Not playing possum

During a 40-minute run on the Fox River Trail this morning, my partner and I chanced upon a sordid scene. Right below the Metra Railroad bridge that crosses the river, a dead opossum lay headless on the asphalt. I looked up at the tracks 40 feet above our heads and tried to imagine the sad moment when the possum made the decision to end its life by leaping off the bridge. What could drive a creature to make such a sad choice?

Well, it helps to know a bit about opossums in order to understand the probable context of its sorrow and despair. See, the Opossum is a marsupial, defined as “a mammal of an order whose members are born incompletely developed and are typically carried and suckled in a pouch on the mother’s belly. Marsupials are found mainly in Australia and New Guinea, although three families, including the opossums, live in America.”

And there are people here in America who can’t stand the idea that Opossums are not normal. So I visited a website titled http://www.wehatepossums.com to extract some of the content documenting why some people hate opossums so much. Here is what it said:

opossumListen up, people. Marsupials are not “normal” like the rest of us mammals here on earth. In fact, they’re not mentioned in the Bible, and to that makes them ungodly. They run around making that nasty grin all the time. It looks like they are channeling the devil himself.

And have you read this stuff about their babies being aborted prematurely and carried around and inside a pouch? That’s just un-American.

pangeeaSpeaking of Un-American, the opossums we have here in the Good Old U-S of A officially don’t even belong here. They evolved on some ancient continent named Pangeea, for God’s sake, and used to live only South America. But then they come up through Mexico when they heard about all the good garbage cans here in North America. So they are illegal immigrants and have spread all over the country like vermin.

It’s true! All these opossums do is live under our gardening sheds, hide in our woodpiles and eat the food we set out for our cats. Then they climb up trees and taunt us with those tails hanging down like curly penises. Opossums are the Animal of the Devil. We need to send them all back down to Bolivia or somewheres like that.”

So you can see why your average opossum doesn’t let itself be seen much in daylight. When people openly hate you for so many reasons it gets a little depressing after a while.

So Opossums mostly keep to themselves, and haven’t really learned much English as a result. They only speak “possum” amongst themselves, as immigrants to American have done for millennia. It’s a difficult thing to integrate and learn the language when people make it so clear they don’t want to speak with you in the first place.

But possums are actually really useful. It turns out Opossums do jobs that no one else really likes. Check out this bit of news from a website called Inquisitr.com. It turns out possums are our main weapon in the frontline War Against Ticks.

Opossum1.jpg

“Several states in the U.S. are reporting record populations of ticks and increasing tick-borne disease transmission, like Lyme disease, but clearing your yard of these blood suckers might be only one opossum away. Yes, that giant rat-looking animal that plays dead when threatened and hisses like the devil’s spawn when scared is actually extremely beneficial to humans and other mammals. Opossums’ diets include snakes, snails, slugs, mice, rats, and carrion. Perhaps the most intriguing item on an opossum’s daily menu is an even more dreaded human foe: the tick. Opossums’ voracious appetite for ticks can nearly obliterate a tick population.”

 

tick

Is it a tick, or a blood-sucking investment banker?

This is rather joyous news because ticks are essentially the equals of unscrupulous investment bankers who suck the lifeblood out of the economy while leaving behind the disease of distressed properties. Those are the bloodsucking creatures we actually should deport. Or at least we should burn their asses with a lit match, the country boy’s typical treatment for ticks.

But opossums actually eat ticks, thereby ridding the nation of a horrible pest from fields and woodlands. And to carry out this function all summer long, opossums go through quite a bit of pain and suffering all winter. See, opossums were evolved in tropical climates, and as such have ears evolved to distribute heat from their bodies. These papery thin ears are ill-suited for life in the colder regions of North America. As a result, their ears get frostbitten in extremely cold temperatures.

So we should be thanking opossums for all the good they do, ridding the nation of wasted food and bloodsucking ticks. But instead, we have the haters who malign them as illegal immigrants, calling them ugly names. Who can blame an opossum for playing dead when people come up to them with such anger in their souls?

possumSo you can see why an opossum might actuall be moved to end it all for real, and throw itself off a bridge to splat on the trail below. That also answers the question why so many possums wind up as road kill. There is a high rate of suicide among social creatures who feel cast out of society. A creature so hated and unappreciated might feel it has little reason to live.

Now it turns out that presidential candidate and well-known immigrant hater Donald Trump has aimed his wrath at opossums as well. “We have a possum problem in this country!” he shrieked at a recent rally where his supporters hung dead possum carcasses on sticks and marched around the plaza screaming, “Death to Possums!”

Trump then outlined a “plan” (as far as that goes…) in which he proposes to gather up all the possums in North America and send them back over the border to Mexico. “They can walk home from there,” he barked to the crowd. “We don’t want to pay bus fare for a bunch of garbage-eating creatures,” he crowed. And the crowd cheered while throwing bloody bits of possum carcass on stage.

Raccoon.jpgIt is threats of this nature that likely drove our possum friend to throw himself off the railroad bridge last night. These are harsh times for possums or anyone else that does not hail from White Bread America. Word has it Trump has his eye on the raccoons as well.”We sure don’t need coons in this country either!” he yelled at the same rally. “Who knows where they came from? Let’s send them back right away! And make them pay for it! Look at their ugly little masks, and how they wash their food with those tiny little paws. And that tail. It makes them look like a jailbird!”

The voice of the crowd surged in response, and Donald Trump waved his arms until someone pointed out his resemblance to an orangutan. And then the crowd went silent. Could it be their leader bears such a close resemblance to a mere ape? Could it be that he is the one that should be confined to a cage with bananas shoved through the bars.

We shall see. We certainly shall see.

orangutan_01donald-trump-orange

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Think purple for Pat Hill today

purple-storeFor all its Big Box glory and global commerce, America still tries to support its local treasures. One of those local treasures sits in the little town of Kaneville, 45 miles west of Chicago. As a farming town for more than 150 years, the community sits at the intersection of several country roads. There is a brightly painted blacksmith shop and several tall church steeples in town. One local bank has a small branch in Kaneville. To the east,  a massive set of fields that alternates between sod and beans and corn as the market dictates. So Kaneville is both a town of perpetual values and constant change.

kanevilleThe real heart of the community is a general store perched at the corner of Main Street and Harter Road. Colloquially known as the “Purple Store” for its lavender paint job, the actual name of the business is Hill’s Country Store. Here’s what one reviewer says about the place on Yelp!

“This is a great lil‘ country store from yesteryear. The owners are such nice folks. They have groceries and ice cream with handmade shakes and malts. Lunch meat sandwiches and pulled pork, sloppy joes and pizza. I like to go here on weekend mornings and sit at one of the picnic tables and enjoy a great coffee and maybe a breakfast sandwich and watch the morning unfold in Kaneville. A must stop if you’re in the area. You won’t be disappointed. And by the way. They also have homemade baked goodies such as cookies and pies.”

The local charm is wonderful, but among cyclists, the Purple Store is known as a key stopping point for breaks and fuel when pedaling miles of country roads around Kaneville. The store is fully stocked with sports drinks, nutrition bars and real food for cyclists. On a typical weekend, dozens of cyclists breeze into Kaneville, many to refill their bottles for long rides. But honestly, many more simply like to perch at one of the tables outside the Purple Store and feel time slow down.

Pat Hill.jpgThe woman that runs the store is Pat Hill. She’s a lovely gal with a big smile and a wholesome figure, pure country stock and with a genuine personality to mix. As you can imagine, running a business in a small town like Kaneville is as much about relationships as it is accounting, and Pat is dearly loved by the community.

Which makes it all the harder to acknowledge that she has been dealing with cancer for several years. It has spread throughout her body and even breached the blood-brain barrier. I stopped in this week and talked with Pat, but you’d never know from her appearance or her demeanor how hard the trip has been.

The community has rallied behind her with fundraisers and monetary gifts to help with medical expenses.Being a small businessperson and paying for your own medical insurance these days is difficult. Yet thankfully insurance companies can no longer bar people from gaining health care insurance coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Otherwise people like Pat might be left out in the cold.

Purple Flower.jpgI have personal experience navigating the world of health care coverage before passage of the Affordable Care Act. I spent eight years navigating the world of health insurance offerings from HMOs to COBRA to high-risk insurance policies. I worked for small companies that lived in fear someone in their employ might come down with cancer. The spoken belief was that rates would skyrocket. At times I actually hid my late wife’s cancer from employers for those reasons.

Yet a lawyer friend of mine who once ran his own firm explained that the real risks of higher insurance premium rates for businesses stems from factors such as women of child-bearing age. That is not to suggest women who want babies should bear the brunt of insurance coverage. Not by any means. Those facts are only shared to point out that perceptions about the real sources of expense in health care coverage are often poorly understood, yet aggressively maintained.

As a result, progress on these issues is always incremental. But before provisions of the ACA went into effect, the task of finding sustainable health care coverage for those with pre-existing conditions was beyond daunting, especially if somehow a gap in coverage occurred. Today’s menu of health care insurance premiums is still egregiously imbalanced, with high deductibles dominating the market and employers stressed out of their minds trying to provide coverage for their employees. America needs a Public Option like other civilized nations around the world, and companies and organizations need to be excused from dealing with all this health care insurance expense and administration. It should never have been funneled through the world of employment in the first place.

hills-country-storeBut that brings us back to people like Pat Hill and her small business. These are the real touchpoints in all this. No matter how good your coverage may be, all insurance policies have flaws, and many have lifetime maximums. The specifics of Pat’s situation aren’t necessarily public, but suffice to say that vital contributions are helping her cope with the costs of her medical expenses, staying alive, and perhaps even gaining clearance from the cancer now vexing her body.

pat-hill-braceletSo I invite you cyclists and runners and swimmers out there to consider making a donation to help this woman whose life and business is at the heart of both a community and a lifestyle. The Purple Store is a true gem of American uniqueness. So is Pat. So if you’d like to make a donations, please send money to Old Second National Bank, PO Box 90, Kaneville, Illinois 60144. There is a support fund set up for Pat Hill, so please indicate on your envelope what the contribution is for, and the bank’s employees will see that it gets to its ultimate purpose.

Any level of contribution is welcome. I stopped in the store this week to purchase a $10 Purple Bracelet that says Love and Prayers for Pat Hill on it. The Purple Store and Pat Hill are worth a little time and money if you can give it. God Bless.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ooops I did it again

This blog will be doubly-aptly titled today, as I wrote it once already this morning when Chrome crashed as I tried to link a video to some of the content. That never happens! It wasn’t my fault but Ooops it did it anyway. 

I was fortunate on the last day of summer to have time to jump on the Specialized Venge and head west. Out through the dried corn and bean fields I rode, cognizant all the way that a tailwind was pushing me along. There would be a price to pay returning home.

kaneland-back-streetThen I came to the high school that I attended freshman and sophomore years. It’s always fun for me to ride a loop around the service road behind the building past the football field and track. Every February and March the track team would gather out on that tarmac to run intervals around the school.

Distance runners ran counterclockwise with the building typically acting as a shield to the north and west direction from whence the cold winter winds would most frequently come. Then we’d burst around the southwest corner of the school and lean forward, pushing our ruddy faces into the gale. Turning into the homestretch was hardly a mercy because by then we’d be wrought with pain from having pushed so hard the first 400 meters of running. Then we’d rest for an interval of sixty seconds and repeat the process. Ooops, I did it again.

Back then we had no indoor track and the outdoor track was made of cinders and hard layers of compressed dark dirt that would not dry out until April. So we waited for the seasons to change and do all our workouts on the asphalt around the school. The hurdlers had their strides marked out along the parking lot. But it was the middle and distance runners who really suffered those cold spring days.

I recall those workouts looping past the tall vertical press box at the 50-yard line. That’s the point in the stadium at which track races started and finished back then, not at the start of the curve. That came much later when I got to college. Times have changed.

kaneland-boxThe press box these days is low-slung, horizontal and covered with school propaganda. But back when it stood thirty feet tall and had a plain white surface from bottom to top. A close friend that hated going to high school was recruited to do a senior prank by painting a massive nude up the side of the structure. I knew the artist well, and by all reports racing through the junior high rumor mill, the female he created on that wall was, by male standards some might find offensive, “Good enough to eat.”

britney-spears-241I don’t care what gender you are or what sexual orientation you might abide. For many people in this world, that statement about sexual hunger is true. Our appetites run from end to end where sexuality is concerned and sex is like a food to some people. Hiding these things only leads to trouble. It is better to exercise than diet, as the saying goes.

It is repression of our appetites that seems to make the world a crazy place. We see it every month it seems with politicians bragging about their values and sexual mores only to find out they’ve been doing some intern or carrying on secret affairs of one type or another.

Repression causes people to hide their manic urges until they explode inside. That’s why I believe the bible is actually speaking metaphorically when it says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”

When you stop to think about it, taking that passage literally does nothing to solve the problem of personal lust and desire. You can still lust with one eye or even both eyes missing. Yet if you metaphorically pluck out the “eye of lust” on your own and quell sexual desire rather than act on it irresponsibly, you might just keep your sanity and not pave the road to hell with secretive affairs or worse. Because once that starts, it is very hard to stop. Then it becomes Ooops, you did it again. Sooner or later, someone else finds out.

Swimmer.7Thus it was age-appropriately ironic that as I pulled out of the high school campus on my bike yesterday, a giddy group of high school girls whooped and hollered at me from their car. That’s happened more than once over all my years of cycling, and I make nothing more of it than the fact that Girls Just Like to Have Fun.

Young women need to burn off steam just like young men. Those young women didn’t really mean anything by whooping at me. They were just being goofy on a warm September afternoon. Their actual attentions will sooner or later be drawn to more sensible fare such as the physique of a swimmer like that shown here. Far better that guy than a fit but well-worn triathlete like me. I can see the difference for myself. I don’t need young women to define that element of truth.

Yet let’s be clear: It is healthy to suggest that the unwanted attentions of young men toward women in public are harmless. Not when rape is such a problem across America. The dynamics are very different. Men making lusty comments to women in public need to put a zipper on it. They need to pluck out the eye of lust on their own and not project it onto other women in public. That’s not repression, by the way. That’s self-respect. If you don’t have a reason or the class the approach a woman with respect, then you have no right to comment at all.

The equation still holds true: If men are indeed being harassed by someone, that has to stop. What I experienced from the girls in the car was not harassment. In that specific incidence, there was no threat. More often my experience running and biking has been harassment from people throwing things out the window or intimidating me on the road with their vehicles. Nothing sexual about that of course. Just scary.

 

But one must admit that a burst of testosterone rises in the veins on thoughts of being whooped at even for fun. And that’s the problem with all this. We all seem to want attention, but not the wrong kind.

Makes one wonder what it would be like to be their age once again, in this day and age. Back in school days when whoops and hollers would have been so much appreciated, they were typically so rare. Skinny distance runners just didn’t get Bike Guywhoops and hollers back in the day. Only decades later does one hear through a funny little reunion grapevine that certain women actually liked your

Only decades later does one hear through the funny little reunion grapevine that certain women actually liked your legs, or somesuch. It seems that some women and men love to divulge these little treats over time. It’s one of the quirks and privileges of growing older. Yet what life really comes down to is being appreciated in real time. That’s what matters. I always count my blessings on that. So should you. That is how all of us should live our lives.

On top of all these open country thoughts during my ride, there was still the matter of pedaling 15 miles back to town against a stiff wind. It was harsh pedaling, but finally I arrived at the Walmart parking lot where I love to zoom the Z curve driveway at top speed when there is no traffic around. Then I shot across the middle of a busy freeway during a lull in traffic on Randall Road, which was once an empty passage through cornfields and now serves as the backbone for a retail zone 30 miles long from south to north. Collecting taxes requires such enterprise for all the cities along its length. It’s like a drug upon which every community depends. And is addicted to.

So I was hankering to get over the road quick and onto the back streets. So I cut across the opposite lane of Randall when no cars were approaching and hopped onto the grass leading to the movie theater parking lot. In a moment of complete lack of judgment, I surveyed the grass leading to the concrete curb rolling down toward the black asphalt and figured I could bunny hop over it to the safety of the tarmac.

bruisesOnly I miscalculated the fact that there was a deep rut before the concrete curb. My front wheel jammed against that, and I was thrown completely over the handlebars landing my head and left shoulder. Thank God I wear a bike helmet. I lay there stunned for several seconds, with head throbbing, then popped up and laughed. I let loose a long and loud rendition of the F word, then climbed on the bike, straightened up the right brake hood, and rode home. Chagrined. Ooops, I did it again.

Glancing down at my left shoulder I could see a blood trace seeping through the kit. This is apparently a tradition with me and this kit. I was wearing it when I crashed and broke my collarbone. Was wearing the same kit when I ran into a tree with my head down while thinking creative things during my ride. The carnage from that crash into a fallen tree resulted in stitches on my chin and a massive bruise on my side. And a busted iPhone. That was a treat.

Now I found myself going end over end in this kit on the last day of summer. I guess that means I did not get through another summer without at least one crash.

bloodI did learn that I am no Peter Sagan on my bike. I can handle myself well in all kinds of situations, and have conducted some pretty nifty “saves” while racing in criteriums among other riders who lose their shit and go careening into hay bales and other barriers.

But I must admit that when it comes to my annual record of summer riding, this was a crash that I probably deserved. Ooops, I did it again. Blood on the highway.

So to conclude, let’s share some Britney Spears lyrics to close out this blog after the last day of summer.

 

That lusty little Disney girl grew into a teenage siren and finally a full-blown (pun intended) icon who in some stages of her career has definitely looked good enough to eat. That approach has made her millions and perhaps lost a few as well. But she’s done it again and again, with a few Ooops along the way. And to quote the lyrics of a Southern band with a Britney at the lead, you gotta C’mon Britney…you got to come on girl! 

To close, let’s consider these deep lyrics from the first Britney hit, Ooops, I did it again:

You see my problem is this
I’m dreaming away
Wishing that heroes, they truly exist
I cry, watching the days

Can’t you see I’m a fool in so many ways
But to lose all my senses
That is just so typically me
Baby, oh
Oops!…I did it again

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dan Johnson is in it for the long run

Dan Johnson is a runner from Minnesota who attended Luther College, in Decorah, Iowa, where he ran cross country and track. As with many former teammates, I’ve kept up with Dan in a variety of ways, and became aware of how well he’s been running all the way through his late 50s. This past week, he messaged me through Facebook to follow up on a series of questions I’d sent him to publish a profile of his running. His running journey is an inspiration to runners of all ages. And most recently, this is what he accomplished:

“Hey there Chris, FYI, just ran a half marathon yesterday.My official time was 1:24:01, a pace of 6:24 per mile. I finished 63rd out of 1012 overall and 1st out of the 44 Men 55 – 59. My net time was 1:23:58, my 10 mile time was 1:03:47, and my age grade was 83.33%.”

 

danjohnson

Dan Johnson (green and teal jersey) competing in the Twin Cities Half Marathon.

 

Before his recent half marathon, I’d sent him a set of questions and was going to publish this story in advance of his race. But he had an old email address on record for me and that’s part of the problem with long-time associations. Yet in many ways, the answers he provided now have even more value with the real results of his training and racing well-proven.

What are your current races plans? Upcoming races?

I’m currently training for the Twin Cities Half Marathon on September 11th. This race is part of Minnesota’s US Track and Field (USTF) team circuit.

What training have you been doing this summer? 

I have been running between 30-45 miles a week. Every other week or so put in a longer run of 13 miles.  This summer’s long run is currently at 16 miles. 

I live in an area with a lot of hills, so almost every workout includes a few hills. Occasionally I do some speed work, with series of 8-10 intervals of approximately 100 meters. Sometimes I also incorporate fartlek into my runs.

In addition to running I usually go for a morning walk of a mile or two with a friend and then bike 5 miles each way, to and from work. 

Who do you train with? 

I run almost entirely on my own, with the exception of Monday nights, when I run with a dozen or so other guys who are team mates with me on the Road Warriors.  Guys have their choice of running around one, two or three of Minneapolis’ chain of lakes.  I typically run three lakes, which equates to 9 ½ miles.

After our Monday runs we gather for beer and then go out for pizza or hamburgers, and occasionally tell a tall tale or two about past running exploits.

What are your objectives typically in most races (age group, overall?)

I used to have a goal of finishing in the top 1% of a race, now that has changed to the top 10%. With age graded results I usually hope to run between 82-85% in my age grouping; 55-59.

How has your running changed over the years? 

I eased off considerably after a pulled hamstring during Grandma’s Marathon back in the 80s, when I was hoping to qualify for the Olympic trials.  I was on pace through the half, at 1:10, but then could sense my hamstring beginning to fail.  I pretty much quit racing after that for the next twenty years or so.  I still ran on and off, but usually shorter distances of between 3-5 miles.

I quit wearing a chronograph watch many years ago.  I like to simply run according to how I’m feeling.  I also don’t track my distances.  Part of the rationale is that I don’t want running to run my life, rather I want it as a complementary fitness component that won’t overtake focus on family and community involvement.

I got back into racing on a more regular basis when in during the fall of 2014, when I reconnected with some of the guys I used to train and race with in the 1980s.  We ran around the city lakes every Wednesday evening. One of the guys, Perry Bach, later opened a series of running stores “Run n Fun”. In visiting with Perry a couple of years back at his recently opened Minneapolis store he let me know about a reconvening of the Road Warriors racing team, now also known as the Old Road Warriors, since most of us are in our 50’s and 60’s.  I joined up with the guys and have slowly been regaining a touch of my speed and stamina. We commit to running a minimum of four races in the Minnesota USTF summer road racing circuit.

What types of injuries have you experienced? 

In addition to my hamstring injury in the 80’s I’ve experienced a lower back injury, totally unrelated to running back about 12 years ago.  I was improperly lifting a bag of mortar.  Not too long after that I picked up a book with stretches for the lower back.  I’ve since been doing a series of 8 different core strengthening and stretching exercises.  Though I never really enjoy doing these exercises, I do them pretty religiously, usually about three times a week.  Since I’ve been doing them I credit them with keeping me injury free. 

What events did you do in college? Times? 

I ran cross country, and mostly the 5K in track at Luther College in Decorah, IA.  My best mile time, 4:18, came during a four-mile relay at Drake Relays.  My best four-mile cross-country time was 20:08, and a 25:28 five-mile time.  I was second in the IIAC (Iowa Small College Conference) 5K in 1980, but unfortunately, don’t have a record of the time. 

Favorite races you’ve run over the years? 

Probably my all time favorite race was in 1979, running a leg of a relay at Louvain-la-Neuve, in Belgium.  I ran with a fun and fast group of guys on the cross-country club while I was a student at the University of Nottingham.  We placed second overall, with dozens of university teams competing from all around Europe. 

I thought it was interesting to be a part of a running relay with legs of varying lengths.  Our top runner, Graeme Fell, ran the longest length.  Graeme later went on to become a world-class steeplechaser.

Another favorite race was the 1983 Twin Cities marathon. I ran the entire 26 miles behind Barney Klecker, world record holder at 50-mile ultra marathon.  All throughout the race, I heard people cheering “Barney, Barney, Barney”. I tried to imagine that was my name to. I nipped Barney at the finish for a time of 2:24:36.    

Another highlight was the Boston Marathon in 1985. With a fast qualifying time, I was able to join the top echelon of runners at the starting line.  Looking around me I saw runners from all around the world.  I ended up finishing as the top Minnesota runner, 166th overall, with a time of 2:29. 

Ever have a time or race that really surprised you? breakthroughs? 

I don’t think that I’ve had any really great surprises. I’ve come to appreciate that without putting in the work over time, I’m not going to reap the rewards of a fast time.  That said, I was surprised a couple of years ago, when at age 56 I was able to place ahead of a bronze medalist from the 2015 World Cup Nordic Skiing championship, Caitlin Gregg.  We ran an extremely hilly 5K Trail Loppet, one of my current favorite races, held at Minneapolis’ Theodore Wirth Park. 

What have you learned most from your training partners? 

I’m learning to run slower. In college. almost every workout was a full out race, so I got in the habit of running hard.  One of the Masters runners I train with, who is setting state records for his age group, has a habit of running very slowly much of the time. I’m a big believer that sometimes one of the best things a person can do for their conditioning is to take a day off.

Are you coached or self-coached? 

I am self-coached, but enjoy the fellowship and wisdom of a group of seasoned runners… the Old Road Warriors.

Race Times from this current year (2016)

1 mile:  5:26

5K: 18:36

8K:  31:15

10K: 39:20

½ marathon: 1:24:00

Those stats tell a great story on their own, don’t they? Dan is still competing in the Top 10% overall in most races. He recognizes that age does have its affects, but that intelligent training can keep a runner in contention for whatever goals they set out to achieve.

Enjoy this story? You’re nvited to follow WeRunandRide, original thoughts on running, cycling and swimming. 

Posted in 10K, 13.1, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to run a marathon without really trying

A photographer friend sent me a photo after yesterday’s Fox Valley Marathon. There was some guy named Chris that looked like me who was running the race. Perhaps I ran 26.2 miles yesterday and did not even know it. That’s how easy it can be folks, if you have friends in the right places.

Doppelganger.jpg

But actually, a friend of ours named Jamie Meyer actually ran the distance and won the women’s race in 3:19. Jamie is an avid running competitor and superb mother who juggles training with raising her children and all the other events of life. She is not tall in stature but she is quick on her feet.  Here’s a pic of Jamie with some of her friends that completed the race.

jamie-mayer

It’s a tremendous accomplishment for anyone to run a marathon. 26.2 miles is not an easy distance to cover. And while the lead runners make it look easy, they feel the same sensations that most mid-packers feel. It typically hurts.

But with the right amount of training, and on the right day, it might not hurt as much as it typically does. Your running can come together in fascinating ways if you put in the effort. Basically, the trick is to spread your suffering out over a period of weeks and months in hopes that your fitness will make race day feel tolerable.

 

Jamie Mayer marathon.jpg

Jamie in the last mile of her victorious marathon in 3:19

As has been noted many times in this blog, too many runners and triathletes forget to fun faster than their actual race pace in training. The principles are simple. Do time trials and intervals at a faster rate than your goal pace so that your body is trained to sustain that tempo. Then the actual pace of racing is not such a strain.

 

If you plan to run 7:30 pace as Jamie did, that means doing interval training at 7:00 or even below that at times. The body needs to be stressed beyond race pace, and so does the mind. Then come race day much of the race can feel tolerable. That’s how you run a marathon without really trying.

Granted, at some point the pace will catch up with you. There will be discomfort. But it is much wiser to be able to get through 15 miles in a perceived state of comfort than to be feeling like you’re suffering to keep up with your goal pace from the start. Right?

Jamie trophy.jpg

There are some ironies in all this. One of the best ways to prepare for the “second half” of the race, when you do begin to feel it a bit (15, 20 or 23 miles, it all depends…) is to run very long, slow runs at well above race pace. Then the trick is to throw in some hard miles at the end. This is the concept of creating a “brick” at the end of your runs. Triathletes do that by getting off the bike and running. Marathoners need to do it by adding speed at the end of their long runs.

A group with whom I once trained would do 17 miles at 7:30-8:00 pace and close with three miles in 15 minutes. They were all talented runners, for sure, capable of 10K times under 30:00 in some cases. But some ran marathons as well, and that’s how they prepared for the miles that hurt, and that really count.

 

So congratulations to Jamie Mayer for a fantastic Fox Valley Marathon race. She’s been an inspiration to her many friends for years. Now she’s an inspiration to all who shared those race miles with her as well.

Posted in running, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Separate ways

I had the best friend ever growing up in Pennsylvania. Our family moved to Lancaster when I was five years old. Within days, my mother somehow met up with a woman whose son was the same age as me. We were introduced and left to play together in the back yard. We were taking turns swinging a golf club when his nine iron whacked me clean in the skull.

That raised a big lump and I was dizzy for an hour. But two days later we were back playing again. We wandered the smooth fairways of the golf course where he lived on the seventeenth hole. One afternoon when we were both twelve years old, a giant rainstorm swept up from the Atlantic and dumped inches of water all over Lancaster County. Undergrounds springs bubbled up through the fairways and we stripped ourselves bare of clothing and engaged in the world’s largest Slip and Slide. His sisters came out to watch and laughed at our bare little asses shining wet and unashamed.

That day symbolized the earthy manner in which we engaged in everything we did together. Heartfelt confessions of love and fear in the giant apple tree out front of his yard. We learned about girls together, and I trusted his instincts because he had sisters and was unafraid of how girls thought and acted.

He was there for me the evening that we were supposed to attend a school dance in middle school. I’d gotten a huge bump on my head from baseball that day and was terribly self-conscious about it. Frankly, I was terribly self-conscious about everything in my life, much less showing up at a school dance with an inch-long bump on my forehead.

Assuring me that it would not matter, he lent me one of his favorite shirts or some other favor to boost my confidence, and away we went. The dance went great.

All those sexual awakenings and confidences that are part of going into puberty we shared together. Some guy on the playground told us how to masturbate and that evening, we each gave it a try. Of course, it was fantastic, and from that point on it became part of a regular routine that many young males seem to adopt.

But we still knew little about the female body, and it was not until we were wandering about the yard one summer evening that we passed by the window and saw his older sister masturbating in her room. That was a complete mystery to both of us. But we didn’t stay too long out of a combination of fear and respect.

Girls and sports occupied most of our time. We shared gym classes together and participated in the fitness tests administered by our disciplinarian physical education teacher. My friend had stronger arms than me, and excelled in pullups whereas my skinny legs covered two miles in the 12:00 time trial on the track. As close as we were as friends and athletes, our destinies began to separate through these realizations.

Yet we both shared the triumph of playing for a baseball team that won the Lancaster New Era Tournament. That was the pinnacle of achievement in youth baseball in those parts. I came in to pitch in the second game, a tight contest that we won 8-6 after stomping the competition 26-0 in the first game of the tournament. I remember the murmurings on the bench when the other players worried that I might not be able to hold my own in that important game. But I was one determined kid who knew how not to lose. And so we won, then took the championship a few days later.

But by the time I was twelve my father decided it was time to move to Illinois. That meant my relationship with a best friend was going to be broken off. We sat together on a golf tee overlooking a drop hole, and he mused, “Why does everything I love have to leave me?”

His parents were divorced and his father was a hard, hard man. One year he’d gone to live with his father down in Florida. When my friend came back he was a hardened child for sure. It took a while for the cynicism to wear off. I like to think I had a role in that. We rode our bikes everywhere we went, or trotted the half mile across the golf course to reach our homes. That activity was a healing force in both our lives. I remember wanted to spend time with him so much that I’d sprint from my bus stop through the parking lot of the golf club to get to his house before the bus made its loop out of our neighborhood and over to his place on Golf Course Road. The bus driver knew that I did this, and never once told on me. He could appreciate the bonds of childhood, and his liberal attitude about that was not lost on me.

When our family moved to Illinois, I vowed to come back to visit my friend back in Pennsylvania. That first year we did make it back. But it hurt to come home to the place that had formed so much of what I believed, and what I had become. There was an entirely new life to explain out in Illinois, and the competitive nature we both shared… forced us into angry comparisons over whose baseball team was now better.

Then he asked me a difficult question that I did not know how to answer: “Do you still beat off?”

I admitted that I did. He told me, “I quit that.”

It was four or five years later that I got to return to visit again. By then we were both in high school. Our lives had diverged in even new ways. I became a cross country runner because there was no soccer team our in Illinois. My friend became a solid defender in soccer, and played baseball in the spring. Our school had no baseball team either, so I competed in track and field. Again, we had gone our separate ways.

Through college years, we completely lost touch. There was no Internet, only long distance phone calls. And letter-writing just didn’t cut it.

So it wasn’t until twenty years later that I heard he had moved to a city near my home in Illinois. I called him up and asked to pay a visit. He quietly agreed that we could come over.

Yet once again, I had a lump on my forehead, this time from some strange microbe that I’d picked up while camping in the Upper Peninsula. The doctor would ultimately treat it with both antibiotics and a minor surgery. It was gross, and I felt self-conscious coming to see my old friend with that nodule above my eyebrow.

So it was an uncomfortable visit from the get-go. His new wife was his second marriage. The first marriage had somehow dissolved after three children were born. He had gotten married early, and something did not work out. That’s all I could get out of him. He did not want to talk about it.

Nor did he want to discuss our childhood adventures all that much. He was disinterested and disengaged from the past in general. His new life was his foundation. The old life was gone. Perhaps he had been born again?

But I was not satisfied. With my writer’s mind, the past was interesting at both a subjective and objective level. I treasured the liberalities of our adventures together. We’d shared tears and joys. That seemed important. I tried sharing that with him, but the past was a closed book. What he appeared to take away from those experiences was resolve not to repeat what he might have considered weakness or lack of resolve.

And we did not talk again for another ten or twenty years. Then he showed up on my Facebook feed as a possible friend and for a while, we were connected. But he clearly did not share my politics or my interests. He is conservative. I’m a liberal. So by his choice, we went our separate ways again. I recall a press clipping my brother sent to me when I was in high school. There was a picture of friend with a quote about some issue with high school politics. I remember being surprised at his viewpoint even then. How could this guy with whom I grow up, with whom we shared so much in common, suddenly demonstrate such rigid thinking? I realized at that moment that had we stayed in Pennsylvania, it is very likely that my close friend and I would likely have grown apart. It happens. And has happened with other friends in life.

So those are his choices, and I respect them. I’ve come to realize that the reason many people go separate ways in life is chemical. One of my blog readers and a close friend keeps reminding me of this. You can’t change people. It’s hard-wired. No amount of logic or argument will make them think any differently. You might as well try to convert a pig into a raccoon. It’s not going to work.

***

What I do know is that something is truly lost when people go their separate ways on grounds of arch reasoning or denial. All I ever wanted from my childhood friend was to talk about playing baseball and hanging out in the apple tree. But for reasons that I cannot comprehend, that was no longer possible with my childhood friend. What were the reasons? Was it pride in the present that made looking back seem silly? Or was it a source of shame of the past and deep personal pain that drove away the will to recollect? What about that harsh treatment by his father, and his belief that everything that he loved would someday go away?

I learned through caregiving for my own father that some misunderstandings are the product of the very personal pain faced in his life. My father lost his own mother to cancer at age seven. His father then had a mental breakdown as a result of losing his farm and livelihood during the height of the Depression. All those reactions are forgivable if you know about them. Then it’s possible to move forward in life and reconcile the past to the present. But it takes work, and the will to accept that you might not be perfect. Ever. Then you can grow in your perspective and build tolerance for the flaws of others, and in yourself.

But much of the world seems to fix on rigid ideals and nothing is allowed to interfere with that carefully constructed view of life. It is both a coat of armor and a house of cards. Some people go separate ways within themselves and make the decision to leave the other person behind. Create a “new person” and don’t look back. Conserve those beleifs that support your present. Don’t put up with anyone that tries to call up the past, or question the logic of your worldview.

The Bible shows Jesus trying to call people out of these traps of selfhood. But instead of listening to that call of love and the freedom that comes with it, people adopt rules by which they run their lives, and try to impose on others. To these folks Jesus issued stern warnings, calling them a “brood of vipers” and “hypocrites” for creating a world dependent on such rigidity, or laws based on literal interpretations of scripture. This was the real prison on earth, not the Kingdom of God.

That form of rigidity has its price. I don’t expect to ever have contact with my childhood friend again. And again, all I wanted to do was discuss those days playing catch, swimming in the pool and doing jacknife dives of the low board to splash the lifeguards. Those were good times. The Good Old Days. Childhood. And there’s nothing wrong with talking about that. Sure, there were some earthier aspects as well. But those things were just as real. Deal with it.

So, sometimes while I’m out running past a golf course on a rainy day and that familiar smell of wet fairways wafts through the air, it takes me back to that day in Lancaster when my friend and I tore off our clothes and ran naked to slide on the perfect grass bubbling with clear water from an undergrounds. And we were connected to the earh, and truly alive.

 

 

Posted in running, track and field, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rehumanize yourself

tommiesmithweb7s-1-web.jpgNow that football players have come to the realization that they are not robots run by the NFL, the nation has been grappling with what it means not to stand during the National Anthem or recite the Pledge of Allegiance by rote habit.

I empathize with Colin Kaepernick, just as I empathized all those years ago when John Carlos and Tommie Smith stood on the Olympic podium with fists raised in black gloves. They had a reason then to be disgusted with how black citizens are treated in the United States. Those reasons are still alive today.

As a track and field athlete in college, I often roomed with black teammates. It would seem we had little in common on the surface. One runner named Ron lived in Chicago’s housing projects. He was a quiet young man who had the courage to come west and attend a principally white liberal arts college in Northeast Iowa. He’s gone on to good things in life, but it was not a comfortable journey being yanked from home into the lily white world of the Iowa cornfields.

The year after I graduated from college, I worked admissions and visited dozens of inner city schools. Explaining to those kids where the college was located was difficult at times. Their lives were largely confined to the city of Chicago. What good reason could there be to leave and attend college where you would be a painfully obvious minority.

I remember well the initially cool treatment we received when a black assistant track coach and I visited the family of a young black woman on Chicago’s far South Side. The discussion went well, and when we made ready to leave, handshakes and smiles were exchanged. As my friend and associate Aubrey Taylor and I walked down the sidewalk, I paused to ask him how it went. “Keep walking,” he instructed me. “Follow me to the car and get in,” he insisted.

We drove away and he explained himself. “It went very well. But you don’t stop to discuss things where that family can see you. They need to trust that you were happy enough with our meeting. If you stop and talk it’s like keeping secrets from them.”

That was a life lesson that has never been lost on me. I do recall noticing the mother and father at the door as we left. Aubrey astutely knew that their trust was a major factor in the preceding exchange of ideas and the recruitment going on. That young woman later attended Luther College. But the credit all goes to Aubrey.

So we must ask: how is that level of trust at work in the rest of America? Can black citizens truly trust white people to their word and their promises? Are there still people who view blacks or Latinos as less than equal?

The question itself seems absurd on its own, and that’s the problem. That’s why Colin Kaepernick is kneeling before games while the National Anthem is being played or sung. The continual presence of racism in this country defies the very symbolism of the flag and the National Anthem.

So perhaps instead of the National Anthem we should all stand and sing along to a song titled Rehumanize Yourself by the Police.

Read these lyrics and consider what they say about the current state of our nation.

He goes out at night with his big boots on
None of his friends know right from wrong
They kick a boy to death ’cause he don’t belong
You’ve got to humanize yourself

A policeman put on his uniform
He’d like to have a gun just to keep him warm
Because violence here is a social norm
You’ve got to humanize yourself

Re-humanize yourself
Re-humanize yourself
Re-humanize yourself
Re-humanize yourself

I work all day at the factory
I’m building a machine that’s not for me
There must be a reason that I can’t see
You’ve got to humanize yourself

Billy’s joined the National Front
He always was a little runt
He’s got his hand in the air with the other cunts
You’ve got to humanize yourself

Re-humanize yourself
Re-humanize yourself
Re-humanize yourself
Re-humanize yourself

That’s what all the protest is about. America is in a massive process of dehumanizing other people.

The fact that the protest against that dehumanization got its start in one of the most dehumanizing sports known to the human race, pro football, is no coincidence. We don’t see the faces of those athletes much in those NFL broadcasts. Players are traded like meat from team to team and Fantasy Football leagues reduce those same men to mere statistics. It’s all dehumanizing.

Appearances often deceive. With black athletes dominating many pro sports and earning millions of dollars, it would seem that racism in America has all but disappeared. Yet hundreds of those athletes lose their millions within a couple years of playing in a pro sport. Their lives are invested heavily in that pursuit of fame and glory, and when it is done, they are either falsely celebrated as national heroes or discarded like deflated footballs. Some even come away from the games they play with brains addled by forcible contact, or wracked by chronic injuries so severe they live on painkillers the rest of their lives.

