Vacation racin’ in the human salad

Chris at GasparillaThe starting pen at the Gasparilla 8K was low on competitors lined up in the 6:30-7:30 per mile pace. I’d started far at the back of the pack lined up for the race, which numbered more than 5,000. It was the last of the four scheduled races of the weekend. The 15K, the original and flagship race of the Gasparilla series, has been won by a local Floridian named Eric Montalvia in a flashy 46:09, a 4:57 per mile pace. The 5K that day was won by Tampa’s Taylor McDowell in a more pedestrian 15:58, a 5:08 per mile pace.

The Half Marathon attracted an international field competing for an $8,000 first prize. Elkanah Kiet ran 4:51 per mile for a 1:03:38 winning time. The women’s race was a highly competitive affair with Sara Hall besting Stephanie Bruce in a record time of 1:12:00 to 1:12:01. That’s a close finish after 13.1 miles of running.

That left the 8K to be contested, and I wistfully watched the top runners as they were ushered into the lead pen ahead of us. Near me stood a lean young woman in bun hugger shorts and a set of sleek racing flats, a sleek young kid with a mop of loose blonde hair. Then there were the requisite overachievers, fit older guys with silver hair on their heads and veinous legs.

My own legs look good enough for a sixty-year-old man. They don’t look that much different from my legs at fifty years of age, or forty. The skin has started to get crepey, I’ll admit, but from a distance that isn’t all that visible.

But my feet and knees require orthotics to run distance these days. I’ve worn the set I have for six or seven years now. They’re effective but they’re heavy. I can’t step to the line anymore with nothing but a set of superlight racing flats the way I once did. But my New Balance 880s are firm for a training shoe, and there are signs of shoe wear only under the forefoot, because that’s where I run on them. So I haven’t given up the ghost when it comes to running the best I can.

Sue as Gasparilla.jpgThe morning had started early on Gasparilla day. My wife Sue was running the half-marathon, and finished in just over 2:20 on a morning that heated up so fast it earned the Yellow warning flag from race officials. The Gulf breeze came from the South and made the Bayside stretched tolerable while headed in that direction. But when racers turned back north, there was nothing to wick off the heat.

In between, it was the stink of a low tide that filled the nose. So it was an earthy, funky, sweaty experience for everyone involved. But you couldn’t really tell that until you were so far into the race it was too late to really adjust or adapt.

I made all that worse by hitting the first-mile marker in 6:59. My goal was to run 7:30s for the day, but that first mile felt easy enough I decided to keep rolling. Then came two miles at 14:15. Somewhere between that mile point and the turnaround, the leaders were coming back in the other direction. I tried to gauge how fast they going. They looked respectable, but not quick. Indeed, the winner finished in 27:19. The kid’s name is Jake Turner and he is just 16 years old. He was the mop-headed kid I’d seen at the start. His pace was a creditable 5:29 per mile. On his way to great things, most likely.

But I’d have won that 8K race by a minute or so any number of times during my running career, in quite similar weather conditions. It would be so sweet to win these things again. I won’t lie. I feel like something’s been stolen from me in life.

But that’s how life goes. Life is a long series of giving things away. The truly successful learn how to go through that process gracefully, or take pleasure in helping others to achieve.

Sometimes we forget to abide what we try to share with others. I didn’t take my own advice seriously this morning. Going out at 7:00 pace was a bit stupid. But with all the waiting around from 6:00 am in the morning when Sue’s race began to 9:15 when my race began, it was a waiting game and a give-and-take with wanting to lie down and save Jesus Guy.jpgmy legs and wanting to warm up enough to overcome the sore Achilles I’d created by wearing sandals on our vacation jaunts. Everything we do has a cost. At least that’s what the guy carrying the Jesus sign tried to tell us. “The wages of sin is death.”  Did Jesus really have such bad grammar?


I wasn’t seeing God the last 1.5 miles, but while crossing the finish line I felt dizzy to be honest. Some gal handed me a cold wet towel and pointed to a handy seat, and I took it. Drank some warm water. Looked back down the road at all the other runners trundling home. So many bodies. So many people in this world. Legs and arm and butts and breasts and kits and hats and bottles and brains. The human salad. I’m just another tomato these days, but it’s who I am.

Mop Head.jpg

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Explosive evidence

Light bulbHeading into my senior year in college, I was desperate for a summer job when my best friend’s father offered me summer work as a janitor at a building called International Towers. It sat at the junction of Cumberland  Road and I-90 outside Chicago. From the roof of the building you could see downtown to the Hancock and Sears Tower. It looked like you could reach out your arm and drop a car right in the middle of it.

I had no idea that three years later I’d live in the middle of that hot mess in a shared apartment overlooking Clark Street. I was still so frightfully naive at that point in life I never imagined living in the city. But we did it. And I don’t regret it. That’s for sure.

Hard work

Being naive was a lot of work as I recall. There was always some stupid mystery lurking around the corner. Still, I had managed to take a few steps toward maturity that summer. First I hired a barber to cut off the long, thick head of hair that had been my trademark for several years in college. Shaved the Lasse Viren beard, too. Got contact lenses and a tan and looked a bit more like I knew what the fuck I was doing in life.

And then I went to work as a janitor.

The Polish folks who worked in the building hated the fact that I was hired in place of one of their buddies. I saw them arguing with my friend’s father (who managed the building) at the entrance tabout a week after I started. He stood there stiff and sullen, listening to their complaints. Then he shook his head and walked back inside. “They’re pissed that I hired you,” he told me. “But don’t worry about it. That’s for me to decide, not them.”

So I came to work everyday and reported to a little wizened guy named Andy. I’ve told this story before on my blog. How he hated his job and his nagging wife. But Andy was a good man to me. And generally I was a good worker. Except for the day of the explosion.

415wmJTIFML._SY300_QL70_I’d been told by someone (not Andy) to go pick up some boxes of fluorescent lights being discarded during a redesign of an office way up near the top of the building. They were long lights, probably 72″, and there were a dozen of them in each box. So I gathered them up on a cart and hauled them all down to the basement to get rid of them.

One-by-one I took the large boxes out and slid them into the trash compactor. When everything was unloaded, I walked out the door and hit the button to set the trash compactor to work. Those bulbs all got crushed at once, and the noise inside sounded like a bomb went off. And I won’t lie, it was quite a satisfying sound.

But to avoid responsibility, I hustled out of the hallway with the cart and made my way to the stairs to hide out. I heard a few people came charging into the compactor zone. A thin, fine dust had risen up like the exhalation of some exhausted dragon. There were voices and some shouting. And then it died down.

For the rest of the day I kept out of sight. Then at 5:00 pm I quickly made my way to the car to meet up with the gal who commuted with me to the building. I don’t know if my boss Andy covered for me that day or what, but nothing was ever said about my trash compactor blunder.

Sweet commute

That evening I climbed into the car for the drive home and was greeted by the sweet face of the gal that also been given a job by my best friend’s father. By coincidence she was also a runner and actually something of a track star. She was short, probably 5’0″ at best, but what a leg turnover! She was also quite beautiful with light freckles on her cheeks and wispy blonde hair on her head.

But she was having a summer fling with my best friend, and I with one of her friends. So it all felt delicious and young and stupid at the same time. Most days I’d drop her off at her house with a platonic goodbye and drive the rest of the way home to my place with naughty thoughts going through my head. Then I’d muster my running gear together and go for a run the best I could before settling in for dinner.

It was an hour’s drive one way to that summer job. Often it took even longer to come home. The car windows would be open most of the time, and summer’s heat would wear you down on the long drive. Yet I stuck with the training because that fall I would rise from 7th man to 2nd man on the team. That’s how it is with things you really want to achieve. Often it is the dedication one shows in the face of other distractions that makes the difference.

Chris In White ShortsBut when I think about that day spent hiding out after the explosion of the fluorescent bulbs in that compactor, it forces me to dwell on the fact that my naivete caused the problem. I wasn’t trying to cause an explosion. Probably there were kids my age smart and snarky enough to do that kind of thing on purpose. But I was never really one of those kids. Instead it  was stupidity that let me blow things sky high.

Explosive evidence redux

Sometimes I think about that event when I read about ‘explosive evidence’ about one politician or another. More typically it is arrogance behind such scandalous behavior, but sometimes it is naivete as well. I’ve come to believe that no one is as smart as they might appear to be on the surface. Even the most successful people in the world have grave flaws that they try to hide. Somewhere along the way they blow things up in life just like I did back in that janitor job.

Sometimes people get caught. Sometimes they don’t. But when folks at any level of society blow things up often enough, the evidence comes back around to haunt them. It’s hard not to leave a trail of some sort when you’re blowing things up on a regular basis. That’s true even when you’re not trying to blow things up but naively seek to deny the explosiveness of whatever it is you are trying put behind you in life.

But then BOOM. It comes back to haunt people sooner or later. Explosive evidence always does, even if it happens in slow motion.




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When have you felt truly happy?

PJ and Me

Running in Norfolk with a former high school buddy that past summer was a happy time. 

For those of us that have dealt all our lives with the double drain of anxiety and depression, the thought of being “happy” can seem more like a phenomenon than a true state of mind. Yet there have been many periods of life when I was genuinely happy for long stretches of time, and can honestly say that I’m a fairly happy person now. But it’s a journey, not a destination. There’s always more road ahead.

Recently I got thinking about moments when I was happy to the point of actually living in a satisfied state of mind. And confining the criteria to running and such, my senior year in college cross country was one of those times. So was training in Chicago during the summer of ’84 and setting all my PRs. Returning to training for the fun of it later in life has definitely made me happy. Doing triathlons too. Every event is a new experience, and without the pressure of trying to win all the time, I’m happy to be out there on my own terms.

The Rain King

But when it comes to happiness or the lack of it, I think of the book Henderson The Rain King by Saul Bellow. The lead character goes through most of life with this thought in his head that repeats itself: “I want…I want…I want…” and it never goes away. He’s never satisfied. The book is full of enormous insights on the human condition. Here is one grand quote from the book:

“All human accomplishment has this same origin, identically. Imagination is a force of nature. Is this not enough to make a person full of ecstasy? Imagination, imagination, imagination! It converts to actual. It sustains, it alters, it redeems!”

That leads to trouble when he goes out searching for meaning in life. In the company of a guide, he ventures into the African continent and gets hooked up with a tribe that installs him as chief through an odd mix of appetites and mistakes. Henderson is vexed because it all represents far more than he wanted and a lot that he did not want.

But his ultimate Come-To-Jesus moment arrives when he decides to use his training as a ballistics expert to rid the tribe of the plague of frogs that has taken over their drinking water source. Wanting to be a hero, Henderson lines up the dynamite and tries to blow the frogs to kingdom come. Instead he winds up blowing a hole in that dam that holds the water. He has not only ruined the dam, but endangered the lifestyle of the entire tribe.

The point of the story is that many of us try so hard to find happiness we lose sight of what it really means. But those of us who run and ride and swim have opportunities on a daily basis to let happiness seep into our souls. Sometimes we absorb enough (through osmosis?) that it lasts us all day and all night. And if the happiness adds up it seems like we even earn rollover minutes from one day to the next.

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Sue and I so happy to be done with a hard track workout we posed with balloons. 

Exercise is a known antidote to depression. It also helps with anxiety, mostly by giving our heads time to think through problems about which we might otherwise ruminate.

There can also be happiness involved in setting and achieving goals. Even the goals we don’t achieve have a tendency to take us new places or to try new things. Sometimes people progress from one goal to the next overcoming fears along the way. The first-timer at 5K gets hooked on the feeling of fitness and does a 10k. Then comes a half marathon and finally, if people are dumb enough to be that stupid and happy at the same time, they run marathons.

I was never much for the marathon distance. I ran it a few times in practice and raced a few as well. But I found the challenge and rush of racing faster over shorter distances such as 10K much more inviting and smart. For one thing you could race a lot more often rather than pouring all your training into a single race on some weekend twelve weeks out. One of the happiest weekend of my life was built around running a 4:22 mile race on a Friday night and nearly winning a prestigious 15K that Sunday morning. My legs felt so good and my brain was so eager for competition I loved every minute of that running.

Last year I did a bike ride with options of 45, 65 and 100 miles. I separated from Sue at one point because she was doing 114 miles that day. But I made a wrong turn on the course and put in 25 miles that I did not expect to ride. Funny thing about that…I rode is all much faster than the rest of the day, catching groups of cyclists along the way. Sure I was a little pissed and depressed when I realized what I’d done. Yet it got me all the way up to 88 miles when I got back to the finish line. So I rode out a mile and back to hit 90 on the spot.


Riding nearly a hundred miles can really make you happy and satisfied to be done.

The winds had been fierce so I wasn’t chomping at the bit to go the extra 10 miles and do a full century. But the hurt I’d put on myself out on the bike actually felt good. I was proud and happy to have ridden more than I expected that day.

At least I didn’t “blow up” like Henderson putting a hurt on those frogs in the African plains. And when I got back there was no more echoes of “I want, I want…” in my head. My butt was tired and so were my legs. It’s funny how much a little pain and fatigue can make you happy just to be done.

And sometimes that’s all the happiness we need in life.


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How do you deal with guilt?

Bald Eagles Perched.pngThis morning at 4:45 my wife rose from bed to gather her gear and go swim. She is disciplined about her workouts. And frankly, she loves to swim. That goes back a ways, and she is good in the water. So it’s a joy of sorts for her to swing over to the natatorium before the sun is up and get in 2500 yards or so.

Swimming has not come so easily to me. But I have improved, greatly, from those first days flailing away in the XSport pool with the skinny lanes and warm water common to health club swimming pools. So I enjoy being in the water now, versus dreading every minute out of fear and frustration.

Yet I still haven’t gotten the love thing going for early morning swimming. Perhaps it is the latent association with my early struggles. Like so many people, I’m not a big fan of that first plunge into the pool. That goes way back to when I was a frighteningly skinny kid with zero body fat. Yet I recall I did get up and swim with the instructor and a few other nutty souls in the Polar Bear Club at Band Camp. So I’ve been a glutton for punishment at any age.

Still, I do feel guilty when Sue gets up and leaves for swim without me. I used to attend the Master’s Swim sessions with her weekly. But they cost money and I already pay for a full health club membership including pool rights at the park district facility with the indoor track, weights and fitness room and the yoga sessions we attend weekly. So I think I should swim there. And feel guilty that I don’t do it more often.

Jumping Lark 2.pngPart of the latent guilt I feel right now has to do with the difficulty of going places in the winter months. It’s been a raw winter in some respects. And because it has been tough to run in some conditions, I barely stayed ahead of the fat tsunami this winter.

They say you can’t outrun or outride your appetite, and it’s true. My mouth gets the biggest workout every day unless I put a governor on it. So there’s guilt about what and how I eat as well.

Beyond the workout schedule, guilt lurks around every corner of life. This past weekend we got home at 9:00 from a nice dinner out at Cooper’s Hawk, a wine and dinner club a few towns away. We dined and drank some nice wines on the graces of a gift certificate given to us for our wedding last May. So there was no guilt about the cost of that dinner.

We were happy and actually pushed away the last two glasses of wine and had the server put them back in the bottle to carry home. It wasn’t in our interest to get overserved. Besides, I had to drive.

But when we got home, my daughter and her beau were hanging out in the kitchen and in the mood to talk. They’re living with us as they save up for things and it is wonderful. They asked if we’d like to play some funny board games that night, but we were tired from the day’s workouts and the full meal, so we headed to bed.

And I felt guilty about that. Guilty about other things too, like whether I’ve handled things well over the last few years on a number of fronts. Financial. Social. Family. Cultural. Work. Freelance. Art. Writing. Getting out in nature. Getting fat. Getting getting getting. Getting getting. Guilty.

Guilt is the one consistent thing in all those worries. I do know better. I turn over some of that guilt in prayer. Not for relief of the guilt, necessarily, but for understanding. So what is the source of all that guilt?

Oh, the definition is so harsh:

guilt: the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.

That is the legalistic definition. There is much more nuance to guilt than hard definition. Sure enough, the secondary definition describes it much better:

guilt: a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong,etc., whether real or imagined.

Mallard Ripples.pngI’m even guilty about how that “i” in the definition above somehow doesn’t link up with the rest of the word. It’s a glitch from having copied it over from to WordPress, that I can’t control. Yet I can’t help feeling guilty about it.

My proofreading of this blog often sucks. I read it through and miss a couple mistakes and publish anyway due to time constraints. Then I see the mistakes and want to kick myself for letting that out there in the world. Part of the reason for those mistakes is the time constraint tension that comes with blogging between all the other expectations and responsibilities of life. So I wind up rushing through the writing and leave no time for the proofing.

I’m guilty of that, for sure. Many times over.

The only defense anyone of us has against guilt is forgiveness. A counselor once told me, “You seem to be good at forgiving others. How are you at forgiving yourself?”

She stunned me. She was right. That area of life needs improvement and constant work. I feel guilty about many things. For example: Not being ready to retire when several of my college friends and former teammates have millions saved up. I feel guilty about little things and big things alike. It all raises the question of guilt in big, bold letters:


The plain answer is, you have to make choices in life. Not all of them are going to turn out the way you’d like. So finding your priorities and working on those is the first step to a healthier attitude.

For some of the guilty factors in your life, we need to write them down on a piece of paper and really consider what we’re doing in our own heads.

Guilt is destructive. It results in repression. It hangs the noose of lost opportunity or squandered resources around your neck. It fuels warped versions of religion and drives already egotistical politicians to an even worse lack of conscience. Guilt is the terror of failure and its lingering outcomes.

As for athletes, guilt may make us get out of bed, but it can’t necessarily make us better. That motivation has to come from a genuine desire to ‘enjoy the process’ because it feels right and good and true to do so. When you are enjoying the process, gratitude for the ability follows. With gratitude comes a deeper enjoyment and a sense of purpose. Then you are able to self-actualize, and not feel guilty for it because your choices are founded in more than surface decisions.

Then, when guilt strikes again, you have a line of defense against feelings that drag you down, make you depressed or dwelling in fear. Guilt comes from confusion over what we want in life.

To prove it, here is the final definition of guilt. It will seem more constructive and helpful now that we’ve been through our little guilt journey:

Guilt: to cause to feel guilty (often followed by out or into): She totally guilted me out, dude. He guilted me into picking up the tab. See also guilt-trip.

That is what we do to ourselves and others when we let guilt lead us where we should not go. Guilt is real, and it can’t be eradicated entirely, and should not be. That is where lack of conscience resides. Not a good place.
As for this moment, I literally have a little kitty sitting in my lap right now. He’s a soft little guy who loves the warmth of a good lap. But sooner or later I need to get up and get ready for work. And to that point, one need not feel guilty about doing so. There will be another writing session soon enough. Another warm lap for the kitty to claim. Guilt does not need to rule the moment.
So being guilty over having to move on in life is not where we need to be. Nor is having to make cold decisions over warm kitties. Give yourself a break, for God’s sake. You don’t have to be guilty about everything. Nor should you be.


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Getting Felt up and still riding

IMG_235EB6BB5D5E-1 2.jpeg

Two years ago in October I drove into the garage of my house with my Felt 4C bike still perched on the roof of my Subaru. It bent the front fork but as it turned out, the main frame of the bike is fine. I was thinking about a change anyway. I had saved up to purchase a new bike and bought a Specialized Venge Expert that I’ve ridden for two seasons. It races great, but the geometry can be a little aggressive for rides of four hours or more.

So my plan is to restore the get the Felt up and riding again.

The new front fork just arrived, and cost about $250. I also need a new crankset and front derailleur since that setup migrated to the Waterford when I fixed up that bike a year ago. The Waterford frame is a bit small for me since it was originally owned by my brother-in-law who stands 5’10”. I’m 6’1.5″. But the bike rides so smooth I’ll sometimes perch on it with the setup configured or my height and enjoy the sensation of that classic ride.

Felt Bike ShinyYet as I stared at the frame of that Felt the last year I started thinking about bringing it back on line. It will cost about $600 to do so, but I kept the wheels and handlebars, seat stem and seat. It should not take that much work to get it back and running.

It’s fun to have a couple options on which to ride. I figure that will increase my enthusiasm and make every ride feel like it is new again. Why not enjoy a little variety in life? Getting the Felt up and riding again just sounds like a good idea. Let the Red Rocket return!


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Fireball rally

IMG_0306In the never-ending battle to tame my gut at both the appetite and girth level, I’ve lately engaged in a test on the ingestion front. Thanks to my brother-in-law Paul, who likes what he likes and that’s that, I am now a consistent consumer of Atomic FireBalls.

You probably know that candy. They are coated with some fiery hot substance on the exterior, and from there on in they’re basically a chunk of really hard sugar. And that is why they’ll have to go.

It’s too bad. My little experiment in combatting flavor boredom has been rather fun. Sucking on a red-hot cinnamon FireBall really takes your mind off being hungry. Cinnamon is a highly distracting flavor in general. It’s like the horseradish of candy store fare.

Trump Porn StarI used to keep my church offering to buy really hot cinnamon candies at the People’s Drug Store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There would always be a rush of guilt turning over the quarters I was supposed to give to God to buy cinnamon redhots at the drug store. But that first burst of hot cinnamon washed away guilt as fast as the company of that porn star hired by Donald Trump to take his mind off being married yet again. It’s true that Trump’s attorney paid the girl out of his own pocket, but that’s a joke unto itself. Literal or metaphorical?

So I’m not bragging about my current little sinful habit of eating FireBalls. I know it is a temporary solution. I also own a Fireball Rum tee-shirt. It’s rather adult in its context but also rather childish in its taste. You’re only young once but you can be immature forever.

So I not defending my youthful propensity for trading offerings to God for cinnamon. I still think that was a fair trade. Perhaps it is no coincidence that those cinnamon candies were hot as hell. Satan travels many paths to invite us to eternal damnation.

Which is why I’ll be seeking other alternatives to blank out the cravings of my hungry gut through dissociative snacking. For a week or so I dined on chipotle or honey-roasted  sunflower seeds. They only have 2gm of sugar, 120 mg of sodium and total carbs of 7g per serving. That was all good. But they turned my crap into a constant commitment of unmanageable levels of gruel. I was way tooo regular.

So I’ve enjoyed my little FireBall Rally as a respite from reality. It’s time to move on to something less sugary again. Perhaps I’ll just buy one of those rawhide things from Pet Supplies Plus, and gnaw on that through the mid-morning hours.

And if that doesn’t work, I’ll just pay the devil straight up like I almost did when I was a little kid. It seems to work for Trump. Why not me?


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Clockwise and counterclockwise

Some of the graphic elements did not respond correctly and the version was messed up. Here’s the corrected version.

We Run and Ride

Track from above Photo of a running track taken while approaching Midway Airport southwest of Chicago.

When you think about it, there’s no real reason the hands of a clock rotate ‘clockwise.’ The same result could be achieved if the hands were to move in the other direction, known as ‘counterclockwise.’ But it’s tradition. So we live with it.

The same goes for the direction we run on a track. That is counterclockwise by tradition. I took a chance and looked up discussion about the reasons why we run in that direction on a track. You might have some fun clicking through to that link. People really bring strange stuff to the table.

There are always weird theories that pop up in such discussions. In case you don’t want to sift through the lot of them, here’s one of the ideas about why we run in a ‘lefterly’ direction from a Quora commentator who…

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Clockwise and counterclockwise


Track from above

Photo of a running track taken while approaching Midway Airport southwest of Chicago.

When you think about it, there’s no real reason the hands of a clock rotate ‘clockwise.’ The same result could be achieved if the hands were to move in the other direction, known as ‘counterclockwise.’ But it’s tradition. So we live with it.

The same goes for the direction we run on a track. That is counterclockwise by tradition. I took a chance and looked up discussion about the reasons why we run in that direction on a track. You might have some fun clicking through to that link. People really bring strange stuff to the table.

There are always weird theories that pop up in such discussions. In case you don’t want to sift through the lot of them, here’s one of the ideas about why we run in a ‘lefterly’ direction from a Quora commentator who lists himself as: ” Soumyajit Das, is interested in fitness, foreign policy, snipers, guns”

Soumayjit says: “It’s believed to be easier for righties, who make up the majority of world population, to run in a counterclockwise motion. Putting their right foot forward and leaning into a turn feels more comfortable and provides more power and balance than the reverse direction, say physicists.”

If we were to believe that, the world of track and field is discriminatory by nature against left-handed people. Is that how we want to think about the sport of track?

I never used to run clockwise for almost any reason on a track. It felt weird. We dedicated tracksters didn’t see the need for it. But when I started to manage a sports complex a couple decades ago, people requested the right to run alternate nights in each direction to help them balance their indoor running. So that became our policy.

That’s the supposed rule at the Vaughn Center indoor track where Monday-Wednesday and Friday are supposed to be ‘clockwise’ days. Tuesday and Thursday are counterclockwise days. And almost no one pays attention to those guidelines.

Track Turn.jpgThe coaches of middle school, high school and college athletes who bring their teams or clinic to work out certainly do not abide by the alternating direction rules. Having their athletes practice in a clockwise direction while preparing for indoor track competitions in a counterclockwise direction makes no sense.

But to stipulate that clockwise direction on the track three days a week out of five makes triple no sense.

So the coaches ignore the rule. Thus the 20 or so teenaged girls who train with their coach Julio all run in a counterclockwise direction every morning. When I asked Julio what he thought about the rules posted on the wall, he shook his head in disgust and said, “No one pays attention to that.”

There is also a local high school team from Aurora Christian that holds morning practices on the track. They do their warmup drills in a clockwise direction, but that’s about it. The rest of their workouts are done in counterclockwise direction.

The Aurora University track team practice there as well. One of the women milers does do some running in clockwise direction now and then. But when doing hard training, she runs in the counterclockwise direction. She’s capable of times in the range of 5:00 for the mile and is a joy to watch as I do my own sets of intervals. Occasionally she’ll catch and pass me. Her stride is smooth and clean. Yesterday her coach paced her through a few laps and I could not help being jealous of their youthful ease. But they run in a counterclockwise direction, of course.

I’ve done some workouts with friends running in the clockwise direction. There are reasons why runners choose that option. Some runners have troubles training in the same direction all the time. Overuse injuries are common in long-distance training, particularly among people who only run and don’t do strength-work or other injury prevention. The repetition of turning left-only for multiple laps can wear on the hips, hamstrings, knees and feet. That’s why many runners choose to switch and run the opposite direction.

Feet On Track.jpgThe first few times I did clockwise workouts it really bugged me. Forty years of running in the “right” direction around the track (which is actually ‘left’ when you think about it) has built quite a habit of counterclockwise running. I think about all those years of spinning 400s on outdoor and indoor track and the concept is dizzying. Is running counterclockwise an addiction of sorts?

The practice of counterclockwise running started quite young. My first experience was doing a 12:00 time trial in 7th-grade gym class. That track was made of cinders, and my gym shoes were hardly built for running. Yet I so clearly recall the sensation––a liberation really–– of running hard and steady for more than eight laps.

img_0996That was counterclockwise, of course. It set the stage for many years of competitive running to follow. Then in eighth grade at a different middle school,  refused to play badminton in gym class and the PE instructor tried to punish me by running the entire hour of gym class. So run I did. Around the gym floor, then up a set of stairs to the balcony and back down the other side. I ran with fury inside me, counterclockwise and petulant and defiant all at once. I was a messed up kid in some ways, feverish with resistance to authority from the situation at home. But at least I had running to cure me.

Throughout high school and college, I continued running.  I cherish thoughts of those cool spring evenings on an all-weather track. No wind and the smell of worms on the track.

And hot summer afternoons when the track became a mirage. Around and around I went. Counterclockwise and focused.

I cherished racing at midnight during All-Comers meets at North Central College when I’d join dozens of other runners trying to set PRs or get qualifying marks for national meets. We’d line up together and whip around the track in a counterclockwise direction. I realize now that time stood still even as the seconds ticked away.

To this day I relish getting up on my toes to run on the sweet indoor surface at the Vaughn Center. The leg turnover. The lean into the turns. The final forty yards where pain rides me to the finish. That may never change no matter how slow I someday get.

I’m older, and wear orthotics to balance out my foot placement and the biomechanics of running. So I’m not as light and fast afoot as I once was. Yet two days ago I still ran 8 X 400 ago at 1:37-1:40 per 400. That’s about 6:20 per mile pace, just a little slower than the speed I ran back in the spring of 1970, when I was in 7th grader in gym class at Martin Meylin Junior High in Lampeter, Pennsylvania.

So I guess that means we can be clockwise as runners even while we run counterclockwise. Because while it would be nice in some ways to be able to turn back time and run my peak times again, that’s not really possible. So the best we can do is turn back time by running as fast as we can in any direction, at any age. And hope that everything continues to turn out all right.

Posted in race pace, racing peak, running | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Not exactly razor sharp

Razors.jpgI recall a workout during my peak competitive years in which the plan was to do a track session of 8 X 400M at a pace of 60-63 seconds each. I was sharpening for a track race in which my goal was to set a 5K PR. That goal was accomplished during a midnight run with 25 other competitors in an All-Comers meet. I felt razor sharp.

If we’re smart and lucky, we have those moments in our career when we feel razor sharp. But typically, they’re few and far between. It’s difficult to reach peak fitness and keep it there. It’s a temporary state unfortunately.

More typically, we lump along trying to find moments of that razor sharp feeling during the daily grind. We might be innocently trotting along at nine-minute pace and suddenly feel the world slide into place. We pick up the pace, dropping down to 8:00 per mile, then 7:00. It’s inexplicable really, why our bodies sometimes just line up with the carbon of being.

Guilt factors

A few years back, when I wasn’t competing that much due to caregiving responsibilities for both my late wife and father, it was all I could do just to keep life in order, much less make much room for high-level fitness. There were guilt factors involved in all this. It’s hard to train toward peak fitness when the ones you love are suffering from illness or disability.

Still, I rode like a madman one of those summers and my weight dropped all the way down to 163 lbs. Some people complimented my lean state while others asked if I wassick. With my shaved bald head and hyper-lean frame, perhaps I looked like a chemo patient? Maybe so.

That’s how it is with so many things in this world. We keep up appearances for what we think will impress others and in the very same moment, people are thinking the exact opposite. It’s no wonder some of us self-medicate at some point. The only way to deal with the emotional detritus is to numb it down like novocaine under our teeth.

While going through all the bathroom detritus this morning, I found a couple bottles of Hydrocodone that had I never used up during recovery from surgery. I’m sure those have a market somewhere, but who wants to explore that? I’m going to bring them to the medicine deposit drop off so someone can dispose of them properly.


These dramas over what to keep and what to remove from our lives compete for attention in our heads. Life becomes a clutter of options and opinions about what you choose to believe. In the midst of all that, we succumb to our appetites for even more stuff and things and food. We collect shit we don’t need, and at times can hardly remember what we really value.

Daily necessities

All this came to mind when I cleaned out the bathroom shelf where the daily necessities and occasional emergency needs are kept. I recently subscribed to the online razor delivery service with Harry’s. So I have what I need now to shave my face. But damned if I didn’t have a box full of alternatives in the bathroom cabinet.

I know how they got there. During those years of caregiving I often had difficulty keeping up with my own needs. That meant I’d show up at the store looking for things like razors. I’d stare at the racks and try to figure out if I had a Schick or Gillette handle back home. The packs of razors were $12 or something and I didn’t want to buy the wrong kind for the handle. So I wound up buying a handle.

This happened several times over. My thinking wasn’t exactly thinking razor sharp in those moments. Then I’d get home to find out that the handle I bought was a newer model than the last, or had a different configuration than the blades I already had. Finally Schick came out with models that looked and worked exactly like the permanent-style handles they sold, but were disposable.

The American Way

I know. It’s so stupid. But it’s the American Way when you think about it. Unplanned obsolescence is the way many businesses sell us more shit. It also happens with running shoes and bikes, swim goggles and wetsuits. We wind up getting more than we need almost by accident. It’s one of the tarsnakes of existence.

It’s hard to stay razor sharp edge on all this. It’s hard to be so organized you don’t wind up with doubles or triples of everything when it comes to sunglasses and other equipment. I even own a huge set of Oakley Razor sunglasses and earpieces but have no centerpiece  that holds them together because they all broke years ago. They were given to me by my brother-in-law and are so Retro Cool they’d be fun to wear.

But where do you find a 1980s-era Oakley Razor lens holder? I looked online with no success. Do those still exist on the aftermarket? Would appreciate knowing if anyone can tell me. It would be fun to look and think Razor sharp this summer.



Posted in injury, race pace, racing peak, riding, running, swimming, Tarsnakes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ahead of the times


Indoor riding.jpg

Riding the indoor trainer while looking out the window of our 1764 N. Clark apartment, Chicago

The apartment my best buddy and I shared (way back when) on 1764 N. Clark Street had a view overlooking the south end of Lincoln Park in Chicago. Three seasons of the year it was the best place in the world to live and train. There were lakefront trails on which to run, and hundreds of runners to join in the fun.


But come winter. It got rough. The early 1980s were a particularly cold period in the city’s history. Temps dropped down to -27 degrees and the snows were deep and slushy for weeks on end.

To combat these challenges, I trained when I could on indoor tracks. But there were times when I wasn’t able to get there and faced the prospect of going out to run on a wickedly cold night. I did it quite often. But there would be nights when the idea of going out the door was stupid and frankly abhorrent. So I just said Screw It.

To make up the lost training time, I’d purchased a MagTurbo cycling trainer. I mounted my super-heavy Columbia 10-speed on that trainer and sat on that thing spinning and pumping for an hour or two at a time. It was inefficient and loud. Sweat would stream off my body as I pedaled in front of the windows overlooking Lincoln Park. I’d watch the callgirls climbing out of limousines and the taxis picking up drunken patrons out front of Giordano’s Pizza.

It was warmer inside than out. But not by that much. Our stingy landlord ignored almost every code about heating the building. He refused to turn up the heat in our building. I later learned from him that he also refused to come inside his lover because he felt it gave her power over him.

So it was cold as snot in that apartment when the weather got cold. Some nights it dropped under fifty degrees in that apartment.

Well, the idea of cross-training with indoor cycling was new in the running community at that time. Triathlon was just gaining traction across the world. The likes of Dave Scott and Mark Allen and Scott Tinley had just made their marks. I was curious about triathlon but was too busy training for pure distance running to add any more hours to the workout schedule. Triathlon would have to wait. The pure sport of running still called.

That MagTurbo trainer that I used back then still sits somewhere in my basement. Over the years it has been put to use at times. It is somewhat unique and functional in its design. The front wheel forks are mounted on a front bar and spindle. It was really a stable setup.

I used that indoor trainer all the way through 1987 or so. But by the time I was through competing in all-out distance running, I’d gotten married and our first child was on the way. That made me decide to back off training in general. Plus I needed to concentrate on what the world demanded of me, and for some strange reason, it did not seem to care that I was something of a sub-elite runner. In fact, many a world-class runner from that era can tell you, it wasn’t even easy (or barely practical) for the real elites to make a living in the game.

I did work in a running store for a year or two. That part of my running career felt like I was part of something special. The store sponsored a team. We got free Nike gear and deeply discounted shoes for racing at least 12 times a year. I raced 24 times and won twelve of those races. So I did my time the right way.

And that’s why I was pedaling my ass off in our Clark Street apartment in the thick of winter in both 1983 and ’84. I felt there was something to prove, and the only way to keep the training up was to raise the heart rate the best way possible.

It helped to be obsessed in those days. In 1981 or so, I’d read the John Irving book Hotel New Hampshire. There was a wrestling coach in the book whose advice to his athletes was, “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.” 

Easier than it sounds, yet my obsession was complete. But it did not make life any easier. I was late on the rent payments a few times while trying to scratch out a living and protect time for training. There was a Don Quixote-like quality to jousting with athletic success beyond college. When I said that to my mother several years later, she corrected me. “You were focused. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Three decades later I still get up on the bike in the middle of winter to train. My ass still hurts at first like it did back then. I was forty pounds lighter then, and a helluva lot faster at my athletic peak. So while I’m not as obsessed as I once was about fitness, I still care a lot. It’s still fun to push and compete at whatever opportunities I choose, or that come my way.

But I’ve learned a few things about pedaling in place. It doesn’t get you anywhere, but it can take you out of a funk and keep you in the game of life. We were ahead of the times a bit back when we bought those MagTurbos. There’s nothing super-new under the sun, for things like that have not changed much. The bikes may be better these days, but it’s still a human being that needs to turn the pedals.

That’s worth reminding ourselves during every pedal stroke on a cold winter night in February. It’s all about moving even when you’re not going anywhere in particular. Ride on, folks. And may the Pain Cave be with you.

Posted in running, track and field, training, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment