come to life through experiment and imagination.

Later on the exam required for “graduation” from the class, we were allowed to use the book, which implied that the desired answer to the exercise was some sort of rote conclusion.

I missed passing the exam by four percentage points. They don’t initially tell you what you missed, but are ‘willing’ to let you take the exam over again for a fee of $50.

Bad investment

Having already spent at least $300 on the initial registration, my appetite for more investment was about exhausted. Plus there was a matter of inherent insight to consider. The RRCA course teaches and tests to its exclusive claims to knowledge about running and coaching. If you don’t pass the exam that tells exactly you how to think, you don’t get the honor of being called an RRCA coach. Okay, that’s their right I guess. If I didn’t like the idea of absorbing their ideology, why try to get certified at all?

Well, that’s why I’m writing this article. I think the RRCA is full of shit when it comes to how they teach coaching and what factors are taken into consideration to designate someone a certified coach.

Coaching philosophies

Bill Bowerman in his “running shop”

Any runner or coach in America can tell you that there are as many coaching philosophies and applied methods as there are coaches and athletes in America. That’s why even world-class athletes sometimes move around during their careers. What worked for a while may not last a whole career.

The renowned Oregon coach Bill Bowerman did not even give the same workouts to athletes within his own team. If he had not “broken the mold” by experimenting with new shoe designs, the Nike brand would never have invented ‘waffle souls’ and “Just Do It” might have an entirely different, much more pedantic meaning.

The point being, that on a typical basis, neither coaches or athletes succeed with cookie-cutter methods. It is those who invent new methods and break the mold that often drive athletes to great success.

There have always been many theories at work in distance running. Going all the way back to the 70s when I started running, there was the Lydiard method of Long Slow Distance. It worked for many runners. But as it turned out, it wasn’t the ‘be all-end all’ when it came to training. There were coaches who shunted slow running for constant speed work and low mileage. Hall of Famer Brooks Johnson was one of these coaches.

As the running boom expanded, runners clawed their way through interviews with world class competitors to discern secrets about how the likes of Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers or Derek Clayton got faster and went longer than anyone else. The great Marty Liquori published a coaching book titled Guide to the Elite Runner that contains advice that is still valid today. Yet many things have changed as well.

When the Kenyan revolution came along, many distance runners cried “foul!” because these were athletes that grew up running miles a day back and forth to school. How does anyone compete with that? There were also murmurings about legendary Central American athletes capable of running hundreds of miles in just sandals.

Practical realities

The bulk of us Old Schoolers in the 70s and 80s decided to do most of our mileage hard to put our bodies in what we called a constant “tired state” in order to get the most from our training. We raced frequently and hard. Even high school cross country schedules in Illinois featured 15-18 dual or triangular meets per season. On weekends we ran invitationals. Between those races, speed workouts were thrown in for good measure. We even ran hard workouts after races.

In college the schedule still featured 13 meets, half dual meets and half invites.

After college, most of us raced 15-20 times a year at distances from 5K through the half marathon. Very few runners concentrated strictly on the marathon or half-marathon. These we raced instead as dessert on top of the main menu of hard efforts at shorter distances. As a result, the winning times for most 5K events were below 15:00 and the 10ks were contested at 31:00 or under. Many weekend races featured results in which the Top Ten were all finishing under 32:00.

In sum, that age of distance runners was doing some things right…if the quantification of results was based on fast times and plenty of them. In truth, what else matters if racing is your goal? There was some risk of burnout, and some runners did. But many raced consistently from the age of 13 through the age of 35 before time and attention demanded other paths.

Granted, the goal of becoming a ‘lifelong runner’ wasn’t on the minds of most Golden Age competitors. A few still made the transition. Others gave up the sport out of exhaustion or injury. So there were problems with some of the intensity levels.

But people learned from that

Coaching clinics

Many of the people who came through the gauntlet of 70s and 80s running went on to become coaches. Their programs typically involved quality training with a mix of speed, fartlek, long runs and hill training mixed in. That mix has always worked and always will. All it takes beyond those basic methods is to ascertain the ability of a given runner to sustain a certain volume and the prescription almost writes itself. They pulled back a bit on the number of races, volume and intensity of training, and took a longer view of running as a whole.