But it’s not even pro athletes that are the issue in the recent National Anthem protests. It is how people are being treated on the streets of America, and in business, our schools and cities or small towns. Anywhere you go, the wicked face of racism maintained its foothold despite general gains in social progress the last 40 years. Racism has risen up yet again as a national movement in 2016, driven by a candidate whose supporters claim that the very act of calling them out on that is political correctness. They cherish instead the dehumanizing approach of treating people of color as “the other” on claims that America is a white nation by destiny, and by tradition.

And that’s why some people are kneeling during the tradition of playing the National Anthem before football games. America’s game, the NFL, actually gets paid money from the military to host patriotic displays. The red meat tradition of pro football aligns well with the militaristic jingoism that feeds the military-industrial complex. That same military was all too willing to send black soldiers into combat during World War II, but America essentially ignored those honorable men and women when they came back home. Instead they were met with a society that still rudely discriminated against them.

Some changes

Some aspects of civil rights in America have changed since the 1940s, but not all of them. The liberties our nation defended in the last World War are not consistently supported across the face of the nation. Our first black president has been accused of not solving all that racial tension. He’s even been blamed for causing it. Such cynicism is nowhere near even laughable. It is perhaps the most serious issue of our times that racists can turn their attacks on a black president for eight years and then blame him for being the divisive one.

crsmitht1These are the aspects of American citizenship that men such as Colin Kaepernick find so disgusting. There’s a lot of faux patriotic shaming going on now, mostly by people throwing patriotism around as it were a weapon unto itself. But that defies the nature of true patriotism, which is a commitment to the idea that the equality guaranteed in our Constitution is not real until it is provided to all citizens. That includes minorities, women, gays and everyone who lives under this nation’s flag.

Bitter farce

And until that is the case, standing during the National Anthem is a bitter farce, as is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. To what? A country where hate is not just tolerated, but promoted as a political party platform? Where fear of immigrants is a recruitment tool, and religious discrimination grounds for violence?

What we’re actually witnessing in the backlash against Colin Kaepernick and others is a forcible attempt at conformity. “Make them get in line, stand up, salute the flag…they’re disrespecting our nation.”

But oh how wrong you have it if that’s what you believe. What they are actually doing by kneeling during the National Anthem is respecting the very roots of democracy that led to the American Revolution. It was tyranny then that led people to protest. And racial tyranny has a very real history in America. Slavery was real. Jim Crow laws were real. Police with attack dogs and fire hoses and batons were real. Today, police violence against black citizens is documented nearly every single day. The rates of incarceration for black men is multiple times higher than that for whites committing virtually the same crimes, or no crimes at all. Hundreds of black men have been falsely accused of crimes and thrown into jail for the bulk of their lives, only to be released when evidence is shown that they had nothing to do with the crime for which they served time.

These are injustices that continue to go on in this country. Yet our nation is only too happy to wave the flag and watch our black men and women trot around the track as they win Olympic medals, or carry the football across the goal line. That’s because too many people don’t even see these athletes as human beings. They are black athletes. Nothing more need be said. They are tolerated by some Americans only because they are winners.

But the rest of black America has been treated as losers for too long. So it’s time to take a knee and call America to account for its hypocritical traditions and celebrations. That’s what this is all about. Rehumanize yourself. Consider what’s being said in all this. That’s the only real solution.

Posted in running, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Keep this heart in mind

Lily FullWe saw Bonnie Raitt in concert a few weeks ago. She’s a truly amazing musician. I’d seen her once before, many years ago, in a double bill with Jimmy Buffett. She deferred to his raging fame at the time. But truly, she’s always been a great talent on her own.

I still adore an early album she recorded titled Green Light. There are many beautiful and fun songs on that album. One is titled Keep This Heart In Mind. She writes of loves found and lost so well. But think about that song title on its own. Heart… and mind. They represent the two things we all depend upon for motivation in life.

During periods of peak fitness, I have touched a finger to my neck and counted heartbeats. At one point in life my resting pulse dipped below 40 beats per minute. Lying there still with such a slow heartbeat is a strange sensation. It takes its time because it is pumping enough blood to do the job of supplying oxygen to your body. That’s fitness.

It’s an intimate thing as well to place your ear to the chest of another human being to listen to their heartbeat. It is the pulse of life itself. That is why the heart is considered the symbol of things such as love, virtue, and cherished beliefs.

In times of stress, we speak of having a troubled heart. Pile on the stress and a heart can start to skip beats, behave erratically. The pulse shifts in response to chemicals within the body that affect those electrical impulses. In a book titled “Match to the Heart,” writer Gretel Ehrlich documents the difficulties of living with a heart disturbed after she was struck by lightning while tending sheep in the mountains. There is a medicine used to restart the heart when it forgets its duties thanks to electrical interruptions. Think about that: living within death every minute of your life.

Of course, that’s a massive allegory. Because that is how we all live. Life is precious. Yet we take these heartbeats for granted because we’re so busy training and living and creating stress in our lives that makes us feel useful.

At sixty beats per minute, our hearts beat 86,400 times each day. That’s 2,592,000 beats per month. 31,104,000 beats per year. 2,177,280,000 times in seventy years of life. And we take our hearts for granted.

And that’s if we simply live without exercising. Most of us who run and ride and swim raise our heartbeats daily. And it responds. 150 bpm? No problem. Get up around 200? Things get interesting.

Some people do worse things to their hearts, smoking or drinking or abusing their bodies in ways that destroy or damage heart tissue. I once sat in a surgery lounge while my father had bypass surgery. Another woman sat there waiting for her husband’s surgery to be completed. It took five hours and when the surgeon emerged she berated him for the time she had to wait. He stood there mutely, the picture of self-control. Later, in the recovery room, I heard that patient ask when it was possible to have a cigarette.

Don Henley is another brilliant songwriter that has mentioned the heart in significant ways. His song Forgiveness may well be some of the most brilliant lyrics ever written.

These times are so uncertain
There’s a yearning undefined and people filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age?
And the trust and self-assurance that lead to happiness
Are the very things we kill, I guess
Pride and competition cannot fill these empty arms
And the world they put between us – you know it doesn’t keep us warm…

Perhaps you can relate to those lyrics a bit, especially in these times when political insanity is running amok. Just yesterday a man accosted me through Facebook, a man that I had Unfollowed simply to avoid temptation to engage with him. Yet he went on the offensive posting to my timeline. I tried to reason with him. Get him to understand the notion of context when discussing politics. He would have none of it. He wanted to dominate the discussion, to win the argument. And here’s the scary part. He’s a family counselor. I tried to avoid him. Disengaged. He would have none of it.

It’s a strange world out there. Always has been. Always will be. What we’re seeing is the shallow urgency of ideology shoved to the front of public dialogue. People proceed on the shallowest of beliefs and will fight to the death over them. Literally. It’s not enough to wear their heart on their sleeves. They want to sling blood. Shed it if they can. They travel in league with racists and deny their association. They harm with words and claim it has no effect.

But there is still that issue of our own heartbeats to consider, and how to protect our souls as well. There is only one answer, and I’ll let Don Henley speak to that.

I will live happily ever after and my heart is so shattered
But I know it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me
I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter
Because the flesh gets weak and the ashes will scatter
So I’m thinkin’ about forgiveness, forgiveness
Even if you don’t love me anymore
Even if you don’t love me anymore

The world is a divisive place. But the only thing that has worked for me in healing from my own heartfelt pain is forgiveness. I’ve asked it from others. I’ve given it in my own quiet heart space, and been released from angst and sorrow, anger and passion.

A wise counselor once observed, “You seem to be good at forgiving others, but how are you at forgiving yourself?” That means turning attention to your own heart. Listening to the heartbeat of your life. Accepting that despite it all, mistakes and regrets, the heart continues on with its work.

Keep this heart in mind.

Posted in cycling, swimming, triathlon, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Before (and after) the frost

img_4342During a cross country season my sophomore year in high school, a friend and I were paired up to do an outdoor field biology project. His name was Doug Benson, I believe, who was a teammate and friend.

The instructor of the biology class was a man named Frank Kaminski. He was one of the few adults at that time who encouraged me in the activity of birding. He’d quietly (and carefully) call me aside before class to ask what birds I’d seen,. He knew that to discuss it openly might open me to ridicule from classmates who thought it silly to go out birding.

Mr. Kaminski assigned us to team up and engage in a bug collecting project. Doug and I considered our schedules and realized the only time we’d have to collect was on a Saturday afternoon after a morning cross country invitational. So my mother drove me to his house and we wandered out in the fields together with nets and cages in hand.

The day was bright and sunny, perfect for fall insects. Our job was to collect a certain number of species and display them for class by that Monday, the deadline for the project. This was the early 1970s when things such as butterfly collecting were still engaged. But Doug and I found far more than butterflies. We caught and identified more than two dozen species of insects, as I recall. Then we carefully mounted them for class.

It was fortunate that we went out that Saturday afternoon, because the very next morning a hard frost hit, wiping out most of the types of insects we’d collected just the day before.

But we had our bug collection and our teacher Frank Kaminski smiled at the returns on our efforts. “You did well!” he told us in looking over the collection.

The other sensation I recall during this process was walking around those fields on a set of very tired legs and likely dehydrated to boot. The race that morning had been hard. It was a strain on fifteen-year-old legs to hike about the fields after a race. Doug and I sat down in the warm sun several times, laughing at our fatigue.

IMG_4340.jpgThe sad aspect of this story is that Frank Kaminski later took his own life. He was a hugely overweight man. Perhaps that contributed to his decision to end is days here on earth. Or perhaps like so many, he suffered from a clinical form of depression as do so many millions of people. Back then the stigmas to mental illness were much greater and medications were not so refined. His immense weight often caused him to sweat and he breathed heavily while lecturing. Physically, life had to be difficult for him. And mentally as well. For whatever reason, he checked out for good.

Belted_Kingfisher.jpgI was quite sad on hearing that news. I can still see the twinkle in his dark eyes as he would ask me to cite my favorite bird. I told him it was the kingfisher, and he smiled. “A lovely bird,” he replied.

In some respects that man and I were opposites. Yet his weight issues did not obscure his kind nature or his love of nature in general. At a time when I struggled in some other classes due to boredom and an overly creative mind, I excelled in his biology class because he made everything he taught seem so important.

There is no better virtue in life.

As for Doug Benson and I, there was a lesson to be learned in going out to do our work even when our legs begged us to stay home. The hard frost that hit the next morning was profound, like a wave of the Almighty’s hand to cast a plague on the efforts of all those who put off bug collecting to the last day. “Do your work even when it tires you,” that frost seemed to say.

And the next morning as I walked through the whitened grass to go for a run on Sunday morning, I smiled that we’d had the guts to go through with our hunt the previous day.

Posted in running, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

When the autumn light leads to inner light

light-chrisThe last few days have been so pristine and beautiful here in Illinois it almost takes your breath away. The skies have been clear. Hardly any breeze. That led me to take a run in the forest preserve where the local teams run cross country. The preserve is named Leroy Oakes after an early conservationist in our county. Like most forest preserves, the property was once a farm. There is even an old one-room schoolhouse next to a restored prairie. The entire scene can take you back in time.

That wasn’t my cause in going to Leroy. But it happens nonetheless. Our St. Charles cross country team was the first to conduct a meet on that property. The preserve was much smaller then. The county has added tracks. The big red barn at the center has not changed, however, and large invitationals often center around that parking lot where teams queue up and generation after generation of scrawny high school kids compete in the sport.

light-pathThe new course is a true cross country course just as all the other iterations have been since my teammate Kevin Webster first designed a three-mile track. Now the start is held on a wide field that can accommodate 20 or more teams at the start. The beginning of the race crosses a half-mile field to converge on a fire trail. Then it crosses the former entrance to the preserve, climbs a steep hill and goes flying down the back. Then the fun begins, as the course swings east through a mature oak forest and emerges on the grass where a series of undulations show that the streambed once created oxbows out of the same ground. Ferson Creek is still tearing away at the banks to change its course, as streams always do.

That symbolizes the cross country course itself, which has functioned like an oxbow over these many years. I return to watch kids run every year, and have seen some great runners fly over those paths. Former Jacobs high school star and Olympic Silver Medalist in the steeplechase Evan Jagr won a few times and everyone knew that they were witnessing a special athlete indeed.

Light Leroy.jpgI was ambling along at 9:20 pace for the most part, taking in the shower of goldenrod and bluestem, sometimes finding it hitting me in the face. They’ve not mowed the former fire trail that climbs the long hill. That’s where we used to do a ton of hill training. Even after college in my racing days, that quarter mile stretch up the east hill was a dependable way to build strength in hill training.

I wound around the course and found myself climbing a section that appeared to be a passage into the sun itself. Light streamed down the short hill and everything around me was illuminated. It was a joyous patch of running.

As the sun began to set the light crossing the grounds turned golden. My final half mile was run along that opening stretch of the cross-country course. I hope to get out there and see the start of a race because it’s always thrilling. Still thrilling. Knowing the excitement of those opening minutes so well, it is still possible for tears to well up at the joy of the pain and the pain of the joy ahead and behind you.

Autumn has a way of doing that to you. The tenor of light can lead to that inner light so precious to us all.

Posted in cross country, running, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments