Appreciating service and a gift to self

Cyclist on Tarmac.png

I noticed this tarsnake tarmac rider on the sidewalk near my office this morning. 

I know there were plenty of people out there who rode more miles than we did this weekend. The social media feed of any triathlete usually fills quite quickly with the efforts posted by others about their training and racing. “Century in under five hours,” the feed goes. “Would have been quicker without the wind…”

 

And you think to yourself, “Oh, fuck you.”  So you put down the phone. And sigh. “Oh my God, I’m fine with my 65 miles.”

Because let’s be real. None of what other people do really matters to you. Not in terms of how it helps your training. Sure, it matters to them. It’s fine and fun to give them kudos and wish them well. Maybe tease a little if the friendship is close enough. “That’s all?” you might ask? “Just 150 miles in two days?”

But what matters to you is what you do. Never forget that. It will keep you sane.

Gotta Getaway

And in that light, it was a good weekend for us. Sue and I traveled to Madison for a combination Birthday Getaway while Sue did the Madison Open Water Swim (MOWS) on Saturday morning. Then we were headed to a cycling trip on the Ironman course.

Sue's Mows composition.jpg

We stayed at the Doubletree in downtown Madison. Every employee from the friendly maintenance man in the elevator with his toolkit to the gal that spotted us with bikes and put them in storage was awesome. The staff took initiative as individuals, proving there really is an “i” in “team.” They deserve credit for that. The welcoming atmosphere really makes a difference.

Rocket Bicycle Studio 

The same can be said for Rocket Bicycle Studio out in Verona where we parked before heading out for the ride. Jessica Laufenberg and her partner Peter run a great bike shop, and on Saturdays they wind up fixing all sorts of mechanical and bike/personal problems brought to them by the staff. From nutrition counseling all the way to replacing cleats and tweaking derailleurs, the pair give heart and soul to their customers. And I’m serious. This is the ‘lite’ description of their services on their website:

Be taken care of.

Ride something different.

Learn about you and your bike.

It’s the difference you’ll enjoy.

 

Casey's

Even friendly service at a pit  stop such as Casey’s is appreciated

Perhaps I’m the opposite of jaded these days. Because I appreciate when people make you feel welcome and take an interest in your needs. Service to others is a noble ideal. You know, sometimes it’s the merest tweak on a bike or the adjustment of a cleat that can save a hard bike ride in the hills from becoming a miserable slog. On the Madison course, there are people doing three loops of that forty mile loop some weekends. With a ride that long, things need to be right or some undue suffering may occur.

 

 

The Barlow Factor

We rode the course in company with some other folks and came to a decision point where the new Ironman course splits onto a new section called Barlow Road which climbs a series of big goddamned hills. Or maybe it’s one big hill in three parts. No matter. It’s hard.

Now the Ironman course formerly known for separate climbs known as Three Bitches has added the Big Bastard, a multi-level climb that hits 18% at some points. It’s a hard climb even on a road bike. I made it all the way up on my Specialized Venge. However, the geometry of my bike versus a tri-bike is quite different. On a tri-bike it can be impossible for some to climb the Barlow hill.

We talked with one guy while getting food and drinks at the gas station in Mt. Horeb that admitted, “I’ve ridden up Barlow and I’ve walked it with my bike. The difference is only 47 seconds.” It’s a steep hill, in other words, with diminishing returns in riding versus walking for people in the middle of 112 miles in an Ironman. So call that the Barlow Factor.

Horribly Hilly

The last time we rode Barlow was the Horribly Hilly ride two years ago. There are quite a few nasty hills on that route, including the last long-ass climb up the park road into Blue Mound State Park that concludes the ride. I think that was 2000 feet of climbing, if I recall. I stood on the pedals for quite a long way toward the end.

So we rode and rode in the hills, and it got hot and windy.  And given that our schedule was delayed getting out on the course after the MOWS event, we were running out of time to get back home on Saturday night. So we bagged the day’s riding after a single loop of 40 miles and had a quick dinner with Sue’s sister July and her friend Trudi at Gray’s Tied House in Verona. Good food.

Sunday riding 

Sue 52.pngThen Sunday morning we rose again to ride 65 miles in the flatlands of Illinois. Sue’s fifty-plus friends insisted that she stop at 52 miles in celebration of her 52nd birthday and hoist her bike over her head for doing a Birthday Ride. On the day, we averaged about 18.5 despite some fatigue in our legs from the hills the previous day, and that completed the Weekend of the Century. 105 miles. And it was good.

105 miles of riding is still….105 miles no matter how you look at it. The ability to ride that far is proof that over time the unimaginable becomes practical, even desirable. The whirr of tires on tarmac sinks into your soul. The soreness from the day before flows out of your legs and the efficiency of muscles cleansed and open for oxygen becomes your reality. You feel like you could ride for a hundred years. And that’s what matters. What you do. Not someone else.

So the moral of this tale is to be willing to serve others, but also to celebrate what you do. That’s a gift to self. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

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One for the Birthday Girl

Sue and me.jpgIn May of this year, I married the woman I met through FitnessSingles.com. If that sounds a bit cold or commercial, be assured the story behind our relationship is much warmer.

Sue and I were both going through considerable life changes four years ago when we met. During our first date, she chuckled and said, “I hope you don’t mind dating someone who is unemployed right now.” Well, I’d had enough experience in that category myself to know what it’s like to be working for a new job, exploring options and earning your way back into the workforce.

She is a talented project manager and an architect by trade. So she dug into fields where her talents would best fit, and wound up with two strong opportunities. To make her decision, she went for a four-mile run and told me later that night, “I know which job I want to take.” I thought to myself, “This woman is a lot like me.”

The job has turned out to be great, and she recently moved into another role with the same company. Life (and triathlon) is all about transitions.

The Racer

Sue RunningOn the second week that we were dating, I drove up early on a Saturday morning to watch her do the Racine Half-Ironman. She linked me up by phone with her sister Julie, a breezy counterpart for the day, and we shared histories while sitting in the sun and shade as Sue competed. Julie is a cancer survivor who also competes in triathlons. The two sisters would ultimately complete their first Ironman race together in Madison two years later.

I began training with Sue of course. That was one of the reasons why FitnessSingles was a solid option for us both. We wanted someone with similar interests. It has turned out to be the case across so many fronts.

The miles on the bike and on the run were a bonding force. Some of those days were hard and long. Weekends spent in Madison training on the hilly Ironman course tested both our characters. We also did Horribly Hilly together, and it was not Sue’s favorite weekend in athletic pursuits. At one point I commented, “This is such a pretty valley,” and she blurted. “Yeah, well, it just means we have to go back up again.”

Sue in Kit.jpgWhat a perfect symbol for so many things in a relationship. There were weekends where I did not feel my best either. She is a strong rider and sometimes I could simply not keep up. That meant we needed to develop a fair and honest dialogue to cope with our ‘in the moment’ differences. That too is a symbol for how relationships grow and change.

What I found in Sue was space to think, change and breathe. She is a strong woman who does not wallow in past difficulties. Acknowledge the change. Learn from it. Embrace what you need. And keep moving. Above all, share love and memories with those close to you.

And sometimes, with strangers. We both like meeting new people. Petting dogs and going out to dinner. The meat of life.

Through it all we keep changing. That came in handy when the time arrived to get married and consolidate our housing arrangements. Clearing out the house where I’d lived for 20 years took both a forceful determination and a patient will to capture and keep significant items that my children and I wanted.

Yet that was the same year I cleared out my father’s house after his passing. So it was the end of a long two weeks toward the end of that process. Sue saw up close how much it had drained me. On the final night before turning over the house after thirteen hours of work filling dumpster and carting boxes out of the place, she got me home, fixed me dinner and laughed when I could not even lift the fork to eat some green beans. “You’re done,” she laughed. “It’s time for you to get to bed.”

Podiums and Bling

Sue on Podium.jpgI saw her in the same state for different reasons. During her Ironman year, things kept going wrong. Some were little. Some were big, including an incident in which an Escalade driver ignorantly parked herself in the middle of country road forcing Sue to ditch her prized Scott tri-bike to avoid crashing into the white hulk blocking her way. The bike was trashed due to fractured rear struts. That forced Sue to substitute bikes. One training ride in Madison turned into a desperate slog. But she got a new bike at virtually the last minute…

And she transcended all that to finish her Ironman in Madison. I ran along next to her crying tears of thanks and joy. What an example of perseverance! She’d accomplished her goal. “It wasn’t the day I wanted,” she smiled as she headed to the chute. “But I’m gonna be an Ironman.”

Sue at Churchill.jpgWe’ve learned so much together and had so many moments of laughter and joy between. Our children have gotten to know each other and our families have blended into a support system all around. From loss has come gain. And from gain we draw hope.

For me, the changes have helped me regain a training mentality, and I’ve even learned to swim, for God’s Sake. That has taken two years, but the challenge has been wonderful to engage. Sue recently tuned a couple things in my “catch” by watching me from the next lane over. She’s a swim coach but not directly in my case. I swam the 800 meters at the Holidayman Triathlon with ease. I feel like we accomplish these things together.

Which is why every birthday is significant in our lives. Birthdays are for an individual, but they are meant to be celebrated together. I love this woman because she knows all this, and more. She is training for her second Ironman and had a strong performance in the Steelhead 70.3 last weekend. It is fun to be her companion in this, and her kids are likely going to join us to watch her compete in Louisville.

So it’s Happy Birthday to you, Sue. We all love you and wish you the very best.

 

Posted in 13.1, competition, cycling, swimming, training for a marathon, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged | Leave a comment

The light and shadow in your eyes

City Photos Peace Bridge.jpgIn late summer when the sun goes low in the sky, the shadows thrown across the road by trees or other structures can produce a flicker that seems to reverberate deep inside your mind.

And it is known that the effects of strobe lights can cause people with certain medical conditions to have seizures. Something about pulsing light sets off an array of synapses that can overtake the mind and body as well. So light is no trifle thing. Nor is darkness. And in rapid sequence the world can seem to be coming apart.

Light and dark 

I thought about the power of light and dark as I drove home last night and felt that flickering light sensation as my car coursed south along a low road with a row of trees to the west. A few days ago I was speeding down the side of the road on my bike at a rate of 23 mph when the trees produced that flickering sensation as well. It was disorienting, hard to keep track of my line on the road.

In a few days we’ll be witnessing a solar eclipse here in America. I’ve seen this before. The light goes all thin and weird-looking when the moon screens out the sun. No wonder the ancients thought the world was coming to an end. For all they knew, their depressed menagerie of gods were fed up and ending it all. Some people still think like that. Primitive, and fearful. Every new eclipse gives the latter-day version of religious fanatics a new reason to predict the End of the World. But all it ever proves is their lack of credibility. Such are the risks of building religious faith on literalism.

Taking screens for granted

IMG_2953Perhaps you’ve seen video in which a computer screen is lit up in the background. The screen flickers and pulses. A computer screen is not what we think it is. It is granular. The light inside is all broken up.

This is so typical, that what we take for granted is not often what we truly see. Our minds are capable of such incredible assimilation we assume that images projected on a movie screen and pumped to us through the Internet are “real” in the sense that they exist as whole or consistent entities. Yet even the words you read here are nothing more than a series of slashes and Os. Pixellation generates the desired image.

Pause in time

There have been many times during my running and cycling career when my mind just seems to stop, for a second or five, as it realizes where I am in the moment. Sometimes the entire world seems abstract in those few seconds. It is not cliche to suggest that in some way we all live in a dream that we call reality.

After all, even our thoughts are the direct result of electrical impulses. Way back before all this digital universe was invented, people struggled to put a face on this idea of consciousness. The Bible itself can only summarize what it means to be alive and have some sense that there is a Creator of all this. Here is what John 1 says about that:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

One can almost feel the flickering frailty of that attempt to grasp the meaning of eternity, and how humankind came into being. Members of the human race flicker into being and pulse back into darkness. None of them mean that much. Even our greatest heroes collapse into bones and dust.

The race laid out

Norfolk BeachIn between, we run the race laid out for us. We try to run it well. That is true both literally and figuratively. Here is what the King James Version of 2 Timothy says about that: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 

“I have kept the faith” can mean a number of things. In its context, it means a faith in God. But keeping the faith and keeping faith are merely twins separated at birth. If we so choose, we keep the faith by which we are raised. But we also keep faith in this life through our associations, our friends, and trusted partners. That is the race laid out for us as well.

Faith in ourselves

We also keep faith with ourselves; the motivations and goals we map and execute. But there are times in life when these purposes seem in danger of flickering out. We pass through stages where everything in which we believe seems to disassemble.

I have kneeled in fall fields praying to God to get my confidence back. I have seen the blue sky look cruel and cynical as I searched my heart for reasons why the world seemed so dark when light was all around me. I have struggled to understand why there always seems to be ‘just enough’ and never as much as I wanted at some moments in time. And I have asked for forgiveness from others and for myself. These are the flickering lights of existence.

But most importantly I have learned to accept that I will never understand all the reasons why things happen the way they do.

EgretIn the end it is that embrace of self that keeps faith intact throughout many flickering moments of doubt and joy and pain and happiness. Through those sequences one must simply reckon with the present. As we run or ride along, we have a chance to do just that. We learn to calm ours mind and  soul with the thought that it is still good to be alive.

The light and shadow in your eyes has a story to tell, if you will listen. It may well flicker at times, or catch you by surprise when the clear still vision of where you are in the moment catches up with you. Embrace it. This is your time. This is your place. These are your footsteps, turns of the pedal and eternal flow of water across your body. This is your light and darkness, and no one should claim it from you without the firm resolve of love to bind those moments together. That is the connection and sustaining truth between light and darkness. Call it love. The light and shadow in your eyes reveals it.

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Is racewalking the sport of the future?

IMG_4118.jpgWhile doing my strength worth this morning in our home fitness room, I turned on the television to watch the morning session of Day 10 in the World Track and Field Championships. And there was a sport that I’d forgotten about. Racewalking. 

The rules are strange. Athletes move across the ground as fast as they can, but one foot must be in contact with the road surface at all times. There are judges who specialize in watching the athletes to make sure they’re not technically “running,” which would mean they are moving with both feet off the ground at the same time.

IMG_4116.jpgAs a result, racewalkers move with exaggerated arm movements. They are the exact opposite of the Ninja runner that we witnessed in the women’s marathon. She ran with both arms straight down at her sides and very little hip movement at all.

Racewalkers “roll” through every stride. Their hips swivel up and down in exaggerated fashion. They might almost qualify for the Ministry of Silly Walks if the sport was not so damned hard to do. The four-hour competition was won by a Frenchman on the men’s side and a Portuguese woman that has devoted, the announcers were clear to say, more than 20 years of her life to the sport.

And women around the world should perhaps pay more attention to this event. From the looks of the competitors, racewalking is a great way to shed some pounds and get that butt in fine shape. Running is a risk for many women and men with all that pounding. Granted, for the men, that swivel walk may get you some strange looks in some states, but racewalking is far less pounding than running. You just have to work on your strength and flexibility. Racewalkers can get injured too. It’s always about overuse versus weak connective tissues.

IMG_4101.jpg

It was interesting to watch the introductions of the competitors. All were rather humble in their demeanor. No mugging like the sprinters in track or rehearsed moves like Usain Bolt or Mo Farah. They even introduced the men’s and women’s competitors at the same time. That’s because they competed in the same race on the same course.

IMG_4123.jpgThere is no danger of running into one another during the event, because they’re not running. They’re walking fast. There is plenty of time to merge after water stops, and competitors still traveled in race packs that broke up like meteors re-entering the atmosphere after an hour or two.

Every racewalking event is a study in perseverance. One male Norwegian competitor got pulled aside and given a red card penalty for lifting his feet off the ground. But that seemed like the least of his problems, for his shirt was stained red from his bleeding nipples. It was hot outside, and four hours in the sun and sweat and abrasion gave him a bad case of bloody nips. Which was fitting because the competition was held in London, where everything was bloody beautify during the World Championships except this guy’s poor nipples and Usain Bolt’s supposedly cramping hamstring.

Usain Bolt behind.jpegI don’t exactly buy all that. When Bolt got the baton, he was already far behind. He’d gotten beat in the 100 meters earlier in the meet, and knew he had no chance of running down the athletes ahead of him. I think he “cramped” in order to avoid another disgrace. That may seem cruel and cynical, but I don’t blame the man. He likely regretted coming to the meet at all. He accomplished so much in so many amazing ways the last meet of his career was bound to be a letdown. Usain Bolt I don't Buy it.jpeg

So I don’t blame him. But luck runs out even for the most talented athlete in the world. But if his hamstring truly was cramping, he should have just finished the last forty meters racewalking. Everyone would have thought he was gaming the world like he’s always done. And more power to you Usain. More power to you.

Usain grabbing

 

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The bumper crop of America

Killdeer.jpg

When I stepped out of my vehicle in the Remote Parking Lot at O’Hare airport, it shocked me to look at the front end of the car across from mine. There was an adult killdeer smashed into the grill.

Killdeer are a common species of plover that loves open spaces near water. They have beautiful markings on their wings and rump. Adult birds are known to feign injury to draw potential predators away from their nest or young. It works.

But killdeer have a habit of flying low over roads, and occasionally one of the birds gets smacked by a passing car. That seemed to be the fate of this particular killdeer.

The fact that the bird was still stuck in the grill is what surprised me. The options are intriguing:

  1. The person who drives that vehicle never noticed the bird in the grill
  2. The person(s) who drive that car are frightened or can’t stand the idea of touching a dead bird
  3. The person who drives that car is proud of the fact that they hit the bird in the first place, and are carrying it around with them like a trophy and a bumper crop

Obviously the bird will never get what qualifies as a dignified burial in any case. But neither do millions of other creatures smashed and smangulated by cars and trucks, trains and planes every day.

Tallying up the damage

I have run nearly 50,000 miles in my lifetime, and cycled another 50,000 more.  Generally there is a road kill of some sort along the road every five miles. That means during all my running and riding, I’ve seen probably 20,000 road kill victims including raccoons, squirrels opossums, skunk, chipmunks and foxes. Coyotes, deer, rabbits and plenty of domestic cats and dogs. There are lizards and butterflies, dragonflies and snakes as well. So many frogs and toads, salamanders and worms than I ever care to think about.

More than once I’ve gotten out of the car or stopped while running and riding to carefully move a turtle across a street or highway. They simply aren’t evolved to avoid vehicles speeding along from twenty to sixty miles an hour.

Is anything? Even human beings?

Avian debris

I’ve also encountered thousands of dead birds. Swallows, pheasants, owls. Hundreds of robins, cardinals and goldfinches. Buntings, warblers and thrushes. The carnage goes on daily. These are valuable individuals lost to eternity. More bumper crop.

Indigo Bunting

Most people never take notice of road kill while hurtling over the road in their heated or air-conditioned vehicles. Those of us who bare our souls and bodies and minds to the seasons also know that even road kill has its rhythms. In the words of Tom Waits,

“Road kill has its season just like everything, you got your possums in the autumn and your farm cats in the spring…

Human road kill

Only once or twice have I happened upon car accidents bad enough to witness death among human beings. But it has happened. There is human road kill as well.

That’s the principle threat to people who cycle and run on the open roads. Despite the law that requires drivers to give cyclists three feet margin when passing, some people are too stubborn or too stupid to manage that simple driving maneuver.

Listen people: Separate hazards. It just takes a little planning. Some can’t be bothered. Others can’t do the math. But murder can be intentional or manslaughter. The results are the same.

We runners and cyclists don’t want to be road kill. Yet there is so much testimony to the hard facts of distracted driving it is hard to ignore the facts. The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information center says, “In 2015, 5,376 pedestrians and 818 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts). These two modes accounted for 17.7 percent of the 35,092 total U.S. fatalities that year.” And: The total cost of bicyclist injury and death is over $4 billion per year (National Safety Council).

Statistics like these do make one worry about winding up like that killdeer on the front grill of the red Toyota. The brand and style of vehicle doesn’t matter. When it comes to flesh versus metal, it is no contest. When that metal is pushed into action by a furious human being, you might as well throw the odds out the window. Anything can happen.

Angry drivers

It doesn’t take much to set some people off. Just get in their way on the road and they start screaming about paying taxes for the roads and the fact that they own them. And then it quickly can get ugly. It doesn’t take a crowd to incite violence. Note:: the video on this link shares graphic violence of an angry motorist attacking a cyclist with a club after he knocked the man to the ground with his vehicle. 

There really is no accounting for the levels to which human rage can be carried. The recent incident in which a driver in Charlottesville, Virginia chose to plow into a crowd of people is a keen illustration of the fact that there are people who regard their vehicles as a legitimate weapon against those who pose a hindrance to their perceived cause. The rest of us are mere bumper crop to their anger.

Driver -plows.jpg

Other close calls

Of course, not all threats to life are calculated. I’m actually fortunate to be here on this earth given the fact that my father almost got clobbered by a train in his youth. He waited for one train to pass, then jumped across the next set of tracks and was almost struck by a speeding train engine headed the other direction. Close call.

Orange traffic signal08-trump-good-news-folder.nocrop.w710.h2147483647.2xSo the fates are certainly fickle when it comes to who survives in this world. Most of us try to avoid ugly circumstance any way that we can. I personally grown more cautious on the roads the more I run and ride.

But it sure doesn’t help when people with anger in their hearts choose to buzz close to you, or from behind, and out of some sense of perceived privilege or affront try to run you off the road. They seem willing risk of stealing the life of someone else for the perceived satisfaction of cashing in their bumper crop.

There’s a whole world out there filled with idiots like that. When one of them gets into power, it emboldens the rest to play rough with the fate of others.

Civility itself seems to be stuck like road kill on the grill of America. Whether the nation has the conscience to slow the pace of terror in the post-modern world is a question for the ages. Those of us who love real freedom, not the freedom to maim and murder according to race, religion or refusal to share the road, cannot afford to back down. We must resist those who insist that it’s okay to view the rest of the world as bumper crop for anger and fear. That resistance must go all the way to the top. And to the very end.

 

 

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One for the ages

In August of 1973, heading into my junior year in high school, the world seemed as if it had shifted sideways. My father had moved our family to a new town twelves miles away from my former high school. That meant a whole new adventure at a whole new school.

Fortunately my mom got me an introduction to a cross country runner named Rob Walker in the new hometown of St. Charles. We’d seen each other in track and cross country meets the year before, so there was a nominal familiarity. And he was cousins, it turned out, with a close friend named Anna from my old school.

Rob introduced me to another buddy named Paul Morlock, who was supposed to be the quarterback that year for the football team, but somehow he’d made up his mind to switch over to running cross country. It was a mini-scandal, but a wise one. The football team went 0-9 that all. The cross country team went 9-1.

Group Photo.jpg

Marsha Walker, Chris Cudworth, Rob Walker, Catherine Morlock, Brian Hubbell, Paul Morlock, Dawn Ohman and Jeff Olson.

Th nucleus was formed for a unique period in our lives. That year some other runners including another friend Jack Brandli and a sophomore named Greg Andrews turned out to run, and we’ve all remained close friends ever since. 44 years now. Same number I wore in high school basketball.

Some of that friendship was heightened by the things that happened that year. We defeated a team that had not lost in sixty straight dual meets. We won a county championship and won the District meet too. All of it was a wonderful thrill ride of challenges confronted and met. The bonds built from all that shared effort on the hills and fields formed the relational cement that has lasted to this day. And every day, after it was all done, we sang our hearts out in the shower. We were throwing down deep roots that would stand strong for the next four decades.

Bottomlands.jpgWhich is why I flew to Norfolk, Virginia to meet up with a few of these friends to conduct a group birthday party. We all turned 60 this year. Rob and I actually share the same birthday, July 26. Paul celebrated his in June and Jeff Olson is going to catch up soon.

Paul did not know we were coming to visit him in Norfolk. That was all arranged during my wedding in May. But our encounter there was so brief the group decided it would be fun to meet up as we’d long promised to do for a weekend of food and fun and memories.

As it worked out, we all parked ourselves out on the beach as instructed by his wife while his son Jimmy led him out after work to find us all standing there in greeting.

PJ surprise.png

He’s not exactly a demonstrative guy, but the appreciation was evident in his raised arms and exclamations. “I had no idea,” he admitted. So it was Mission Accomplished.

The rest of the weekend was stories shared and even some running talk. But not too much. There is other ground to cover these days, including aging parents and the nature of responsibilities. All stood by me through all those years of caregiving for my mother, who died in 2005, and my late wife, who died in 2013, and my father, who passed away in fall of 2015. They all expressed happiness with the fact that I’ve found love with my wife Suzanne, and looked forward to the next gathering when she was not rocking a Half Ironman as she did this weekend.

Cypress Knees.jpgTime surely passes. We all are doing pretty well despite life’s shares of challenges in one form or another. The hugs are heartfelt and real. The spouses put up with our loud laughter and stories of stupid things we’d done. “You’re all lucky to be alive,” one of them said.

And it’s true. We are lucky. Because we also shared news of classmates that have passed on, and brothers. One of our clan has been battling Lyme disease for years, but only knew recently what it really was. Now the doctors at Mayo are treating it with full focus, and there is great promise of improvement. He was the sprinter among our midst, but finds himself in a marathon program of medications and treatment. But he has a sweet companion now named Dawn, who seems like a soulmate and we’re all happy for that.

PJ and Me.jpgPaul and I got out for a run on Sunday morning because Saturday featured a thick and unrelenting rainstorm. We parked outside a beautiful state park and trotted into the bottomlands where cypress knees stuck up from the black water and moss hung from the trees. A mild ocean breeze caught the top of the pines in a whisper, and we ran along talking as longtime running buddies do. Nothing dramatic or deep. Just the movement of bodies and thoughts. We were teammates and we remain so.

The evening before I’d wandered out to the beach at sunset. The water was calm and the skies were dramatic. I can see why they love living so close to the shore.

Norfolk Beach.jpg

On the way back home, I arrived at the airport in Norfolk only to realize that I’d incorrectly booked the flight home the next day. So I humbly made my way to the counter and asked to get on a flight to Chicago. Blessedly, there was room on a 4:24 flight. So I actually made out better for an additional $75 and no connecting flight through Newark, New Jersey. Ugh.

Driving home from O’Hare after such a weekend the passage feels like the timeline of a semi-sordid novel. So many checkpoints and familiarities mixed with memories of people picked up and dropped off at that airport. Love and hopes. Heartbreaks and losses. The inevitable traffic jams. The ads for hair replacement that can be ignored because I’m happy being bald. The ads for strip clubs promising $10 dances from women you’d never know. Signs for the I-90 interstate offering passage all the way east to where I was raised and all the way west to where the wind blows away the faintest wisp of relatives. It is both great and sobering to be sixty years old. But at least my life has not been a line from a Pink Floyd song. Someone did tell me to run. I did not miss the starting gun.

Amen to that.

 

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Ninja Running and other Meta pursuits

Creepy Mars WomanAfter yesterday’s piece on the Japanese marathoner who runs with her arms held low and stiff by her sides, my wife dug into the topic a bit deeper to find out that her methods are called Ninja running. Following up on her claim, I found this interesting bit of Ninja expertise online.

Some of the people commenting on the article asked these questions:

Will a high school girl be impressed if I can master this skill?
 
wikiHow Contributor
It depends on what type of girl she is. If she’s interested in this kind of stuff, then yes, you might be able to impress her.
How will this benefit me in my life?
wikiHow Contributor
Running is beneficial to your health. Being able to run quietly could potentially save your life in a dangerous situation.
T
Then I found this video of a “free running Ninja” who frankly looks rather slow even when he is bouncing off walls for special effect. In fact he looks extra slow bouncing off the walls.
But the real deal on so-called Ninja running is documented on this blog. It quotes the one of the women’s marathoners that has adopted the style.
Her form has been dubbed “ninja running.” Both arms held straight down with almost no movement. That idiosyncratic style carried Yuka Ando, 23, to the fastest-ever marathon debut by a Japanese woman, 2:21:36, at March’s Nagoya Women’s Marathon to land at #4 on the all-time Japanese lists. All at once Ando found herself catapulted to the top level of women’s marathoning, a candidate for Japan’s next great marathoner.

When she was younger Ando ran moving her arms like other runners, but she had a bad habit of moving robotically, her upper body and lower body not working in sync. The turning point came in 2014 when she joined Suzuki Hamamatsu AC. Working there with coach Masayuki Satouchi to eliminate the faults in her form, the pair arrived at the ninja running style that let her run relaxed. “Other people keep asking me, “Isn’t it hard to run like that?” but for me it’s comfortable,” she said. The efficient form helped her maintain her stamina and run head to head with Rio Olympics silver medalist Eunice Kirwa(Bahrain) over the second half of the race.

So it’s the Real Deal. Anyone that can run a 2:21 marathon deserves respect no matter how they get from the start to the finish.
I will no longer raise the issue as to whether Ninja Running is strange or not. The Japanese have long been known for efficiency and economy on a number of fronts. It appears they have again surprised the world with a bit of ingenuity.
In some respects, we may be witnessing a Meta form of running. Reduced to its absolute basics, one wonders if someday runners will move across the ground like the creepy faux-bombshell in the movie Mars Attacks.
Lookin’ good there sister! Can you do that cruise at 4:55 pace?
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You just never know about running form

Perhaps you watched the women’s marathon in the World Championship. And perhaps you saw a runner from Japan named Mao Kiyota racing the entire distance with a stiff arm motion that kept her wrists well below her waistline. It was the most uncomfortable looking running form, yet she kept up with the leaders all the way through 20 miles and finished in just over 2:30 for the distance. Quite impressive.

Distance.png

Every other woman in the race had a relatively high arm carriage. Some pumped and even flailed their way through the 26-mile distance. Kiyota kept her stride length short and low. She kept her arms straight down by her side, and ran from the hips.

In the first few miles of the race, I wondered aloud: “What is that woman doing?” It figured that she would soon drop off. Yet she didn’t. On and on she went. Right there with the African and American runners that would place 1-3.

She never faltered till after 20 miles. I sat there slack-jawed. Her performance raised all sorts of questions in my mind. Were the other girls actually wasting energy using so much arm motion? Or was the Japanese girl by some cultural or coached dictum losing speed and pace with her low arm carriage?

I did an Internet search to see if anyone made comments about the unusual running form of the Japanese athlete. Nothing. So I captured video from the On Demand recording of the race and it to a running group of longtime distance people. The comments were mostly curious, with a few jokes thrown in, about the nature of her form.

Looks very uncomfortable
Maybe they’re saving their arms for the last three miles.
Some Chinese runners, mostly female, also have the straight arm carry. Notice the corresponding low knee lift, short stride, and high turnover. I’ve also always wondered about the East African runners with closed elbow and hands up to the collarbone arm carry like the Ethiopian woman next to the Japanese woman 
I remember a talk by Jim Spivey before the Chicago Marathon one year. When you get tired just focus on the arms, cause they move your legs. So, I agree …goofy
Her watch and rings are really heavy…
I’m impressed.
 
This changes where lactic acid is created

It may be a cultural thing. I see many Asian women walking and running with the same form.

 

Yes, was trying to ascertain whether this is a physical strategy or more an cultural indication or attitude
It looks like the cheerleader/gymnast style of running. very odd
It feels like repression. I ran that way when I was 5 because I was so shy.
Or….”Wait. Wait for me. Oh. Wait for me! Hey Girls! Wait for me. Please. Wait for me!”
Here is what the site JapanRunningNews shared from Kiyota’s perspective:
Mao Kiyota, women’s marathon, 16th in 2:30:36

Even if the plan is to hang on, the best thing to do is to go with it from the first half. But as it turned out, when the leaders made their move at 35 km I couldn’t respond and go with them at all. I had trained to be ready for that and I really regret that I was totally unable to move.

I’d seen the course a million times and my coach had told me that even if the pace sped up every lap it would definitely slow down again on the city center part. I didn’t do anything hasty and I was relaxed enough to be able to tell who was cheering for me, so I thought that I had enough of a margin to be able to keep it together.

I think I dealt with the back and forth in the first half pretty well. But if I had to pick something that I did wrong, maybe I was too emotional and impatient. Every time, I keep on doing things that make it impossible to deal with the move in the second half. I have to get control of that, and from that to develop the confidence to be able to lead it myself and deliver a hard-edged race. I have to reevaluate my training approach so that I can gain that kind of confidence.

So interesting to hear her take on the race, isn’t it? You just never know about running form. And it further shows that we all have to get from POINT A TO Z our own way, and never mind the second-guessers and the critics.
Just run.
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Running to the End of the World

You may be aware of this already, but recently there has been a large uptick in the number and urgency of people who believe that the earth is flat. It may seem silly to you, but to Flat Earthers the evidence of our home planet’s flatness could not be more clear.

Flat Earth Society.jpeg

The image you see here is an actual rendition of the earth produced and published on the Flat Earth Society website.  As you can see, they accept that the earth is in some respects “round” in the sense that they believe all the continents are lying on a flat circle. What they do not accept is the idea that the earth is somehow spherical.

The originator of the Flat Earth Society was a gentleman named Samuel Shelton, deceased since 1971. But the Flat Earth Society has persisted and grown like an intellectual zombie hoard ever since. Now the zombies of Flat Earth have ventured forth through the wonders of the Internet, and are happily consuming the brains of all those who don’t believe in rocket ships, moon landings or the curvature of the earth when seen from space.

If you thought the denial of creationists toward evolution was bad, they are nothing in comparison the Denial Zombies of the Flat Earth Society. Never the mind the fact that with a simple telescope in hand, we can gaze into the night sky and study the moons of Jupiter circling a very round planet. And using more powerful telescopes we can literally see the rotation of other spherical planets in space. Flat Earthers deny all this is relevant. They see no farther than the biblically-described dome they perceive above the earth.

Down to earth

But let’s connect on a more terrestrial level to ask a simple question: If the earth is genuinely flat, why has no one ever fallen off? This is what one responder posted on the Flat Earth Society website:

“Seeing the edge is not possible. The temperature drops violently to that of space, the pressure drops, it gets incredibly dark and magnetic distortions happen due to the aetheric wind rushing past the earth at its edges. In short, its impossible to navigate there.”

This is the same realm of argument given by creationists who disagree with the tenets of evolution. “Nature has irreducible complexity,” they argue. “Therefore we can’t know the mind of God. We can’t go there.”

Where we can go

You might be asking yourself, “Why does any of this matter? Can’t we just live and let live?”

That would be nice, if it were only so simple. But the Flat Earthers and creationists and intelligent design folks are not satisfied leaving well enough alone. They want to install their worldview in public education, public policy and the head of government. Vice President Mike Pence is a devout creationist. This is a very major problem. It signifies an eclipsed worldview of blocked intellect and broad intolerance for fact. He’s also a step away from the most powerful political office in the world.

And you still ask why any of this matters? 

The answer is simple: It matters because big decisions get made around matters such as whether the earth is round or flat, or whether the theory of evolution should inform policy on ecological and environmental management.

Which would you trust, a coach who can show you the metrics of your last training session defined in empiric terms such as time, pace, heartrate and wattage outputs, or one who says that you should just leave your training to God, and let that be your guide?

We understand that training has measurable physical effects. That’s why we chronicle our training through metrics and plan our workouts in response to known factors such as oxygen uptake, delivery of food and hydration to our bodies, and building tolerance to heat, cold or other environmental factors. We train by principles formed around how the world actually works.

Round instead of flat

IN the same way, we understand that the earth is round instead of flat. It also matters in our lives that we comprehend the scope and function of evolution, the movement of the continents across the face of the earth, and the fact that human beings can affect the climatological conditions of the planet. These are empiric, not conjectural matters.

It matters just as much as the fact that gravity is real. Or course we can’t actually see it. We can only see gravity’s effects. We do understand certain elements of gravity mathematically. Certainly we can measure it’s impact on us every time we run, ride or swim. Gravity is a trusted scientific theory. But let us be clear: the word “theory” does not amount to admission of ignorance. It is instead a statement of known factors at work in the world.

People who run, ride and swim know empirically that gravity is real. We state our mile times with pride, and our mile time averages with purpose. We post in our journals: “Averaged 8:34 per mile on today’s run.”

To the point of a flat earth

We take gravity as a fact, but our dependence on material reality does not end there. The fact that we can record our pace and mileage by bouncing signals off satellites to measure our every step is critical to that knowledge. We know that satellites circle the globe at a fantastic rate, and that we can relay signals from earth to satellite and bounce it around the globe. We know this because scientists and inventors figured all that out long ago.

But people in the Flat Earth Society don’t buy such logic. There are also people who don’t believe in the moon landing because they think it was all a conspiracy of big government or mind control. Some of these people get earnest beyond reason. That’s why Buzz Aldrin was ultimately forced to punch one of those stupid bastards right in the face when he wouldn’t get out of Aldrin’s face with his accusations that the famed astronaut was a liar about traveling to the moon.

The End of the World

Nibiru-1025335

Nibiru: the hypothetical Planet X

Punching that guy was appropriate response by Mr. Aldrin. People who deny fact as a practice of belief are literally cheating reality of its richness and purpose. Consider the likes of David Meade, a so-called “Christian Numerologist” who claims that the upcoming eclipse signals the End of the Earth as we know it.

As reported on the website http://www.express.co.uk/

“He believes Planet X, also known as Nibiru will appear in the skies on September 23 and then crash into Earth. Nibiru, which is also referred to as Planet X, is a hypothesised planet on the edge of our solar system.”

Meade thinks the End of the World is all going to be set off by the upcoming solar eclipse. “Such a solar eclipse has not occurred since 1918,” Meade says, “which is 99 years – or 33 times three.”Mr Meade has used passages from the Bible to back his theory, in particular Chapter 13 of the Old Testament Book of Isaiah.

Strange times indeed

 

These are strange times indeed in which people by the millions are putting denial before fact. We all have a shadow that grows longer as the earth rotates around its axis and even further, around the sun because the world on which we live is round, not flat.

We should not place our trust in people who paint themselves orange and require a daily combover of compliments to block out the plain facts of reality. We can do better than this. Those of us who live by the watch should be on the watch for those who lie about the nature of reality.

 

 

 

 

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Try something different today

Graham's board.jpgOn mornings when I drop my wife at the train for her commute, I circle around to Graham’s 318, a coffee shop on quaint little Third Street in Geneva, Illinois. But given the fact that I don’t like coffee, that is never on the menu. But chai tea is good in winter when it’s cold outside. And iced chai is nice in summer when it’s hot outside.

I also love their Frozen Hot chocolate. Basically, the drink consists of 1) chocolate 2) ice. It is devilishly good. There is something in the chocolate that truly stimulates my brain. Perhaps this is due to the naturally occurring caffeine in chocolate, but FHC feels different than drinking a Coke or other such sugary soda. Frozen Hot Chocolate produces a feeling of euphoria in my brain of the exceptionally creative kind. Thoughts clear up and my writing spreads out before me like an outline. It is the opposite of my Kryptonite. I feel like Superman when I drink it.

There’s just one problem: that stuff is so rich in calories it does not pay to drink one every day. Plus, I don’t want to lose the special aspect of its effects. You can argue one way or the other, but we all need a drug of some kind to make us happy now and then. Running is that drug on many days of the week. Lacking that, Frozen Hot Chocolate does just fine.

As you have surmised by now, I do not believe it pays to get into a rut with anymuch of anything. Sure, some routine is nice in life. But it can ultimately kill the will as well. Which is why, a couple weeks ago, I took a look down the menu at Graham’s and noticed something interesting at the bottom of the menu. It’s called Iced Matcha Escape. So I asked about the young gal behind the counter about it, and she lit up. “Do you want one? They’re great!”

So I did something different. I ordered the Iced Matcha Escape. And it was good.

Matcha Escape.jpgThe drink is a little more expensive that my norm. 12 ounces costs $5.00. Okay, that’s probably absurd. But when I sit in Graham’s enjoying the atmosphere and chatting with the regulars, there’s a value I’m purchasing there as well. The same goes for Starbucks, but in a different way. In both cases it is the Wi-Fi that I also appreciate. If it’s fast and reliable, I figure the couple bucks extra that I pay is compensated by the access to Wi-Fi so I can write freely and without interruption.

So the day-to-day choices we make are dependent in part on reliability but also in variability. That’s why it pays to have some running and cycling routes you trust. But on days when the schedule isn’t so demanding, it truly helps to go run somewhere different. Last night after dropping our family dog back at my daughter’s house after his weekend visit with us and the cats, I stopped on the way home to run at a beautiful forest preserve called Herrick Lake. There are limestone trails that wind through woods and restored prairie, past wetlands and around the lake when you get back. Sue and I trained there regularly for several years with our former triathlon club, but it got a little old going there every week. Yet the return trip was a pleasure.

We Run and Ride LogoThe same goes for cycling. Last year when I got my Specialized Venge I purposely avoided strapping a cyclometer on the bike. There were too many rides on my Felt where I did little but stare down at the cadence and MPH numbers.

Now (sans cyclometer) I ride just as hard as I once did, only I do it by feel. This has been liberating and fulfilling. It turns out that staring at the number on the bike computer does not actually make you ride faster. It only reminds you that you’re going a certain MPH. The legs and brain still have to do the work.

The liberating effect of riding without a cyclometer has been the reward of drifting off on roads that I would not take if I was worried about MPH average or a Strava result. This has delivered a new will to do something different on the bike far more often.

As for swimming, everything about that sport is still relatively new to me. The recent sprint triathlon race was a blast and I had no problem swimming 800 meters with my wetsuit on. It gave me the courage to swim a mile at some point, possibly as early as two weeks from now.

Do something different. It can change your life now and then, and in the future.

In the meantime, I’m singing this song…Matcha Matcha Maaaaaan….I’m gonna be, a Matcha Maaaaannn. 

Matcha Matcha Maaaaaan….I’m gonna be, a Matcha Maaaaannn. 

 

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