The RRCA Coaching Certification Course covers all that to some degree. They handed us a big fat book with a deck of running types and graphs to help coaches remember what to do if they ever got the chance to coach other runners.

But to me, their process was more like handing a prospective chef a book of recipes, talking about why people like good-tasting food, then giving everyone a quiz on how to cook. Those who pass earn a certificate that says, “Congrats, You’re Now a Chef.” (Or a coach).

There was also a big section covering the “Business Of Coaching.” A chunk about Sports Psychology. Some case studies.

Here were the instructions for taking the test: (italics mine)

“Choose the single best answer to each question based on our course materials.”

“As you prepare, feel free to contact your instructor with questions.”

“After the exam, the RRCA will reveal correct answers if you ask after the 30-day window.”

“Once you take the exam, if you have questions about the exam, feel free to contact your instructor.”

After failing the exam by 4%, I did contact them with concerns about the nature of the test. Basically they send you back to their email which is detailed below.

Hello ​Chris —  We have received your RRCA test score of 8​1​.  Although the score may be disappointing, there are ways to continue the process and complete the exam with a passing score.  To continue the certification process and receive certification, the RRCA requests that you follow a few steps to take the exam one more time:

1) Please submit a $50 re-take payment to the RRCA paypal account here: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=NE6W9LHWRJF62

2) Once you submit the fee, then you can go to this URL to take the exam: http://www.classmarker.com/online-test/start/?quiz=tdc534e749e9a708 

3) Your password for this exam is this: 2015takeagain

You will have 30 days from today to complete the exam again.  Unfortunately, the RRCA cannot send you your previous exam details, so please take time to review the course materials and be prepared for the online exam.    

In the unhappy event that your second score is also lower than 85%, the RRCA requires that you take the full course a second time, then take and pass the exam.  If you need to take the course a second time, the fee will be $325, but we will make every effort to ensure that you can take the course in the city of your choice.  

Please take the time needed to prepare for the exam, drawing on the coursebook materials and lessons referenced in the RRCA course.

Best wishes on the retake,

–(director)

Ironies abound

There are quite a few ironies in this email, beginning with the stated commitment to “make every effort to ensure that you can take the course in the city of your choice.”

I spent $325 for the course in Michigan, was stopped in place by a violent weather event, and told “tough luck” by the RRCA. Why a quiet accommodation could not have been arranged in the first place is a valid question.

Secondly, if the test was an open book event, why not reveal what areas the tester failed during the process? Wouldn’t it be an efficient and effective learning process, if one seeks to help people become better coaches in the long run, to tell them where they failed? Gee, what a concept.

And finally, the idea that a person’s ability to become a coach is dependent on a test taken on a weekend of dispensational information is absurd.

So, I failed. As a person with tendencies toward ADHD and a creative mind, it’s not the first test of this nature that I’ve failed. Perhaps I’m just not prone to provide pat answers to rigidly asked questions. I want to know the “why” as well as the what. And if the “why” seems questionable in theory or in practice, I’ll answer differently along the lines of what experience and past results have told me.

That’s why I’m not a RRCA Certified Coach. I’m a round peg in a square hold. But I ask you a simple question: Who would you most trust for advice your running career, someone who’s “been there and done that,” and a person that coached athletes beginning at the age of sixteen years old, continued throughout his career across a range of sports, and continues competing with age group wins into this sixties, or someone who answers questions correctly by copying them out of a book?

I know what I would prefer.

Posted in 10K, 13.1, 400 workouts, competition, cross country, race pace, running | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Transfer of excellence

At five years old and today, still inspired.

While many of my peers are retiring or planning to do so in the near future, I have no plans to retire for another ten years or so. There are many reasons for that having to do with career shifts and dealing with the impacts of caregiving for a mother, a father and a wife for well over a decade, but that’s life. We adapt to circumstances the best way we can.

Full creative forces

Beyond those immediate concerns, the truth is that I have begun to feel the full force of my creative impulses come to fruition. It is an exceptional process when you put your mind to something and can do it directly and with intention.

This is true now in my writing, painting, relationships and fitness activities. Right now I have a book completed that is titled Rescuing Christianity from the Grip of Tradition. There is another book in the works titled Nature Is Our Country Club. I have a work of fiction titled Admissions that I originated years ago and am editing for publication based on a far better grasp of the writing process gained through decades of content creation. I have a children’s book series written and will illustrate when time allows. The foundations for a book I am titling Competition’s Son are contained within this blog that I’ve written for eight years. Nothing goes to waste. The book I wrote about cancer survivorship is already published on Amazon.com. It is titled The Right Kind of Pride.

Not the conventional, or retiring type

Long ago I adopted an idea that popped into my head while running one day. I call it the Transfer of Excellence. That is, when you set out to do one thing really well, it empowers you to apply the lessons learned to other life focuses.

I took up full-time running in late high school years and carried out that mission of competitive athletics through my late 20s. Other priorities finally demanded my time. During those fifteen years of competitive life, I did not become world class or win Olympic medals, but did learn how to plan for success, carry out the work to prepare for it, and execute in competitive circumstances. I won a ton of races, even beating thousands of people at a time. It wasn’t always easy, but it was worth it.

There were successes and failures along the way. Each taught me valuable life lessons. Following a success such as setting a running personal record, one learns to recalibrate for the next goal. That means even more training, focus and setting sights on new objective. That’s the most direct form of transfer of excellence. Building on success within a singular activity is the linear form of transfer of excellence.

Success also comes from understanding and building off our failures. Through self-examination, we learn to analyze the cause, objectify the outcomes and gather the mental fortitude to try again despite the presence of doubt or fear. My son Evan Cudworth is embarking on an incredible journey to help people process that brand of insight. It’s called Failure To Lunch. His full release is coming up later this autumn, but already he’s helping people come to grips with their own life processes. In his career a a college choice advisor, he’s already helped hundreds of people achieve their academic dreams by getting into premiere colleges the legitimate way.

Fear of success

We may not know it in the moment, but the transfer of excellence also takes place as an abstract force for other phases of life. When my late wife was diagnosed with cancer, my high school coach contacted me. The first thing he said was prescient: “Your whole life has been a preparation for this.” He was right. Learning how to deal with life’s obstacles is a major part of dealing with stress, anxiety, even depression in the face of fear––because fear is the enemy of all excellence.

Fear of success is also real. Anyone that has set a PR in any athletic pursuit quickly realizes that the stage is set to do even better, but it comes with tension. It can be difficult to cope with those expectations. Fear holds us back. Too quickly, we forget the lessons learned along the way. Instead, we concentrate on the reasons why it will be so hard to succeed again. We worry what others will think about us, how they’ll judge us if we don’t live up to what we think they want from us. In those circumstances, it’s easy to back off or give up in some way.

We’ve all done it. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. Entire societies do it. We’re dealing with the process of letting fear take over in America right now. All this bluster of Make America Great Again and the disgrace of abuse and lies is a massive attempt to hide societal failures behind a mask of aggressive triumphalism. It’s all based on a lie.

But it’s not uncommon for people to lie to themselves in order to seek a shortcut to success. Even world-class athletes and entrepreneurs and famous entertainers deal with fears of success and notions that they’re a fraud. That self-doubt and the mental games we play go hand-in-hand with fear of failure. It is the same way with anxiety as the flipside of depression. Self-ruminative thoughts circle around us like reality turned inside out. That’s what it feels like in the world today. It’s making us all crazy. That’s why it’s so important to solidify our own foundations for success and confidence.

Building on successes

That is where the transfer of excellence can come in handy. It is helpful to realize that if you’re struggling in some aspect of life––and we all do at times––we can look to our other successes for encouragement. Deep inside, we know that we have what it takes to succeed. We just might need to access it from another perspective.

This past weekend I completed my first 70.3 triathlon. It was a like a Road Trip to self validation. The race hurt those last five miles, but having been through discomfort hundreds of times in my career, I knew that I was nowhere near reaching the limits of my endurance. Sore toes and tired feet, exhausted quads and a tight back did not stop me. Nor will a few setbacks in life hold me back from persevering. I have more fight in me than most. So do you.

Promotional piece for my solo show Road Trip: Passage Through Collective Memory. Left to right: (acrylic) Road Trip Minnesota, Road Trip Wisconsin (pastel) and Road Trip Illinois (pastel) in class window frames.

The feeling I get when doing a painting or other artwork is quite similar to the sensations during a really great run. It feels like some sort of mental depth is achieved, almost like my hand and mind are so connected that the paint or pastel flows from brain right out the tip or width of the brush.

When writing, I am drawn away from mundane thoughts by the challenge to create something original. It feels the same way on a bike, or while swimming when the body connects with a machine or the flow of water all around you.

Gearing up for success

I am here to make the case that this transfer of excellence happens in other aspects of life as well.

While the workplace can seem at times like the fulcrum of distraction, or when conducting business from home during the Covid crisis seems disconnected from the abstraction we all call “work,” you need to realize that it’s possible to draw out the better parts of your mind if you set fear of success or failure aside and access that part of yourself that loves and embraces excellence. It’s there within us all.

I’d like to hear your experiences along these lines. Your story is valid and valuable in every respect. This blog has profiled many people who work to achieve their own version of success. Email me at cudworthfix@gmail.com to share moments when you first experienced success in life, at any stage, and how you feel it transfers to other parts of life.

The transfer of excellence is where dreams and practicality meet. Let’s share that world, shall we?

Posted in aging, Christopher Cudworth, college, competition, Depression, mental health, PEAK EXPERIENCES, racing peak, swimming, training, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Useful takeaways from a triathlete’s first 70.3 Half Ironman

Five years ago, standing on top of the spiral parking ramp by the Madison Hilton, I watched the start of the Wisconsin Ironman race in which my wife Sue was competing. She had a decent go of it that first time on the long course. Greeting her a half-mile from the finish, she turned to me and said, “It wasn’t the day I wanted, but I’m gonna be an Ironman.”

That brought tears to my eyes. She’d put in a ton of work, yet life conspired to make it really tough to get to the starting line. A month before the race, a driver in a huge white Escalade pulled in front of her at the entrance to a park, then stopped suddenly in her lane of traffic. Sue ditched the bike and came sliding to a stop. But the bike frame was broken, necessitating borrowed bikes and ultimately, the purchase of a new one. That and other stresses, including a bit of congestive asthma brought on by cold water conditions that day, conspired to make it a tough mental challenge for her to complete the race. Yet she did it, just as she’s done two other Ironman races and multiple half Ironmans.

Lagging behind

Meanwhile, I’ve been working my way up from Sprint distance to Olympic and finally, yesterday morning, I started and finished a Half-Ironman “race” held in Madison the same day that the official Wisconsin race was supposed to take place.

We were not alone out there. Several dozen athletes working with their local tri-clubs showed up to do a Covid-Cautious event. So few people were in town there was plenty of room at the Madison Hilton, normally a packed hotel with $300 a night fees on a typical Ironman race weekend.

That made it low-pressure to walk our bikes down through the lobby and out to the small group of racks by lakeside. We set out our stuff, crawled into our wetsuits and at 7:00 a.m. walked into the freezing cold water.

I nearly walked back out again when that cold hit me. I only own a sleeveless wetsuit. My fear was that my arms might cramp up along the way. But despite that anxiety, I paddled in place and let the group go ahead of my so that I could warm up sufficiently.

1st Takeaway: Sane Swimming

The first lesson of every triathlon effort is to find your comfort zone in every situation. Swimming is not my strong suit and I require a wetsuit to swim a mile. Add in the cold water conditions and it might have been easy to panic a bit. The strongest swimmers might not have such worries, but the rest of us have our trigger points.

It didn’t take that long to get comfortable in the water despite the chill. My stroke is still a bit loosey-goosey, but I averaged 2:04 per hundred. That’s ten seconds slower than I typically swim intervals in the pool, so it was sane pacing. I didn’t pass anyone, but no one passed me either. Takeaway: it’s often best to “hold your own” and pace yourself smartly than letting competitive perceptions drive your response.

I swam relatively straight. That is, I followed the buoys decently. Yet I still swam 2,216 yards for the 1.2 mile course. No one’s perfect. During the swim I had the chance to reflect on all those times I watched others out there in the water. Now it was me. About that point in time, a small swell started up in the lake and I enjoyed the feeling and timed my stroke to rock and roll with the feeling of the waves. That’s a cool experience. That’s why I do these things.

2nd Takeaway: Crashless Cycling

Last week I wrote about a terrifying trip down an embankment during The Wright Stuff Century eight years ago. Heading back to Madison for this semi-competitive cycling event had me thinking about being safe and smart on the roads. The trip out to Mt. Horeb and back involved 3000 feet of climbing. That means there was an equal amount of descending. Some of those hills are long. Others are steep.

So rather than risk bike wobble I used the downhills as recovery time. Clenching my knees on the center bar was a security tactic in the event that road conditions changed to set up a vibration in the frame. The relative speed gains between going 35 mph and 45 mph are so small for a cyclist of my ability that it was far smarter to maintain control on the downhills and use that momentum going forward on the flats to pedal strong and smooth, then climb the next hill with consistency rather than mashing my way up in some sort of damaging panic mode.

3rd Takeaway: Curing Cramps

Several times during my 5-year duathlon/triathlon career, I’ve experienced devastating camps in the upper side of my hamstrings, even into the butt muscle. Last July in Springfield during an Olympic race, I could not run for ten full minutes because the pain was so bad.

I’ve figured out that it is a combination of poor pedaling technique, hydration needs coming off the swim, and position on the bike. My thighs are strangely tired coming out of the swim, a strange deal considering I don’t kick at all (still working on that) but it is what it is.

So the takeway was to go smooth, not hard. Allow the legs to warm to the task during the 56-mile ride, and don’t overreach with pedaling on bad roads. I had no cramps and rode the hilly course in 3:30, or 3:25 if you take away the five minutes spent going back to get water bottles that flew off my bike as the rear cage screw slowly came undone. That was frustrating.

4th Takeaway: Unrattled Running

Once I figured out how to transfer the course map into my Garmin Fenix watch, I knew it would be fine to follow the course and see what the run gave me after 56 miles on the bike. I already knew from a series of 50-70 mile rides that I was fit enough to ride hard and not have the legs feel trashed. So I was not afraid of endurance issues.

This year I’ve also increased the overall length of my longest runs, even doing the full 13.1 mile distance once. Most other runs are between 10-11 miles. You don’t have to go nuts preparing for a half-marathon by doing 20-milers and such. But I did run the ten-milers hard, averaging 8:10-8:30 per mile, with some sub-8:00 miles thrown in during training. Speed conquers all, you see.

I don’t even feel the need to run “bricks” in order to get into the groove in triathlons. I think they’re overrated. My long runs do take place the day after a 50-70 mile bike ride each week. So it’s a virtual brick.

At sixty-plus years old, it takes two full miles for my body to warm up on any run these days. So mulching along with scruffy feet for a mile or two coming off the bike in a half-marathon/Half-Ironman is not a new sensation. The trick to steady running is being unrattled. Don’t panic and think “I’m going too slow!”Even if you are, there’s typically nothing you can do about it. Play the long game.

Takeaway Five: Finishing “fast”

All summer I’ve been doing negative split distance runs in anticipation of doing longer races. Typically I’ll start at 9:50 per mile and drop by twenty seconds per mile for ten miles. Most of this is done by “feel” rather than obsession with the watch. That admittedly comes from 40+ years of running experience. I know pace well.

But when you’re heading into new territory as I was yesterday, the fact of the matter is that so-called “negative splits” often turn out to be holding the pace you achieve at two miles, then proceeding as steady as you can. I walked on a hill or two, sipping water and stretching. No sin in that.

Early in the run stage, I snagged a package of Clif shot blocks and downed one cube every two miles. That kept my energy up, a sensation actually learned earlier that day by using the same tactic on the bike along with chomping Power Bars and drinking a bottle an hour.

But I’m Old School in some respects. The only thing I carried with me for water on the run was a squinched up plastic bottle that I refilled at every aid station. It was tucked into the front of my tri-shorts for easy access (see photo above.) I stopped and walked to drink rather than slopping it all over myself. It wasn’t hot outside. Temps were actually ideal for running. So a hot weather race would require far more planning. But I know my hydration needs pretty well and had zero cramps and just one dizzy moment climbing a steep hill.

Takeaway Six: It’s All For the Fun Of It

Last sip of my Old School water bottle after the 70.3. Whatever works for you!

While the last six miles were not easy running, I was still having fun if you define having a really sore toenail on the second toe as fun. I happen to think that’s a joy compared to any number of other ailments that might crop up. My left knee hurt a little too.

I will say that my choice of running shoes was marginal at best. I wore a well-worn set of New Balance 880s that I trusted for weight and cushioning. But they were a bit too compromised in terms of age and mileage on them for optimal performance. The best shoe for long-distance racing is a pair of shoes at about their half-life in usage. Some shoes get between 400-500 miles, so timing your shoe wear to your race plans is important.

It was gratifying to finish a 70.3 and realize that after all these years of watching others “win the day” I could accomplish that distance. In fact it was exactly to my taste to trot in those last 200 meters and clearly hear my wife cheering me home along with a few hoorays from other people as well. She’s had some great races the last two years and we could both revel in my newfound distance achievement.

Takeaway Seven: Massage Is Magic

Post-race, I took at quick shower in the hotel room before the 2:00 p.m. checkout time. Then we walked back down to collect my stuff. At the race tent there were two massage therapists working and Sue said, “Honey, you should get a massage.”

That therapist found all the knots in my calves and loosened up my IT bands. Then she reached up to my upper back and said, “Do you keep much tension in your shoulders?” She laughed. My wife chimed in: “Oh…yeah…”

I surely do. Life’s anxieties, and there are many these days, seem to gather between my shoulder blades all the way up to my neck. So it was wonderful to “takeaway” the benefits of her skilled massage therapy.

The drive home after a Coke and a sandwich went swell. We listened to Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie’s podcast on the Tour de France and it felt like July in September. Life is strange these days. We have to make the most of it.

Posted in 13.1, bike accidents, bike crash, bike wobble, Christopher Cudworth, climbing, competition, cycling the midwest, duathlon, half marathon, healthy aging, IRONMAN, marathon, running, swimming, training, training for a marathon, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What a wild ride we’re all really on

On a cool, clear weekend west of Madison, Wisconsin, a group of us gathered at Governor Dodge State Park in early September of 2012. Our plan was to camp out, ride the Wright Stuff Century (or thereabouts) and float down the Wisconsin River on inner tubes.

Simple stuff. Midwestern joys.

For me, it was a brief escape from caregiving duties back in Illinois. My late wife was in her seventh year of ovarian cancer survivorship. She’d been through so many chemotherapy treatments and operations by then it felt like she was a science experiment.

In many ways, that was true. Treating cancer is not some cookie-cutter regimen. Everyone’s body reacts differently to chemicals being dripped into their bodies. The side effects are enough to kill some people.

In his book “It’s Not About the Bike,” cancer survivor Lance Armstrong tells the story of how he told the doctors, and I paraphrase, “Give me everything you got, doc. You can’t kill me.”

To which the doctor replied, “Oh yes, I can.”

That’s how chemotherapy works. It seeks to kill various kinds of cancer by attacking the most active, aggressive cells in your body. One of the tests used to detect cancer is a radioactive glucose. It is pushed into the body in a PET scan. Then a scanner takes an image of where the glucose is being used most in the body. Basically it shows where cancer is excited by the presence of sugar.

We also tracked my wife’s CA-125 numbers, a test frequently prescribed for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When the numbers are low, it indicates cancer is in remission. When those numbers rise, they possibly indicate cancer activity returning in the body. The first time that happened following two years in cancer remission, my wife had an emotional breakdown. She’d done everything they told her to do, and hopes were up that she’d conquered it. Then it came roaring back. She was crushed. It was like she’d been thrown off the bike of her life.

And it came back a year later. And again. And again.

During those eight years we sat through dozens of chemo sessions. We were in and out of hospitals getting tumors removed from her body. I was in and out of work taking care of her. Money was tight. Keeping insurance coverage was tense. We received help from many people over those years.

Under pressure

By September 2012, there were signs that the cancer was never going to quit. She’d developed tremors and seizures that seemed to worsen whenever we went for a walk. All this created tension in our lives and put pressure on our relationship as well. So we agreed that I should go bike riding with friends up in Wisconsin while she spent time with her family back in Illinois.

We started the ride late, almost the last people to head out. But I felt great in the cool morning air and we were soon passing other cyclists.

As we topped the long climb above the American Player’s Theater in the Wisconsin hills near Spring Green, I was feeling really great. Despite the long summer dealing with my wife’s illness, I’d gotten out riding enough while she rested that I was in decent shape and felt ready to cover 60-70 miles even in the steep hills north of Dodgeville.

One of my buddies topped the hill and went tearing after other cyclists headed down the hill toward the Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright property next to the Wisconsin River. I hit the pedals to stay with him, then quickly glanced down at the speed on my cyclometer. It read 45 miles an hour, but the road was getting rougher. So I tapped the brakes…

Shudder to think about it

At that point, my bike began to shudder in uncontrollable fashion. It swerved and wobbled. I tried braking but that only sent the bike into worse vibrations. The entire carbon fiber bike frame was whipping about at a width of six inches or more. That clearly meant trouble.

Looking ahead, I knew that I did not want to go down on the asphalt at that speed. Leaning left, I got the bike to the road edge and the front tire slid down across gravel and hit a lump of dirt. That threw me over the front of the bike as my feet unclipped from the pedals and I flew through the air. I saw a blur of ground and felt the hard thud of my left shoulder striking the earth. My body flipped and skidded sideways down a grassy hillside. I came to rest in a ditch of tall grass and late season wildlflowers.

For a moment I lay there trying to figure out what just happened. To my right there was a low cable strung two feet high between a line of concrete posts. Staring at it for a moment, I did the grotesque calculations of what might have happened if I had hit that wire. “You’d be dead,” I said to myself. I closed my eyes for a moment but the sun turned the eyelids red in the morning light.

Opening them again, I looked up at the blue sky and, realizing that I was quite alive, said a quick prayer of thanks for that. I moved my right shoulder a little but heard a crunching sound in my left collarbone. Lying back, I sighed and swore out loud. Some prayers are answered in the strangest ways.

Crawling off

It was clear that I had to get out of that ditch and figure out a way to get help. I leaned to my right and discovered that it didn’t hurt the fractured collarbone to move in that direction. What I did feel was a sharp tug in my right inner thigh. Something down there got pulled, I realized. So it took a few minutes to crawl up the bank and sit there, perhaps in shock, wondering if anyone would come along to find me.

Two women stopped their bikes when they saw me. They had started the ride even later than us. Thank God, I thought. One of them walked over and asked, “Did you have bike wobble?”

Looking up at her face, I nodded and said, “Yes,” even though I’d just learned what the term bike wobble even meant.

Body shudders

Back home, my wife was having shudders of her own that day. The seizures she’d been having came on even stronger during her visit with her parents. My daughter watched with worry and a bit of horror as her mother dealt with the tremors. Everyone wanted her to go to the hospital, but she refused.

Up in Wisconsin, I was picked up by ambulance and driven to a small hospital in the hills south of Dodgeville. They fed me Vicodin and tracked down my fellow campers, which was not an easy task given the dodgy cell phone reception in the Wisconsin hills.

It all took place one September eight years ago. The entire scene comes back to me every year when the light takes on that September tone and hits a certain angle.

It strikes me that I could have died that day. It was also somehow the day I realized it was likely that my wife would soon die. She passed away that following March after eight years of being wobbled back and forth by news good and bad.

Such is the nature of life, and what a wild ride we’re all really on.

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The Covid Chronicles

I’ve written this blog for eight years now. Its subtitle is Original Thoughts on Running and Riding.” So I’ve tried to do that. I’m not a one-trick pony.

Covered many topics along the way. Always trying to relate what’s going on in this world to running, riding and belatedly, swimming. It took me a long time to get around to swim. It ultimately helped to marry a triathlete.

Despite all these topics and time that I’ve spent producing this blog, over the last eight months, I haven’t really said much about the Coronavirus epidemic. But it’s not that simple a topic to write about.

You know my politics clearly enough. The word that describes me is liberal. Yet I have almost radically conservative views when it comes to honest takes on theology rather than spouting orthodoxy and its pursuant ideology. The Bible is a liberal book. Scripture has liberal foundations. Jesus was a bleeding heart, do-gooder and the original liberal.

It is conservatives and authoritarians that have always used scripture against society to gain control. Yet when they do so, it leads to corruption 100% of the time. The religious authorities that conspired against Jesus were so convinced that they owned the narrative they were blinded to the truth. They conspired politically to frame Jesus as a threat to society.

In the wake of the crucifixion, the Christian religion that emerged from the death of Jesus spread its wings against the winds of power blowing across the Middle East. But ultimately that authority was consolidated through approval and unity with the Roman Empire. That powerful convergence led to centuries of persecution against all those who opposed its authority, leading to holy wars, inquisitions, torture, suppression of science, and even genocide. The principal victims of that ire were the Jews, because they served as a convenient scapegoat for Christians to blame for the death of Jesus even as the Roman Catholic Church exploded with the same brand of authoritarian intolerance as the religious leaders who conspired against Jesus.

The same thing is taking place again right now. The evangelical world at work today is a patent reproduction of the same type of religious authorities that conspired against Jesus and the Christians who gaslighted the world while fueling anti-Semitism, racism and biblically literal prejudice against gay people and anyone else that attracted their fear and ire.

This new cabal has worked for decades to position and install an authoritarian to do their bidding. They found their man in Donald Trump, a cryptic deceiver who is more than willing to exploit their religious authority to his political advantage.

When put to the test of truth, this authoritarian lied and lied again. The most recent expose shows that Donald Trump lied about the threat of the Coronavirus. These deceptions are completely documented in recorded conversations with journalist Bob Woodward. We now know that Donald Trump prized authority and power over the safety and well-being of the people he is entrusted to protect, the citizens of the United States, and the world.

We’ve all tried to adapt and adjust to the measures prescribed by medical experts during the Coronavirus pandemic. We worked through economic shutdowns and engaged in social distancing. We’re wearing masks in public and avoiding major gatherings whenever possible. But think about all this for a moment. While the public tried to do its best to protect itself against this disease, the President of the United States has purposely lied and confused the public on all these issues. That means his selfishness is directly responsible for nearly 200,000 deaths and millions more people infected and possibly permanently affected by this disease.

Also: If he can claim responsibility for the economy, he must also accept responsibility for its destruction under his watch.

It all blew up because this lying bastard Donald Trump is so selfish he cannot bring himself to think about anything else but his own benefit. His fixer Michael Cohen notably remarks that Trump only ran for President as a branding ploy. He didn’t give a damn about actually winning, (this article raised that question in 2011) but the power of his deceptive tactics and aid from corrupt Russian interests were so effective, he won anyway.

The really sick fact of all this is found in Trump’s continuing denial of responsibility for any of it. Those of us fortunate enough to have escaped infection thus far still face a long winter of enclosure with even greater risk of catching the disease. Many more people will die, yet his stupid supporters will refuse to wear masks. His troops will show up to threaten people at the polls, and black people will continue to be slaughtered in the streets while Trump grins and smiles and blames everyone but himself for this mess he’s created.

That’s what I think about the Coronvirus epidemic. It is as biblical a moment in history as anyone can imagine. Yet like the king in scripture who dreamed about a statue with feet fired from clay, he may yet topple into the dust. But even then, conspiracies are afoot to exonerate and pardon him for all the ills he’s brought upon this world.

The most biblical thing that could happen right now is for the terminally narcissistic Donald Trump to contract Covid and have it race through his system so fast that it sucks the life right out of his lungs and runs his ‘life battery’ into the ground. He deserves that to happen for all his lies. His supporters may brand him a martyr for the cause, but in truth, he is the cause of many martyrs giving their safety and their lives in protest of his selfish rule.

This is history, folks. This is the real deal. We’ll see what fate or God or dumb luck has in store for all of us.

And then perhaps we can turn around to consider the threat of climate change, which is all our responsibility.

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