Turns out I was only partially correct about hosting cross country meets at Kane County Forest Preserves

Christopher Cudworth photo

Like all half-assed journalists, I didn’t really confirm the facts about whether cross country meets will still be hosted at Kane County Forest Preserves.

After receiving a nicely worded email from Alan Edgecombe correcting me about the status of cross country meets at forest preserves, I emailed Monica Meyers, Executive Director of the Kane County Forest Preserve District, and she wrote me back, in simple and complete language.

“The District has not changed anything. Cross country scheduling is in full swing within our preserves throughout the county.”

That means regularly scheduled meets at most locations will likely go on as planned. In the case of the Leavey Invitational, it is moving to the new Settler’s Hill site.

About those facts, sorry folks, I was wrong!

Changing management plans

The part about which I was correct on cross country meets being held at area forest preserves is that some are being managed with an emphasis on restoring natural areas rather than mowing everything in sight. Even old golf courses are being repurposed, as indicated by this excerpt from the KCFPD Minutes:

The board conducted a tour of several district properties, concluding with a visit to the former Deer Valley Golf Course. “The fifth and final site was the Deer Valley Golf Course. This site was recently closed, and is currently being transferred, back to a natural state. This site consists of the clubhouse, machine shed, and a small out-building. The Sub-Committee has determined that the club house may be of some value and would like to have this structure advertised to be sold and moved by the purchaser. The Sub-Committee has determined that the remaining out-buildings do not serve as viable assets to the District, and recommends the structures be removed.”

The lesson here is that “change happens.” The other lesson is that partial sentimentalists like me should not be so fast to jump on a rumor rather than checking our facts first.

New facilities

As for the course at Settler’s Hill, Al Edgecombe provided some nice information about the value of that new facility:

“We do believe that for many schools, the Northwestern Medicine Course will be a very good and cost-effective option.  Also, regarding the amount of money spent on the Course, let me point out that no tax dollars were spent on the Course. The Settlers Hill landfill closed in 2006, and dumping fees that had been collected for 30 years had accumulated in a fund that could only be used for restoration of the site to a recreational use.  In 2011, Kane County put out a call for proposals on how to use the site.  My organization, the Chicago Area Track & Field Organizing Committee (CATFOC), was one of about a half dozen organizations that came forward with ideas.  Over the next several years, all of the other ideas were deemed infeasible, and CATFOC moved forward with the county to build a championship-caliber cross country course for the local middle schools, high schools, and colleges. The Course will be open to the general public when meets are not being held.  The Course includes options for 2 km, 3 km, 4 km, 3 miles, 5 km, 6 km, 8 km, and 10 km.  The Course has been built to the specifications required for NCAA and USATF championship events, and will serve very nicely for large high school invitationals like the ones held at Detweiler Park in Peoria every Fall.”

Christopher Cudworth Photo

I’m still a fan of cross country and look forward to attending meets at Settler’s Hill. There are few more inspiring sights than a pack of runners launching from the starting line, or seeing dozens of kids finishing their race no matter what place they achieved.

Proposed: Rejected

I’ll close with a sort of backwards commentary on the proposal I submitted to the Kane County Forest Preserve District at the behest of a former administrator. It was reviewed and deemed unfeasible in the face of resistance to cyclists using the Settler’s Hill property due to perceived disturbances by mountain bikers making trails in the far-eastern section of Fabyan Forest Preserve. That plot of woods backs up to homes built on the former site of an institutional home facing Route 25 in Geneva. The mountain bikers built jumps and trails in the preserve perhaps without permission, and their presence also angered residents who might have felt their privacy was being invaded.

At any rate, without that knowledge, I’d proposed a cycling facility to be sited at Settler’s Hill. I still think it’s a good idea. But it’s one that will never likely take place.

Midwest Cycling and Recreation Center

Settler’s Hill, Kane County Illinois

Christopher Cudworth photo

PROPOSAL

Establish a recreational and competitive cycling facility utilizing the unique topography of the landfill property at Settler’s Hill in Geneva, Illinois. The purpose is to provide a magnet facility for cyclists in the Greater Chicago region and Midwest.

Site Benefits:

Settler’s Hill is a valuable and somewhat commodity for Midwest Cyclists with its potential for elevation-oriented roads and the climbing pattern possible. Plus, the opportunity to provide isolated, traffic free training and racing over the large potential acreage on the property is unique in the region. It is also accessible by bike from the Metra Train Station in Geneva, enabling Chicago and suburban cyclists to reach the site with ease through public transportation.

Benefits of a Cycling Focus:

In terms of recreational and competitive facilities in the Chicago market, there are only two principle cycling-dedicated locations. The Village of Northbrook has the track known as the Velodrome while the region around Palos Hills hosts mountain biking single tracks. Neither of these serve a very large and active market of road cyclists seeking challenging yet safe competitive opportunities. There is no single self-contained cycling center in Northeastern Illinois.

The Cycling Market

Cycling in the Chicago region is an immensely popular activity, reflected in the commercial market for bikes in this region. According to the website ChicagoBikeShops.com, there are more than 200 bicycle shops in the Chicago market. In fact, the far western suburbs within 25 miles of Geneva, Illinois hosts more than 50 bike shops. In the Tri-Cities market alone there are 15 bike shops. These commercial businesses serve a diverse cycling community of recreational, serious, competitive and professional bike riders. The global bike company SRAM also has its headquarters in the Chicago market.

Community involvement

In the Tri-Cities market, bike racing has also hosted events of considerable scale, bringing thousands of participants and fans to communities such as Geneva, Batavia and St. Charles. Bicycle Heaven in Geneva and Mill Race Cycle in Geneva has both hosted national scale bike races attracting international fields. Sammy’s Bike Shop in St. Charles has also hosted large-scale multi-category bike racing for women and men. Athletes By Design in Wheaton and Batavia hosts multiple cycling criteriums, road races and time trials in events held in Batavia, Winfield, Itasca and rural areas where true road races can be staged. All these these events enjoy popularity but do require substantial logistical support including street closures, police support and other community resources.

The Pelladrome        

However, within two miles of the existing Settler’s Hill landfill facility, there is a site where bike racing is conducted weekly from April through September. The course is set up on the roads of an underdeveloped industrial center behind the Pella Windows manufacturing facility on Fabyan Parkway one mile east of Kirk Road. This three-quarter mile loop of underutilized industrial streets is where Prairie Path Cycles (Batavia/Wheaton stores) and Athletes By Design cycling team host weekly criterium bike racing. These events are conducted under the legal management of American Bike Racing and attract more than 200 athletes (male and female) in racing Categories from novice (CAT 5) to Category 1 and 2 cyclists training for national competitions.

The “Pelladrome” as it has been named has been in operation for more than seven years and attracts cyclists from throughout the Chicago region. Thus there is an established tradition and market for cyclists to visit the western suburbs for bike racing.

Settler’s Hill Location

The existing market for bike racing and training is further supported by Kane County’s unique location at the western edge of the Chicago. Hundreds of recreational and serious cyclists use the existing Fox River Trail system for training and fitness riding. This trail is already connected to the Settler’s Hill site by a full bike lane along Fabyan Parkway.

Kane County’s existing current land us offers a developed eastern corridor and open territory (agriculture and low density housing) west of Randall Road. This plan allows for the country plan for access to suburban populations yet provide access to desirable bike trails and country roads where cyclists prefer to train.

Settler’s Hill site

The site itself at Settler’s Hill with its prominent rise in topography and planned running trails is ideal for a collaborative use for cycling and running. Hill training and racing opportunities are rare in the Chicago area. This makes Settler’s Hill an exceptional attraction for cyclists and fitness enthusiasts of many types.

The Settler’s Hill site offers the unique opportunity to install both perimeter and “peak” trails. Asphalt trails would provide road cyclists a “safe haven” for training and criterium work. The opportunity to install a profit center facility to serve food and drinks, sell cycling supplies and provide a mechanical support service could be established as part of a cycling consortium with area bike shops.

Recreation Categories

In addition to cycling, the Settler’s Hill site could provide designated hours for recreational walkers and runners to use the cycling roads. In winter these same paths could be groomed for cross country skiing without adverse impact on the installed roads or facilities. Forest preserves such as Herrick Lake in DuPage County and Arrowhead Golf Course already offer cross country skiing. But none have the challenging topography of the potential Settler’s Hill property.

ECONOMIC BENEFITS

OF THE SETTLER’S HILL CYCLING OPERATION

Midwest Cycling and Recreation Center (Proposed title)

Creates a “destination” site for recreational activities

Serves as a direct revenue source through fees and membership

Generate revenue through on-site retail and rental

Invite sponsorship revenue from area businesses

Drive event and ticket sale revenue from March-November

Taxpayer Offsets

Property becomes self-sustaining profit center

Reduced usage fees for Kane Country residents/registrants

Funding can be pursued from bike advocacy groups

Corporate naming rights

Summary

The purpose of the Midwest Cycling and Recreation Center would be to provide an exceptional recreational facility that serves as a return on investment to Kane County Residents. It’s goal is to create opportunities for safe and unique cycling experiences for racers and recreational riders throughout the Midwest.

Midwest Cycling and Recreation Center

Settler’s Hill, Kane County Illinois

PROPOSAL

Establish a recreational and competitive cycling facility utilizing the unique topography of the landfill property at Settler’s Hill in Geneva, Illinois. The purpose is to provide a magnet facility for cyclists in the Greater Chicago region and Midwest.

Site Benefits:

Settler’s Hill is a valuable and somewhat commodity for Midwest Cyclists with its potential for elevation-oriented roads and the climbing pattern possible. Plus, the opportunity to provide isolated, traffic free training and racing over the large potential acreage on the property is unique in the region. It is also accessible by bike from the Metra Train Station in Geneva, enabling Chicago and suburban cyclists to reach the site with ease through public transportation.

Benefits of a Cycling Focus:

In terms of recreational and competitive facilities in the Chicago market, there are only two principle cycling-dedicated locations. The Village of Northbrook has the track known as the Velodrome while the region around Palos Hills hosts mountain biking single tracks. Neither of these serve a very large and active market of road cyclists seeking challenging yet safe competitive opportunities. There is no single self-contained cycling center in Northeastern Illinois.

The Cycling Market

Cycling in the Chicago region is an immensely popular activity, reflected in the commercial market for bikes in this region. According to the website ChicagoBikeShops.com, there are more than 200 bicycle shops in the Chicago market. In fact, the far western suburbs within 25 miles of Geneva, Illinois hosts more than 50 bike shops. In the Tri-Cities market alone there are 15 bike shops. These commercial businesses serve a diverse cycling community of recreational, serious, competitive and professional bike riders. The global bike company SRAM also has its headquarters in the Chicago market.

Community involvement

In the Tri-Cities market, bike racing has also hosted events of considerable scale, bringing thousands of participants and fans to communities such as Geneva, Batavia and St. Charles. Bicycle Heaven in Geneva and Mill Race Cycle in Geneva has both hosted national scale bike races attracting international fields. Sammy’s Bike Shop in St. Charles has also hosted large-scale multi-category bike racing for women and men. Athletes By Design in Wheaton and Batavia hosts multiple cycling criteriums, road races and time trials in events held in Batavia, Winfield, Itasca and rural areas where true road races can be staged. All these these events enjoy popularity but do require substantial logistical support including street closures, police support and other community resources.

The Pelladrome        

However, within two miles of the existing Settler’s Hill landfill facility, there is a site where bike racing is conducted weekly from April through September. The course is set up on the roads of an underdeveloped industrial center behind the Pella Windows manufacturing facility on Fabyan Parkway one mile east of Kirk Road. This three-quarter mile loop of underutilized industrial streets is where Prairie Path Cycles (Batavia/Wheaton stores) and Athletes By Design cycling team host weekly criterium bike racing. These events are conducted under the legal management of American Bike Racing and attract more than 200 athletes (male and female) in racing Categories from novice (CAT 5) to Category 1 and 2 cyclists training for national competitions.

The “Pelladrome” as it has been named has been in operation for more than seven years and attracts cyclists from throughout the Chicago region. Thus there is an established tradition and market for cyclists to visit the western suburbs for bike racing.

Settler’s Hill Location

The existing market for bike racing and training is further supported by Kane County’s unique location at the western edge of the Chicago. Hundreds of recreational and serious cyclists use the existing Fox River Trail system for training and fitness riding. This trail is already connected to the Settler’s Hill site by a full bike lane along Fabyan Parkway.

Kane County’s existing current land us offers a developed eastern corridor and open territory (agriculture and low density housing) west of Randall Road. This plan allows for the country plan for access to suburban populations yet provide access to desirable bike trails and country roads where cyclists prefer to train.

Settler’s Hill site

The site itself at Settler’s Hill with its prominent rise in topography and planned running trails is ideal for a collaborative use for cycling and running. Hill training and racing opportunities are rare in the Chicago area. This makes Settler’s Hill an exceptional attraction for cyclists and fitness enthusiasts of many types.

The Settler’s Hill site offers the unique opportunity to install both perimeter and “peak” trails. Asphalt trails would provide road cyclists a “safe haven” for training and criterium work. The opportunity to install a profit center facility to serve food and drinks, sell cycling supplies and provide a mechanical support service could be established as part of a cycling consortium with area bike shops.

Recreation Categories

In addition to cycling, the Settler’s Hill site could provide designated hours for recreational walkers and runners to use the cycling roads. In winter these same paths could be groomed for cross country skiing without adverse impact on the installed roads or facilities. Forest preserves such as Herrick Lake in DuPage County and Arrowhead Golf Course already offer cross country skiing. But none have the challenging topography of the potential Settler’s Hill property.

ECONOMIC BENEFITS

OF THE SETTLER’S HILL CYCLING OPERATION

Midwest Cycling and Recreation Center (Proposed title)

Creates a “destination” site for recreational activities

Serves as a direct revenue source through fees and membership

Generate revenue through on-site retail and rental

Invite sponsorship revenue from area businesses

Drive event and ticket sale revenue from March-November

Taxpayer Offsets

Property becomes self-sustaining profit center

Reduced usage fees for Kane Country residents/registrants

Funding can be pursued from bike advocacy groups

Corporate naming rights

Summary

The purpose of the Midwest Cycling and Recreation Center would be to provide an exceptional recreational facility that serves as a return on investment to Kane County Residents. It’s goal is to create opportunities for safe and unique cycling experiences for racers and recreational riders throughout the Midwest.

Midwest Cycling and Recreation Center

Settler’s Hill, Kane County Illinois

PROPOSAL

Establish a recreational and competitive cycling facility utilizing the unique topography of the landfill property at Settler’s Hill in Geneva, Illinois. The purpose is to provide a magnet facility for cyclists in the Greater Chicago region and Midwest. 

Site Benefits: 

Settler’s Hill is a valuable and somewhat commodity for Midwest Cyclists with its potential for elevation-oriented roads and the climbing pattern possible. Plus, the opportunity to provide isolated, traffic free training and racing over the large potential acreage on the property is unique in the region. It is also accessible by bike from the Metra Train Station in Geneva, enabling Chicago and suburban cyclists to reach the site with ease through public transportation. 

Benefits of a Cycling Focus:

In terms of recreational and competitive facilities in the Chicago market, there are only two principle cycling-dedicated locations. The Village of Northbrook has the track known as the Velodrome while the region around Palos Hills hosts mountain biking single tracks. Neither of these serve a very large and active market of road cyclists seeking challenging yet safe competitive opportunities. There is no single self-contained cycling center in Northeastern Illinois. 

The Cycling Market

Cycling in the Chicago region is an immensely popular activity, reflected in the commercial market for bikes in this region. According to the website ChicagoBikeShops.com, there are more than 200 bicycle shops in the Chicago market. In fact, the far western suburbs within 25 miles of Geneva, Illinois hosts more than 50 bike shops. In the Tri-Cities market alone there are 15 bike shops. These commercial businesses serve a diverse cycling community of recreational, serious, competitive and professional bike riders. The global bike company SRAM also has its headquarters in the Chicago market. 

Community involvement

In the Tri-Cities market, bike racing has also hosted events of considerable scale, bringing thousands of participants and fans to communities such as Geneva, Batavia and St. Charles. Bicycle Heaven in Geneva and Mill Race Cycle in Geneva has both hosted national scale bike races attracting international fields. Sammy’s Bike Shop in St. Charles has also hosted large-scale multi-category bike racing for women and men. Athletes By Design in Wheaton and Batavia hosts multiple cycling criteriums, road races and time trials in events held in Batavia, Winfield, Itasca and rural areas where true road races can be staged. All these these events enjoy popularity but do require substantial logistical support including street closures, police support and other community resources. 

The Pelladrome

However, within two miles of the existing Settler’s Hill landfill facility, there is a site where bike racing is conducted weekly from April through September. The course is set up on the roads of an underdeveloped industrial center behind the Pella Windows manufacturing facility on Fabyan Parkway one mile east of Kirk Road. This three-quarter mile loop of underutilized industrial streets is where Prairie Path Cycles (Batavia/Wheaton stores) and Athletes By Design cycling team host weekly criterium bike racing. These events are conducted under the legal management of American Bike Racing and attract more than 200 athletes (male and female) in racing Categories from novice (CAT 5) to Category 1 and 2 cyclists training for national competitions. 

The “Pelladrome” as it has been named has been in operation for more than seven years and attracts cyclists from throughout the Chicago region. Thus there is an established tradition and market for cyclists to visit the western suburbs for bike racing. 

Settler’s Hill Location

The existing market for bike racing and training is further supported by Kane County’s unique location at the western edge of the Chicago. Hundreds of recreational and serious cyclists use the existing Fox River Trail system for training and fitness riding. This trail is already connected to the Settler’s Hill site by a full bike lane along Fabyan Parkway. 

Kane County’s existing current land us offers a developed eastern corridor and open territory (agriculture and low density housing) west of Randall Road. This plan allows for the country plan for access to suburban populations yet provide access to desirable bike trails and country roads where cyclists prefer to train. 

Settler’s Hill site

The site itself at Settler’s Hill with its prominent rise in topography and planned running trails is ideal for a collaborative use for cycling and running. Hill training and racing opportunities are rare in the Chicago area. This makes Settler’s Hill an exceptional attraction for cyclists and fitness enthusiasts of many types. 

The Settler’s Hill site offers the unique opportunity to install both perimeter and “peak” trails. Asphalt trails would provide road cyclists a “safe haven” for training and criterium work. The opportunity to install a profit center facility to serve food and drinks, sell cycling supplies and provide a mechanical support service could be established as part of a cycling consortium with area bike shops.

Recreation Categories

In addition to cycling, the Settler’s Hill site could provide designated hours for recreational walkers and runners to use the cycling roads. In winter these same paths could be groomed for cross country skiing without adverse impact on the installed roads or facilities. Forest preserves such as Herrick Lake in DuPage County and Arrowhead Golf Course already offer cross country skiing. But none have the challenging topography of the potential Settler’s Hill property. 

ECONOMIC BENEFITS

OF THE SETTLER’S HILL CYCLING OPERATION

Midwest Cycling and Recreation Center (Proposed title)

Creates a “destination” site for recreational activities

Serves as a direct revenue source through fees and membership

Generate revenue through on-site retail and rental

Invite sponsorship revenue from area businesses

Drive event and ticket sale revenue from March-November

Taxpayer Offsets

Property becomes self-sustaining profit center

Reduced usage fees for Kane Country residents/registrants

Funding can be pursued from bike advocacy groups

Corporate naming rights

Summary

The purpose of the Midwest Cycling and Recreation Center would be to provide an exceptional recreational facility that serves as a return on investment to Kane County Residents. It’s goal is to create opportunities for safe and unique cycling experiences for racers and recreational riders throughout the Midwest. 

Posted in cross country, cycling, cycling the midwest, werunandride | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Changing management practices spell the end of hosting country meets at county forest preserves

Runners take off at the start of the 1974 District Cross Country meet at Elburn Forest Preserve.

A friend and former cross country coach named Jeff Leavey noted on Facebook that the Kane County Forest Preserve district board voted to boot all cross country programs out of the parks starting in 2021.

The board may have an ulterior motive in taking this action. The county approved construction of a $2.9M permanent and specific cross country course on top of the Settler’s Hill landfill in Geneva. It makes economic sense for the county to push cross country teams to use and rent those facilities. They want a return on investment.

The problem with that potential logic is that cross country programs and the schools that host them aren’t all concentrated in south-central Kane County. Hosting meets is a logistical challenge that requires volunteers as well as paid staff to conduct a safe event. Traveling 20-30 miles to host a “home meet” isn’t really practical on a regular basis.

That’s why county forest preserves have long served as welcome sites for cross country meets because they fit several key criteria for high schools:

  1. They are local or in proximity to the host schools
  2. They offer significant open areas or trails where courses can be mapped out
  3. They are scenic
Our coach Trent Richards dispensing pre-race advice before a meet held at Elburn Forest Preserve

For these reasons, the two cross country programs for which I competed in high school hosted most of their meets at county forest preserves. Kaneland high school hosted many meets, including county and district championships, at Elburn Forest Preserve.

In the early 1970s, the park consisted of a long stretch of mowed grass on the west side of the preserve. That’s where a large part of the course was sited because much of the ground beneath the large oaks east of the main road was mowed. A wetland at the far south tip of the preserve was consistently drained through a tunnel that emptied south of the railroad tracks.

I loved racing at that preserve because it was a tough course and felt like real cross country with its mix of grassy flats, gravel road, steep hills and twisty, turny white lines through the trees. The course climbed a hill for 400-meters at the start. That quick challenge ensured that the race was an honest effort. Many cross country runners tested their fitness, and their souls, on that hill. It rose to a 7% grade near the top. Then the road wended its way through mature woods and emerged at the front of the preserve where mile times would be called out.

That’s where I learned the cross country trade. The sensation of running through those woods in early September meets with heat and mosquitoes was epic. Once autumn arrived, the crunch of leaves underfoot as dozens of runners tore through the woods was classic cross country.

My teammate Bill Creamean receiving a congratulatory greeting from Kaneland coach Richard Born after a meet at Elburn FP. I loved those uniforms.

Elburn Forest Preserve has not been used for cross country meets for some time now. Land and wetland management policies embraced by the country to naturalize forest preserves changed all that. The wetland section of the preserve was allowed to go wild. No more mowing was applied to those acres. Poplar trees sprung up. Tussocks of wild grasses and cattails moved in. The county also stopped mowing underneath the woods east of the main road. A healthy undergrowth developed.

These changes actually aligned with my other keen interests in this world: nature and wildlife. While I ran cross country in Elburn Forest Preserve during the fall, I also went birding there in all seasons of the year. I watched great horned owls nest in the cold months of January and February. Welcomed spring warblers during migration in April and May. In summer there were kingbirds and swallows and then-rare Eastern bluebirds to be found. The songs of wood thrush and pewee flycatchers calling on hot summer days cemented my love for the place.

A great horned owl.

As the preserve naturalized, cross country meets were no longer practical. Still, during a bird walk last spring, I saw three Kaneland runners training on the gravel road high up on the hill. Their team had won the state championship the year before. It gave me a little pride to know that I’d contributed to that program’s success in its earliest days. Now their meets are held on campus as they were before the move to Elburn Forest Preserve. The only thing left of that era are the memories of what it was like to compete on that tough course. That is a collective memory held by thousands of runners over 30+ years of competition there.

Another program, another preserve

During my sophomore year at Kaneland, our family moved ten miles east to St. Charles. The home course at St. Charles was a series of loops around the high school campus. It was a confusing course in many respects, but it was great for fans because the runners passed by the finish line several times. We had some classic battles on that course, but our coach and one of the runners on our team made plans to set up a new course at Leroy Oakes Forest Preserve on the west side of town.

After moving from Elburn to St. Charles, I joined a team that first competed on the high school campus. We’re posing in front of the football stadium fence. I found this photo in a program buried in grass next to the fence ten years after graduating from high school.

A runner named Kevin Webster designed that first course. It included a loop on the “fire trail” through dense woods on the east side of the preserve. Then it coursed along the mowed flats where traces of oxbows next to Ferson Creek belied the former placement of that stream. Then came a dreaded section up a gravelly dirt path climbing the glacial hill laid down millennia ago. I used that hill to dump many rivals over the years.

Leroy Oakes remained the home course for St. Charles cross country for many years. The course evolved from our original layout to starting on a wide mowed grass section near the “red barn.” That was the site of dozens of meets, including the prestigious St. Charles Invitational, later named the Jeff Leavey Invite in honor of its longtime coach and director of the St. Charles East program.

As a fan returning to watch high school cross country meets at Leroy Oakes, I saw many quality runners compete in invitationals there. While studying eventual American steeplechase record-holder Evan Jagr run on that course for Algonquin Jacobs High School, I took note of his fluid stride and turned to someone at the meet and said, “See that guy? He’s going to be world-class someday.” Jagr proved me right.

But now the county has decided to end the long tradition of cross country meets held at forest preserves. That decision aligns with golf courses that used to host meets as well. In the end, it’s all about end-use, public interest and land management policies. Leroy Oakes has undergone significant habitat improvement programs over the years. Generally, that involves a lot less mowing and a whole lot more growing of native plants, especially prairie and wetlands. Earlier this week, I ran through the Leroy Oakes prairie where the cross country country course once ran and observed dozens of rattlesnake master plants and thick sections of sunflowers and bergamot growing where raggedy weeds once stood.

I’ve also birded at Leroy Oakes for decades, and was part of the original high school prairie restoration group that planted the first big bluestem and wild indigo plugs where a healthy prairie at the Great Western Trailhead now begins. Just as my relationship with Elburn Forest Preserve was dualistic, such is also the case with Leroy Oakes Forest Preserve.

I loved running in both those preserves, and still sometimes take a running loop around sections of the old course. But much of the landscape has changed, and for good reasons. I’m sure there are conflicting budgetary priorities that contributed to the decision to ban cross country meets at county forest preserves, but I think they’re missing something important in that decision.

Those meets brought thousands of people to those preserves over the years. Those course largely made use of existing paths and trails with the exception of the large mowed areas where cross country invitational runners lined up for the start. The sight of those kids running with the backdrop of trees and fields is irrepressibly classic. I wonder if sometime in the future that legacy will be restored. The parents and fans who come out in all kinds of weather to watch kids compete and endure the climbs and turns, the finishing sprints, seems worth a bit of respect, don’t you think?

I think the two purposes are compatible, and believe there will be plenty of business for the new cross country course built on top of the landfill. Give it a few years, perhaps. But in the meantime, some will be deprived of that wonderful feeling of showing up at a quiet preserve and feeling the meet tension grow as fans gather and the warmups conclude. Suddenly, it always seemed, it was time to step to the line with other runners and wait for the sound of the starting gun. Then it was off to the races in a most literal way.

There’s something quite natural about all of that. At least there is to me.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, cross country, nature, running, training | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everything you need to know about sexualization in women’s sports in one image

This morning my Facebook news feed opened up to reveal a telling juxtaposition of two images and competing headlines.

The first story link documents the decision by German gymnastics competitors to wear full body suits rather than participate in the Olympic Games wearing the much skimpier costumes the sport has adopted for women.

The second story is clickbait that likely leads to exactly what it says: Abby Dahlkemper posing partially clothed for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition.

The dichotomy of those two stories illustrates the sexualization of women’s sports (and women) as a whole.

The Norwegian women’s beach handball team at the Olympics also protested the requirement to wear far less clothing in competition than men. This photo shows the stark difference.

It’s pretty hard to argue that there isn’t a major amount of sexualization of women going on here. The question is whether it was women that pushed competition uniforms to the bare minimum (for comfort or efficiency?) or whether it was men slapping those standards on them?

The question of whether outfits are performance-oriented or exploitation is a tough one to answer. Those volleyball bikini briefs are much smaller than the bun-hugger shorts worn by female track athletes, especially distance runners.

The sight of athletes stripped down to their bathing suits or underwear, as the above story about Abby Dahlkemper hints, is due to public fascination with finely toned bodies. On that front, one could argue that while there are sexual aspects to the outfits––or lack thereof––largely the choice remains with the athletes as to what to wear. But when that choice is removed, there is definition exploitation involved.

Then there are the freedom riders. As these amusing pics from the Undie Run at the Ohio Ironman we attended last weekend reveal, there’s a whole bunch of people who think the world is too prudish for their own good.

As those people sexualizing themselves? Seems like the opposite.

That said, there is pressure on many athletes to “compete” in the world of sexual politics, especially in the social media era. Even top-flight women (and some men) athletes known for setting national records and competing in the Olympics are known to pop a swimsuit shot in their Insta feed now and then. This is Karissa Schweizer, a qualifier in both the 5K and 10K for the Tokyo Olympics. I follow her career and this was her photo before flying off to Japan.

What I see if a fit distance runner with tan lines wrought from miles in the sun. She’s not got an ounce of fat on her of course. Her swimsuit fairly small, but not crazy. This is a photo that both women and men can probably appreciate as she’s a role model for a fit lifestyle.

Is it sexy? I think so. Having followed Karissa and other women athletes for the last few years it is common for most of them to post “glamour” shots now and then. The rest of the time it’s pics of them training, racing, fixing healthy food or hugging their partners or their pets.

I find my wife sexy in a swimsuit too. She’s also fit and works hard to keep her body in shape. She also set a personal record this past weekend in the Ohio Half-Ironman 70.3. She wears a great Zoot suit that compliments her form. Some people might find it too revealing for their taste. The body-hugging gear in triathlon doesn’t try to hide anything. Mostly it is designed to allow athletes to go faster. Flappy shorts or shirts slow you down.

So there’s a bit of performance-based technology behind these athletic styles and pressures to wear them.

I’ve written about this a few times because the needle keeps shifting. At this point, some women are seeking to push the boundaries of what they’re required to wear in competition back from the nearly-naked version to something that lets them be women, still looks attractive, and doesn’t show off every bit of breast or butt or genitalia in the process.

The same thing’s been going on with men’s junk for a while as well. Considering that athletes once competed naked a few thousand years ago, it seems like we’re all struggling with what being naked really means.

Much of the world doesn’t worry about what we see or don’t see on the beach. Nudity is accepted as part of the culture. I think those Undie Runners have it about right.

We have bodies. Deal with it.

Posted in competition, IRONMAN, sex, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Olympic-sized pressures

A week ago the Linkedin group The Female Lead that I follow posted an image of three ‘women of color’ athletes who won’t be competing at the Olympics due to “rules” they supposedly broke in the past few months. The women included Sha’Carri Richardson, who got booted for smoking some pot, a small infraction that violated anti-doping rules, Naomi Osaki who ran afoul of authoritarian rules about press interviews when she stood aside to protect her mental health, and Gwen Barry, whose podium protest got her in trouble for not saluting the flag during the national anthem.

None of these women did anything intrinsically illegal by the laws that most of us follow every day. Granted, in some states, smoking pot is still illegal. But Sha’Carri was disturbed after finding out from a reporter that her biological mother had died, and took some steps to calm down after that shock. She self-medicated to handle difficult information that came from a completely unexpected source.

Several male jerks on Linkedin stated that these women were deserving of their bans because they exhibited a “lack of accountability” and brought their circumstance on themselves. This type of rude commentary happens frequently on The Female Lead’s Linkedin feed on. In case you didn’t know it, there are still a large number of misogynistic jerks out there in the world that like to malign women about anything they can find to criticize. Who knew? Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

Dark hearted factors

Some of the comments made are clearly racist in origin. Others seem specifically aimed at suppressing women at any cost. In any case, they are largely flat-out ignorant.

That sets the stage for a look at two women I encountered while running this weekend.

One young runner was standing by the trail in a forest preserve adjusting her earbuds because she heard outside music and thought her equipment was faulty. It turned out that there was a Christian praise band playing loudly on a platform across the road at a big white church that reflected the sound. There was no audience for the band. They were just blasting away singing into the wind. I could hear them two miles away.

We both chuckled at the seemingly fruitless blare of noise coming from the band, then started talking about running. She’s doing a marathon in September and is working her way up to the distance. I shared that I ran for the same high school that her tee shirt showed, and she indicated that she’d loved her experience there.Sweet and eager to laugh, she’s stepping up to a challenge that isn’t easy for anyone. I wished her well and offered to provide any advice if she’s interested. Then I told her where to look me up on the Internet.

Further down the trail I passed a woman that I’ve known for more than a decade. I’ve seen her dozens of times over the years. She’s always hyper-thin to the point where it is obvious there are dietary or emotional issues going on, or an exercise addiction. She loves doing super-long races and there is clearly a cost to that.

When you think about the population of this world, it is clear that all of us are colored by some sort of emotional markers. Some people codify these and hide their fears in political fury while others lay themselves out there, exposed and honest, reflecting the world in all of its chaotic glory.

I thought about the range of experience between those two women that I encountered, and how they illustrate the spectrum of emotional challenges all athletes face in this world. Add in the factors of race or culture, or Olympic-sized pressures, and it seems like we should all be more conscious of how impactful self-image can be, and why it is so false to pass judgment and pretend to know the deep motivations of those who act out on a larger stage.

The Olympics are coming. These are just people. Like you and me, they’re not perfect. Let’s all keep that in mind as the Games proceed.

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Mulberry Fields Forever

The iconic song Strawberry Fields by John Lennon celebrates the place he used to visit as a child where his mind could wander. Apart from the restrictions of society, he felt inspired and freed from false expectations.

Let me take you down
‘Cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about

I was a child much like Lennon who sought out places where people couldn’t bother me. Possessed of a wild and somewhat ripe imagination, I’d find places in the woods or meadows with bugs and birds to keep me company. Sometimes, I’d find mulberry fruit growing on trees. And when they ripened, I’d eat them. Forbidden fruit.

As I aged, I kept this sense of wonder about nature despite teasing from friends who thought my interest in birds meant that I was weird. I loved learning about such things, and began to draw and paint what I loved most. But those patrons of middle school ignorance pursued me nonetheless.

Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone
But it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me

One can imagine the hunger that John Lennon must have felt to know more about the world at time when so much loss came his way. He father left and his mother died early in life. In later years, Lennon wrote many songs about those aching griefs. But one song stands out as the ultimate survival guide.

No one I think is in my tree
I mean it must be high or low
That is you can’t, you know, tune in
But it’s all right
That is I think it’s not too bad

I felt pain as a child due to the tragedy my father experienced at the loss of his mother at age seven. His father Harold also suffered in life, being subject to depression worsened by the death of his wife, the loss of his farm and livelihood. My grandfather needed mental health treatment so my father and his sisters were sent to live with aunts and uncles on a farm hunkered beside a Catskill mountain. I don’t think much counseling took place to help my father and his kin deal with such changes. They absorbed the pain and moved on.

Some of that pain got passed along to us boys during the early phases of my father’s parenthood role. As a sensitive child, all I knew to do was heal in the open air where natural sights and sounds were took me away from the tension and anxiety I sometimes felt around home. It wasn’t an entirely unhappy childhood, just a complex one.

On those days when I’d wander afield, I’d sometimes find wild fruit on the trees of fields. In summer I’d dine on mulberries, that strangely seeded faux grape that turned from white to pink to purple. The taste was sweet, and the juice stained the fingers. It always felt a bit naughty and exotic to eat mulberries. Did one need permission? Could they harm you?

To this day I still worry that some form of worm or other nasty bit of exotic nature might lurk in the heart of a mulberry and cause me sickness. The fact that wild creatures like coyotes dine on mulberries is not much comfort.

Many times the squashed fruit of mulberry trees falls onto running or cycling paths to be run over by passersby. The berries stain the path and even flip up from the bike tires to strike you in the face.

Birds dine on mulberries and excrete them on cars. That’s nature’s way of reminding us that while some people view themselves as separate or specially created, we’re really just part of a cyclical flow of life from seed to juice to a stain in history.

Always, no sometimes, think it’s me
But you know I know when it’s a dream
I think I know I mean a yes
But it’s all wrong
That is I think I disagree

Yes, life is often confusing. As I write this I’m both excited about things that I’m accomplishing and feeling the effects of personal and financial challenges wrought from the long line of life’s vagaries; caregiving, cancer, emotional intelligence and the lack of it.

All we can do is keep eating mulberries where we find them and being as honest as possible about ourselves. As for me, for better or worse, I’ll be living in Mulberry Fields Forever.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

It’s Friday. Let’s talk some more about butt cheeks.

As I’ve written before, butt cheeks are everywhere these days. From fashion-leading Instagram models to earnest guys sporting thongs on the beach, butt cheeks are no longer banned from public view.

A friend just posted this photo on Instagram of a “gentleman” fishing in some tropical surf. Clearly he’s decided to get a little behind in his work.

The dude may not be ripped or have the perfect ass that people might admire, but he’s happy in his “Sun’s out, Buns out” world. Who’s to say that he’s really wrong? The sight of a male ass may not be ideal viewing to some, but this guy doesn’t care. Deal with it.

A Cosmopolitan view

But for women, the issue of how much butt cheek to show is both a pragmatic issue and a choice of options.

Though my stepdaughter has moved out of our house, we still receive a monthly (or so) copy of Cosmopolitan magazine. These magazines migrate to our downstairs bathroom thanks to my wife, who likes order in the house. So I perused the July/August issue to find an article titled:

“So are we here for the PRACTICALLY NO BUTT COVERAGE swimwear trend or no?”

The single-page article features two opinions. One woman says, “I’m skeptical” while the other says “I’m sold.” I’m rather surprised there was no quiz to go along with the article, because that’s what Cosmo typically does. I can guess the first question from here:

“Will you be showing one or both butt cheeks this summer?”

They never make it easy to answer any of those questions.

Instead, they provided an either/or perspective on the issue.

The first gal stated, “The secondhand discomfort alone I get from imagining there’s only a piece of dental floss between my sphincter and the rest of the world is very, very real. And don’t get me started on what happens when you sit down––have we learned nothing over the past year about keeping public surfaces sanitary?”

Okay, that take goes a little deeper than talking about mere butt cheeks. But you get the picture.

The picture of Gail Gadot above shows the practical issue of dealing with a wet swimsuit no matter how much coverage it offers.

Still, the Cosmo gal less eager to show her butt cheeks closes with a practical observation. “I’m sticking to swimwear that requires a lot less upkeep in the waxing/shaving department and has the surface area for a lot more cute designs.”

The other gal, who happily insisted “I’m sold” on showing her butt cheeks rather proudly stated: “I joined team #FreeYourCheeks on a trip to Rio a few years back. Everyone on Copacabana Beach was thriving in a booty-out environment and it was inspo enough for me to give the trend a try. ‘Twas then that I understood what the entirety of Brazil already knows: Less fabric = less bikini sagging, less drying time, and less sand you-know-where.”

It’s such a Cosmo world out there

The same issue of Cosmo with the Butt Cheeks article also features an article about a woman with two––count ’em––two vaginas. She shares the true story about what it’s like to have a two uterus thing going on, how to have sex and deal with double menstruation problems.

Another article addressed about how men behave in places where the Guy-to-Gal ratio is far out of balance. It’s called the Golden Penis Syndrome. You got it, when the guy-gal ratio is in their favor, some men figure their penis is “golden” in that circumstance. Pricks.

Beyond fashion

Moving on from the world of Cosmo, it’s not just fashion swimwear where women are engaging in the FreeYourCheeks movement. Triathlete competitors have long released the buttock from confinement under fabric. Female track stars from sprinters to pole vaulters to skinny distance runners no longer worry whether their butt cheeks are catching the breeze. Some people object to women competing “in their underwear” while others celebrate body positivity.

The thing that always intrigued me is why women triathletes in those skinsuits riding dozens of miles on their bikes don’t need at least a little padding “down there.” Their bike fit must be superb to not have any weight or chafing problems.

Thus the world of butt cheeks remains a source of grand confusion and great pleasure among men in this world. Some revel in the sight of so much free ass out there. The women wearing less fabric seem to sport a mix of willful defiance and teasing obliviousness. Some show a determination not to be sexualized while others willingly attract hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram for the attention and sponsorship it brings. Even immensely serious athletes post bathing suit photos or beefcake shots because these gain likes and impressions that can lead to collabs, product placement and even outright sponsorship.

Bearing witness to all this skin has some guys (and likely gals too) feeling conflicted about the divide between reality and the digital capture of the human image. The guy below seems to have struck some sort of in-between deal with his brain.

Given the butt cheek world we now live in, it certainly must be ‘interesting’ for women to have to decide where they fit on the whole butt cheek spectrum. Choosing a swimsuit was already hard enough.

Sporting a swimsuit, a track suit or triathlon gear that leaves nothing to the buttagination is an extremely personal choice that comes with the risk of public judgment. But the jury now leans toward the “deal with it” side of the equation.

Replacement Theory

From what I can see, at this point women are taking control of the issue and replacing unwanted attention with aggressive convention. If you remove the taboo of perverse imagination from the formula of public fashion by making partial nudity and body outline normal in society, we’ll arrive at a place that is more honest, authentic and balanced with integrity when it comes to body issues.

The choice is still out there, of course. We all make our own choices in the end. That is what quickly comes to mind in our thong-strolling fellow coming in off the beach. He’s just hanging out, you might say. And to that, I say, “Have a good day.”

Posted in sex, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A long, strange trip with drinking alcohol

If you’d rather hear me share this blog in a Podcast, give the Spotify link a tap.

One of my favorite drinks is a simple Jack and Coke. It doesn’t take much to mix one up. Just pour the whisky in the glass, plunk in a few ice cubes and follow it with Coca-Cola. That was my “wedding drink” during all those years when my friends were getting married. Sometimes Rum and Coke took its place. Or lots of beer.

I didn’t have my first taste of alcohol until the middle of my junior year in high school. Until that point, I was adamantly against drinking or smoking of any kind. Then a bunch of friends picked up a six-pack of Stroh’s beer. Somewhere in the middle of a football practice field with the lights of the stadium throwing manic shadows across the grass, I took my first swig of beer. I hated it. It burned my throat.

This isn’t a tale about how, from that point on, I secretly descended into a private alcohol hell that I’ve kept concealed from friends and family for years. Gladly I’ve avoided such a fate. Yet in many ways it has still been a long, strange trip with drinking alcohol.

College drinking

The boys and I admittedly drank a bit in college. No doubt about that. For a bunch of skinny guys who ran 80-90 miles a week, we could sure pound the beers. Some of those college running teammates even struggled with drinking. One of them ultimately died of alcoholism. We used to go for runs around town on Sunday morning to find his car after a night of his drinking. Few of us connected these seemingly collegiate habits with genuine problem drinking. But they were real problems. Many of us flirted with them.

After cross country season during my freshman year, our team held a massive party with a giant vat of booze mixed together from all sorts of high-alcohol-content liquor. I drank too much too fast and wound up having to be carried back to the dorm room where I lay collapsed in an overnight stupor. It was a blackout. I awoke with a soreness in my back that I’d never experienced before. That was pain in my liver. I could have easily died from alcohol poisoning.

I had one other incident like that when a college girlfriend got me wicked drunk one night out of spite that I spent so much time running. That was obviously not a healthy relationship, and I broke it off not long after that.

Incidents like these didn’t really recur after college, and I’ve never struggled with anything close to alcohol addiction. Yet recently, the habit of having a drink every night struck me as something more than a treat. It felt like a habit. I caught my brain thinking, “Oh boy, it’s almost 5:00. You can have a drink then.”

That made me re-think my habits because it was a warning sign I take seriously. Some people might say, “Well, that’s a natural product of the pandemic. Everyone was just trying to cope.” Others might say––and they might be right in my case–– that drinking was a rational response to the brain-numbing idiocy of Donald Trump.

I’ll buy that. The stress I felt the last four years to the madness of insurrection… welled up from an underlying sense of betrayal to an anger that I found hard to reconcile. I care greatly about social justice and all I could see out there in the world was a selfish brand of evil and blatant cognitive dissonance that was sequentially being denied through gaslighting. In the face of lies like that, it actually made sense to have a drink now and then. I sincerely wish Trump had turned out to be a good person. I really do. But he didn’t, and that’s because he’s addicted to one thing far worse than drugs or alcohol. Himself.

Self-examination

The reason I take potential warning signs about drinking so seriously is that I know drug addiction is a serious problem. Once it gets in front of you, it is hard to push out of the way. Good people close to me in all stages of life have dealt with drug addictions of one kind or another. On the basis of my own experience, I view each of these situations without judgment. My only instinct is to help people any way that I can. And yet, it is hard to know what to say to people you care about when they’re in a cycle of disruptive drinking or drug addiction. Everything feels at risk.

It takes a village sometimes. At one point a close friend called me to ask for help with a mutual buddy. “I’m too close to him,” he admitted. “He’s out of control sometimes. Can we get him to some counseling?” What happened next was valuable and instructive. That hard-drinking friend accepted help because it was offered in kindness. He took steps to moderate his drinking. But as every person with an addiction can tell you, the hard work of sobriety is never through.

The most classic case of addiction denial is the singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse. Could there be any more heartbreaking story (and name) than hers? The lyrics to her song Rehab are indeed sobering:

I don’t ever want to drink again
I just, ooh I just need a friend
I’m not gonna spend ten weeks
And have everyone think I’m on the mend

And it’s not just my pride
It’s just ’til these tears have dried
They tried to make me go to Rehab
But I said no, no, no
Yes I’ve been black but when I come back
You’ll know, know, know
I ain’t got the time

Self-medication

The reasons so many people choose to drink are manifold.There is no doubt that drinking is a form of self-medication. That’s the first thing one needs to realize. Last winter I was having fun each night downing a glass of Fireball cinnamon whisky to ward off the cold winter chills after walking the dog through two feet of snow and temps of five-below-zero. A couple nights I imbibed with a second glass, then a third. One night wound up a bit drunk. I walked smack into a chair on the way to the kitchen, and stopped to consider what that meant. That’s when I started to moderate that drinking, and eased off considerably. When the Fireball ran out, I said, “Enough’s enough.” I didn’t buy another.

Since that time, I’ve kept a closer eye on alcohol consumption. We all should. Today’s Chicago Tribune published a lengthy article about the fact that women are now tied 1:1 with men in having drinking problems. The ratio used to be 3:1, advantage men. So while women are catching up and passing men in many worthy categories of life, that is one category in which gender equality is not that desirable.

The article shares that women have unique challenges in coping with alcohol addiction. Some are physical. Others are social. Studies are being done to ascertain the source and symptoms unique to alcohol consumption among women.

Avoiding habit drinking

So I’ve done my best to keep away from habit drinking. I write instead. I’ll admit that I do have a writing habit. I have three blogs, a Medium page, articles on Linkedin, and work as a writer for a living. So I’ll say it clear: I am addicted to writing. That is one confession I’m here to make. When people in writing groups say that they don’t know what to write about, a voice in my head goes, “What the hell are you talking about?” I can’t not write.

Problem: my writing spills into social media. That can be an addiction unto itself, along with my iPhone. I know that some people in my life see that as a problem. They’ve told me so. I’ve also made mistakes getting into arguments online. Oversharing is a problem. I’m aware of that. It’s hard to quit. But like all things in life, I’m almost tired of the weight it brings. It may self-resolve. So here’s apologies to all I’ve offended, if need be.

To that end, some people in my life are actually estranged and no longer engage with me. Some of those I miss, but others not so much. It’s a product of the times we live in.

My “excuse” for writing so much is that writing helps me deal with anxiety and to process life in general. I write about religion and politics, the environment and nature, caregiving and character. Writing helped me through fifteen years of caregiving for my mom and dad and my late wife. Despite massive amounts of help along the way, there were many times when I felt entirely alone in those endeavors. I struggled making the right decisions along the way. Such is the case when the life of someone you love is on the line. Writing helped me sort all that out. For that process, I feel no need to apologize. It’s called “dealing with it.”

Productivity matters. Over the last year I’ve completed work on two books scheduled to be published in the coming year. So while my writing leads me in many directions, it also has a central focus. My dream is to become a well-known writer. If I don’t achieve that, I’ll die trying.

Relaxing into it

This weekend, while my wife is away visiting her mother, I plan to drink lots of ice water, do some running and riding and swimming, and walk the dog in pretty places. This is also part of my concerted plan to reduce a bit of weight around my gut that I credit to years of ingesting too many carbs (an old runner habit) as well as alcohol. I have friends that cut out booze entirely (Hello, Carolyn and Forrest…) and have lost 10-20 pounds of excess weight. Let’s be honest: beer and wine and spirits are nothing more than liquid calories. Borne of sugar and intensified with the brain-pleasing effects of alcohol, we grow fatter by degrees. I hate unnecessary fat.

There were times when I was too skinny as well. At one point in my late 20s, I realized that I was a bit addicted to running. My body fat percentage was 3% because my running habit consumed nearly 100% of me.

Whenever things went wrong in life, I’d turn to running in an “I’ll show them” state of mind. For many years, it did help me cope with exasperation and anger wrought from earlier experiences in life. There was an approval-driven motivation that vexed my soul. I worked through that and collared those instincts eventually.

Now I run and ride and swim to build balance in life because they make me feel good physically and emotionally. Those activities are proven tools in helping people deal with anxiety and depression. They also promote better physical health. My resting heart rate is 47. My blood pressure, 118/78. My cholesterol just got checked and it is right where it should be. I just want to lose ten pounds of fat around my middle and back.

Without those physical releases, perhaps the drinking thing might have more control over my life. I would no doubt regret that. History shows that many great writers struggled with alcohol addiction. We all need extra balance. Some got that through booze. As this Psychology Today article notes, others actually wrote while under the influence.

The article observes: “One psychiatrist actually did a study to try to figure out why so many great American writers drank like fish. Donald W. Goodwin of Washington University argued that there could be a genetic link between writing ability and alcoholism, with manicdepression perhaps the common thread. Fitzgerald, who was the poster child for the image of the imbibed author (he called alcohol the “writer’s vice” and was known to introduce himself as “F. Scott Fitzgerald, the well-known alcoholic”), appeared to suffer from the condition.”

Writing a different story

I may not be a “great writer” (yet) but I know some of my limits and how to drink socially without going over the line. That said, like many dopes, I’ve done and said a few stupid things “under the influence” over the years.

Over time, it is important to realize that relationships and life are much too important to let drinking or drugs get out of control. That goes for pot as well as booze. As pertains to pot, the term “addiction” carries too much cultural weight and throws people off the fact that while not technically “addictive” that drug can still formulate the mind around a desire to use it.

To its credit however, pot is a medically-approved and now legal drug in many states across the nation. It has been persecuted for decades as a supposed “gateway” drug, but much of that was a political jargon to disguise efforts at filling profit-oriented jails and to fulfill wrongheaded (and racially charged) assumptions about certain cultures. Now, one of the best athletes in the world is being prevented from competing in the Olympics because she smoked some pot to cope with news––delivered by a stranger––that her biological mother had died.

Lying to ourselves about drug use is one thing. Lying about the reasons why some drugs (like alcohol) are culturally tolerated while others are used to punish people is utter hypocrisy. Sha’Carri Richardson should be running in the Olympics because she proved herself worthy on many levels. Not just athletically, but honestly. There’s a major lesson in that for all of us.

Reach out

Thinking about all this gives me even more empathy for people caught in cycles of their own habits. I have my daily struggles with life’s complexities just like everyone else. But here’s an offer. If any of you reading this feels like you’re in that space where you wish you weren’t, reach out to me. Know that you have a person who cares about you whether we know each other already or not. If you want to talk, email cudworthfix@gmail.com. I’m serious as heck about this. We all need each other. I’ve been given so much help in life. My offer is made in gratitude and sincerity.

Because we’re all in this long, strange trip of life together. It’s a road trip of sorts, and it’s never safe to drink and drive.

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Fireworks on our minds

Our family once had a blast setting off fireworks on the 4th of July. For the most part, they were the legal kind easily available here in Illinois. On several occasions, we also brought home louder, more dangerous fireworks from Indiana or Wisconsin.

The smell of fireworks smoke always lent a romantic feel to the 4th of July. It was also my late father-in-law’s birthday, so the grill would be smoking with red meat as well. Come evening, we’d sit on the front lawn facing the town of Addison and watch the big displays burst across the night sky.

Over the last ten years the 4th of July celebrations have dissipated a bit as our family spread out after the passing of my late wife and her dad. For a few years, we gathered to watch the city firework displays in Batavia, but coordinating everyone’s schedules became too much.

In the wake of this year’s annual fireworks orgy several new stories emerged that captured the conflicting nature of this country’s love affair with ballistics. A professional hockey goalie took an errant firework to the chest and died. Here in Illinois, the local news reported that another man died from fireworks injuries while another lost an eye. It’s hard to argue that fireworks (or guns for that matter) are “harmless fun” when people die and suffer life-altering injuries. Many Americans are in love with notions of ‘harmless fun’, yet in reality their actions cause genuine harm to themselves and others.

Not a fan of fireworks

I spent the twilight hours on the 4th of July holding our dog next to me in a blanket as she shivered with fright at the sound of fireworks large and small. She crept under the living room table for an hour or two after that, and when the neighbors started blasting firecrackers at 10 pm she ran upstairs to huddle in bed with my wife. Finally at 11 pm I coaxed her downstairs to sleep in her crate.

Dog-tired of the bluster

The 4th of July lost its luster for me over the last few years for other reasons as well. Watching the American flag turned into a symbol for neo-fascism by Trump supporters made the whole pro-American patriotism thing feel like a sham.

This morning I listened to an audio broadcast of the January 6, 2021 insurrection coaxed into being by the lies and fascist calls to action uttered by Trump leading up to the election and for weeks after he lost. The vision of those people bashing into the Capitol sent a clear message that there are people who really hate the best of what America has to offer. They’re a boiling group of spoiled, selfish people with a cult-like admiration for a proven fraud.

Their actions were not a sign of independence, but of fealty to a rabid authoritarian with an unapologetic selfish streak.

Riding and running through the holiday

My latent notions of carefree 4th of July holidays are gone for good, but my instincts for mind-clearing recreation still hold true. On the morning of the 4th, I got out for a road bike ride with some longtime friends. That got me thinking about past July 4ths and running road races. In particular I reminisced about the Firecracker 4 Mile in Glen Ellyn, circa 1984. I was supremely fit and ready to run. When the gun went off with a bang, another athlete and I engaged in an intense race and traded leads multiple times. The hilly course tested both our resolve, and local fans urged on their hometown hero, my prime competitor. And he won.

He passed me in the last 100 yards, but I was not disappointed with the outcome. I’d truly given it my all and was proud of the pace we’d achieved on such a tough course. I finished second at 20:01, a pace of 5:00 per mile.

Honest efforts teach us plenty

U.S. Capitol Police scuffle with demonstrators after they broke through security fencing outside of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The House and Senate will meet in a joint session today to count the Electoral College votes to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, but not before a sizable group of Republican lawmakers object to the counting of several states’ electors. Photographer: Graeme Sloan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

To me, there is a purity and honesty about such efforts that people who never test themselves and learn to accept the results can never know. Both winning and losing purify the soul. When I witness the bloated, angry, screaming faux-patriots attacking the Capitol I admit to feelings of disgust that these people somehow feel superior and entitled to complain that this country somehow mistreated them by conducting a fair election. They’re the kind of jerks who never admit that a contest of any kind is fair.

Muscle and brains

For years our park district softball team comprised of former college baseball players competed with a bunch of muscle-headed blowhards on a team known for screaming threats and intimidating umpires whenever they fell behind. They counted on muscle to win the day. But our hit-and-run team with a strong defense beat their home-run based offense every time. Once we’d thumped them during the first season, we beat them for eight seasons in a row. We had their number, and they knew it.Yet they kept on yelling because they could not stand the idea that their muscle was not superior to our more studious approach to the game. They viewed the results with suspicion because they couldn’t stand the idea that they somehow lost in a fair game.

That’s how I view many Trump supporters, whose loudest ranks constitute a bunch of denial-driven blowhards. For sure, there are honest, hard-working people who vote Republican no matter what. They may not like Trump, per se, but they defend what he delivered in the way of tax breaks or support for farmers and ranchers…even after blowing up their markets with brainless tariffs. None of Trump’s presidency really evidenced winning policies. It was largely Trump doing what Trump does: paying people off to support his notions of wealth and victory.

Vain claims

Yet the people who ardently support Trump demanded respect for self-righteous campaigns to overturn the election. They paraded around with Stop the Steal banners and gathered as a mob to lead an insurrection in a threat to overthrow the government. It was an attempted coup. After the reality of the situation was exposed, the domestic terrorists who were involved all rushed to wipe their social media of evidence of their crimes. Those indicted have tried to claim innocence after storming our nation’s Capitol building, destroying property, and threatening our government officials.

Worst of all, they cynically excuse their horrific actions by engaging in “Whataboutism” to point fingers at civil rights protests to bring attention to police violence and the continual deaths of Black citizens. The insurrection was a blatant attempt at covering the failure of their supposed hero, Donald Trump, who bragged about so much “winning” until he lost by seven million votes. Then he could not accept the reality that so many honest Americans rejected his dishonesty, his racist rhetoric, his incompetence in the face of a pandemic and his narcissistic attempt to steal an election by driving people into a brand of furious denial that led to violence, injury and death earlier this year.

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather at the west entrance of the Capitol during a “Stop the Steal” protest outside of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. U.S. January 6, 2021. Picture taken January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Independence Day was once a sign that Americans value their freedoms and respect the processes and social order by which their values are installed. But no more. Donald Trump and his sycophantic followers claim patriotism while disrespecting everything the country ostensibly stands for.

They almost blew up the country in a fireworks accident of devastating proportion.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, cycling, cycling the midwest, healthy aging, running, track and field | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Among the hills of Madison, Wisconsin

Here in Illinois, you take your hills where you can find them. This peak is about nine miles from my house.

Those of us who live in the Illinois part of the Midwest know that hills are a rarie-sh commodity. In our section of Kane County we have Johnson’s Mound, a glacial esker rising some ninety feet over the surrounding flat landscape. That’s about six miles from our house. There is also Campton Hills, a rise in the greater landscape visible from miles away that tops out 800 feet above sea level. Not exactly Alpe du Huez, but it’s something.

I live at about 550 feet above sea level. That means that the most climbing we can achieve in a single shot around here, albeit in a long stretch of riding, is about 300 feet.

By contrast, it’s possible to get that much elevation in a single climb up in Wisconsin. That’s why we go riding up there. The area west of Madison is known as the Driftless Region. It is called that because the glaciers that slid down from the Arctic during the last Ice Age gouged out the Great Lakes and flattened much of Wisconsin and Illinois, but left the northeastern portion of Illinois and Southwestern Wisconsin alone.

The topographical evidence of glacial activity is clearly shown in this map of Wisconsin.

Hence, the hills originally formed of limestone deposited by inland seas are still there.

We ride out of Verona, right at the edge of all those hills where the Military Ridge trail shoots west from Madison through Mt. Horeb and on to Dodgeville. But we don’t ride the trail. We ride the roads of the Ironman Wisconsin triathlon course. For eight years now, we’ve started either in downtown Madison or parked at the Rocket Bicycle Studio that sits on the “stick” of the course. The climbs start quickly from there, with flat or rolling sections filling the valleys as you head out toward Mt. Horeb, an arrival that includes a mile climb going into town.

It’s a beautiful, somewhat epic place to ride. Already this spring we’ve ridden in another section of the Driftless Region out by Galena, Illinois. The Ups And Downs ride has some 18% grades on it that require full concentration and smooth pedaling to ride. Plus there were 20-30 mph winds that day. Ooof.

Things are looking up for us this weekend. Or, we’re looking up at them.

My wife is building strength toward racing in the Ironman World’s 70.3 this fall in St. George, Utah. I’m building strength for whatever else I choose to do this year, which may include a race (or two) in August or September. The Ironman loop we’ll be riding tomorrow is just over 40 miles. She’ll ride two loops for 80 miles. I’ll probably do 40-50 depending on how the legs feel. I rode really well up in Madison doing 56 miles last September in my first 70.3 effort. My time in the first ever 70.3 was just over 6:15.

Sue’s going to be on her new Trek tri-bike and I’ve adjusted my road/tri-bike seating and tri-bars this year so that I’m riding more efficiently. For the climbs, I’ll miss the additional gear I just added with a new cassette on my Specialized road bike, but down the road (pun intended) I’m working on a solution to add clip-on tri-bars to that bike as well.

It’s going to be a moderately warm day, with temps in the mid-80s by about noon, so a good day for riding most likely. We’ve ridden up there on beastly hot days, so we know the deal. Sunscreen will be called for, and I’ll bring my Roka shorts to do some swimming after the ride.

Then I’ll sit down in the Rocket Bicycle Shop or a local Verona eatery (it’s a really cute town) and finish working on the bibliography and references on my upcoming book. I finally finished the corroborative research and listing of references to list in the back.That’s taxing work and now it’s done. That means Honest-To-Goodness: Helping Christianity Find It’s True Place in the World is finally finished and I can prep the book for publication.That is my first big writing goal this summer. Then comes the completion of my other book, Nature Is Our Country Club.

All other avocational activities come second to these two goals. But riding helps me think through the writing and inevitably stokes ideas for improvement. See? There are many reasons to ride in this world. That’s what I’ll be doing among the hills of Madison, Wisconsin. The mind scenery is beautiful and the mind is free to flow and explore. This cycling thing? It’s not all about racing. That can come when it comes.

Posted in climbing, cycling, cycling the midwest, racing peak, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Going fast and built to last

Ready to ride in the Mondrian-inspired kit I designed for my sister-in-law’s 50th birthday

The cycling season has ramped up kind of slow for me this year. For the last few seasons, we’ve gone to a triathlon camp that kicks fitness into gear. Like most athletes, I need that sustained period of training to break through the physical malaise of winter. Usually the first day goes well, the next day is a struggle and the third or fourth day I rise from the ashes and start to ride much better.

It worked that way back in the scholastic and collegiate days of running. I was not that dedicated to summer running in high school. Mostly I played half court basketball. That kept up a degree of fitness, but not sustained running. That first week of cross country each fall was a process of breaking the body down and building it back up from scratch. Soreness and all, it always worked. But like they say, “It never gets easier, you just go faster.”

College was similar, only a bit more volume and just as intense. We raced too much in practice and ran too many miles. That first two weeks of training was revelatory no matter how much I did or didn’t run the summer before.

Post collegiately I tended to train steady all year around. Still, the push through spring always involved an increase in mileage and series of training days that cooked the inner engine.

So I know what it feels like to sense a better stage of fitness. It’s like something clicks within the muscles and lungs. Pace that seemed impossible just weeks before turns into a baseline. But you have to push through some mental and physical barriers to get there.

I don’t have a series of races lined up this year, so my motivations are a bit different. My wife’s race calendar is sufficiently busy that adding another weekend would be counterproductive to both of us. I’m figuring to pick a race in late August somewhere, or mid-September.

If not, I still enjoy challenging myself to swim, ride and run each year.

Time trial time

Yesterday, I set out on a time trial of 23 miles with a goal of riding at an average pace over 19 miles per hour. Most of my rides finish between 16-18 mph. That’s been the case since I started riding back in 2007. I haven’t gotten substantially worse with age, but I’m not really quicker either. The one “fix” I’ve been working on is the position on my converted road bike with tri-bars. I pushed the seat forward and raised the stem almost an inch. That feels better and I’m riding faster. It’s no Cervelo tri-bike, but it’s what I have right now.

My wife is still faster and stronger than me on the bike right now. To train with her on longer rides, I need to hit the roads at faster paces, and more often. Plus I want to prep myself in the event that a do-able Olympic triathlon pops up this summer or fall. My goal is to ride at least 20 mph in that event. So it was time-trial-time.

Taking off west, I faced a headwind/crosswind for ten miles, but for the most part I kept the “needle” above 18.5 mph despite the resistance. I reasoned the difference could be made up on the return trip.

Six miles west Main Street drops downhill for half a mile toward Route 47. Then it climbs back up in two stages lasting over a half mile. My pace dropped to 12.9 at one point where the grade rises more steeply. “Ooof,” I though to myself. “I’m going to have to go hard to make that up.”

Rolling into the pretty little town of Kaneville, I spun the pedals a bit to let my legs recover from the climbs and that last mile of headwind. I’d hit the ten mile mark by that point.

As always, the turnaround didn’t exactly deliver a tailwind. It seldom does. This is because the wind hates me. That much I know for sure. I can hear its conspiring tones in my ears wherever I ride. Perhaps you can hear it too.

However, going south certainly felt better than fighting the full headwind. I set a new time record on Southbound Dauberman Road from Kaneville to Swan Road. Yay. 22.2 mph.

Turning east the route was again affected by a crosswind, but I hit the one-hour mark at exactly 19.20 miles. “Good,” I thought, I’m on pace. Now to finish the last four miles solid.

Aftter another set of small climbs I crested the bridge over I-88 and was headed toward home. I cranked the bike up to 29 mph on the short downhill and tried to clear out the lactic acid cause by the climb up the other side.

By that point, I could feel the pressure of the day building in my legs. “That’s good,” I volunteered. “Now go for it.” One more short climb and it was time to pedal the false flat up toward Deerpath and the turn toward home.That hurt.

Rolling up to the garage, I clicked the Garmin to finish the ride and get the summary. “19.20,” I said out loud. “Good job!”

The best reward you can give yourself is a congratulatory kudo at the end of a ride. No matter what else is going right or wrong in life, it feels good to push yourself and achieve a result. Even if it matters to no one else in this world, the feeling of going fast and being built to last is worthwhile.

Posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, Christopher Cudworth, climbing, college, competition, cross country, cycling, cycling the midwest, healthy aging, healthy senior, it never gets easier you just go faster, riding, running, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment