Taking pride in a quiet effort

grinchThe annual Fox and the Turkey run in Batavia draws more than 2,000 runners. The vibe is wonderful. Dozens of families run the race together. Today was the 21st annual race put on the by Fox River Trail Runners, the largest running organization the burbs west of Chicago.

The race starts up a 200-meter hill with a 10% grade that makes for an honest start, no matter who you are. When you have not been doing hill work or much speed work, that run up the Houston Street hill raises the heart rate precipitously.

Then you run another ninth-tenths of a mile to find out how much the hill cost you against your hoped-for pace. I was planning to run 7:00 miles, but it was obvious that was not going to happen. I rolled through the first mile in 7:23 feeling okay, not under stress, but not feeling like things would get a whole lot faster either.

Stomping grounds

The race rolls on streets in my old neighborhood. The course circles around a bit, and the morning sun this time of year throws long shadows from every house. November light has a bittersweet quality however you look at it. The sun tries very hard to be bright and cheery, but there are limitations when the earth itself is leaning away from you.

That’s how it is with an aging runner as well. All the instincts to go faster are still there, but the shadows of time lean away from you. Last spring I ran a 5K at 6:50 pace and was pretty happy with that. But today I noticed guys in my age group passing me or staying well ahead during the race this morning. At that point, you realize that it’s best to take what you can get from the day, and run smart.

Decades

It’s that I don’t have much concern about whether I get beat or not these days. I’ve ramped this body into racing shape in every decade of my life after the age of 10. My best racing was during my 20s of course, the physical peak period for runners. During my 30s I gave it a good go a few times, but never returned to prime contention for the overall. In my forties, there were age group victories now and then. Then during my early 50s I pretty much didn’t race while taking care of my late wife with cancer

Now I’m in my 60s, and still racing now and then. It’s a happy enough feeling to be dialing it now and then to whatever Red Zone applies at the moment. There’s a quiet pride in even being out there.

No crime at 8:00 pace

So this morning I settled into 8:00 pace and turned my racing instincts down to a mark of 5 on a scale of 10. Instead, I concentrated on “running well,” keeping form and breathing in the rhythm that provides optimal performance without stripping the gears.

Once I did this, my footfalls fell silent in comparison to the many other runners around me. At times I wanted to run up next to some of them and say “You know, there is a better way…” as I listened to their feet slapping the ground. I can’t help it. Noisy runners still bug me. That’s why I’m going to be coaching soon. I know how to help with that.

I’m not suggesting that I was any better than any of the runners I passed or that were passing me because I ran more efficiently. That’s not the point at all. But I maintain there is a worthwhile pride in running well no matter how fast you’re actually going. There really is an art to running if you pay attention to it.

Paying attention

Even back when I was running my fastest times I paid attention to this sense of running well. After one of his New York Marathon wins, the peripatetic marathoner Bill Rodgers talked about how he paid attention to every detail of his motion during the race, even to how he carried his hands.

I’ve always loved that aspect of running. At times it deceived spectators into thinking I was feeling better than I actually. I fooled even my friends and family. I could be feeling like hell but my form would seldom give it away. Here’s the point: Even a Survival Shuffle should be conducted with a degree of dignity.

It’s not about not trying hard enough. I’ve run races where I do fall apart from the raw desire to draw speed out of my body. That’s an art unto itself when you’re fit and throwing it all on the line. Yet there remains a grade of intelligence in carrying yourself the most efficient way possible over the ground. This is especially true the slower you become.

Attention to efficiency shows in the silence of your feet on the ground. So I ran along making so little noise the rest of the world seemed to fall away. As the last 400 meters approached I looked up and saw the hats of runners ahead disappearing back down the Houston Street hill. “That will come soon enough,” a little voice in my head confirmed. Then I kept along in my quiet way.

Keeping it together

There were other rewards as well. The knee strap that holds my twitchy medial collateral ligament in place had done its job. I’d dressed perfectly and it was cool and comfortable coming home those last 200 meters. We all ran together down the west side of the Fox River Valley toward the finish chute.

At the finish line, there were people with turkey hats and turkey costumes. Folks dressed in Fox outfits and full Star Wars Storm Trooper getups. I’d finish anonymously again, no shot at an age group award because the old friggers who are in better shape than me were far already ahead. Good on them. May their paths be quiet and smooth as well. And if not, I don’t want to be around them anyway. There is such a thing as graceless striving.

This much I did know: none of them were having any more fun than me. Of that I was sure. All these decades of running have taught me that while I once had my day in the sun winning races like these, that history leans into time like the sun turns into November light. Those moments of realization are when you instead concentrate on soaking up the Vitamin D in late autumn, taking pleasure in the fact that you’re healthy and alive. 8:00 pace is no crime after all, and the sound of feet quietly striking the street is all the reward you ever really needed in the first place.

We Run and Ride Logo

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

Don’t get your shorts in a knot (like me)

9941-anguished-face

Every pair of running shorts I own has a knot in the drawstrings. No matter how hard I try to keep that from happening, the drawstrings wind up in a little knot so tight it just about requires a needle to pull the thing apart. Short of a black hole in outer space, nothing compresses matter so tightly as a knot in the drawstrings of a pair of running shorts.

It takes time to get the knots apart, so I typically don’t do it. That means the shorts are limited to whatever waist measurement I last drew them into. That width can thus be hard to get over your hips. So I tug and pull until the shorts finally come up and slide into place around my waist. But then they feel looser than I like. And that puts my mental shorts in a knot.

The problem thus rests with the fact that the shorts and drawstring actually constrict a when going through the dryer. That tiny bit of shrinkage is enough to make it tough to get them back on again.

face.png

Occasionally I will sit down and pick at the drawstring knots until I get them loose again. That’s where the phrase “Don’t get your shorts in a knot” comes to mind. The Idiom Dictionary online describes the phrase this way:

To become overly upset or emotional over something, especially that which is trivial or unimportant. Primarily heard in US, South Africa

When I sit down to untie the knots in my running shorts, it can take a half hour to finally get a grip on some tendril of drawstring. When you feel that knot loosening, it’s like the whole universe is opening up. Often the drawstrings wind up in double knots, so you actually have to untie one before trying to extricate the other. It’s all very annoying and absorbing at the same time. So for both literal and abstract reasons, there is no triumph on earth quite like getting a stubborn knot undone.

Both literally and figuratively, I’ve been known to get my shorts in a knot on more than one occasion. The origin of the phrase must have a wide spectrum. Perhaps the “shorts in a knot” phrase applies to that feeling when your package is all wrapped up in material and you have to make some adjustments or go crazy. Or perhaps the phrase applies to that famous condition known as a ‘wedgie.’ That’s when the underwear gets pulled up the ass crack and by proxy, up the genital zone as well. Both are annoying conditions. The tension one feels is quite like the emotional state one reaches as a particularly annoying or stressful situation occurs. Call it Crotch Anxiety.

Knots in your saddle

women-s-new-classic-padded-bike-shorts-88Cycling shorts can certainly feel like they’re in a knot after spending hours in the saddle. For men, the testicles can feel constricted and the head of the penis can get raw from the merest misalignment of a seam on a chamois.

For women, pressure on the vagina can turn into pain, an abrasion or worse. It all adds up to what feels like a knot in the shorts. Ugh.

That feeling leads to wanting to get off the bike as soon as possible. At Ironman Louisville I heard one competitor say as they dismounted, “Bike for sale!” Riding can get that bad sometimes.

Getting unknotted

Hippoth.jpg

Of course there is a side of riding that is liberating as well.

I have a friend whose Ph.D wife is a psychology professional. She works with veterans dealing with PTSD. She gets them together with horses in a treatment called hippotherapy.

Here’s how it is described by the American Hippotherapy Association:

The term hippotherapy refers to how occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language pathology professionals use evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement to engage sensory, neuromotor, and cognitive systems to achieve functional outcomes. In conjunction with the affordances of the equine environment and other treatment strategies, hippotherapy is part of a patient’s integrated plan of care.

It’s all about un-knotting the brain, and by doing that, unbundling the knots in our shorts. The fact that hanging out with a horse can help you un-knot your brain might be a hint why so many of us like to swim, run and ride. It’s all about getting outside ourselves and engaging with the world in a different way.

That seems like a simple enough explanation for why we swim, run and ride. To get the knots out of our shorts.

 

 

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, cycling, running, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Down by the river

River in Batavia.jpgI’ve always lived fairly close to water, especially rivers. It is fun to run along river trails because there is always something to see. This is especially true as my avocation is birding, or birdwatching. Rivers attract birds because of food resources ranging from bugs that fly over the water to the berries that grow in riparian zones.

In our area we’re blessed with trails that run 40 miles along the Fox River. The Fox is a decent sized river, usually 250 to 400 feet across. In many places it is funneled through cities such as St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia and North Aurora, the town where I now live.

One of our favorite running routes starts next to the bridge in North Aurora, travels 3.5 miles up to Batavia and comes back down the east side. The west side is flat, occupying a former railroad bed converted to a bike path. The east side is hilly because the trail leaves the river edge and loops up and through a climax forest of oaks, maples and hickories. Red Oak Nature Center and other forest preserves occupy about two miles of this stretch of river.

Mallards.jpgThere is plenty to see in all seasons. Even in winter there are ducks such as mergansers, goldeneyes and huge flocks of Canada Geese. The mergansers fish in the open water and are easily spied as their sides are bright white.

I can’t count the number of miles run on these trails, but they were constructed in 1981 and that’s 36 years ago. It’s no stretch to say that in all those years I’ve covered at least 250 miles per year on those river trails. That’s 9,000 miles of running along the river.

Only in the last 15 years have I cycled so much, but that probably constitutes another 10,000-20,000 miles of “river time” along the Fox River Trail.

They hold a really great marathon here on the river trails. It’s largely a flat race, yet really scenic. It’s pretty hard to find that combination, and the September date has largely avoided high heat. Often it’s been quite cool.

But I’m not a marathoner, so the races I’ve run on the trails include mostly 5Ks and 10Ks. That includes perhaps the best race I’ve ever run, a 10K held in the first few years the trails were even open. With a superior competitor on my heels the whole last 5K, I managed to win the race in a record 31:52 that lasted for a couple decades before they shut the race down after 25 years.

I’m not that fast anymore but still managed a 20:50 5K last spring in a little 5K race held on the popular loop up from Batavia to Fabyan Forest Preserve and back. It crosses the river on a girder bridge with wooden slates, swings on a one lane road across an island and comes back down the west side where boat houses and duck blinds once lined the river.

IMG_2837.jpgOver the years I watched those old structures decay and fall into the river. The gray wood cracked and bent in places, then tumbled into the water. Come spring a big flood would wash away the weakened structures bit by bit.

But some things never change. The light on the river is always beautiful in every season. So is the mist and the sky above it. There are gulls that snatch fish where they can, and large flocks of swallows made up of six different species at once.

So I’m grateful to live here, and thankful to have such a beautiful place to run and ride. But I’ll leave the river swimming to someone else like the turtles, the fish and the geese that now dominate the river.

City Photos River North View.jpg

Turtle Wing It.png

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

Time to pull out the mountain bike

Rockhopper

I own a Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike. That’s not my bike in the photo above. But it could be. Bought mine back in the early 2000s for probably $600. It’s a solid bike. The frame is still in perfect condition. Silver and shiny. From all the photos I found by Googling it, the bike must be something of a classic.

There aren’t that many miles on my mountain bike because most of my annual riding is done on the roads. Mountain biking in Illinois is just not that thrilling unless one takes a trip over to a set of single tracks in Palos Heights. But I bang around on the mountain bike in my ‘neck of the woods’ in all sorts of weather. If the snow isn’t more than 3″ deep, it can be fun to ride in the winter. I’ve learned that deeper snow with a regular mountain bike is just a bunch of spinning around. One needs a true Fat Tire bike for that.

If I had half a conscience I’d ride the Rockhopper to work. I only live four miles away from my workplace. It’s supposed to be a tolerable winter here in Illinois. We’ll see. I rode to work a bunch when I lived seven miles away from a former job. One morning I spun out on a moss-covered bridge and got all green and slimy. That took my commuting appetite away for a while.

Early in the history of that bike I had the front all jacked up with a raised stem that sat me upright. I finally pulled all that off and got back to basics. Now I can ride in what amounts to mountain biking aero if I choose. Hunker down and pedal. Fuck the wind.

The only challenge in riding that bike is keeping my feet warm in really cold weather. The bike as SPD pedals and my shoes have metal cleats in the sole. The cold comes into the sole even when I wear the Pearl Izumi booties that cover the entire foot.

So an hour to 90 minutes is all I usually ride. That gives me 15-18 miles usually. Work up a sweat. Avoid the big winds. Enjoy making tire tracks in mud or snow.

Hello, mountain bike. Goodbye, Cabin Fever.

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

What’s that about a hangover?

 

hang·o·ver ˈhaNGˌōvər/ noun
  1. a severe headache or other after effects caused by drinking an excess of alcohol.
    • a thing that has survived from the past.
      Beers.jpg

Last night I joined a friend for a couple beers. I had not seen her in forty years. We ran in the same track circles in high school. Later in the company of the man she’d marry, she migrated to the same college I attended in Iowa.

A couple beers at The Forge in Sycamore, Illinois. Kind of a nice way to celebrate a longtime association, share some memories and compare lives.

On the way home I felt fine. Two beers consumed slowly with food (a Margherita Pizza, mind you…) was not something to put me in an impaired state.

Yet I woke up at 3:30 in the morning with a bit of a headache. Some of that was likely the forced air heat in our home. That’s always dried out my sinuses, often driving headaches.

But this was a beer headache too. Certain beers give me headaches. I’m sure there’s a science to all this, but lacking either the resources to conduct such studies on my own, I’ll offer what suffices for expertise these days. This bit of insight from the website Hangoverschool.com serves up a set of beer-drinking warning signs about hangovers.

But I’m drinking less beer lately. So it’s not just beer that I worry about. Then again, I joined my wife for a cocktail party next door at our neighbor’s house. They have a long, beautiful granite bar and a real laminated menu of drink options that is twelve pages long.

It was a Friday and Sue was late getting back from Denver on a delayed flight, so I sat there and drank with some neighbors. The drink names were funny, which always makes me drink a little more. By the time she got there I was three cocktails ahead and having fun.

The night ended and we walked next door to go to bed. The next morning we got up to run a five-miler and frankly, I was dreading it a little. I was a bit hungover, you see.

By the time the first mile was over, I was feeling fantastic. How strange, I thought. How very strange. We ran the next four miles and I felt like I was floating along. Like I was twenty years younger. Forty years even.

Now you cannot count on that type of sensation every time you drink. I seriously wondered if I was somehow still a little drunk. My senses were clear. My legs felt great. So it wasn’t being drunk that made me feel so good.

glass-vs-crystal-wine-glasses.jpgAt the most I have more than one drink once or twice a week. Typically it’s wine with dinner, and a bit after. The beer purchases have gone down because the stuff makes me fat. Right. Around. The Middle.

My fave drinks are Long Island Iced Teas. Simple and clean. Have a kick. Very few hangovers.

This is not to say that I have not overdone it anytime in the past. During my freshman year in college I likely nearly died from alcohol poisoning. My liver could have failed the night of our annual cross country party. It was insane to drink so hard, but a naive nature will sometimes take you where you should not go.

One other time I feared for my health from drinking. That was during a weekend junket with a college girlfriend. We drank so much I fell down in a Lacrosse, Wisconsin McDonalds and almost could not get up.

Drinking is dangerous. It can also be addictive. Fortunately I was largely more addicted to running in my 20s than to alcohol or other substances. Not all my running buddies were so lucky. One or two succumbed to alcoholism over the years. The party habits that were a joke back in the day became too real over time.

These days I seldom come close to getting drunk. Yet it only takes a glass of wine or the wrong glass of beer sometimes to get a wicked hangover. Then it’s a slog through the morning hours.

I still find jokes about “day drinking” funny for some reason. It’s all about self-medicating in the end. Human beings deal with all sorts of stresses in life, and drinking is just one of potentially not-so-healthy-all-the-time coping mechanisms.

It’s also a little sad that a hangover is nothing more than the echo of dead brain cells rattling around in your noggin. The blood-brain barrier is supposed to keep bad things out, but the brain needs blood of some kind to keep functioning, and alcohol goes along for the ride. That’s what makes us drunk. Naked. And stupid. Or all of the above.

I’ve ridden and run off a few hangovers in my days on this earth. It can start out so bad and then by the end, you’re kind of laughing that compared to how shitty you felt when you started, life looks pretty good. Call it the flushing effect. Alcohol is the lactid acid of the brain.

sex hangover.jpegSo what’s that about a hangover? You can have a hangover from too much sex, or even a little sex if you suffer from sexual headaches. There is such a thing. Some come on fast, to coin a term, and go away just as quickly. But some people get sex hangovers, with a headache that can last hours or even days. And fuck, along with a four-hour erection, that’s a real bummer.

You might not have noticed a mention of something in the hangover definition shared at the beginning of this blog, an alternate definition of the term “hangover.” It also means this: a thing that has survived from the past. 

We all have headaches from our past, it seems. Relationships that didn’t work out. Painful breakups. Work crashes. The list goes on.

One could make the argument that if you think about it long enough, life itself is one long hangover from the last bad thing that happened to you, like a breed of nihilism in that nothing in the world has a real existence. Is it really all just one long headache? A long hangover until you shrivel up and die.

Not if you get out there and run and ride and swim. Honestly these are the types of things that can knock a hangover for a loop. So don’t lie around wondering what comes next. Life doesn’t have to be one long hangover.

It’s much better to drink of the sensations you gain from getting out there and doing what you love best. Moving. We run and ride and swim for a reason. No hangover should last forever.

 

 

 

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

And pterodactyl in a pear tree

Blue Heron.pngA few years back I worked at a marketing firm stuffed full with refugees from the car business. Some had been salesman. Others were dealership managers and the like.

The culture they brought to the agency was interesting, to say the least. There were true stories about how sales guys used to do things like throw a customer’s car keys up on the roof so that they had to sell them a new vehicle. There was also a contest in which money was thrown in a pot and the first person to get a customer to crawl into the trunk of a new vehicle was the winner.

So you can imagine there were plenty of hijinks going on day-to-day. The culture was also full of an immature brand of machismo. Women were regularly harassed, and settlements were allegedly paid. It was all witnessed firsthand.

pteranodon01.jpgThose of us who objected kept our heads low. I did help a gal find a lawyer once to end the harassment she was experiencing. I don’t know the specifics of what transpired after that, only that she left the company and the jerky salesman in question was assigned a no-nonsense administrative assistant who stood a full head taller than him.

I was considered an odd bird in that environment. My athletic interests were suspect, for one thing. What kind of person does all that running? And another thing, I was a graphics guy. A ‘design fairy’ as the owner once called us.

And the fact that I could write and spell earned me the name “The Professor.” That nickname came from a question one salesguy asked. “Who can spell the name of those flying dinosaurs?”

“What, a pterodactyl?” I asked.

“Yeah!”

So I spelled the word. And the reply came back, “What are you, some kind of professor?”

And the nickname stuck. Only these days, we refer to them as Pteranodon and Pterodactylus these days.  Turns out Pterodactyl is a non-scientific, generic name for flying dinosaurs. I didn’t even know that 20 years ago.

Still, it got me the title Professor for knowing how to spell it. And ain’t that interesting?

I wouldn’t call that anti-pterodactyl place where I worked exactly anti-intellectual. There were plenty of smart people who worked there. In fact, I would love to have stayed had I not been targeted in a downsizing of middle managers to position the company for sale. Oh, well. Like the dinosaurs, we all have our days of distinction and extinction. Some come sooner. Others come later.

I think back (however) to the day that a sales manager came tromping into the creative department holding an envelope aloft and yelling, “Who designed this piece?”

It was a spring mailer for a basketball-themed promotion. Naturally, it had a basketball player on it. But the sales manager was angry. “This is a black guy,” he trumpeted. “My customers know I’d never put a black guy on one of my mailers.”

He was a bigot, in other words. He also owned tons of guns and bragged about the fact that he was ready for the day that a certain group of people came to steal his stuff. “I have an arsenal,” he boasted.

None of us doubted that. But what we did doubt was the man’s ultimate character and intelligence. He and his pals dealt with many of us cynically for caring about the precepts of design, and the gall of suggesting that the idea of having a black basketball player on a mailer was a good idea.

I suppose he could have turned around and accused us of stereotyping. “You’re the ones that are prejudiced,” he could have said. “Thinking basketball players are all black.”

And that’s a keen illustration of how that entire upside-down, inside-out, backwards version of America has taken place. It is an anti-intellectual, reverse discriminatory, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-health and wellness belief system that has taken over and run roughshod over common sense and efforts to manage this nation equitably.

But I’ll take a pterodactyl and see you one. I’ll even stick one in a goddamn pear tree of the phony-ass War On Christmas concocted by conservatives eager to prove they’re persecuted right into their own pews. Pack of lies.

It makes me think of the final scenes of Jurassic World when that flock of pterodactyls flapps (sic) out of the aviary dome to terrorize the dumb shits who set up Jurassic World as an insult to nature in the first place. You mess with nature, human or otherwise, and sooner or later there’s a payback.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

One headlight

One Headlight.jpgThis morning brought a thick coat of ice on the car windows. I ran the defroster and squirted window wiper fluid to melt down the ice because the scraper in my car might or might not have been under the seat, and it was 6:00 in the morning.

My wife had left at 4:30 to catch a flight to a Midwest destination so she could come home again at night. So I was half awake for an hour dreaming those weird dreams you dream in a half asleep state where you are still thinking about getting up but really not. I dreamt that someone gave me a brand new hand gun and it was up to me to decide whether to keep it or not. Bang bang shoot shoot.

One head.jpgAt 5:30 I rallied out of bed and got changed to go do strength work at the gym. At that time of day, it’s like running with one headlight on. You can still see the space ahead of you but really only half of it. Just enough to get where you’re going, and barely that.

That outlook proved to be prophetic because I made the mistake of not scraping the passenger side window. That created a blurry blind spot as I attempted to turn left onto a typically busy road and through I saw no traffic from that direction. But once I’d pulled onto the road and was traveling south I saw there was a vehicle with one headlight right in my rearview mirror. I realized that I’d probably cut right in front of that car, and he was probably, rightly pissed.

ThreatThe world is full of such unrealized threats, the tarsnakes of existence. The vague notion that something bad might happen can haunt, intimidate and vex the soul. And it’s true: the daily mix of close calls, near accidents and unintentional slights is part of our existence. That’s why the sight of a vehicle missing a headlight feels a little spooky, like a Stephen King novel come to life. It’s a reminder that we stand forever on the precipice of good fortune and bad. Omens are like that.

But it’s that moment where you actually do get tagged in the rear-end by some joker driving around with one headlight that makes you realize how lucky you’ve been for too long.  I was driving along with friends three years ago when an old dude completely side-swiped my car from the passenger side. He never even knew he did it. We had to hail him to pull over after he smashed into me. Turns out he was distraught over his sick wife back at the hospital. His mind only had one headlight on.

Provision-1024x682Of course those of us who run and ride go lots of places with one headlight on. For us, it’s the single mode of transportation and our lone source of safety. We fix it to the front of our bike or wear a headlamp as we lurch or pedal along through murk and dusk hoping everyone will see us. We worry about the ones who are too lazy, preoccupied or selfish to notice our lone headlight or tail light.

So I felt a bit guilty at my own transgression in not having scraped off the passenger side window well enough to know that a car with one headlight was headed my way. So there’s a reason why vehicles have two headlights and not just one. Two headlights means “car” or “truck” in driving parlance. The police will write a ticket if they see a headlight out. We deserve it.

caroneheadlight.jpg

I believe there’s a bit of fatalism at work in much of society. The entire Christian faith is based on the cataclysmic worldview that says this earth we live on is literally fucked once Jesus returns. If that’s true, and Jesus truly is the lone light of the world, it means we’re all riding around with one headlight on.

 

So let’s quote Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers, whose fatalistic song One Headlight captures the nihilism of existence past, present and future:
And I seen the sun up ahead
At the county line bridge
Sayin’ all there’s good and nothingness is dead
We’ll run until she’s out of breath
She ran until there’s nothin’ left
She hit the end-it’s just her window ledge

But I don’t buy into fatalism as a rule of existence. Sometimes you just gotta run the ridge of existence with one headlight on and make it happen. It may send shivers down your spine now and then, and your companion may wonder what the fuck you got them into. But you gotta try…

Hey, come on try a little
Nothing is forever
There’s got to be something better than
In the middle
But me and Cinderella
We put it all together
We can drive it home
With one headlight

 

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, I hate cyclists, mental health, running, Share the Road, Tarsnakes, we run and ride | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After the Gold Rush there was Ziggy Stardust and a Honky Chateau

Yes_Close_To_The_EdgeThe early 70s were rich in musical opportunities for a kid of 14. My older brothers had plenty of albums to play, but they did not really want me touching their stuff. Still, I’d sneak a play of their Beatles stuff when necessary. And it was necessary.

Whether by kindness or to protect their own albums, my brothers gave me a set of albums of my own. My father had fixed up an all-in-one stereo player with blonde wood and a couple of decent speakers buried behind matching fabric. I thought this was the shit, I’ll tell you. Having my own stereo to play my own record in the second-floor room overlooking the crumpled asphalt of Gates Street in Elburn, Illinois was all I wanted or needed at the moment.

Here were some of the albums they gave me:

  • Neil Young: After the Gold Rush
  • Yes: Fragile
  • Yes: Close to the Edge
  • Elton John: Tumbleweed Connection
  • David Bromberg: Midnight On the Water
  • Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die
  • David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
  • Bob Dylan: New Morning
  • George Harrison: All Things Must Pass

Some of this music was downright challenging to appreciate. That David Bromberg album made me feel weird for liking fiddle music. I thought my friends would think I’m nuts for appreciating Bromberg’s squeaky voice and lyrical stylings of folk music.

After-The-Gold-Rush-Album-CoverThe Neil Young album had such maturity and depth I struggled to apply it to my life because after all, I was only fourteen years old. Yet there was plain urgency in such lyrics as “When you dance I can really love.”

When you dance,
Do your senses tingle?
Then take a chance?
In a trance,
While the lonely mingle
With circumstance?

Every high school dance was a rehearsal of those same lyrics. I was a skinny cross country kid with a slack jaw, a pile of thick hair and a nearly perpetual boner. Which gave away my urgency while locked in the arms of a cheerleader named Joanie who plucked me out of the crowd and pressed her hard thigh between mine and ground me into a near state of climax.

So yes, my senses tingled, and the next time I listened to that song I better understood what Neil Young meant by “the lonely mingle with circumstance…”

Ziggy-Stardust-album-coverThe same could be said of that Ziggy Stardust album. There was existential coldness in the lyrics of the song Five Years:

Pushing through the market square
So many mothers sighing
News had just come over
We had five years left to cry in

News guy wept and told us
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet

Then I knew he was not lying

I heard telephones
opera house
favorite melodies
I saw boys
toys
electric irons and TV’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse

It had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things

to store everything in there
And all the fat, skinny people
and all the tall, short people

and all the nobody people
and all the somebody people
Never thought I’d need so many people

Already in my youth, there was a pressing feeling that the things I valued were both the most important things in the world, and yet perhaps not important to other people at all. The races we ran and the training we did felt so urgent and real, but the classmates I had were not capable in some ways of understanding how pain translated to greater comprehension.  All I knew was that it hurt and simultaneously bared the naked fear and anxiety that ruled my mind so many days. Yet through this honesty the running also emboldened me to try, to not give up and to care about other people because I felt all opened to the world after real effort.

Elton John.jpgI went on to buy more albums of course. I specifically recall visiting a record store in Geneva. I’d saved up my paperboy money and wanted to buy the new Honky Chateau album by Elton John. Sure, the hits like Rocket Man were the driver, but ultimately it was the poetic nature of songs like Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters that floored me:

Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true
You stand at the edge while people run you through
And I thank the lord 
There’s people out there like you
I thank the lord there’s people out there like you

Those lyrics were urban as hell, but they reached across the open cornfields of Illinois to salve my ears against the high school politics and family troubles common to so many teenagers.

I’d started writing poetry and prose at the age of fourteen. This too was uncommon among my friends, and some lampooned it. Yet the day that I read the lyrics to Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters aloud in English class, my peers got quiet and the teacher walked over to me and said, “That was wonderful.”

And I liked that feeling as much as running. The two have gone together ever since. I’m not one to experience writer’s block much. More’s the case that I haven’t enough time to work on the projects in progress. Right now I’m working on two separate books. One is titled Sustainable Faith, a layman’s guide to practical spirituality. The other is titled Nature Is My Country Club, a playful examination of the environmental ethic (or lack of it) in our golf course world.

I also write for a living, blessed now to be working in Communications for the City of Batavia. I love my job and it gives me the opportunity to give back to the community where I lived for 20 years.

traffic4So empty pages are not much the problem for me. Yet the lyrics of the song Empty Pages by Traffic stick with me all these years because they show so clearly show the connection between work and love.

Found someone who can comfort me, but there are always exceptions
And she’s good at appearing sane, but I just want you to know

She’s the one makes me feel so good when everything is against me
Picks me up when I’m feeling down, so I’ve got something to show

Staring at empty pages, centered ’round the same plot
Staring at empty pages, flowing along in the ages

Often lost and forgotten, the vagueness in the mind
I’ve been thinking I’m working too hard, but I’ve got something to show

The economy of those lyrics still shakes me. The grip on life itself, and the basal appreciation of how love and support help you get through life. It is these lessons and the running that have carried me through all these years. I’m proud of myself for getting that all those years ago, and still getting it today.

Bob Dylan.jpegAbout 15 years ago I actually picked up the guitar again after abandoning it just after high school. I learned to play songs again but I’m not guitarist. I don’t “think” in music the way real musicians do. So I seek out days to strum and sing the lyrics I’ve grown to love. One of my favorite albums of songs to play is Bob Dylan’s New Morning. I consider it one of the most underrated of Dylan’s albums, and perhaps one of the most underrated of all time.

The song The Man In Me is just one example of the clarity that album seeks and delivers.

The man in me will do nearly any task
And as for compensation, there’s little he would ask
Take a woman like you
To get through to the man in me

The man in me will hide sometimes to keep from bein’ seen
But that’s just because he doesn’t want turn into some machine
Took a woman like you
To get through to the man in me

There’s truth in that song for any type of relationship. We hold each other accountable and when that fails, we prop each other up. And sometimes it’s the grip of a teammate or friend after a hard race, when we’re too exhausted to stand up on our own, that a hug sustains us and the words, “You did a good job” mean everything in the world.

 

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

Getting dropped

LUW2It’s interesting to have composed this blog for five years now. The number of followers has slowly increased. I wish it were 20,000. But honestly, its 1354 at the moment. And I thank you for following my work. This blog has gotten me some writing work over the years, but I truly do it because I love it and enjoy sharing experience and insights. No big ulterior motives really.

Yet occasionally, I’ll write something that seems to offend a few people. The number of followers will drop by five or six overnight. The way I look at that fact is simple. At least I’m writing something with an impact. If people don’t agree with something to the point that they’re moved to unfollow this blog, it means that I’m actually saying something.

What an interesting contrast that is to the moment when you get dropped from the group in cycling or running. Over 40+ years of training and racing, I’ve done my share of dropping and my share of getting dropped. I’ll frankly admit to being pissed when I’m the one getting dropped. Often I sink into a funk of angry dismissal.

By contrast, however, when I’m in the group doing the dropping I genuinely feel bad for whoever is getting dropped. I’ll look back and check on them. I feel compassion for them if it’s “not their day,” or just learning to ride. Getting dropped is no fun. I can relate to how they might be feeling. If the situation demands, I’ll drop back. I’m not that great a rider that it ever matters if I’m not King for a Day.

Which is rather contradictory in nature. Because I frankly don’t want anyone to wait for me during a ride. Not when I’m the one that’s been dropped. If it’s Dog Eat Dog, then let it be so. If I’m not in total distress or bonking, I’d rather ride in at my own pace than engage in the idiotic Yo-Yo game of having people roll far ahead and then wait at corners. Hate. It. Makes no sense for anyone.

I can’t stand affecting the ride quality for anyone else if I can help it. If they’re having a good day I prefer they get the full benefit of their ride. It’s too hard to find good time to ride without getting held up by someone that is struggling. My relative slowness on a given day should not be a factor in what someone else experiences. I’ve come to realize that most cyclists ride too hard all the time. This I’ve learned from really great riders, not the local hacks who kill it every time they go out.  The same was true in running all those years ago. I used to train everything at 6:00 pace and under until I trained with a group of guys that could run sub-29:00 10Ks. They trained long and slow on their longer runs. They didn’t ‘drop’ anyone in those workouts because there was no need.

IMG_7218There is not enough time in this world to worry about such things. Which is why I also don’t take offense if people “drop” my blog when something offends them. On one hand I say “tough shit” and on the other, I completely understand. If my writing or philosophy does not appeal somehow, it makes no sense to receive it in your inbox. Drop it.

By contrast, I do wish more people who like my writing would share it. I’d also rather people click through from the emails sent out during publication than to read them in the email format. The analytics on this blog don’t record the number of people who open and read the email version. My blog does better in Google and such when the analytics indicate there are more readers.

Plus I’ll admit, sometimes I go back in and edit after the original goes out. It’s a fact of my ADD or some other adverse attribute that I don’t catch typos in the application review. Not until I publish do I sometimes see the stupid mistakes I make.

But I go back in and “drop” those from the original. I wish it weren’t so, and I try my hardest, but my attention span sometimes drops things it shouldn’t.

Thanks for reading.

We Run and Ride Logo

 

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

On skunks and pissing matches

Skunk backLast Saturday evening, my daughter’s boyfriend Kyle opened the deck door of their condominium to let the dog Chuck out for a pee. In a second, Kyle realized the danger that lurked outside. Chuck burst out the door straight into the rear end of a skunk. And got sprayed. Badly. Right down the front of his face and chest.

Kyle scooped him up and rushed Chuck straight to the tub. But as many dog owners have learned, that’s actually something of a mistake. Skunk smell permeated the apartment and everything in it. That included the clothes of my stepdaughters Stephanie, Sarah and boyfriend Boone who had just arrived for a “Game Night” only to find a chaotic scene of overwhelming stench.

To their credit, the kids all worked together. Steph and Sarah ran out for “supplies” to wash Chuck down. That process would end up lasting days. The kids also came home smelling deeply of skunk while Emily and Kyle either washed their belongings several times or tossed things out of their condo.

I’ve never had the misfortune of being nailed by a skunk. But living with four cats has its moments too. Whenever the kitties get competitive or dissatisfied with something in their cat kingdom, they sometimes piss on things. They can be cute as heck, but they’re still animals.

Me and Kitty.jpg

We human beings think ourselves above such animalian conflicts. But spend a week on Facebook during a political election and the pissing matches are frequent and fierce. It’s the same principle. People protect their personal pages by pissing around all the corners like a dog in a yard. Yet some people seem to relish going around pissing on other pages. We call them trolls, but really they are junkyard dogs marking their territory.

It’s a different phenomenon at any race where lines at Porta Potties form and disperse. Human beings have developed conventions to manage our animalian instincts. We know how to form lines and conduct social activities according to socially acceptable rules.

port-a-potty-lines.jpg

But have you ever been in a Porta Potty line when some preoccupied athlete ignores all the people waiting patiently in line and jumps into a potty without noticing there are perhaps 75 people patiently waiting in line? The grumbling is profound. If people had their way, they’d probably piss on the back of the line cutter.

Fortunately doesn’t happen often because most people at races understanding the pissing (and shitting) protocols. They understand that their needs don’t trump the needs of others when it comes to potty access. If only that were the case in the rest of society.

In other parts of society, those lines aren’t always so clear. Sometimes there are whole groups of people who decide the conventions of culture and law do not apply to them. Or, they make themselves jealous, bitter or selfishly possessive of some perceived position by imagining that others somehow have advantages they do not.

 

PPIt’s bad enough when one person cuts the lines at the Porta Potties. But imagine if a whole group of people walked out from behind the johns and took up positions in front of the already established lines. People might attempt to shout them down. But a really belligerent group can be a difficult force to confront or manage. And think: the people in the Porta Potty lines don’t have an already established group affiliation. That means someone either has to organize a consensus on the spot or the more aggressive group simply owns the day.

But imagine if that Porta Potty takeover started occurring at every race you attended. That might really piss you off. And let’s imagine it’s a team all dressed in one color. You’d start to wonder who the hell they think they are.

Sooner or later, someone would confront them. But things get complicated when they claim:  “The organizers said we could do this.” They might be lying of course., which is one thing, or they might be telling the truth, which is a whole different issue.

Everyone at that moment could be struck with doubt about the circumstance at hand. Is that true? Should we fight this? Who ever heard of such a thing?

The rational approach would be to contact the organizers to find out if any such privilege exists.

The liberal approach would be to ask the offending group to prove their right to butt in line, and if no such proof exists, conduct a sit-in right in front of the Porta Potties.

The conservative approach would be to demand to see Porta Potty Privilege documentation and find out where to get it so that next time one doesn’t get left out.

The radical approach would be for everyone who is already in line to drop their drawers and take a dump or piss on the spot. That would apply to women and men, trans or otherwise. The nickname could be #antipotty.

pissah.jpg

So there you have it, a breakdown of how pissing matches start and how they break down along social structures. You can apply these principles to just about any social issue on the landscape. But it all comes down to animal instincts.

We all know that animals piss on things to mark their territory and to establish a sense of ownership. This sense of “ownership” crosses all sorts of boundaries. The instinct to possess and control is a powerful drive and heavily dominated, in the human realm, by testosterone, to be honest.

We see continually evolving examples of men pissing on things  that they think they own. Some inevitably come to think they  “own” women as a right. The recent revelations on sexual harassment are one example. Harvey Weinstein does it in Hollywood and Illinois politicians do it in Congress.

And the same brand of men who are harassing women right and left are all too happy to use their position in life to effect methods of control over women in society. That’s why some men feel justified passing laws limited reproductive rights and birth control. It’s all about expressing that sense of ownership. And women have a right to be pissed about it.

Want proof of how radical this sense of “ownership” over human rights can become? In Texas, lawmakers signed into law a bill that amounts to forcing women to essentially buy “rape insurance” in order to protect themselves in the event of impregnation from a sexual assault. A story on The Hill describes it his way:

“Just this week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that prohibits health insurance companies from covering elective abortions of any kind. This includes insurance plans on the ObamaCare exchanges and even private employer-based plans.

“Lost in that line of reasoning, however, is the fundamental concern for a woman’s most basic human rights. Smithee’s law purposefully does not make any exceptions for an elective abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or severe fetal abnormalities.

The bill is egregious in its use of euphemism to make the case that tax money is the real issue.

“Proponents of House Bill 214 are hailing its passage as a victory for state taxpayers, who are no longer compelled to subsidize medical procedures that they may find morally objectionable. Lead author Rep. John Smithee (R-Texas) even called it an exercise in “economic freedom.”

The use of the euphemism “economic freedom”  to protect those who might not believe in reproductive rights for women is a pathetic attempt to distract from the broader claim that “we own you.” Texas legislators have argued that even in cases where the death of the child they bear is an absolute certainty, a woman does not get to make that decision for herself.

Some abnormalities, such as bilateral renal agenesis, a disease where a baby is born without kidneys, or anencephaly, where a baby is born without a brain, are completely incompatible with life. Yet a women may still have to carry those fetuses to term. In fact, only if a woman’s life is in danger is an exception made.”

 

The Hill goes on to describe the fact that rational minds could make no impact on the forcefulness of the legislators pissing all over women’s rights.

“The bill was heavily debated in both the Texas House and Senate with Democratic lawmakers repeatedly bringing this issue up to the Republican majority. Rep. Chris Turner even argued that forcing women to, “buy supplemental insurance to cover that horrific possibility [of rape or incest] is not only ridiculous, it is cruel.” He was soundly ignored.”

You might think my example of the Porta Potty pissing match an exaggeration or some sort of comic attempt at explaining morality issues. But it’s not. One can easily see how the perception of rights migrates from a sense of either personal privilege or ignorance to laws that impact the lives of millions of people.

There is nothing sophisticated or insightful about any of this. It’s a culture-wide pissing match in which people applying black and white standards impose their will on issues that are clearly gray by definition. Every personal decision is by nature a blank slate from the start. No harsh set of laws based on some sense of perverse ownership justifies the hollow morality inside. In fact, those that lack compassion simply stink.

Porta-Potty

Outside the law, there are culture wars at work every day.

Next time you witness a social media fight between people who disagree, or next time you see Tweets from president who is pissed off at the media, pissed at North Korea or pissed at the NFL for not making players stand up during the national anthem, take a moment and consider what’s really happening. Consider how your dog walks around the property raising a leg and pissing on the fenceposts. Consider how that skunk raised its tail and impacted the lives of so many people in an instant.

In the end, it’s all about the degree and level of stink you can create when it comes to a pissing match. Some people seem to love living like this, with everyone encouraged to piss on the other or worse, raised a gun and shoot 26 people in the church because you think life stinks. It’s all animal instincts gone wrong.

And right now, the animals have the upper hand, and they’re aiming at you.

 

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