One Baloney sandwich, a bag of fritos, a Suzy Q and a bottle of Coke

These days information on nutrition for athletes is everywhere. There is nutrition advice specific to individual and multisport athletes. There is nutrition advice for Ironman triathletes. You can’t turn around without finding nutrition advice on your feed, or in ads, or on the TV.

But it wasn’t always that way. 

During the early days of distance running, there was more advice about what not to eat than about foods that might boost performance. Our cross country coach encouraged us to avoid eggs for the most part. It was believed they could produce sideaches. Same with Coca-Cola, where caffeine was the enemy, and the amount of sugar messed with your bloodstream. And donuts. We weren’t supposed to eat donuts. 

So I abided by that advice during the season. I was so disciplined about it that I did not touch a Coke from August through November. That was tough for a high school kid to do. 

But then my family moved to a different town and our coach said nothing to us about nutrition. Thus my junior year in high school I began the habit of eating what I wanted for lunch. That lunchtime diet consisted of one baloney sandwich, a bag of Fritos, a yummy Suzy Q snack cake and a can of Coke. 

None of those foods is actually “real” in terms of origin. Baloney is made from who knows what shards of formerly living things. Like hot dogs, baloney is best left unexamined. However I dared look it up and gives that rather sanitized version of what’s in baloney:

“Some brands of bologna are made from a combination of pork and beef and on occasion, turkey is added. The nutritional value of bologna varies depending on the meat used to make it. Since it is a processed meat, it is high in sodium and saturated fats. Bologna is mainly sold sliced and ready to eat, though some people prefer to heat it up before consuming. Bologna sandwiches are a well-known lunch item in the United States.”

I likely slapped that baloney on a couple slices of white bread and layered it with American cheese slathered with mustard. By lunchtime the mustard would soak partly through the bread creating an absolutely scrumptiously moist patina suited for a Baloney King. Then it was time for the Fritos!

The Fritos were just fun to eat. The shapes and all.  Then came the Suzy Q, both purchased down the hill from the high school at the local Blue Goose Supermarket where I knew the owner’s son. It was all so downhome and simple that I looked forward to it every day. 

On the nutrition front,  the Fritos were also high in sodium. They also packed a few carbohydrates, as did the darkly textured Suzy Q, whose interior filling was like consuming sex on a bun. 50% more creme!

Then I’d wash it all down with a Coke, rich with another 25 or so grams of sugar, if not more. And that was that. Lunch in the early 70s. Three hours later I’d be out training with the guys running 6-8 miles every night. Or, we’d line up to race every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. We did that week after week for a schedule of 18-20 meets total. 

Day after day I’d consume my junk food lunch. Sometimes I’d substitute the Suzy Q with one of those Hostess apple or cherry pies. Again, there was less fruit in those things than there was serious content in the 1960s show Laugh-In. In other words, not much. 

Yet despite this diet, I ran well enough to lead the team to a District title and ultimately attract some interest from college running programs. I never told them about my secret diet of a baloney sandwich, bag of Fritos, Suzy Q and can of Coke. 

Yet somehow I think they knew. Because on college road trips were were fed sandwiches made by the college cafeteria. They were tightly compressed and the meat source was generally unrecognizable. A bag of potato chips came with the sack lunch, along with a soft and often spotted apple and a box of orange-flavored juice that looked like it had been milked from a Martian. 

Somehow we survived on that stuff as well. Which is to say that sports nutrition in the 1970s left much to be desired. It also built dietary habits that to this day are hard for me to break. The sweet tooth. The love of salt. The desire for the quick fix and buzz of Coke. All of it resonates in my system like the promise of a rush to an addict. 

I’m not happy about it. But at least I’ve come to recognize the source of my pain. Coming to grips with old habits, no matter what they may be, is the start to recovery. 

As for today, I’m sitting in Starbucks having just consumed a plastic platter of apples, cheese, hard-boiled (salted) eggs and a peanut-butter laden piece of soft pita or whatever the hell that was. And I feel good even after washing it down with rich hot chocolate. 

Old habits die hard. I just hope those early dietary years haven’t killed me already. 

Posted in aging is not for the weak of heart, Christopher Cudworth, cross country, track and field, training, TRAINING PEAKS, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

When it comes to gender power, look out below

I had a laughingly light discussion with my wife this morning  about the equipment we respectively sport “down below.” It started with me teasing her about the fact that her panties matched her toenails/ she laughed and said, “Well the bra is about to do the same.” 

Then she looped the bra around her chest so that the cups were facing backward, clasped the bra shut and spun it around into its designed position. I said, “You women have to do a lot of things that guys don’t.” 

“Oh,” she chuckled. “You guys have plenty of your own stuff to deal with.” That led to a very brief discussion about the vagaries of what guys and women respectively have to deal with down below. 

Body honesty

One of the things I most love about my wife is body honesty. As an athlete she shifts in and out of clothes on a regular basis. That’s a necessity, and as a rule of existence, athletes get used to getting naked into order to transition to the next stage of training or getting back to work. Those are practical realities

These days, and to its credit, the women’s athletic wear industry actually makes gear designed to compliment and support women’s bodies in all their shapes and forms. 

For guys or gals, it’s all about clothing that compliments performance. Thus there are subtle yet quite important differences in the design of certain critical pieces of equipment, such as bike shorts for men and women. The chamois for women tends to be a bit wider to accommodate sit bones while men have an extension that protects the genitals up the front. 

We all learn how to best manager our own junk. It is likely difficult for a man to imagine the tricks and trysts of managing a vagina. For women, the male penis might seem like an obstacle of sorts, particularly when compressed against a bike seat. Is there really such as thing as Penis Envy? 

Women clearly have their issues down there too. The rub of a set of bike shorts can make things sore for a woman in a hurry. 

But men have some odd challenges. I’ve gone numb in the penis several times when the bike seat or my riding posture are positioned wrong. That’s an odd feeling, to have no feeling at all in that most sensitive and typically responsive part of your body. It’s like “Hello, Anyone Home?”

That’s when the Joy Stick no longer feels joyful. That’s no fun at all. After all, for many men, whether they will confess it publicly or not, their penis is like a lifetime playmate or a feelgood friend. You don’t want to let the poor guy go numb and stay numb. 

Which brings us to sensuality, the flip side of raw equipment management. And as the world has discovered through the likes of Cosmo magazine and other pro-liberation media, women have as much or more capacity for joy down there than do men. Multiple orgasms are the Holy Grail or female sexuality, and whether they’ll admit it or not, men are fabulously jealous of that incredible capacity. Turns out that Vagina Envy may be more real than we might like to think. 

But again, there’s no joy down there when things are roughed up or abraded by sweat and friction. Sensuality ducks and covers under those circumstances. 

So while male and female anatomy down there (and up there too) seems so vastly different, we also know there are people who possess both male and female characteristics. Either they possess physical attributes or their gender identity is malleable. Both are actually legitimate outcomes of human evolution. 

It is disturbing to see how many people in American society are determined to shove these people aside or force them to choose on category or another, only to criticize them when they do. Talk about gender hypocrisy and false clarity. Yet it isn’t always an easy determination to decide whether certain athletes are more male than female when they clearly exist somewhere in between. The world of sports continues to struggle with those human dimensions. 

I know several transgender people. One of them bears the same name as me. They’re just Chris. Leave it at that. 

I recall being a kid and worrying that my first and middle name were a bit gender neutral. To make matters worse, my mother often called me Chrissy. She did this all the way through my high school cross country and track career. My competitors would hear my mom calling out that brand of encouragement and mutter cynically to me during races, “Go Chrissy go!” 

And my middle name is Lynn. Not much help in the machismo department. I was always worried people would not consider me macho enough. Peers were always testing the will to stand up to teasing and bullying. Friends and foes alike.

That said, most of us athletes in the 70s and early 80s waltzed around naked without a thought about other people seeing us in the buff. We didn’t obsess about penis size either. And Man Grooming? Wasn’t on the radar back then. The same went for women in the “down there” department anyway. In retrospect it all looks a little funky. Those Playboy photos from forty years ago bear testament to the need for the little trim that kept things in shape, as it were. But that was far from the often bareback preferences of the present age. 

Let’s not forget how skimpy athletic fashions and general clothing wear sometimes became in the early 1970s. Short shorts rolled into fashion for women and the body revelation had begun. I clearly recall standing across from a particularly well-built classmate in our little high school out in the cornfield. At the age of fifteen, I could not help admiring her crotch in tight-fitting white shorts. Those years were like one giant hormone rush. I don’t even recall going to class some days because my brain was a thick ball of testosterone. Could. Not. Think.

Yet I still knew so little about female anatomy the mysteries of it all just about killed me. With no sisters of my own to witness through their blossoming years, the female anatomy might as well have been a nebula forty million light years away. Until, of course, the whole sexual exploration thing began. Bob Seger captured the glory of all that in his sing Night Moves: 

I was a little too tall
Could’ve used a few pounds
Tight pants points hardly reknown
She was a black-haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points all her own sitting way up high
Way up firm and high

But for all that cross-gender mystery, interactions within our own gender were well-adjusted to social dynamics such as taking public showers. That was before culture was browbeaten by conservative fears that our chastity and privacy were at risk. As a result, kids have reportedly retreated from public showers in high schools across the country. My high school teacher friends say that taking showers together just isn’t done these days. Pity. That was a great place to sing songs together. 

Nowadays the public forum of social media is like one giant shower stall. The human body is exposed more than ever.  And that’s okay. Bared asses and breasts (but not nipples) appear every day on Instagram, and none’s the harm. Even the risk of a little male or female Camel Toe is a statement that our respective brand of genitals do not define us. What you have down there isn’t so important as what you make of it in terms of celebrating the power of whatever gender you possess. And that’s the way it should be.  

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In the heart of un-darkness

6:00 a.m. on a winter’s morning

My wife popped up to ride the indoor trainer at 4:45 a.m. I crawled out of the warm bed at 5:15 and dug out the running stuff from the TYR bag resting by the foot of the bed. Admittedly I’d already scrolled through the list of Likes and Comments on Instagram, whisked through the Notifications on Facebook and watched a hilarious video of Bryan Cranston celebrating his 60th birthday on the Jimmy Kimmel show. 

Perhaps I’m not proud of the grip social media has on my conscious mind, but winter mornings demand a little light and the phone is all-too-willing to provide it. 

Outside, the skies were still dark. Or so it appeared from inside the house. When it’s cloudy overnight where we live, the sky never gets truly dark. The lights from the auto dealerships two miles to the south take care of that. So does the glow from nearby Geneva, where the lights from shopping malls illuminate the sky. And in St. Charles as well, a pod of wan light washes across the otherwise dark horizon. 

Light and dark on suburban streets

I’m used to running in the dark. There’s a predictability to it if you do it long enough. Best not flirt too much with the road edge, which can be uneven. It’s typically easy enough to see the pavement cracks except when a car is approaching and the headlights blind you. Then it’s necessary to raise a hand and shield the eyes for safety. 

Welcome to the heart of un-darkness, where a little light is a blessing and a lotta light can be a curse. It is the space I long occupied as a paperboy in the early 1970s. I’d cover the route in darkness, especially on the side of town where streetlights were spaced far apart. Along I’d roll, pedaling a Huffy three-speed bike with caliper brake (whoooooaah). Even in deep snow I’d roll around the slushy streets with that often-heavy bag of newspapers over my shoulder. That was a 5:30 a.m. job to earn probably $8.00 a week. But I was motivated and did a great job. The Christmas tips proved that to me. 

I share these experiences to convey the sense of familiarity one can develop with moving about in the un-dark. When people ask if it’s hard to run or ride before it gets light, I do recall there was ever a time when I crashed the bike or stumbled enough to fall while moving about before dawn or after twilight.

Of course, I’ve run into fallen trees in broad daylight and tumbled into the landscaping by tripping over a curb on a bright summer day, but I cannot recall a single time when I crashed or fell all the way to the ground while it was dark out. 

The un-darkness of the soul. 

Perhaps, like a person lacking sight or hearing, one develops an extra sensitivity to training in the dark. The un-darkness is, in fact, its own world, a realm in which one moves about with senses operating in a different fashion than normal. 

I recall reading those Carlos Castaneda books about the teachings of Don Juan, a mystic warrior whose insights included how to transcend the physical world. I can’t say anything like that has happened to me, but there have been some weird moments over the years when I passed by a human figure in the shadows who would not say hello. The dark is privacy, to some degree. But so is the half-dark.

It’s not loneliness exactly, but alone-ness that sometimes matters to the soul. That feeling of being someone, or something sentient is important. You exist in a space between the worlds. Never mind the coming day or the approaching night. This little world of un-darkness is just about perfect for the soul seeking answers from the sound of footsteps or the whirr of tires. 

Running in winter un-darkness can seem dank and foreboding. But there’s also running in the summer night with just shorts and a pair of shoes, or cycling home after twilight has fallen, when the nighthawks course under the streetlights and one arrives tired and happy, on your own driveway thankful for the gift of it all. 

And the un-darkness of the soul. 

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The more things stay the same, the more they change us

I know. You think I got that saying in the headline wrong. The traditional statement is to sigh and lament, “Well, you know. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Well I say, fuck that. 

We’re all familiar with how fashions change in men’s ties. For a while they’ll be real fat and gaudy. Then they slim down and go all conservative and trim. Then they expand to medium sized with all these gaudy colors and for all we know, there are abstract images of penguins fucking seals in the patterns. But you’d never know it unless you ask the actual designers, who are likely laughing behind your back and snickering into their sleeves as they snigger and chortle, “PENGUINS FUCKING SEALS! THEY’LL BUY ANYTHING!” 

Or MAYBE it’s other way around. Maybe it’s seals fucking penguins. We have evidence of that at least. Those fashion designers are so environmentally sensitive, you know.  

Caption this one yourself. 

I’ve likely had ties with that type of pattern on them.  I’ve also had ties in all kinds of widths and lengths and knots. But there’s hardly any demand to wear ties any more. So for the most part, my tie collection sits in a closet undisturbed until some slightly formal occasion comes along requiring one of fifty or so ties to be hauled out of it’s bin like a snake from a wicker basket. Be careful, they might bite. 

Old but looking for polish. 

Then there’s the tasks of shining my shoes. That’s something I still like to do now and then because I believe that shoes should not be left to look like two hardened shells of wrinkly cow shit. Women with taste notice these sorts of things. If your shoes look like shit, they’ll think you look like shit too. 

As noted in yesterday’s blog, I recently restored a bike to riding condition that I’d crunched by driving into my garage with the bike on the roof rack. It’s been an expensive wall ornament for a few years.

But now it’s back. It cost me some money to fix it up, because everything to do with cycling costs money. Yet it’s often worth it to go back in time and bring something back to life that you once loved them and could love again. The more things stay the same, the more they change. 

Old but looking for fitness. 

That’s one of the ways that we all keep things from going stale. Whether it’s going back in time or picking up the pieces somehow and moving on, the sameness may be familiar but it’s also a foundation for change. 

More than one endurance athlete has hit a plateau or a stale period in their life where nothing feels new. Sometimes they try to re-invent themselves. But others go back to what worked for them in the first place. They might re-unite with a former coach, or go training on some favorite trails or roads. 

In some sports, it’s far more difficult to use the same to create the change. I’ve seen former swimmers stand by the pool and nothing about getting back in the water feels like fun to them. When you’ve trained thousands of meters in the pool at all times of the day, it’s hard to find something new about any of it. That’s certainly understandable. Yet there’s still a shred of hope…

Fortunately open water swimming does offer an opportunity to do something a little different than swimming multiple laps in the pool. No walls for flip turns for one thing. I’m still gaining confidence about open water swimming but the first time I did it a few years ago the experience was revelatory. Grant you, I had a wetsuit on so my attitude was bolstered. Whatever works. But it was fun. Liberating. 

Just open water. That’s all. 

Now I’m trying to build strength so that I can honestly engage with the water in any circumstance and at almost any distance. Hopefully I’ll grow in efficiency so that swimming a mile or more without a wetsuit is well within my province. To do that will require plenty of laps in the indoor pool. That’s all necessary to get the type of freedom one seeks in the outdoor environment. To seek change, sometimes we have to labor through the sameness. True in workouts. True in life. Just like the lyrics of John Lennon’s song Revolution: 

You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead

It’s also true on the bike and running as well. We ride indoors on the bike all winter (so much of the same…) to build fitness for those harsh March days when the temps get above forty and it’s time to prepare for the big wide world with real hills and wind and weather.

Some take to the running treadmill as well. It’s hard some days to take the sameness of these routines. But that’s the point here: The more things stay the same, the more they change us for the better when it matters. 

Posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, Christopher Cudworth, cycling, cycling the midwest, healthy aging, marathon training, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding your motivation

If only the motivation to work out were this easy to find…

It would be nice if the motivation to work out and improve performance could be stumbled upon like some glowing blue object in a video game. “Oh look!” you could marvel. “A big chunk of motivation! I’ll put that in my digital fanny pack and go do 30 miles on the bike in a freezing rain.” 

Typically, it doesn’t work that way. Yet motivation can come from strange places. Even the purchase of a new pair of running shoes or a cool new kit top can turn out to be a motivating force if you let it. 

That’s tight

I recall the year I was given a new set of Tinley running tights for Christmas. Those damned things were so comfortable and well-designed I wound up running more just to enjoy them. That spring I dropped my previously lagging 10K time out of sheer circumstantial momentum. 

Out of the wreckage

Back on the road in matching red and black

Recently I decided to fix up the Felt 4C bike that I’d crunched by driving into the garage with the bike still mounted on the roof rack. It wasn’t much more than a 5-mile-an-hour collision, but the front fork was definitely toasted. Since then, I’ve had several bike aficionados study the frame and they found no cracks in it. So I bought the Felt a new front fork and with a couple other tweaks including a new seat stem and stainproof black bar tape the Felt 4C is back in action. 

I’d forgotten how smooth and that light that bike is to ride. I love my Specialized Venge Expert for its stolid right and smooth shifting. By contrast, the Felt 4C is a different ride, but it’s a nice one. So that was the bike that provided a chunk of needed motivation yesterday. I took the Felt out to ride 16 miles in a raw wind and 40-degree temps. Yet it turned out to be fun. 

Call me nuts

Even on grey days, the motivation to work out can drive you to great things

Some people call that kind of thing nuts. But it’s true that people who don’t run or ride or swim think a lot of the things we do are crazy. Thus my motivation is seldom either gained or lost from those who don’t know what it’s like, on a cold and blustery day, to finally turn around and ride with the wind after you’ve worked five full miles into the cold gale. Then the ride goes silent but for the whirr of the wheels on smooth asphalt. The speed picks up and the rewards are real. 

In fact, that moment in time is very much like scooping up a little green digital power pack in a video game. So I’ll take back what I said at the start of this blog. Motivation is nothing more than the energy and will to enjoy what you’re doing, and you can find that almost any time if you’re looking for it.  

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The ins and outs of the common cold

The inevitable collapse in training when the common cold struck. 

Like most of you endurance athletes out there, I’ve had my share of the common cold. You know the typical symptoms. Starts with a tickle in the throat or nose. Graduates to soreness at the back of your mouth. Drainage of the sinuses. Then comes the full-on snotfest. Coughing starts after four or five days. Then the giant clearing out at the end. All of it. Just Lovely. 

I have a mild cold right now. On a scale of 1-10 of the colds I’ve had, this ranks around a 3. In other words, not bad. This one was likely inevitable. The holidays push people together in tight spaces and all it takes is the transfer of cold germs by hand or through the air and next thing you know, you’re the one snuffling your way through the day. 

Fortunately, I don’t get many full-on colds these days. At the first hint of a potential cold I take some sort of zinc meds or lozenges to fight back the early signs. That works for me almost every time. Something in the zinc zaps the cold viruses or ruins the environment in which they seek to thrive. 

That drawn symbol in the middle meant “Burning the candle at both ends.”

When I was training hard the common cold seemed to be waiting around the corner of every hard week. All it took to get sick was one workout too many or a run too far and the sore throat would come on. The other signs were excessive thirst, craving for sweets, achiness and a rise in resting heart rate. But when you’re obsessed with performance those warning signs slide by and suddenly, a cold comes on. 

I’ve trained and raced through colds before. That’s no fun. I too well recall running track workouts in high school while wracked with a cold. We’d train in loops around the paved surfaces of Kaneland High School, a speck of a building out on open land between corn and bean fields around Maple Park, Illinois. It was hell getting through those workouts in the February chill and winds. The snot would be thick in my nose and it was hard to breathe. Yet there we’d go again. Around and around. Got to get in shape for outdoor season. 

During college cross country it was vital to get enough sleep while doing high mileage or a cold could catch up with you. I was fastidious about that. Still, once or twice over the four years I did catch a cold. Overtraining was always a risk. That meant I had to run through a week or more coughing and hacking as we trundled along those country roads. 

The party scene was always hard to resist. 

Post-collegiately I trained myself rather than work with a coach. I kept a tight little journal of every workout. Part of the challenge in my early 20s was not just the training, but burning the candle at both ends. There were so many opportunities to stay out late and party. In combination with the intense training it would frequently add up to trouble. 

At one point I got so sick from a cold that it turned into migraine headaches. My brain felt like the entire lining inside the skull was on fire. I got to the doctor and they gave me a prescription for Tylenol with codeine to contend with the headaches. Those meds made my arm go numb and I got actually got sharp pain in my side from the medication. Likely that was dehydration. In any case, I wound up in the emergency room that same day. They took an x-ray of my gut to make sure nothing really bad was happening and said it look like there was a gas bubble in there, but nothing serious. The nurse said, “It seems like you mostly need some rest.”

So I went home and laid down. Then my brothers called me on the phone and said, “Hey, we’re going down to Mother’s in Chicago tonight. Wanna come?” And of course I did. I wound up drinking and dancing until three in the morning. Frankly, I got home feeling much better. Go figure. 

I’ve actually gained some common sense over the years. By the time I was out of my 20s and had kids, I’d let up on training some. When a cold did come around, I worked at knocking the thing back with rest of Vitamin C. But I also tried cold medications, and then it turned out my prostate was really sensitive to antihistamines. My prostate would seize up and I couldn’t pee if I took much of anything. That once led to a prostate infection, which is one of the worst conditions a guy can experience. 

So I tried homeopathic remedies including some little white pills that you sucked on to combat colds, but they didn’t seem to work very well. It wasn’t until someone created Cold-Eaze and other zinc medications that much of anything worked. I guess Emergen-C does some of the same things, but I trust my zinc. Love me some Zicam. 

The ups and downs of training hard. 

I’m just glad to have some sort of defense compared to those snot-nosed days as a kid when shirtsleeves served as a handkerchief and the common cold was like the Plague tearing through the school. None of that was any fun at all. 

However there were some hilarious moments that emerged from those early experiences. In elementary school we had a classmate named Jeffrey (I’ll spare the last name) who sneezed hard in class while we were working on a group project. That resulted in a big yellow snot snake hanging down from his nostril. He wasn’t aware of the thing at all. We all yelled and backed away from the desk as someone yelled, “Ewwwww, it’s Pencil Nose!”

The nickname stuck. Poor guy had to live out the rest of the year with the nickname Pencil Nose. Ah yes, the glories of the common cold. Can’t say that I’m sentimental about any of it. But I also can’t erase some of those memories. For some reason this little rhyme has always stuck with me too. 

“When you kiss your little honey, and your nose is very runny, you may think it’s very funny, but it’s snot. 

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, cross country, mental health, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cold toes in the shower

Cold winter runs and rides are tests for the soul. 

Coming back from a mountain bike ride with temps in the low 30s, I knew what to expect when stepping into the shower. My toes were going to hurt. 

When your toes hurt from the cold, it’s a sign that your extremities are paying the price to keep your core temperatures warm. The body looks at cold from an “outside in” perspective. It would rather lose a few digits than risk having the heart go stiff and freeze. 

That’s an interesting evolutionary adaptation. We don’t tell our bodies to act like that. And that said, I’m always amazed at what the human face can take relative to the rest of the body. Yes, we should protect our face in cold temperatures where there is risk of frostbite. But on a typical ten degree day without sharp winds to heighten the chill, we can run miles and miles and the skin on our face will be fine. A bit chapped perhaps. And red. But fine. 

Cold reminders

Still, it’s a cold reminder that we should not take these risks for granted. When you get back to the shower after a cold ride or run and the water feels like fire on your cold toes, it’s good to take stock of how close you came to really having problems. Can you dress warmer? Wear booties? Our instincts aren’t always honest with us. 

I recall playing in an icy puddle with my best friend as a child. I don’t know why we were doing that. Probably just interested in the ice floating around in the clear water. After a while I I turned to him and said, “Isn’t it funny how your fingers feel hot after getting so cold in the ice water?” That was a revelation to both of us. We explored many such moments together over our elementary years.

Cold comfort

But when my father decided to move our family west to Illinois, I spent our last afternoon together talking with him about friendship and how much it had meant to me. We both lived next to a golf course in Pennsylvania, so we sat on our favorite golf tee above an elevated hole. We talked a while and then turned to me and said, “Why does everything I love have to leave me?” 

His parents had divorced years before. During our friendship he’d even moved south for a period to live with his dad. His father was a harsh man as I recall, and my friend seemed changed, not for the better, when he returned home to live with his mom. He’d grown more cynical, prone to moodiness, and suspicious even of our friendship. But the hot or cold nature of one’s relationship with a parent doesn’t always define the love one feels at the core of one’s being. Eventually he relaxed again, and our deep friendship continued. 

But the sense of loss in life had hurt us both in ways that we didn’t anticipate. The extremities of our character had felt the chill of life surround us. My own father could be harsh as well, and our friendship was likely an insulator against what we could not understand at our young age. Our sensitivities either get left out there on behalf of the self, or we pull them back and learn how to protect ourselves from the cold world around us. 

The hope is that people burned by painful relationships in this world ultimately find the love they need to heal in this lifetime. Some put faith in a greater power for that source of healing because the world can be so unreliable. Others warm their souls through an eternal search for connection and kinship.

Some find salvation that in nature. Others in human communities. In pets. The arts. Even a favorite piece of music can heal the soul at the right moment. 

In one way or another, we all have to deal with the strange contradictions of cold and heat in this world. I’m grateful for how our bodies respond when our toes are so cold they feel like fire in the shower. It shows that we’re not afraid to try new things. Yet it also tells us that our perceptions are neither perfect or absolute.

We’re also reminded that the spirit within us often desires to come out. Which is some of the reason why we all go running, riding and swimming. With every effort, we release a bit spirit into the world. If we’re lucky or wise, some element of spirit comes back to restore us as well. It might burn like fire. Or sting like ice. But they’re all reminders that we’re alive. 

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, cycling, mental health, PEAK EXPERIENCES, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are you ready for this?

The first session on the indoor trainer…before December even begins. 

This morning I popped the Specialized Venge on the trainer and pedaled for 40 minutes or so. We have a nice room set up for indoor training. There’s a TV and a fan and a place to hang our bikes when they’re not in use. 

As I climbed on the bike I thought about the months ahead and asked myself, “Are you ready for this?” 

I’ll admit it: Indoor training on the bike is not my favorite thing. Nor do I love the treadmill. Yet going way back to the early 1980s while living in the City of Chicago at 1764 North Clark Street, I’d put a bike on a trainer in front of the bay windows overlooking Lincoln Park. My roommate convinced me to buy a MagTurbo trainer that I still own. And it still works. 

That’s not the one I use these days, because they’ve evolved a little. But not that much. We multisport athletes tend to pile up equipment just for sake of change. 

And who can really blame a person for wanting to freshen it up a bit? Indoor training under any circumstance is an exercise in forced patience. We sometimes visit Computrain classes and sit there pedaling while trying to keep our digital graphics in the proper zone to gain maximum training effect. 

This pic was from a mountain bike ride to conduct a bird census during the winter months. 

Sometimes I prefer to just grab the mountain bike, bundle up and go riding on the bike trails if they’re clear. My brother-in-law used to put in 60-mile rides in near-zero temps. He’d double layer and seal his feet in with heating pads and baggies. He was an animal at riding. 

I rode this past Saturday with two good friends that have seen it all when it comes to bikes. We took our mountain bikes out for a chilly but tolerable 20 mile ride. Part of our journey took us through a local state park where the crushed gravel trails were sodden. They stole the energy out of every pedal stroke and it was tough to keep pace, especially when the winds combined to make things even harder. 

But it was honest riding, for sure. And I like that. 

It’s not that indoor training is dishonest in some way. Some cyclists do all their training indoors. Some get so hooked on Zwift they miss it too much when they head outside. We’re going to have that to use this winter as well. We’ll see how that goes. 

Indoor intervals are still fun to me. 

My goals are to get ready for a training camp we’re attending in Tucson in February. I’m also trying to keep my gut from expanding over the winter months. Last night I did an 8 X 400 running workout on the indoor track at 1:36-1:40 per interval. The indoor track is a pleasure in many ways. 

So to answer the question, “Am I ready for this?” I’ll have to say yes and no. It’s going to take a few sessions to get my brain tuned to the rhythms of indoor cycling. But I’ll have the mountain bike if the temps get above 30 degrees, my running and the swim workouts to break things up and make things interesting. 

I’m not going to dwell on how long I’ve been doing all this.  That seems dysfunctional when you’re trying to think about keeping up fitness for the future. I suppose it would be easy to let it all go and relax into some sort of partial fitness routine as some people my age are wont to do. But I’ve thought about that option and made a decision already. I’m not ready for that. 

See you on the trainer. On the track. And in the pool. 

Posted in cycling, cycling the midwest, swimming, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The snowblower in my veins

The hard wall of snow at the end of the drive had to be whittled down 3″ at a time. 

I got out to shovel and use the snowblower just after 6:00 a.m. this morning  We received about seven inches of wet snow last night. To make matters more interesting, our driveway was clogged with four of the five cars we own in our household. I’d forgotten to pull my Subaru Outback into the garage. The rest are transports for the 20-somethings who live with us. 

There were drifts in front of the car bumpers. I skimmed past them with the snowblower that my daughter’s boyfriend had mercifully gotten to work by cleaning off the sparkplug head last night. It roared into action this morning after nudging the choke lever into position, giving two pumps of the fuel primer and one hard yank on the cord.

Man that thing is loud when it comes on. 

Wall of snow

A work in progress and an illustration of life itself? 

It was a vital instrument this morning given the wall of frozen snow blocking the end of our driveway. I had to carve away at the wall of snow by shaving off inches at a time. Finally I broke through after narrowing it down from three feet wide to a width where the snowblower could chaw through the chunks tossed there by the snowplow during the night.

It’s true: All of life involves problem-solving of one kind or another. Some of that is hard and some is easy. Clearing our way out of the snow would be a game of sorts if it wasn’t so damned hard in places. 

Sweating it out

Even using the snowblower, I worked up a sweat underneath the hooded sweatshirt I wore to keep out the wind. That layer of sweat on my body got me thinking about how grateful I am to have stayed in some kind of shape all these years. This was heart attack snow for sure; wet, heavy and re-frozen into thick drifts and impenetrable banks.

Truth be told, even the basic layer of snow was hard work to move. I’d shoveled enough on the walk and top of the driveway to realize this was not the type of snow one should wrestle with by hand. Hence the snowblower phase. 

Performance measures

The little red Toro that could. Nothing fancy. Just clears the snow. 

We can fuss and fret about our race performances all we want. Lament the loss of speed to age and the competitive fury to recognition that it is only age-group stuff that matters these days. 

What truly matters in the end is how this fitness stuff helps us function in day-to-day life. That also reminds me that I’ve too long ignored the recommendation of my doctor to take medication to control cholesterol and prevent blockages in my circulatory system. My mom and dad both had troubles with heart disease or stroke, so the family history outweighs my vanity and pride. 

If I need a snowblower to clear out my veins and arteries in the long run, so be it. Whatever works to keep things safe and navigable. 

HI EVERYONE. Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving. Is there anything on your Christmas Fitness List this year? Would love to hear about it.…Even your wish list might be fun to share…even if there’s no way in hell you’re getting that $10K Pinarello. 

Posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, anxiety, Christopher Cudworth, competition, healthy aging, healthy senior | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Turkey Trot treatise

A Thanksgiving morning road race has become a tradition for millions of runners. Our local race is four miles, which is about the perfect racing distance for the masses. A little longer than the typical 5K, yet not as taxing as a 10K. 

There’s just one problem. Our race starts up the Houston Street Hill in downtown Batavia, Illinois. That stupid hill lasts about 200 meters and lasts long enough to put you into oxygen debt and suffer dreaded the dead leg syndrome before you even get to the half-mile mark. 

Distractions of all kinds

Fortunately the course quickly flattens out. But no matter how much I warm up, the initial fatigue is pretty damned distracting. I do run hills now and then. But more then than now. Which means the strategy was to shorten my stride, keep my head down and wait for the incline to disappear. 

That’s not exactly what happens of course. You look up to check your progress despite all your best intentions. I’m not saying that staring at your feet as you run up a hill is the best strategy at all. Not saying that. I’m just saying that I knew it was going to hurt and decided to pretend that the climb was shorter than I imagined. Instead, it was like one of those long and horrid runs on a treadmill where you’re on the machine for what seems like an eternity and look down to see the readout and it says. “.85 miles.” 

I swear to (and at) myself at that point. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of treadmill running. Not a super fan of indoor cycling either. But this year it appears we’ll have Zwift software to entertain us on both fronts. 

Lance back in the Yellow Jersey Discovery Daze

Because a few years back at the start of my serious cycling period, I recorded 7 DVDs of Tour de France coverage. The recordings were from the last year that Lance won the race. I reveled in the re-created drama while pedaling away in the large basement. Yet when it was all done after a week or so, there was no way that I was going to go back and watch it all over again. One can talk just so much Tour de France. 

Deja Vu and the Gumby Blues

Unfortunately, a little bit of that jaded sensation can creep into in my regular racing and training. Some experiences become so familiar it’s impossible for it not to feel a bit repetitive or even drift into the realm of deja vu at times. I’ve decided to embrace that fully. My days of winning races is long past, but the fatigue feels basically the same whether you’re up at the front of the race fighting for the lead or just struggling to keep the Juggling Gumby guy from beating you to the Finish Line.

In my case this Turkey Trot, the Gumby actually beat me, cracking jokes and talking to the crowd the whole way. He runs 7:00 pace wearing a big green suit that must add at least 20% in terms of wind resistance. Gumby may be green but he gave me a case of the Running Blues.   

So the annual Turkey Trot has its unique challenges. I also got beat by full-grown people wearing Turkey costumes and by little gobblers half my size. I told one of them “Way to go dude.” He returned the favor, “You too sir.”

Middle of the Pack

I’ll admit that I’ll never get completely used to being a Middle of the Packer. Ever.

But I have gotten used to running my own race pace no matter what my surroundings are. Using my best yoga breathing techniques, I find the groove that’s best and focus on “running well,” just as I counsel my wife when she’s frustrated by her running. After running the Turkey Trot five years in a row, I know the weather’s always going to be slightly cloudy, a bit windy and chilly. Still, I was hoping that racing a half-marathon a few weeks ago was going to make running a four-miler feel like a cinch. 

It doesn’t always work that way. That stupid hill at the start makes sure of that. My legs really felt great in warmups. I even stood just behind the second row of runners at the starting line. I was chatting with a pair of Bradley University women distance runners when lean and fit former neighbor trotted back to the start line and saw me. He looked at me a little incredulously and asked, “How are you running these days?” 

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’m just up front for old time’s sake.” 

Etiquette and pace

Annual Turkey Trot
Happy to click that watch and be done. No Gumby in sight. 

Understand this: I don’t like the old and slow folks who start up front and get run over any more than the next guy. But in my case, I know the rhythms of a race better than almost anyone on this planet. I was going to run fast enough not to hold anyone back. Plus the race announcer told us that anyone near 7:00 pace should stand up front. I was just following orders based on my own hopeful expectations. 

Unfortunately, I came through the first mile not at 7:00 pace, but 7:19. Then two miles at 14:55. The last two miles slowed a bit as well. As I trundled past my former home that stands at the three-mile mark on the Turkey Trot course, it struck me how many times I’ve run down that street dating back to 1996. The new owner keeps the place shade-shut and sullen. No remorse there. 

Keeping the faith

Despite the inevitable fatigue of racing half-fit, I held my own at 7:37 pace through the slog of nostalgia and other mental detritus. I even kicked home the last 400 meters and ran full bore down the damned hill we had to run up at the start. I stopped my watch at 30:37.

Grant you, I was hoping to break 30:00 this year but the universe clearly had something else for me in mind. Trotting across the finish line, I noted that it just felt good to run in my classic LLBean purple top and bright new multicolored cap. A friend gave me that hat in honor of gay rights.  I feel like it’s right to let the world know that it’s still a bright idea to love everyone. Jesus said so. The rest of that legalistic crap that people throw at the world is ridiculous, fearful and ignorant. 

Time with friends and family

On Saturday night we visited the Electric Holiday Parade in St. Charles, Ill. Cheesy, but fun. 

I petted some dogs while waiting for Sue to finish a few minutes behind me. She had a break scheduled in training the last two weeks and this was her break from the break.

We had fun running and rode back home with her sister Julie and beau Mike Czarnik, a stalwart dude who ran the exact 7:00 pace I was hoping to achieve. He’s racing a marathon in San Antonio next week. This was a snappy little tuneup for him. 

All that behind us, we checked the results and I’d finished third in my age group. Wasn’t concerned about picking up the award because the large crowd arriving for Thanksgiving celebrations was a reward enough for the day. 

Posted in 10K, 13.1, 5K, running | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment