February thaw and feeling it for real

Today might have been a nice day to get out and play on the roads. The February thaw we’ve been waiting for began in earnest this morning. Temps hit forty-four degrees. The 21″ snowbanks are sagging now. The earth welcomes the moisture or it runs down the gutters into the run off systems. The river two miles away will carry salt for weeks. I always wonder if the fish can taste it.

The cardinals have begun singing in our neighborhood. They like to perch in the morning sun in the most obvious possible spot.A few years back, I painted this image of a cardinal in early spring, one of my favorite times of the year.

Northern Cardinal in Spring by Christopher Cudworth

These days my approach to spring is considerably different than it once was. Two days ago the faint smell of sun in winter air reminded me of doing an indoor track meet in Sterling years ago. It was time to test my state of fitness before the racing season began in March with the Shamrock Shuffle, a five mile road race that kicked off the racing year in the Chicago area. I ran a 9:28 indoor two-mile and felt pretty solid about the effort. But the weather never warmed up that year and we wound up racing five miles in sixteen-degree temperatures in a race that looped around Montrose Point with the freezing winds whipping off Lake Michigan.

I managed to run 26:15 that day. Not fast, but the winds were so fierce and cold all I wanted to do was get the race over. If memory serves, I got about sixteenth place.

These days there are no pressures to race so early in the season. Of course last year, the surge of the pandemic canceled races starting in March. The previous year, we raced in the Champion of Trees 10K t Morton Arboretum. At the mile point, it started snowing like mad. Big, white flakes that melted when they hit your face and eyelids. I love sensations like that. Any more, it’s one of the big reasons I find to race. Being in the moment.

We did race a few times last year, which produced sensations both good and bad. Doing an Olympic distance tri in the heat of Springfield in July? Hmmmm. Racing a Half Ironman on a cool September day in Madison, Wisconsin? That was an “in the moment day” all around. First ever finish at that distance.

The last race was an Olympic over in Muncie. I was grateful for all three safe opportunities to get out there and “feel it” for real. That’s my goal whatever I’m going. What are your goals this year?

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, race pace, racing peak, running, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A diverse kind of workout (Part II)

Going into the mural project this week, I estimated that the main 45-foot wall would take three days to complete. That projection was based on prior projects of relatively similar size. Even so, what I did not anticipate is the energy it took to execute this work. Here’s a video of the first portion. I have a few smaller walls to render early next week.

A postcard-style rendering of the word Chicago, a take admittedly borrowed from mural painters who tour the country doing this type of work. “Beginning artists copy…mature artists steal.” –Unknown

I’m fairly fit right now even in the middle of winter. I recently explained to a middle school gym class where I served as a substitute teacher that my resting heart rate is between 45-50. They had all just taken their own pulse rates that morning. When I asked them what they thought my HR would be, one of them guessed “100”! That’s probably how old they think I am. You know how it is when you’re that age. Anyone with gray hair or a bald head might as well be a thousand years old. Old People are just that: Old.

I’m not that old in terms of relative physical health. My blood pressure is typically 110/78 or so. Sometimes it’s up if I’ve been rushed or stressed going to the doctor’s office, but that’s normal. Our bodies respond to environmental and mental pressures.

Those kids kept guessing my heart rate as I gestured “DOWN” with my thumb as it went from 90 to80 to 70…and 60…then they started getting suspicious. They were all sitting in their assigned spots in the gym and one boy spun around to look at me and said, “Sixty? You’re half dead!”

I said, “Lower!” and gestured again with my thumb.

“Fifty?” one girl quietly asked. I stood still a moment for effect. Then I said, “45. That’s what my heart rate was last night.”

That drew a rolling wave of groans and weird noises from the class. “The lowest it’s ever gotten,” I told them. “Was 38.”

The central part of the mural.

Big eye rolls. I went on to explain. “I’m a runner. And a cyclist. And I swim. So my heart is trained from years of exercise. You can do that too…” That made me stop and think about all the other activity life calls upon us. Walking the dog…in my case, that’s a mile and a half every day. Climbing stairs…my Garmin clocks those trips and gives me a GOAL! when I’ve hit ten per day. And steps…the Garmin also measures that. Usually more than 10,000 a day, far higher when I run.

Who knows if sharing my experience made any sort of positive impression on the kids. I do know that one young girl turned to me and asked, “Are you a sub?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Because our regular teacher is mean,” she informed me. “And you’re nice.” So I guess some sort of impression got through. I guess that’s a message to all the gym teachers out there. Have a heart.

As far as I’m concerned, my little old heart is doing a good job inside my chest. My body also does most of what I ask of it. Granted, I’m about half as fast as I once was as a runner. That’s a natural part of the aging process. None of us stays speedy forever.

That said, I could feel that coming home from the mural project each day resulted in a different kind of “tired.” My wife could see it in me. The effort. The mental concentration. The physicality of climbing up and down ladders, checking my balance and holding the palette on a thumb injured in my bike accident weeks ago. The painting motion itself is a physical task. It all took a bit of measured effort.

Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t sad that I was tired each. Grateful, more like, that I can still do the things I like to do. Happy that while I’ve banged up my body through years of exertion and athletics it still gets the job done. I collapsed on the couch a bit before dinner, soaking in the satisfying sensation of working hard and having something to show for it. I love that feeling. Live for it. I didn’t run or bike or swim all week. But I didn’t really need to. My wife sensed it too.

What I’m telling you is that while our running, riding, and swimming is important to us, it’s not the only thing that should fulfill us either. Having diverse interests is a different kind of workout, but it is healthy in so many respects.

Posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, bike crash, Christopher Cudworth, cycling, running | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A different kind of workout

Over the last two days my entire focus is on a mural project that I’m creating for a restaurant. The wall on which it is painted is thirty-five feet wide. I stand on a step-ladder to reach the upper parts of the mural. Up and down the ladder I got, mixing paints and cleaning brushes. By day’s end I’m fairly exhausted.

One half of the mural in progress.

I’m not getting athletically fitter or improving aerobically, but it is satisfying work nonetheless. The mural is separated into a Chicago side and a Lombard side. Tying the two together creative is the main focus of the project.

This is all acrylic paint, the medium in which I’ve worked for forty-plus years. It mixes with water, not turpentine, so it’s the easiest to use.

Working at this scale is not unfamiliar to me. Way back in college I painted a set of murals for the Lake Meyer Nature Center in Calmar, Iowa. Each was 4′ x 8′ and focused on different habitats. As far as I know, those still stand in the facility.

Following this project, I have another one coming up with another restaurant. This burst of opportunity is greatly appreciated, and came about when I noticed a posting on a friend’s Facebook page. I’ve been covered in paint and pastel for days now.

When this is done, I’ll get in some good runs and swims, maybe some outdoor riding if the weather moderates. But right now, I’m plenty tired when I get home at night.

If you’d like to follow more of my work and even get involved in a live painting event soon, I’ve opened a site at Patreon.com/christophercudworth where my art and nature work will be featured.

For right now, this is sure a different kind of workout.

Posted in nature, running | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Feeling out of shape? Hang in there

We all know the feeling. A touch of flab around the waist. Tight pants. Sluggish on the run. Unmotivated and defeated by the cold.

Hang in there. It doesn’t last forever.

We miss a few workouts due to work obligations. It’s okay.

The scale shows a few extra pounds. That’s okay too.

The weather is too cold in northern North America. Too hot in Australia.

Be patient. Hang in there.

Maybe a nagging injury won’t let up. Think alternative training. Hang in there.

While recovering from my ACL surgery, I took it literally a step at a time. Walked a half mile. Then a mile. Then three miles. Ventured a few jogging steps. In a few months, I was running again.

Feeling out of shape? You can do it. Hang in there.

You know it’s worth it. You know you can do it. Keep the faith.

There will come a day soon enough when you feel like going those extra miles. Extra minutes.

Hang in there. You won’t feel out of shape forever. Not if you don’t quit.

So don’t. Quit.

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Life is one big classroom

Subbing for a physical education teacher today.

On the subject of teaching, the cynics of the world are sometimes quoted as saying, “Those who don’t know how to do, teach.”

That irony of that dichotomous reality is ably captured in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, in which Richard Dreyfuss plays a music teacher caught in the vise of budget cuts late in his career. His situation is compounded by the irony that his buddy at the school is a PE teacher whose programs will remain intact.

The backstory is that while teaching is his profession, it is not Mr. Holland’s deepest passion. His main goal in life is to compose great music of his own. The “Opus” takes all his career to complete because his teaching obligations, and life itself, keep getting in the way. The work he ultimately produces is a symphonic piece combining classical, marching band and rock music. It all ends with a triumphal crescendo, an exclamation point of musical urgency and relief.

The movie ends with a scene in which Mr. Holland is invited to conduct his own music in a concert secretly arranged by his many supporters and former students. These include the Governor of the state, who credits her success in life to the methods by which Mr. Holland taught her perseverance through music training. The point is that Mr. Holland’s Opus was not just a piece of music. It was the many lives he affected in positive ways during all his years of teaching. That was the real symphony he created, a great work composed of many parts.

So the cynical saying that teachers teach because they can’t “do” is an outrageous and insulting lie.

I’ve been told many times that I should have been a teacher. It suits my nature. I love sharing ideas and helping other people succeed. The ironic truth is that those qualities are not necessarily appreciated in the corporate world, where competition for recognition and claiming ownership of ideas, especially moneymaking ideas, are more highly valued traits.

Perhaps teaching runs in my blood. My mother was a teacher for decades. My eldest brother taught for 30 years. My late wife taught special education and then preschool. As a result of these associations and community connections, I’ve been in many classrooms over the years. Most recently, I’ve been a mentor and presenter for the INCubator business program at our local high school.

As mentor for the INCubator program at a local high school

It’s fun working with those kids. It is also instructional to share in the pressures that students face these days in and out of the classroom.

I’ve signed up to do substitute teaching and help out our local school districts. School teachers are dealing with the effects of the pandemic in many ways, so my assignments are diverse. My first day was a daylong schedule of physical education classes. It’s not your traditional gym class these days. The kids choose options such as Walking Gym, Four-Square or basketball.

As I was monitoring one of the Four-Square sessions I noticed that a shy boy wound up as the “fourth” with a group of three girls. He wasn’t too keen on that situation, and quietly muttered to me, hoping to get out of the group, “I don’t really know the rules.” I stepped into the square with him explained strategy, then looked at all three girls and said, “Help him out, okay?” Then I turned to him and said, “It’s all good. They’re just people…with longer hair.” He gave a quick smile and nod. From there, he relaxed and got into the game. It was one of the more productive games among the six or seven going on in the gymn.

Many of us recall moments like that in which teachers helped us break through insecurities, fears, and misgivings. Some were tough influences when we needed a kick in the butt. Others were gentle guides when we needed encouragement. It takes a village.

There are also unintentional teaching moments that happen along the way. When my 8th-grade gym teacher sentenced me to run the whole hour when I refused to play badminton, he had no way of knowing that his “punishment” would turn into a lifelong love of mine. I felt so alive running for a full hour. Probably it was the first time in life when I ran the anxiety right out of my system. Those two weeks of “punishment” helped make me into a runner for life.

Probably if I had become a teacher long ago I’d now be retired. That might be nice, but we each must run the race set out before us. We can’t change the course of our past. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t run a new course if we so choose, and forge ahead.

I like to teach. I’m doing it in all phases of my life these days. Our Opus is what we make it. No one can write it for us. Nor should they. Life is one big classroom. Let’s learn together. Along with a will to teach, it is great when people adopt an attitude of lifelong learning.

On that note…if you’re interested in getting a tri or runner coach I’m going to help out a few people this year at an affordable rate. Email cudworthfix@gmail.com if you want to improve your training and performance. I know how to help.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, running, track and field, training, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We’ve all got our swimming crosses to bear

Today in the pool I swam next to two guys doing 100-meter repeats. One was clearly faster than the other, a tall gent who wore fins to keep up with his buddy. The faster swimmer alternated strokes from freestyle to breaststroke, butterfly to backstroke. That capacity for multiple strokes is the sign of an actual swimmer, one that has likely competed in either high school of college. There are still plenty of Master’s swimmers who keep at it as well, and when I see one of those older guys or gals doing multiple strokes in the pool, I tend to study their form. They typically know what they’re doing. We can all learn from each other.

Swimming background

Growing up, I swam at the Meadia Heights swimming pool south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We had a local swim league and I rode around in sweltering cars with other kids to attend meets in Willow Street and other small towns. We ate Jello packets for energy and I learned how to do a flip turn somewhere along the way. I swam freestyle, breastroke and backstroke. Never much butterfly.

Once we moved to Illinois when I was twelve, all that swimming experience went away. There were no public pools within miles of our house in Elburn. Our home did have an above-ground circular pool in our backyard. In winter it would freeze over. Come spring we’d have to catch the toads that somehow got into the pool, then siphon out all those little insects called backswimmers. Once the pool was clean, usually not until late June of so, we’d invite some girls over to see them in their 1970s bikinis. Um, yeah.

Even if there had been a full-scale pool in Illinois, I don’t think I’d have continued in competitive swimming. My focus in sports was on baseball at that age. Our coach in Lancaster did not even allow us to go swimming on game days. That was a wise thing, because swimming all day in the drains the energy out of you fast.

By the time I hit junior high, I played basketball all winter. In high school it was cross country and track in fall and spring. There would have been no time for swimming.

So I didn’t start swimming again until my late 50s. It has been an interesting journey, but one that has its rewards too.

I only swam 1000 yards today, but swam it all at 80-90% effort. The workout started with one 200 yard swim at 3:46 and six 100s at a 1:50 pace. To finish off, I swam four 50s at just under 50 seconds. By the standards of most serious swimmers, that’s not much of a workout by. It only took me 20 minutes. That’s about the same general effort as running three miles. I do that with some frequency too. We shouldn’t diminish the value of any effort. It all adds up to something.

My swim form has improved enough that recent efforts over 1600 yards are encouraging. A week ago I swam under 33:00 for a mile. My goal is getting under 30:00 before we head to open water swimming in the spring.

Improvement is what all of us are shooting for in this multisport/triathlon game. Incremental gains. This morning, my wife ran a series of 400M repeats on the indoor track and averaged under 7:45 pace on all of them. Even a year ago that would have been tough for her. Watching her running improve is a fun thing to share.

We all try to improve where we can and at the rate that’s possible if we keep at it. While changing in the locker room after swimming I could heard the faster swim guys talking loudly in the shower. One of them said, “I try to swim 10,000 yards three times a week.” He went on to explain that when he swims in competitions, he makes sure to shave his body. “When I feel smooth, man, I feel faster,” he enthused. Then he added. “Once a year, I shave my back for one of the bigger meets. But a few days later it gets so itchy I could die.”

We’ve all got our crosses to bear. Some of them come from a razor and some hair.

Posted in 400 meter intervals, 400 workouts, Christopher Cudworth, cross country, running, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wear patterns say plenty about us

While walking the dog this morning I looked down to see my footprints in the fresh layer of snow that fell overnight. The shoes I was wearing are Timberland boots that I’ve owned for five years. They’re still in solid shape, largely waterproof and comfortable in all kinds of conditions.

These days, without need for office time due to Covid-19, the Timberlands are my daily “go to” shoes. They “go” with everything in my jeans closet. They even go with more formal jeans that are a step up from the many colored denims stacked in my closet. We’ll get back to wearing those someday, we hope…

The Timberlands get so much wear that the heel of the Vibram sole is now worn smooth. You can see that effect in the tracks they make in the fresh snow.

That footprint in the snow also shows how I push off with the forefoot while walking. That’s why the snow is removed beneath that part of my foot. On the other leg, my right foot slightly rotates slightly beneath me, leaving a twisting pattern in the snow, the result of compensating for a slightly shorter right leg. On that side my foot sweats more too, because it’s working harder.

I’m pleased that the footprints I leave are clean from front to back. That means I’m walking with integrity. The fact that there are no long scuffs behind each footprint says the gait is clean. My feet also point straight forward, a habit/technique adopted way back in the 1970s when I first started running and read about the importance of not “toeing out” in a Sports Illustrated article on running form.

Back when distance ace Bill Rodgers was dominating the American marathon scene, I recall that when asked what he thought about while running, his response reflected a mindset of attention to detail. “I wanted to everything right,” he observed. He even focused on how he carried his hands.

I can’t help it. I think about these things while out walking or running. Yesterday while walking our dog up the path I cut with the snowblower, I thought about the fact that the things we did yesterday so often impact the way things go today. Yet there’s no going back to fix them. So it pays to walk right the first time, if you can manage it. There’s a life philosophy for you.

I’ll not pretend to be perfect in any way. My character flaws equalize my attempts to live in a state of studied concentration. As such, these wear patterns that start from the ground up reflect both the good and the bad in our world. Perhaps you even find yourself out in the world and you may ask yourself, in Talking Heads fashion…Well, how did I get here?

The answer is: one step at a time. Every one of those steps contributes to the wear pattern of your existence. We also have wear patterns of the mind and emotions. Those of us who wrestle with anxiety slips sometimes from fear to determination and back. If depression catches up to those feelings of anxiety, we run hard just to stay in place some days.

There are triggers to all of that. Wear patterns in our conscious and unconscious minds. Past failures. Current challenges. Those rub our minds raw in places. It can be hard to get a grip on what’s real in terms of fear and what’s only imagined. Sometimes the best thing you can do it literally put your feet up and give your mind time to think.

But I’ve spent so much time around the house of late that over the weekend the thing I needed most was to get out and move.

On Saturday, I ran six miles at 8:40 pace. That’s a relatively hard run for me these days. I still like I needed a run on Sunday too. I stepped out of the house and turned my face into a cold, snowy wind for a five-mile run at a much slower pace. No pressure. No hurry. No worry. Just run.

I’ve learned that the best way to cope with any real and imagined worries fluttering around the brain is to move headlong into the face of it. Let the cold strip away murky thoughts and seek clarity on a cold winter’s day. Sweat out questions when the sun is fierce and unforgiving. Let hard effort deliver a cleansing effect on our whole being.

With luck and perseverance, we arrive home with a new perspective. Sometimes it takes plenty of miles to get there. I so love it when problems get solved, creative ideas enter the mind and hope flows through me, even if arrives at first in small amounts.

Wear patterns are also ‘where’ patterns. They tell us where we are at any given moment. Next time you’re out walking in the snow, the sand or the mud, take a look down at the wear patterns of your feet, and let them teach you how you got where you are. You might learn more about yourself than you ever imagined.

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

Giving it your all even if you’re not the prettiest in the pack

Earlier this week I was scrolling through YouTube videos letting the algorithms toss old road and track races my way when a mid-80s video of the Gasparilla 15K popped up in the feed. The race featured a few familiar names from “back in the day,” but the winner turned out to be John Treacy, an Irish distance star who finished second in the Olympic marathon.

It was interesting that during that YouTube video of Gasparilla, announcer Marty Liquori noted that he’d talked to John Treacy following his Olympics marathon triumph the previous year and teased the elite runner that he’d now be tempted to “run for the money” and cash in. But Treacy told Liquori, “No, I have a plan and I’m going to stick to it.” Treacy had incredible range, winning the world championships in cross country, competing in the 5K on the track and then placing second in the Olympic marathon.

Treacy was never the prettiest runner in the pack. He had a gangly Irish look about him with pail, flailing arms. Sometimes he looked like hell and you wondered if he would keep going. But the man could motor. I was a similar runner at times.

I was watching the video of the Gasparilla race and saw Treacy break from the pack and lead all the way to the finish. On my phone it wasn’t that evident what Treacy was wearing to race that day in the rain. Then it hit me: that’s the same New Balance kit that I wore before scoring the sponsorship with Running Unlimited.

The New Balance singlet and shorts were madly comfortable. I liked the fabric feel but also the simplicity of its largely white pattern complimented by the blue mesh highlighted by a red stripe around the middle. I felt fast in it. Perhaps I wasn’t the prettiest runner in the pack. But on some days, I could motor.

At the Frank Lloyd Wright 10K that I won in 1983 and 1984.

I recall racing in that kit through the streets of Oak Park, Illinois on a cold, wet October day in 1983 to a 32:00 10K victory. The shoes on my feet were Nike Elites, a waffle-based racer that I’d first used in college. I wore the same NB kit later that fall at the Sycamore Pumpkin Run 10k, finishing second in 31:52 in the bright autumn sunshine. That’s one of my favorite running pictures of all time.

Finishing second place in the Sycamore Pumpkin Run in 1983.

It was just fun to see that kit on the likes of John Treacy in that video. His was cut slightly different in the shoulders, and the singlet bore the big words “NEW BALANCE TC” on the front. I think Dick Beardsley wore a NB kit with those words emblazoned on his chest, and other elite runners as well. I still own and wear quite a bit of New Balance equipment from shoes (880s) to gear.

I never earned the NEW BALANCE insignia of a truly elite runner. As a sub-elite I had tons of fun running as fast as I could. Wearing the right kit to make you feel fast. So did finding the right shoes. It was all part of the gig in those halcyon days. We all cared a bit too much, trained a bit too maniacally and raced a little too often.

What other time in life are you going to give your all like that? No regrets. Lots of fun recollections, even if it wasn’t all pretty. And still at it after all these years. Can’t complain.

Posted in 10K, 5K, Christopher Cudworth, competition, cross country, marathon, marathon training, running | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet Mike Savage, one of my favorite Tri-Guys

Mike Savage (far right in yellow) during a summer training camp.

The first time I got to know Mike Savage we were together riding on a long climb near Phoenix, Arizona during a weeklong Experience Triathlon spring training camp. We’d already done a couple rides that week along with a run or two and a bit of swimming. Our bodies were starting to get into gear after the long winter away from serious outdoor training.

We both felt great pedaling up the increasingly steep hill out of the Phoenix valley. The residential streets were smooth, our water bottles and nutrition stocks were full and secretly I was thinking of pulling away for the fun of it. As the climb continued I glanced back to see who was behind us and noticed that we’d left much of the group behind. That’s when I glanced over at Mike and wondered, “How does this big guy do it?” I wasn’t dropping him any time soon.

Recently I asked Mike to talk about his sports background and his pursuits in triathlon. His answers reveal both a love of the sport and a practical ability to apply lessons learned from training to performance in races. He’s a multiple-time finisher in Madison’s Ironman Wisconsin, one of the hilliest multisport courses in the country. Here’s what Mike shared about his journey from a D-1 level football career to competing in triathlons.

  1. As I understand it, your main sport at one point was football. What positions did you play, and where? At what levels? 

While I played football, basketball and track in high school, football was my primary sport. I grew up in a smaller town in Michigan (Bay City) which is about 120 miles north of Detroit. Because there isn’t much population north of Bay City in Michigan, all of our games were against larger schools in the bigger cities of Saginaw, Flint, Pontiac, Lansing and Detroit suburbs. In high school, since our team didn’t have too many players (I think we dressed about 35 each game), I played both ways as a linebacker and offensive guard. Our team was pretty good and I was named as an All-State Football Player at Inside Linebacker in the State of Michigan (1979). All three all-state linebackers played in the same conference which is unusual. All three of us (Carl Banks, Jim Morrissey and I) were all pretty highly recruited. I ended up deciding to play out East – in the Ivy League after being recruited by most Big 10, MAC and Ivy League schools. I chose the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

At that time, the Ivies were still in Division 1-A (now they are in FCS instead of FBS level). I played four years as a linebacker and long snapper. At the time, I was an average size linebacker at 6’1”, 225 lbs, 4.8 40 yd speed. Today, I am barely big enough to play D-I free safety.

  1. You’ve been a triathlete for several years now, what are some of the most significant challenges you’ve faced? 
Mike Savage (front) with Experience Triathlon teammates ready to leave for Spring Camp.

I think I have had a number of challenges – I work probably 45-55 hours a week as an HR executive for Ulta Beauty, so fitting triathlon training around the job can be a juggling act. As a bigger guy (I’m still around the same weight as college but just in different places), I’m a Clydesdale in triathlon and this sport is generally geared toward smaller, faster, lighter athletes. It’s always good to compete against the little guys or the rail thin runner types because when I finish in front of them, it feels really good.  I somewhat kiddingly wrote in an Ironman blog that my combined age and weight is almost 290, which probably is one of the largest age/weight combos in any Ironman distance or Olympic distance race.  

  1. Of the three sports, which is the favorite, and which is the hardest to train for? 

My favorite is the bike. I have the leg strength and endurance for the bike and on a level or rolling hill course, I can keep up with the pack. I used to dislike running, but the more I run long distances, the more I am getting into it and enjoying it. Running expert Matt Fitzgerald wrote a book “running slower to get faster” which changed my whole outlook on running. In fact, this year I set a PR of 1:52:00 in the half marathon two weeks after I did Ironman Wisconsin. A month before IMWI, I ran 7:20 PR for the mile.  Not bad for a 225 lbs old football player! 

Mike Savage after finishing Ironman Wisconsin.

Swimming is the hardest to train for as I am not a learned swimmer. I had to take “Swim 101” twice as I had never swum correctly – ever. Thankfully, I have had some really good coaching on the swim so now I’m adequate in that event.  It’s all about training smart and consistent. 

  1. What role has coaching played in your athletic and triathlon career? 

Coaching has played a huge part of my athletic career and especially in my triathlon career. In football, coaching teaches you preparation and takes okay athletes and gets them able to compete with the best. It’s all about learning and improving.  Triathlon is a perfect example of a “you perform how you train” sport. Coaching has helped me build and refine my technique and improve my skill, strength, endurance and patience. Good coaches know when to push you, when to let you dog it and when to let you tell them what you need. I think anyone who is serious about triathlons needs some sort of coaching because if not, you run the risk of getting hurt or not adequately preparing yourself for race day.   

  1. How do you mentally prepare for events these days, versus former lives? 
Savage cranking on the bike at Ironman Wisconsin.

I am big about setting goals and building a plan to get there. I set my race calendar by December for the coming spring/summer season.  I find my one or two “A” races and then build a training program along with some “B” event that will help prepare me for those “A” races.   I think that the mental preparation is as important as the physical preparation.  I also find training partners that have similar race event goals and outlook on training and racing. 

I’m a Goldilocks training guy – not too hot, not too cold, but something that is just right in terms of intensity, amount of training and attitude. My training partners have turned into terrific friends and we have an engagement that goes behind just riding a bike or running together or swimming laps at the same time. That also goes for many others I have met on rides or on the roads running.  Treat all athletes with respect and kindness regardless of ability or results, and it comes back to you 10x what you give. After all, we are all age groupers so let’s not take ourselves too seriously. I like to have fun during training yet take it seriously enough that you can’t blow off workouts all the time either.

  1. What are some of your favorite brands of gear and equipment; swim, bike and run? 

For swim, I like Zoot Predator goggles and Xterra polarized googlesI always wait for them to go on sale and buy a new pair. 

For the bike, I am all about being a bike nerd. I need to find things that help level out my size in terms of keeping up with the lighter, faster, younger guys and gals so I look for things that help.  I have had a Specialized Shiv (loved that bike until it got stolen off my porch), a Giant Trinity tri bike and now, I’m getting a new Scott Plasma 6 RC w/ carbon wheels and the gizmos that come with a high-end tri bike.  

I’m a data geek so I LOVE my Wahoo Elemnt and stare at the data outputs during and after a ride – always trying to eek out an extra watt or two of normalized power. I also like my Wahoo Kickr for indoor training. I have also found that the DeSoto tri-suits are awesome. Easy fit, affordable on sale, wear well and are great at keeping my cool. 

From a run perspective, I have worn New Balance 860’s for years and keep on going to Naperville Running Company for a new pair every 300 miles. They know what runners need and take care of me very well. This all leads up to nutrition – which is all about staying fueled. I am a long-time user of Infinit Custom hydration formula and Maurten gels and 320 and 160 mixes for the bottles. These mixes and gels are not cheap but they ABSOLUTELY work and keep me going!!   

  1. Name some of your favorite race experiences, and why? 

Ironman Wisconsin is the best.  I’ve now done Ironman Wisconsin twice and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. I play back those experiences all the time in my head; both the good and the bad when I’m out on a ride or a run or need a pick me up moment or a reality check. Finishing IMWI is so awesome.  The feeling of accomplishment and the months and miles of training are all worth it.  My next favorite IM race was IM Maine 70.3 which starts with a cold swim in the Atlantic ocean (water was 57 degrees on race day) and right after you cross the run finish, you are handed a plate of lobsters and corn on the cob! 

Enjoying the fruits of his labors. Mike Savage trains hard and enjoys the social and team dynamic.

The funniest race experience I’ve ever had was the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon.  I entered in as a Clydesdale in the sprint instead of an age grouper in the Olympic distance and when I finished the swim, I got out of transition on the bike and started riding really fast as I usually try to catch those in front of me from the swim. 

However, I go speeding down the road and suddenly two motorcycle police officers, pull alongside me with flashers going and then pull in front of me holding about 24 mph. I am thinking “holy crap, what’s going on here?” as in…what did I do wrong leaving transition? Am I on the wrong course? I eventually realize that because the Clydesdale / Athena and relays athletes were the first group to start the swim, I am actually LEADING the sprint portion of the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon. OMG!!  I’m in first place and the motorcycle cops are riding with me because I’m leading the whole pack.  

Wow. Wow. Wow. For about 2 miles I’m rolling along and they rode with me. I was tucked in my best-ever Clydesdale old man aero position with a toothy grin going from ear to ear. It must have been evident to the cops that this was new to me because the one cop kept dropping back to ride alongside me, looking over and smiling.  Soon enough, the young studs in the 20-24 age group came up blowing past me and the cops led those guys on to the remainder of the bike course. But for 5 minutes, I was the race leader. Best moment ever!!!   

  1. Have you dealt much with injuries, old or new? 
During the Covid-19 IM Madison done independently with ET.

So playing D-I college football left me with ankles and knees that can tell you when it’s going to rain but thankfully I’ve been fairly injury free. I attribute that to my coaches who build me up and prepare me for the type of race I’m going to swim/bike/run or just bike or just run. It’s all about the training.  But I have had my share of occasional hamstring pulls or piriformis muscle issues.   Most recently, I hurt my lumbar spine due to sitting in a dining room chair (thank you COVID pandemic) too long and it put me out of training for almost 4 weeks. The best gift I ever got was the Norma-Tec recovery boots to help me  recover my legs.  My main advice is to always listen to your body. Get a good group of support people to keep you healthy (I recommend Eric@Patriot Training in Wheaton for stretching,  Dr. Amanda @ Doctors of PT in Lisle for PT, Dr. Brady McDaniel @ Elite Recovery in Naperville).

  1. What races would you like to do in 2021? 

COVID permitting, I plan on racing IM 70.3 Blue Ridge (Roanoke VA), then either Lake Zurich or Pleasant Prairie Tri, Horribly Hilly Hundred Bike, Ironman Wisconsin and then the Fox Valley Marathon. A busy year but it will be fun.

But the real race I’m looking forward to is in 2022.   For 2022, I will age up into the age 60+ Clydesdale group and I will finally race at the USTA Clydesdale Nationals in Chattanooga TN in June 2022 against people my own size, my own age. Prior to this May 2022 race, if I race Clydesdale division, I’m racing against other big guys who range in age from 18 to 59 or I race as an age grouper against guys who weigh 70 lbs less than I do. Finally, we even up the race field a bit.  

  1. Any advice for other taller, bigger athletes like yourself? 
Fueling up!

Enjoy it while you can. We are fortunate to be able to compete at a high level against other athletes who are usually smaller, usually faster, certainly lighter than we are but we have advantages too. People don’t mess with us during the swim.  Everyone loves to draft off you during a long training ride so you seldom ride alone. Going up hills usually suck but going downhill, inertia is our greatest friend. On the run, remember that a 9:30 / mile pace is the same whether you weigh 160 lbs. or 220 lbs. It’s all about endurance and who has a bigger desire to keep a steady pace.  So what if we finish in the middle of the pack? That means we beat the other half of the pack and I’m willing to bet a bunch of donuts that I’m older and heavier than they are. For the half of the pack that finished in front of me, I’m also willing to bet that on a weight adjusted finish, I’m a lot closer to the front than those little guys care to think about. Size matters.  

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“Am I smart?” is the hardest question in life to answer

Recently while filling out paperwork for some potential teaching assignments, I requested college and high school transcripts to send in with the applications. Looking through my academic record was a bit humbling in many respects.

Those Algebra II grades my junior year in high school were disturbingly low. I too well recall the horrid feeling of going into that class each day not knowing how to catch up with all the formulas I was supposed to know. I felt dumb and frankly lost in a fog of fear and dread. I failed the second semester.

Somehow that didn’t hold me back from graduating. There were other academic blunders as well. I received a D during sophomore year Spanish as well. Something about the way we were supposed to learn the language in that class left me numb. We sat in cubicles with earphones on our heads repeating whatever words we heard.

Earlier in school, I experienced many moments of feeling disconnected from the learning process. Either my head was in a fog of boredom or I didn’t care enough about the subject to apply myself and try. But if I found the class or teacher interesting I’d do quite well. A’s and Bs even.

That hot-and-cold learning pattern affected me in some sports as well. Learning an offense in basketball was never my favorite thing to do. Nor was picking up a full-court trap defense. During scholastic years I was more interested in the flow and excitement of the game than the subtleties of the pick-and-roll. Sometimes I felt stupid out there on the court.

Even in running, I made some dumb mistakes. Learning a cross country course in a ten minute tour was never my strong suit. I lost a race to a key conference rival because I failed to recall that we didn’t need to make trip around the far side of the track during the second loop. My two-hundred yard lead evaporated and I lost by mere steps at the end of the race. I felt really stupid after that.

My teammates recognized these traits in me. They’d nudge me to pay extra attention during the course tour. But with nerves and anxiety coursing through my brain, I’d still lose track and at times wind up frantically trying to recall which way to run. Were the yellow flags to go straight, or turn left? I could never remember.

Finishing first in the Plainfield invite on an old quarry property.

Yet there were races where my “smarts” took over in other ways. During one invitational held on an old quarry property, the course cut through cattail ponds and up over humps of gravel piles. As a country kid used to climbing around that kind of landscape, I was in my element.

As the years went by I began to learn to compensate for the lack of attention and compensate for my seeming lack of smarts on diligent tasks. Those of us with forms of attention deficit disorder, I am told, often face the lifelong struggle of getting our minds to work on traditional fashion. It all comes down to “executive functions,” they say. Those traits that plug into corporate goal-setting and completion.

Ultimately I learned how to organize thoughts and chronicle paths from point A to Z. I conceptualized large-scale sponsorship programs centered around mutual benefits in collaboration with outside partners in the corporate and non-profit world. I grew especially proud of monetizing those efforts and getting a return on investment.

In some ways, I turned out far smarter than others in creating those opportunities. I still envy people who seem to be able to turn their skills into gold. I marvel at people making $350,000 a year when they don’t seem that much smarter than other folks I know. The corporate world organizes itself around those with talent for building teams, motivating people and accomplishing objective on-track and on-time.

So I still can’t answer the question as to whether I’m smart or not. But I wonder if anyone really can? It seems there is always someone a bit smarter than you waiting to snark on your Facebook post or cut to the quick on a Zoom call comment.

I’ve written this blog and others for 8-10 years and they’ve never really “blown up” as perhaps I’d hoped. Maybe I’m not smart enough to figure out how to make that happen. I do all the things the blog experts recommend. But there’s always something missing. Something other people know that I don’t. People are smarter than me.

What writing this blog and others has done is challenge my writing skills on a daily basis. That is an ability applicable on many fronts. Plus it’s been a form of therapy through the thick and thin of life. Some days I feel thick in the head. Other days I feel thin on insights about how to be a marvelous success in life. Most days I just pray for sanity, a coping mechanism for anxiety or depression, a hope for creativity and a love for productivity.

The thing I’ve always abided along the way is to keep on trying. All that running, riding and swimming is a reflection of that commitment. And…if that’s as smart as I ever get, that’s all I can ask for. These activities fuel creative thinking and help me solve problems. Not all of them, but most of them. That seems like a pretty smart way to live even if I never do thrill the world with my ideas.

But here’s my only little secret. I’ll never quit trying. And that’s smart.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, college, cross country, Depression, healthy aging, running, swimming, Tarsnakes | 3 Comments