A social kind of brain injury

In recent years news has come forward that playing professional football in the NFL can produce severe brain injury. The result is a condition, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, that is abbreviated as CTE. The brain becomes so concussed after multiple collisions (both direct and indirect) that the brain ceases to function in a normal manner.

The stories of former NFL players trying to cope with the effects of CTE are heartbreaking. Just as heartbreaking are the tales of spouses and friends trying to help those whose minds are addled by CTE.

Hockey playersSome players have taken their own lives as a result. Yet they are not alone in the game of football in dealing with CTE. Hockey players such as Daniel Carrillo, who played for several NHL franchise, has recently elected to donate his brain to science and the study of CTE. Carcillo was a hard-charging hockey player with more than 1400 collisions chalked up in his career. He also endured a few fistfights, if memory serves.

In an article on philly.com, Carcillo’s story reveals the frustration many former pro athletes feel once they retire and get outside the spectrum of money and pressures that drive them to play without regard for their health the rest of their lives. The article states: “Earlier Wednesday, he answered questions on his Instagram live concerning the NHL – which he calls the “league of denial” – and implored players to learn the risks associated with repeated hits to the head.”

The crushing impact of blows to the head is one type of brain injury. But in a strange little convergence of news this morning after reading about Carcillo’s story yesterday in the Chicago Tribune, I was listening to music through YouTube on my phone while cleaning up my bedroom. A video came on featuring actor Denzel Washington talking about the dangers of social media and cellphone addiction.

The dopamine kid

IMG_3767I stopped to listen. There were discussions on how cellphones and social media apps and sites are specifically designed to produce an addictive desire to use them. We all might joke about the dopamine effect and how phones and apps work together to give us short little charges of chemical excitement, but our brains can get numb to the early levels and start to crave more. And more.

Before we know it, we’re emotionally and chemically hooked on using our devices to feed our brains the brands of stimulation they crave. For me the problem is doubled by the fact that using social media is a significant part of my job. I also have two cellphones, one for work and one for personal use. That means keeping both phones charged and checking apps on one phone that I don’t carry on the other. It can become unmanageable in a hurry. 

Looped in

The “two phones” thing is purposeful, but perhaps misguided. It’s easy to make a mistake and cross those worlds on work and personal phones and social media. One cannot even manage a company social media page on Facebook without having a personal account. At the same time, Facebook makes it impossible to post a comment on some social media pages under the name of the company you represent. Instead it appears as a personal post.

I’ve talked with many other social media users about these problems and all share the same frustrations. We all live in a digital web. But are we spiders, or are we flies?

red-orange-green-traffic-lightsThat’s the question that has begun to bother me. It took me years to come to grips with aspects of my brain chemistry. Acknowledging and coming to grips with the conditions of anxiety and depression, and learning how to employ coping strategies to avoid ruminative or damaging thought patterns has taken hard work and years to accomplish. Sometimes when you change one part of your brain, the other part takes over. It’s like a traffic light. 

Add in the fact that I have likely dealt all my life with some form of ADD or ADHD, which is technically ‘undiagnosed,’ and I might just be the #1 candidate for social media addiction.

School daze

Back in school I often had a hard time concentrating. The attention disorder also results in a propensity to make mistakes or fail to recognize them in my own work. My mind wants to believe something is correct, and it skips right over the problem. You’ve seen that in this blog, I know. I hate when I go back through and find errors, and I often go back and do that when it’s been published. So it’s not laziness on my part. It’s how my brain functions/dysfunctions.

So I’m writing this blog from now on in Word to copy it over rather than writing the pieces straight into WordPress as I’ve long done. It’s more fun that way, but it’s also a recipe for consistent, bothersome errors. Thus the layer of writing in Word is an objectivity that is necessary. Mistakes in grammar, spelling or other flaws clearly undermine my efforts at credibility. I love writing. Why poison it with bad habits? 

Social absorption

I’ve also realized that despite the healthy breaks I give my brain by swimming, riding and running, those benefits can all be wasted by allowing too much absorption in social media. Over the last ten years, I’ve gotten out of control a few times. Not only have I behaved like a manic soul on occasions, I’ve hurt people that I know, and been hurt in return.

All because the chemistry of my brain flips into conflict mode when faced with consistent sources of stress. It is one of the ironies of human existence that we sometimes crave the things that damage us the most. These stimulations may be wholesome or healthy in moderation, such as sex or food or alcohol or gambling, but when craving takes over the human brain there is little one can do to stop the craving as it turns into a need and an addiction. Then it’s time to get help. 

Running addiction

Chris Running 1978I was once addicted in some respects to running. It held up my self-esteem. Whenever anything bad in life would occur, or I felt like I needed a dose of self-worth to keep myself afloat, I’d pour my efforts into running. Often that resulted in some fine results. But of course they were fleeting, and deep down, few people really care if you’ve just won a local 10K. 

Finally I decided in my late 20’s to break that cycle. I had a family on the way and it was time to put things in check. I transitioned to being a ‘fun runner’ and have continued on that path with relative consistency. These days I do triathlons for fun. Sometimes I do well in age group competition, but mostly it is the peak experience of concentration and focus that I enjoy. 

Not everyone has that epiphany. I recently encountered a woman I met in a naturalist certificate class a few years back. She was very slight but had strong calves and arms. Over the years I’ve watched her shrink from too much exercise. She’s participated in every kind of severe distance events you can imagine. Now her complexion is almost yellow. She’s growing hair on her cheeks. It seems to me that she might exercise herself to death.

Taking stock

All this has made me take stock of how my own brain is functioning of late. There are times when I feel the pull of the phone and it makes me anxious all on its own. And lifestyle issues enter in, because when I leave my phone to work in the yard or go for a ride, the pressure to be available all the time is pervasive.

There’s no such thing as getting completely away from that. I know that now. But there are things we can all do to avoid this prison of perpetual complicity we’re all in. Once I eagerly hoped that the Apple computer company would triumph over the Microsoft copycats of the world. I considered Apple the more creative and therefore purer company.

Well Apple triumphed alright. I’ve used Macs and iPads, iPods and iPhones. I don’t think I want an Apple watch because it is attached to my body.

Partitions

Feet On TrackSo I’m planning to partition my brain somewhat from the impacts of all this digital deference. That may involve blocking out portions of the day where I do not touch the most consistently used apps of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Linkedin.

But we all know how difficult it can be to give something up cold turkey. I know a young man who got hooked on heroin and had to go through rehab. When he came out, he told his parents, “I won’t do heroin but I’m gonna keep on smoking pot.”

An adult friend of mine who was going through a divorce was told by a counselor that he was an alcoholic. He responded, “I have a drinking problem, but I’m not an alcoholic.” And to his credit, he moderated his drinking. For a long period he took it down to near zero. He can now drink socially and not get drunk all the time. I’m proud of him for that. He knew his own mind pretty well.

Productive use

Which shows that the message for some doesn’t always sink, while in others, there is hope for self-remediation. In my case, I know my mind well enough to recognize the fact that the sensations I’m feeling in my mind toward phone and social media use are not normal, healthy brain functions. But having dealt with my own brand of addiction to running in an earlier phase in life, I think it’s possible to continue use of social media without remaining a full-time addict.

The core issue is using social media and smartphones for productive, not escapist reasons. That will be the measure for the change. I don’t know how you feel about all this, but if you’re feeling the numbness and addiction creep in on you, perhaps it’s time to address yourself with honest and authenticity. Use the phone for safety, constructive dialogue and personal goals. Beyond that, the rest is just trying to own you. It’s a social kind of brain injury, but it may be just as real as CTE. 

And that’s a sobering realization.

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There are some real asses out there

IMG_4276I’ve never really been an ass man, per see. But in this day and age, there are so many more asses on display thanks to changes in the fashion spectrum, it’s getting difficult not to be an ass man of some sort. Fashions from jean shorts to triathlon kits now provide ample opportunity to share ass cheeks with the world. It’s also no longer a taboo to do so. Asses are asses, and that is that.

But before we say much more about asses, especially the word “ass,” you should check out this hilariously insightful routine about ass by Finnish comedian Ismo. It will help you understand the direction of this blog once you reach the end.

Thumbs up for butt cheeks

I tend to appreciate the ass meme taking over the world not just for its sometimes pleasant display of human assage, but for thumbing its butt cheeks at the uptight notion that the human body should always be covered up.

In some respects we owe what amounts to an Ass Revolution to the progression of swimwear over the last twenty years. Perhaps we can credit college girls on Spring Break for flaunting the rules on swimwear to the point that it turned Floridian law on its head. That resulted in a release of all-out Ass Energy that has resulted in the cultural Big Bang of an ever-expanding universe of planetary assage that we’re now witnessing.

You may recall that a while back there were attempts to contain this metaphysical event before it got too far. I seem to remember that Florida legislators were trying to actually regulate the amount of ass-cheek that could be shown in swimwear on Spring Break beaches. But that dictated trying to define exactly where the human ass begins and where it ends. That pretty quickly turned into a repressive admission that no one had any idea what an ass really was, or how it worked. Plus the female anatomy in particular is not always so definitive. Truth be told, the whole swimwear debate has been going on for more than a century, and so, for the most part, the swimwear zealots have given up. Asses are in, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Not the same

Since some women are naturally curvy and others aren’t, it isn’t easy to say that a swimsuit on one woman will not be deemed obscene on another. The same can be true for men, but for completely different reasons having to do with the sadly odd nature of certain parts of the male anatomy along with the general census that male buttocks are far less frequently attractive than those of women. Thus naked male asses are not making the same play for mainstream attention as the female ass. Nor is the male version of camel toe a particularly welcome sight in public. Nuts are just nuts to show.

One could credit this imbalance in taste to raw male chauvinism and the consumer market for sexual titillation in seeing women’s ass cheeks. That would be partly true. But there’s more to this matter when it comes to cultural acceptance than, shall we say, meets the eye. 

Women Power

Ass runnerGiven their far more considerate nature as a gender,  women seem to be able to appreciate and accept the whole lady ass genre as part of an evolution in spirit. There is both an appreciation and a liberation to not worrying whether one’s ass is showing. For women who want to ass it up as they run, ride or swim, such as triathletes or track stars, there are fashions that encourage full-on ass liberties. And among the women I know, they tend to say, “If you got it, flaunt it.” 

Yet for women who really don’t want their ass to show, there are still plenty of options to avoid that circumstance. That’s called freedom of choice. It’s very American at its core. Women who don’t want to show off their asses should have that right too. Women’s sportswear designers have come a long, long way in that regard.

Strong ass, strong will

Ass muscles are most definitely a display of strength. So are leg muscles, arm muscles, back muscles and calf muscles. Muscles are a sign of work. Work is a sign of self-worth. Self-worth is a sign of self-esteem. Good self-esteem cannot be stolen when it is hard-earned. Thus a strong ass can be a sign of a strong spirit.

But not everyone is gifted with naturally strong ass muscles. Yet we still see women working their asses off; doing their runs, getting in their swims, going for long rides. It does not necessarily produce the type of tone in them that we find in pictures of world-cl(ass) athletes, but that does not matter. Women are diverse in structure and perception of self. That’s what the fitness revolution is all about.

Put simply: Everyone’s ass is fine. But the first rule of assessing assage is this: It’s their ass, not your ass. Take care of your own ass first. The Bible says so. People who make snide comments about other people’s asses are mostly making asses of themselves.

Sorting out ass from asses

Now you might say that showing your ass in public is a risk you should not take. Critics might say, “If you don’t want people to comment on your ass (or other parts of the body) then why show it?”

antelope.jpgTo that one must reply, “You’re a hypocrite.” Because unless someone is disfigured by an accident or disability, everyone in this world; male, female or transgender, has an ass of their own. That’s both a fact of nature and a human right.

Beyond that, there is another fact of nature, proven by everything from antelope to elephants: One cannot move through the world without someone else seeing your ass. We all get to have an ass, and the degree to which we show it should largely be our own choice.

In pursuit of an ass, I can honestly say that I once ran two full miles up the Chicago lakefront trying to keep sight of the ass of a young woman in order to get a date. I asked her out. She accepted. We went to some bars and it turned out she was out of my league because she did cocaine and knew all the bouncers at the clubs. In terms of a life experience, it was still worth two miles of chasing her ass to learn something about the world. Some asses are unattainable.

But a few months later, I chased another woman’s ass around the track during workouts and we wound up dating more than a year. Asses can do good things, you see.

Asses and good taste

Is it in always in good taste to show your ass when it isn’t the greatest looking ass in the world? Perhaps not. But who is the ultimate judge of that? People make odd fashion choices all the time that are not in the best interests of good taste when it comes to public displays of flesh or behavior.

I worked for years in journalism, and those people were some of the worst dressers in the world. But their job was not looking good, but writing well. And finding the truth. Some of them were asses in some respects to the people from whom they were trying to extract that truth. For those reasons, journalists are sometimes hated. But we need those people to keep the real asses of this world from taking advantage or exploiting our political, financial and social sphere to an unethical degree. In that respect journalists are the pinnacle of good taste in human culture. They are largely the truth seekers. And people who brand them Fake News are typically the ones with the most to hide.

And they tend to be dressed in suits and ties.

Trump suit and tie.jpg

The smile of a proud and arrogant ass. 

Genuinely offensive

Because if wearing something that offends others is going to be outlawed, then let’s talk about the abusive traditions long associated with the male suit and tie.

Lord knows there are plenty of men in this world who look and act like total asses while wearing that outfit. Some can’t keep their hands off other people’s asses (or pussies, or more) whether they have permission or not.

Some even choose to brag about it, then deny it when challenged by the likes of journalists.

But when the truth becomes known, they turn around and try to defame those who try to hold them accountable. Then hire a “fixer” to pay them to be quiet. Then hire sleazy lawyers to attack their character. All because they want to avoid accountability for being asses in the first place, even when running for President of the United States. This is what’s called an all-around Asshole March of Champions.

Giu.jpeg

A complete and total ass(hole): Rudy Giuliani

The ass threshold

In fact, many of the world’s biggest asses do their worst work while wearing suits and ties. In this attire, the cross the entire ass threshold by turning into total assholes in public and private. Their own bodies may be covered in a suit and tie, but their corrupt ambitions and conflicted appetites are both grossly naked and blatantly untrustworthy. Some even have the gall to hide the weakly bulging gravity of their untruths behind the cloak of religion. Those are the most nakedly disgusting hypocrites of all. Jesus says so.

All these behaviors and the repressed wardrobe of falsehoods with which they adorn themselves are far worse than the careless glimpse of a butt cheek with cellulite or a bit of female whale tale peeking above a set of mom jeans. That’s a whoops in the cultural acumen, but not a crime against humanity.

Thus we must ask which is worse; seeing an actual ass in public or dealing with someone who is clearly an ass in public. 

That Ismo comedian was right. There really are many meanings for the word ass in the human language. Perhaps it’s high time we deal with the weight of the truly gross behavior in order to better understand the ugly nature of the bullies who give people political wedgies to show them who’s boss.

There truly are some real asses out there in the world. But the muscle of the gluteus maximus is not our biggest problem.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, duathlon, track and field, training, triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

No good deed goes unpunished

 

LUW 1Last evening I was cycling down a country thoroughfare called Bliss Road (you’ll see the irony soon) during the opening miles of a 31-mile ride. The road crosses a bridge over Interstate 88 and one lane is closed to trafficto repair frost-related pockmarks in the road surface. The bridge needs to be closed on one side in order for the construction crew workers to do their job.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve ridden through the construction zone at least ten times. The route down Bliss leads to a number of options for 20-40 mile rides.

White line fever

On Bliss and many other roads, I often ride with my tires outside the white line. I don’t trust that people driving will abide by the law requiring them to give cyclists a full three feet when passing. Most people can’t seem to separate hazards that way. They seem unable to judge how to avoid an oncoming car when they are passing a bicyclist. Perhaps it’s not in their genetic makeup to figure it out. Instead, they attempt to race by in a burst of speed as if that excuses or lessens the impact of their portent.

I stay out of trouble for the most part while riding this way. It takes some decent bike-handling skills to use the 12-18″ of road margin rather than riding on the main road surface. Still, that’s not good enough for some motorists. They honk or buzz me anyway.

As I approached the Interstate bridge the light was red and cars were coming across the one-lane passage from the other direction. That meant traffic on our side was backed up about ten vehicles waiting for the light to turn green. So I slowed and rode gingerly up the road margin past the cars toward the front of the line. I did this for a simple reason: to get to the other side safely.

Shifting scenario

As I approached the row of cars I noted that there was a large gap between the two vehicles near the stop light and the other eight cars in line. As I neared the front of this group, I saw there was a blue Corvette positioned as if the driver wasn’t sure where he should be on the road. The Vette then shifted its wheels and jerked a bit to the right as I rolled up the side of the road. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “He might be moving.” So I slowed even further and was going less than five miles an hour when I rolled past his passenger side window, which was wide open.

Blue-on-Blue-Corvette-0 “Hey!” the guy inside the Vette shouted. Then he started gesticulating at the cars up ahead on the road.

Here’s where our worlds divided. My plan going forward was to avoid blocking traffic as a cyclist by heading up there and slipping past the light to cross the bridge just inside the line of cones separating the traffic lane from the construction work. That way I would not hold anyone up, and no one would miss their opportunity to get through the light. Waiting for cyclists in situations like that really pisses people off. I knew this corridor existed because I’d ridden across that bridge the day before. Even without traffic present, that is where I rode my bike. Because it’s safer.

But the Corvette Guy seemed eager to push my buttons on the issue before I even got there. His little dodge move with his Blue Corvette seemed an attempt block me or force me to stop. Perhaps he’d seen make the turn onto Bliss Road a half mile back, and did not care for my presence on the road in the first place. Whatever his motivations or the source of his angst, he was clearly ready for a confrontation of some sort to prove his point. Whatever that was.

Courtesy and the lack of it

I made for the other side of the bridge without interfering with any of the cars in line. I reached the other side before the lead vehicles passed. Then came a quiet pause as the rest of the cars caught up. That meant the approach of the Blue Corvette.

The driver rolled up next to me and the first words out his mouth were a loud “Fuck you!” He was driving slowly next to me, holding up the traffic behind him as he shouted more invectives and insults at me. I kept up my pace as he rolled along at what was now 20 mph on a downhill. He kept on yelling and was leaning over the passenger seat pointing at me. His dirty old trucker hat was perched on his head and a prodigious white beard spilled down to where the crease of his chest met his bulging gut. A pair of large-aviator glasses covered his eyes.

Threats and intimidation

He pulled ahead of me in his car until he could pull over in the turn lane of a subdivision. His brake lights were blinking on and off and other cars swerved to go around him. I eased my bike out onto the road surface to roll on past. What was he planning to do, I wondered?

It seemed his logic must have told him that I should have waited far back in line with the rest of the cars rather than riding past them to go across the bridge under construction.

By that point, I looked at that situation as a danger both to myself and the other drivers on the road. Just then his intentions got dire: “I’m following you!” he screamed. “I’m gonna follow you wherever you go!”

Outfoxing him

In that regard I already had him outfoxed and out-calculated. He was absolutely keen on showing me “Who’s boss” on the highway, and I was keen on ridding myself of an angry old dude with whom I should have had no quarrel. I’d done nothing that inconvenienced him in any way. Had I slowed him down? Caused him to have to swerve in any manner? Created any danger to his car or his person? None of the above.

So his angry tirade was about something else. Perhaps I was witnessing a campaign to teach me that  “his rights” were being violated by my presence on the road. I

Provocation

And maybe I could have avoided the situation by letting him have his anger to himself and not yelled,  “Yeah, Fuck you” right back to him in his car. I should have turned the other cheek. No doubt. But from long experience, I know that even if I’d remained silent, he might still have pulled over in front of me to get out of his car and yell. I’ve seen it many times over the last twenty years. His actions were calculated to intimidate and project some deep-seated anger on the world. This particular cyclist happened to ride into the perceived path of his trajectory.

Backstory

White guy with beard and glasses and camo

This is almost exactly what Blue Corvette guy looked like. It’s a look.

Obviously, I don’t know the man’s backstory. Often when you get an opportunity to actually sit down with some folks, especially angry people, their anger toward some facet of the world is truly legitimate. Probably in the past, some cyclist did cut him off in traffic or cause him to hit the brakes. I see that all the time, and I’ve been in my car when cyclists do stupid things in front of me. It makes me angry too, but in a different way. I wish people on bikes truly would wise up. It would help us all.

That said, I’ve made plenty of genuine mistakes on the road. Usually, I gain the motorist’s attention, point to myself, offer a wave of apology and yell out, “I’m sorry! My fault!”

Most people appreciate the admission and forgive the breach on the spot. That’s the truly civil way of doing things. Whenever I make a mistake, and I try to prevent that, I go out of my way to apologize. Because next time that driver encounters a rider like me, they might be a little bit nicer.

But some cyclists really are arrogant. Many do break the law and seem not to care if the rest of the world hates them. The world is full of fucked up people doing fucked up things. I wish that weren’t true for cyclists, but it is.

My backstory

My backstory is simple. I ride because I like it. I ride because it keeps me healthy. I ride to reduce stress (most days) and ride to have new experiences in new places and make familiar places more interesting. That’s about as deep as it gets.

I’m not riding to purposely piss people off, flaunt laws or show that I somehow rule the road. That’s absurd. I defer to traffic almost 100% of the time because I frankly don’t want to get killed by someone that is not paying attention on the road. Now that people are texting and driving, I’ve had no less than four really close calls in the last year alone. I fear for my life out there some days. That’s disturbing, I’ll admit.

And despite all that deference to traffic, people still assume I’m trying to fuck them over by riding my bike on a public road. They yell things such as, “Get on the bike path!” In fact, most bike paths either don’t go anywhere for very far, are jammed with people, dogs and children, or pass through parks or urban areas where riding your road bike at even a middle pace of 16 mph is a danger to everyone. I ride faster than that. Road bikes are designed to go as fast as you can make them go. And cyclists have that right.

So we ride on the roads. Because that’s what “road bikes” are designed to do. And laws are put in place to govern our access and our rights. America is based on a simple premise on such matters: deal with it or shut the hell up.

Wise and aware

So cyclists are not the ones that are always fucked up and always looking for a fight. Most of us have grown wise and aware in decades of riding. We know and calculate the meaning of our actions. And I maintain that by pulling ahead of traffic on that bridge with room to ride off the actual one-lane access surface I actually saved everyone parked in that line precious time. That’s called being considerate, and nice.

But Mr. Blue Corvette Guy translated that as my version of cutting in line. And as he proved by his behavior, that’s more his problem, not mine. As for his possible anger at the world? About that he needs to talk to God, if he chooses, or at least a good therapist. There is help and forgiveness aplenty in this world if you have the character to admit that you need it.

Getting off

Through four or five rounds of cat and mouse the Corvette Guy was swerving on and off the road to block my way. That game was getting old and I guessed it might soon turn ugly. After I pedaled up an incline and down a hill, I knew that my time of departure was near.

Gull Against Dark SkyHis car actually got pinned in front of a truck that had seen his antics and was tailgating him to force him on down the road. That meant Blue Corvette Guy could no longer keep his eye on me in his rearview mirror. That must have royally pissed him off. The one thing a vigilante craves is having the target of his ire in sight.

And just like that, I was gone off the road. I’d planned my point of departure at a point where a bike path crossed the road and dove down the trail into Bliss Woods. Goodbye, Mr. Blue Corvette. It’s time for me to fly. Away from you.

Rules of the road

I maintain there are situations while riding a bike that is not clearly defined by law. Instead, they require good human judgment and courtesy. Cyclists encounter many such situations in their travels. Here are just a few:

  • When to ride inside the white line, and when to avoid it.
  • When to brake and come to a stop when traffic is too heavy for safe riding
  • When to ride single file or double for group communication
  • How to address stop signs in various neighborhoods where traffic may be absent
  • What roads to travel at all; many are not suited for bike riding

I learned a few things from my experience with the Man in the Blue Corvette. Perhaps a short stop would have been helpful to explain, “Hey, I’m going to ride off the road up ahead to avoid holding you up.” I do things like that all the time, gesturing to traffic to let them go through at four-way stops, and the like.

I somewhat regret my Robert DeNiro moment in shouting “Fuck you!” back at the guy. But not entirely. I’ve dealt with bullies in this world long enough to know that the one thing they ultimately understand is defiance in the face of their habitual intimidation. The same holds true with the gaslighters of this world, who try to make you feel crazy about your own reality. And the abusers; domestic, sexual and otherwise, who think it’s their right to take advantage of people mentally and physically to cover up their own insecurities and shameful needs.

I was trying to do a good thing for the other people on the road last night. But as we know, no good deed goes unpunished in this world. I just wonder if the Blue Corvette Guy is still out there driving around, looking for a way to mow me down. I hope I don’t find out someday that he is.

 

Posted in cycling, cycling the midwest, cycling threats, game of chicken, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Even flat turtles have their day in the sun

IMG_4150This morning I ran what might possibly be the slowest three miles I’ve done in a long time. Along the way, I chanced to look down and see a flattened turtle on the gravel shoulder of the road.

It bugs me to see nature wasted that way. Millions of years of evolution flat as a pancake. But it happens every day. Where human activities and animals intersect, the animals often lose.

Nature itself is merciless when it comes to who survives and who doesn’t. Science tells us that 99% of all species of living things that ever existed are now extinct. What the creationists won’t admit is that it took millions and billions of years to accomplish that level of extinction. They like to compress it all down to the biblical flood.

But that doesn’t come near explaining the fact that there are still millions of species of living things that still exist on this earth. Some of them, like blind cave salamanders and the species of turtle I saw along the road had no way of crawling all the way across the North American continent, swimming several thousand miles of ocean and again crawling across desert landscapes and mountains and valleys to reach some tiny ark in the Middle East. It’s a fantasy of religious fervor and an all-out lie to make such a claim as literal truth.

But then again, some people still believe in a flat earth despite all evidence to the contrary. And I place the Flat Earth believers and creationists in the same bucket of denial. Both constitute belief systems as flat and shallow as a squashed turtle. All shell, no real guts.

Holdouts

Chris_Cudworth_GBHeron.jpgIt helps me a bit these days to realize that not all the dinosaurs are actually extinct. Turns out birds are basically dinosaurs that survived the weaning throes of evolution. Now, you’d think that it helps that birds can fly. But that’s no promise of survival either. Those of us who run and ride find plenty of flattened birds out there on the highway. All it takes is a fatal swoop of a bird over the road and the game of life is over for that individual. Smack.

Holding onto life

I once witnessed a young Cooper’s hawk get smacked that way on the front of a car windshield ahead of me on the road. It lay there stunned in the middle of the lane after the car that hit it passed by. Pulling over, I parked my car on the road edge and jogged out to retrieve the stunned raptor. Grasping it by the “shins,” I lifted the bird up to carry it off the road. At that moment, my eyes met those of the bird and it gathered its wits, flickered out of its stupor and stared at me with cold furty. A flare of light seemed to emanate from its eyes and the bird gave two sudden, strong flaps of its wings, and I was forced to release it.

I thought about that hawk and the flat turtle as I ran home this morning along a quiet road. My pace was more than 10:00 a mile. Slow as a turtle, you might say. For me, anyway. So slow in fact that a homely little pair of ticks proved how ignorant I was about nature’s ways.

Tick tick tick

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Last week I went for a run in the grasslands of a forest preserve on a five mile run. The breeze made me want to just stand there and look at the sun. But then I felt something crawling up my leg. It was a pair of ticks that had clung to my socks somehow and were busy making their way up the bare skin of my calf. I shuddered and flicked them off. I hate ticks.

And I thought that was the end of the tick situation. But a day later while working in my office, I felt something on the back of my arm and found two ticks crawling under my shirt sleeve. Somehow they’d gone along for a ride on my clothes or my body. Then they emerged a full 24 hours and had decided sneak out from whatever crevasse they’d found. I’d even taken a shower and they survived that. But I’m thinking they plotted some other way to stick around.

I know, it’s totally gross to think about. But nature is nothing if it not persistent, particularly if it wants your blood. Beyond ticks, there are species of leeches, mosquitoes and even bats that will feed on your blood if they get a chance. And don’t tell me these things all hung out on an ark for weeks without feeding on something. If you think that’s true, you have never met a real tick. Or leech. Or mosquito. When they want blood, they will not wait around for anything.

In disgusted horror, I plucked one of those ticks from my arm and set on the edge of my computer to get a better look at it. I wanted to identify the species, and it turned out to be a common dog tick.

With furious angst I watched it flail its arms about as if to scream, “Give me your flesh!” Then I knocked it off and stabbed it clean through with the sharp end of a roller-ball pen. The tick was dead. I’d won in that round of evolutionary fury. Red in tooth and claw. I was faster on the draw and the tick lost.

Stayin’ alive

All it takes sometimes to make it through the qualifying rounds of evolutionary survival is to be one step faster than your nearest rivals. As the saying goes, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to be faster than you.”

But then there’s the other saying that goes, “When you’re wrestling with a gorilla, you don’t quit when you get tired. You quit when the gorilla gets tired.” That’s a phrase popular among cyclists, particularly those in a road race, where the only thing that matters is staying on the wheel of the rider in front of you. Close as a tick, you might say.

 

On my best days as a runner, I’m still faster than probably 97% of the world’s population. It’s a poor test sample upon which to base the assertion, but I finished in the top 15 out of 300 or so competitors in the 5K race I raced last week. Of course, there was a time when I’d have beaten the winner of that race by more than three minutes. I was a different kind of creature back then, a type of desperately skinny animal. My body looked like a turtle that had lost its shell and was running around naked looking for another one.

But I was stayin’ alive, I’ll tell you.

Defying time

I still go to the track to defy time and celebrate that feeling of stayin’ alive now and then. I may be a relative turtle some days on the roads, but there is still some zip in these legs despite their age. If someone wants to make fun of me for being slower than I used to be, that’s fine. Even flat turtles have their day in the sun.

 

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Escape from Runworld

Delores.jpgAs a viewer of the HBO show Westworld and previously, the popular television series Lost, I willingly suspend some levels of critical analysis about the premise of these shows. One can’t dig too deeply into the context or it quickly collapses. The idea instead is to absorb the characters and draw meaning from the allegories these shows present. The shallowness of such engagement becomes its own passion. The characters in many cases are shunted back and forth in time, the better to understand the depth of  their experience.

Yet one of the creepiest characters on the show Lost was the one guy who never changed over the entire span the show. That shows you that people actually expect others to change. Those who defy change are often the creepiest and most repressed people of all. Would you not be creeped out if someone showed up at your 20-year high school reunion and had not aged or changed at all? That would be creepy. Yet that’s what many of us try to accomplish going into many reunions. Be ageless.

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Double premise

Part of the charm (if you want to call it that) of Westworld is the double-premise of suspended reality. Human beings go to Westworld to act out violent or sexual fantasies on the “hosts,” who are human-like robots that actual humans can abuse or even kill if they choose. The company that runs Westworld simply repairs the human-bots and reprograms them for repeat use.

NFLworld

Perhaps we should take a clearer look at what we actually choose for entertainment, because the plotline of Westworld sounds suspiciously like the draft-driven narrative of the National Football League, in which privileged owners buy and sell players whose roles are defined by coaches and to some degree, the fans who embrace the game.

Now we’re immersed in a cultural dynamic in which some people feel no compunction in demanding that football players demonstrate unblinking fealty to the organization and league they represent. All this is expected despite clear evidence that while playing the game, many pro football players experience brain damage and life-altering injuries from which they will never recover. Even the NFL cannot put them back together again.

So yes, the NFL is a world rife with the same brand of coarse fantasy, violence and abuse as Westworld. And tellingly, whenever the people who play the game of pro football resist or act out against this coercive dynamic, they are disabused of the “opportunity” to play at all. They are, in a sense, expected to perform like the humanized robots of NFLworld, which depends upon a parallel world called college football. It’s all a bit creepy in the end.

Delores 4The Westworld lesson

In the fantasy land of Westworld, there are warning signs that all is not well. The robot “hosts” have quickly developed human-like memory and awareness. The bots begin to question their existence and crave meaning derived from their collective memories.

The main character Maeve teaches herself to tap into the software of the Westworld enterprise. That talent quickly exposes the exploitative nature of the place. Meanwhile, a character named Delores arrives at similar conclusions. That sends her on a vengeful rampage against the entire Westworld universe. She sees beyond the game as it has been played, and makes up her own rules by finding out the source of her narrative and memories.

All this smacks of suppressed memories in people who were physically, sexually or emotionally abused in childhood. Westworld claims that the concept of “innocence” is relative to when true awareness is achieved.

Delores and Maeve

The parallels of #MeToo 

The Westworld plotline of vigilante justice aligns somewhat with the themes of the #metoo movement, in which women have risen up to fight back against male sexual domination, discrimination and intimidation. The character Delores and many other female “hosts” were originally programmed for use as sexual playthings. Now that Delores is armed and dangerous, it is the men in many cases that are reduced to begging for their lives. In some cases, she just shoots them in the head. No remorse.

Parallel worlds

That leads us to the meaning of Westworld as an idea. Can it truly tell us anything about ourselves? The only comparison I have to offer is by considering a world I once occupied. We’ll call it Runworld. That’s where I existed for a decade or more, because running dominated my existence for much of that time.

Big BendI specifically recall a moment when there was a choice to be made during high school. I was offered a chance to go on a rafting trip with a teacher who was leading a trip during spring break trip to the Big Bend area of the United States.

A part of me really wanted to go, yet part of me was afraid. The other kids going on the trip were not really bound by sports to any particular type of personality. Some were known pot-smokers. Others were free spirits in every other sense of the word.

I was nervous about those differences, but not stuck entirely in my Runworld universe. I was a member of the poetry and writing club, and published there regularly. I was also a cartoonist for the school newspaper and an avid member of the Prairie Restoration group that was installing a new, living prairie at a local forest preserve. On my own, I was an avid birder despite the wicked teasing it generated from my peers. But Runworld was a powerful dynamic in my young life.

Chris at Plainfield

Stay home, son

So I was beholden to the cycle of track and field, and my coach suggested it would be wise to stay home and train the entire week of spring break rather than travel to Big Bend where I would not get to run a step, most likely.

But what an eye-opening, world-expanding trip that would have been. But because I was the lead distance runner at my high school, I felt an obligation to uphold that status even though I was barely an above-average runner in that sport. Runworld owned my conscience.

Snow bird printsNew worlds

Later in life, I broke that mold a bit by traveling to do a January interim internship at the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. I drove through four states and cold, deep snow to reach the college town of Ithaca on the southern end of Cayuga Lake. I’d spend three weeks there studying wildlife art at one of the world’s leading research institutes for birds. During that time, I ran very little if at all. Yet I’d walk the mile to the lab every day from the little house I rented with no running hot water. It felt magical to be immersed in a world I loved.

Wolf time

About ten days into the internship, I finally did go for a short run to loosen up my legs. Without a shower to use, I heated water in a cooking pan and did a sink bath to wash away the sweat. Then I washed my thick head of hair and took the pan of hot water outside to rinse the soap out.

The temperatures were in the mid-teens, so I did not want to waste any time standing out there without my shirt on. But after washing my hair, I sensed something watching me in the dark. I turned slowly, because the house I rented backed up to a property used for the wolf range, a breeding area for wolves.

And there, in the dark, I could see the dark shape of a wolf staring at me with glimmering eyes. Seldom have I felt so flesh-filled and alive. Then the wolf retreated into darkness. I stood there breathing thick mist into the air and realized with emphatic grace that I had indeed escaped from Runworld.

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Testing the legs

A week later as the internship drew to a close, I knew it was time to turn my head back around to the realities of the indoor track season ahead. So I bundled up the little running gear I’d brought from home and drove to the Cornell fieldhouse to do some indoor running. It felt strange to be circling the track again, but with all that rest in my legs, it also felt good to run.

I warmed up a couple miles and decided to do a time trial to see what my legs and lungs would produce. To my surprise, I ran a 4:40 mile without a ton of effort. Of course, that demonstration drew the attention of Cornell runners wondering what stranger might be throwing down some kind of challenge in their presence. The animal instincts of Runworld were forever present. I was tempted to run even more. Instead, I cooled down and drove back to my little house in the woods. Runworld would have to wait.

The return trip

The long drive home from Ithaca turned out to be a harrowing slog through a snowbelt storm. There were tall drifts and the Interstate was covered in more than a foot of snow. I wisely (and humbly) drove in the tracks of a semi-trailer truck. when it pulled off for gas, so did I. For sixteen hours I kept on driving and dared not turn off the engine for fear it would not turn on again.

The trip felt like a bad dream or one of those struggling night visions where you are trying to move from strange place to another. Your legs won’t work. You can’t find the way.  Or you’re a person who no longer knows their place in this world. Dreams can vex our souls.

Imagine being a person in the process of learning that your entire identity is about to be erased, or your culture. How would you react? Many of us flirt with some form of that challenge in life. We lose a parent, a loved one, a job that mean so much to us. And in the process, we lose a world. But when have to move on, how do we find our way? What world do we then occupy?

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Life outside Runworld

It would take another couple ventures like that and many years of experience to actualize to fully embrace the idea that there were gratifying worlds outside Runworld. So much of my identity had been tied to the person who lived there. But it was time to move on.

Still, so many associates refused to see me otherwise. “Do you still run?” they’d ask. I could not tell if that was a question designed to confine me to that world or liberate me from its control. So I decided that neither was the reality I would choose. It is possible to own the experiences of another world and move on to others. The sometimes lonely choice of what to embrace is yours alone. That’s called autonomy. Ironically, that calls for putting one foot in front the other. That’s how we all make progress.

Chris Running 1978.jpgThese days I look back at that time period and part of it does seem like a programmed memory of how to do things. Runworld gave me an identity of sorts. But it also required a level of suppression of certain other instincts. I’d be running down a road in spring and hear migrating warblers in the trees and just want to stop to identify the singing birds. Sometimes I did stop. But then the prodding notion that it time to move on would take over. Runworld would swarm around me again.

These days, I can enter or depart Runworld as I please. The portals are never closed, and they are not confined to the past. It is like being a time traveler in many respects. Yet there is no time like the present to claim the purpose in your next steps.

All told, I still love the realities and lessons of Runworld. They formed me in many ways. But I am also thankful there is so much else to enjoy in this world, or others. I am still exploring, and that’s how it should be.

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How do you view progress?

IMG_3730In the age of smartphones, Garmin devices and software that can measure everything from your heart rate to the watts you’re pumping out, the question still remains: how do you view progress? Is it all digital? Empiric?

Or can you feel it? 

Yesterday afternoon while Sue and I were out on a zippy one-hour bike ride in the last sunlit hours of the day, I had nothing on my bike to measure my speed or effort. My cyclometer was still buried in a bag somewhere in the house after our training trip to North Carolina. My cell phone had Strava tracking every increase and decrease in speed, but it was was tucked safely in the back pocket of my kit. I’d read it all later.

But yesterday I could feel the difference in my fitness. Those miles climbing the mountains in North Carolina had really helped. My legs were stronger.

Sensing change

Sue could sense the difference too. She was perched on her Specialized Shiv in aero position, a position from which she typically leads. But I felt good, and was doing pulls into the wind and holding our tempo. We traveled a strip of road that hosts a Strava segment and it was nice later on to see the results all digitally delivered in a neat little package on the screen. But what’s more important than numbers on an app is the feeling in the legs that tells you there is more to give.

That’s where the real racing occurs. That’s what the real results come about.

Pool speed

IMG_3728.JPGThe same sense of change happened in the pool this morning. For the first time ever, I slipped into the water and swam with confidence and strength from the warmup of 400 meters to every single interval I did. There were many moments when the pull phase of my stroke was increased in terms of force and rapidity and it didn’t produce fatigue. My long intervals of 400 and 200 meters dropped in relative time from all previous workouts. I could feel the progress.

Then I did some 50s at a pace 8-10 seconds faster that I’d previously been able to maintain. Between the stroke training I’ve been doing and continually improving my form––the elbows need to come up a little and the volume of training too–– I am actually improving as a swimmer on all fronts. Endurance. Confidence  Speed.

In training for sports that require all these things, the process is like merging disparate clouds of control into one dominant vision. Only then can you focus on the light within. And that’s important. Some portion of our success is always based on our wellspring of emotion and thought. We must first dream the idea, translate the inspiration in to goals, then respond to these expectations in the moment. That is how opportunity becomes reality.

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In the pool this morning with the narrow focus of bright blue water and spirited bubbles around me at all times, the little screen on my Timex Ironman watch was all it took to know the feelings of power and endurance I was having were not imaginary.

The moral here is clear: It’s fine to use devices to gauge and view your progress. But those gadgets are not the cause of your improvement. They don’t make you faster on their own. That comes from within; the fibers of your muscles, oxygen in your lungs and the power of your brain to sense what is going on in your body.

That’s all part of the feel, and how you truly measure progress.

Now go for it. 

 

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High on grass(es)

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To all of you: I thank you for reading. Poured my heart into this one. Hope you enjoy. 

Last night after work I returned home with an hour or two to use before an evening meeting. With a set of legs still a bit tired just two days after a 5K race and a 40+ mile bike ride the day following, I wanted a recovery run that wasn’t filled with pounding asphalt and roaring traffic. A place to get away and get high on grass(es).

That meant one thing: go run at Dick Young Forest Preserve. The 1100 acres of the park is just a mile and a half from my house. Normally I trot over there and run a loop and run back. But last night I wanted a pure experience, so I drove over, parked the Subaru and stuck the keys in my hiding place. And ran.

The westerly breeze was heavenly. I mean that almost literally. All around were skies tinted my favorite color blue. The paths were not even fully mowed. My feet swished through calf-high grass as the taller fields around slanted in the wind under the brightly shining sun.

Doggo moment

Chris and Aussie.pngA half-mile into the run I spied a small dog poking around in a wet ditch. The owner was up on the trail. When the dog spied me I called out “Hi pup!’ He bounded up the bank and ran right over to me, falling over on its back. I petted his furry belly and he spun around to face his owner as if to say, “Look at what I found! A petty-person!”

I asked the guy to snap a photo of his dog with me. The pup was young, and soft and full of life. His bright white eyes were charming. That set the tone for a very nice run.

However the minute I stood up to run and went to put my phone back in the Nathan carrying strap I use to store my iPhone while running, I accidentally struck the back of the phone with my swinging hand and it flew through the air and landed down the bank where the dog had been sniffing around just moments before. I envisioned that phone a foot deep in the muck.

Fortunately, it fell just short of the deeper water and only got a touch wet. I wiped it off and kept running, relieved that I hadn’t ruined it by letting it fly into the marsh. Technology has its limits, you know.

Digging the marsh

The trail on the north end of the preserve skirts a section of marshy swales where peat mining once created long ponds. Those have since clogged with cattails and phragmites, the tall rushes that grow in ‘disturbed’ wetlands. Once those tall reeds get a foothold, they can rapidly take over an entire area. This past winter the forest preserve district sent a contractor through the phragmite forests with a big marsh buggy and they sprayed to knock back the rushes. It worked. But the big ruts from the marsh buggy are still there, as if a motorized Bigfoot had left its mark. Thus the back-and-forth process of large-scale human intrusion continues at an Illinois Nature Preserve.

The peat mining company ceased operations forty+ years ago, but I well recall the corrugated metal paths the company had installed to allow their long-armed shovel machines to reach out into marsh and dig up peat. Beneath the feet of a mere human, the middle of the marsh soils is springy to the step because the peat there runs feet thick. If we could go back a thousand years to a time before human drainage projects dropped the level of the marsh to its present day level, the entire basin would have been immersed under water. and the cattails, if they existed at all, would have barely rimmed the upper edge of the marsh basin where the oaks rule the hillside.

Since that time, natural succession has done its job of filling in the marsh basin. Now things are coming to an unnatural close in many ways. There are perhaps 100-200 acres of open water left in Nelson Lake, and the cattails are encroaching on that too. I’ve watched all this happen in just forty years of traipsing around this little world that I love. I feel that I have aged along with this treasured friend, and that is a strange but not unpredictable sensation.

Through the woods

But I’m still running, and after circling the north end of the marsh, the trail turns up a small hill rising thirty feet above the level of the basin. This was the actual bank of a lake the glaciers left behind 10,000 or so years ago. We can only imagine what that lake might have been like. Mastodons and wooly mammoths might well be buried under the bed of the lake basin, for they have been found in similar places within five miles of this marsh. There would have been saber-toothed cats perhaps, and giant elk or beaver. All were likely hunted to extinction by human beings, the ever-ravenous consumer of earth’s natural resources.

These days in March, the purple heads of skunk cabbage peek up from the rich black soil in the watery seep at the foot of the hill. Then wildflowers cover the incline in spring, while stolid bur oaks stand guard over the western ridge. Ultimately, even these 150- year-old trees topple and fall over when they rot or grow too old to withstand the west winds that press hard on this little section of the savanna. I have been present in the woods when one of those great trees falls. It begins with a crack and ends with a rush of leaves and branches thrashing the ground. Then all is silent.

The tree takes its rest as if relieved of duty. It takes another fifty years or so of decomposition to complete its journey. Ultimately the massive tree turns to crumbling, decaying wood and then returns to the soil. It’s a long dance from seed to tree to dirt.

Out on the prairie

Chris in field.pngEmerging from the woods puts me out on the restored prairie that now stretches a full mile out to Bliss Road. This is where the trail opens up and the skies reach down and kiss the grasses. During a lifetime of visiting this preserve, I’ve watched this section of field converted from busy farms fields to tall prairie grasses.

In fact, it has only been twenty-five years since the farm family sold the property to the county forest preserve district. A developer once proposed to build houses right up to the edge of the savanna woods, and those home would certainly have sold quickly. But they would also have destroyed the entire ethos of the place as a functioning preserve. Protecting those woods required some legal wrangling and letters to the editor, of which I sent several in favor of conserving that land rather than turning it into yet another subdivision. It would have been a travesty to let houses close the door on so much natural potential.

Prosperous property

Now the restored grasses and forbs and prairie plants prosper under the sun. By July coneflowers will blossom purple, pink and white. Tall pods of prairie dock and compass plant will send their stalks high in the air with bright yellow flowers flickering at the top. The strange little plant called rattlesnake master grows low to the ground, and purple spiderwort keeps it company as well. Cream wild indigo dazzles in the morning sun, and big bluestem grasses grow with leaning fury.

dickphoto.jpgAs I trotted north past the parking lot and turned out on the gravel path to head west and south again, I could hear the voices of dickcissel calling. These birds look like small versions of meadowlarks and they repeat their names ad infinitum into the wind…”dick cisss cisss cissl”

The trail loops farther west and a much more rare species of bird, the Henslow’s sparrow, were calling from deep in the grasses. That small sparrow’s voice is almost non-existent, consistent of a short, blunt call translated as ‘tsi-lick..’ It is so unobtrusive a sound it barely qualifies as a territorial call. But those of us who understand the journey that this bird has endured through loss of habitat and a corresponding drop in population numbers appreciate the presence of that sparse vocalization and what it means. “I’m still here. And that matters.” 

That could be the emblem for all our lives.

Bobolinks and meadowlarks

More species of grassland birds fly up ahead of me as the trail spins out into the far west side of restored prairie. Both Eastern and Western meadowlarks sing,  and telling the two species apart by sound is easy. The Eastern is a simple “tee-ah tee aiiiirrr…” with a descending tone. The Western by contrast warbles its way down a similar pattern. When they launch on the wing it nearly impossible by a quick glance to tell the two apart. They are just meadowlarks, and that is good enough. They spread their outer white tail feathers and fly away.

bobolink-male-eagle-point_doug-gimler.jpgI ran through a low brushy area of grass and forbs and where both male and female bobolinks jumped up from a plat of exposed soil. The male’s voice while singing on the wing is a rambling, tumbling series of whistles and chucks. With its black belly and buff-colored neck, white patches on the wings and rump, the male looks like a bird formed upside-down. But that coloration functions well on the prairie when the males rise up and circle to define their home turf. Their bold markings are visible from hundreds of yards as they fly in fluttering circles singing their heads off.  Let us never forget that its a competition out there.

If you’ve never heard the voice of a bobolink, you should take a moment and listen to it right now.  The voice of the bobolink sounds as if the bird were high on grass. As I run through the open fields, I can easily relate to that.

Running on

In such company, my spirit soars as well. Even in the early days of my running career, I preferred racing through grass and woods and open spaces to the confines of a stadium where track and field meets typically take place. Of course, both styles of running have their purpose in the life, just as work and play both have important functions in our lives. But for me, running cross country was a form of play. My naturally anxious mind adored that sense of freedom. By contrast, competing in track and field was a form of close-up work, like looking through a microscope or identifying parts of a creature in a lab class. Track was a form of academic discipline, and to excel at that took great study while cross country was a romp in the grass.

That scenario of relative work and play has spread out over the course of my life. At times the dichotomy was profound. During the period after the death of my late wife, I took time off from full-time work to recover from the stress of all those years of caregiving. Technically I employed myself and could set my own schedule. But the obligations of life don’t just dissolve because you’re not “working” full time. As any full-time retiree can tell you, the bills still do arrive. Plus I was still a caregiver to my stroke-ridden father, and would be for another four years before he passed away. I went out for a run that day as well. Running is like the thread that holds the stages of my life together.

It is a fact of life that challenges do not just vanish on their own. Though it functioned as a period of semi-retirement, I knew the future still awaited me. Thus I did not shirk the idea of entering the world in full again. Ultimately I “found work” again, and most notably, also found love again. Like the wind streaming across the prairie, life does indeed go on. Sometimes you run against the wind, and sometimes with it.

Paradigms

It’s much the same with running through grassy fields on a bright blue day. The environment can be heavenly, yet there is still the “work” of moving along that must be accomplished. The miles still tire the legs. That’s the price of getting “out there” and away from the disingenuous impulses of the world.

There truly is a price to pay for all our freedoms. Thus it is the wise soul that sees that price as an investment in the soul, not a burden on the soles.

Christopher Cudworth is the author of this blog. His book The Right Kind of Pride: Character, Caregiving and Community can be ordered at Amazon.com. 

 

 

 

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New Balance or Old Balance?

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Dan Johnson and Bob Paxton

A friend from college named Dan Johnson recently ran a 5:26 mile. He’s coming up on sixty years old, and that’s a darned fast time for a man his age. He also recently won a big age group 10K award.

“What do you know…” he wrote on Facebook. “Senior Grand Master 10K Champion. Running to and from work this past winter and joining my Road Warriors running buddies has really helped me become more competitive.”

Dan runs and competes with a former competitor from Wartburg College named Bob Paxton, another sixty-year-old guy with good genes and a commitment to running fast in old age.

60+ splits

Think about Dan’s mile time for a moment. Running 5:26 at nearly age sixty still requires the same quarter miles splits it took to run that time back in 7th grade. That’s a forty year span of time that many cannot bridge.

For perspective: Four-minute mile pace is sixty seconds per lap. The oldest person to ever run a mile time that fast was Bernard Lagat at age forty, I believe. Five minute pace is 75 seconds per lap. Dan just ran a mile at just over 80 seconds per lap.

And granted, most of us who ran in college ran 5:00 pace or faster for five whole miles, and farther. But age creeps up on you. The world record for a mile at age 60+ is around 4:51. That’s still forty seconds faster than Dan is running, but again, that’s the world record for the distance. It shows you how respectable Dan and Bob’s times really are, because both are running times in the lower 5:20s.

No secrets

Perhaps it’s just the clear Minnesota air up there? Or maybe they’re drinking reindeer milk, like Lasse Viren once did (and I kid)?

People are always looking for reasons why some people run faster than others. But mostly it’s just putting in the miles and staying injury free. In any case, I truly admire what Dan and Bob are doing in their supposed dotage. They are likely faster than 99% of the running population. And they’re supposedly OLD.

NOT.

Racing time

IMG_3820I was somewhat slower in my 5K this past weekend. Last year at the Race to Market I managed a time of 20:50, which is a sub-7:00 mile pace. This year coming through the knee surgery in April I lost some training time, especially speed work, and ran a 22:26 on the same course this year. I got out in 6:47 and then slowed.

That’s 7:14 mile pace on average. Sue and I both won our age group at the Race to Market 5K to earn a little hardware.

New Balance

For the race I wore my New Balance 880 shoes that are a bit firmer for that racing feel. Now those are nothing like the Nike Air-Edge racing flats that I wore back in 1984. Those were so light and responsive it was speed personified just lacing them on. And I was so fit and light. Those days are gone but I have lost 10 lbs this spring. My orthotics probably weight two pounds a piece? So the time was not terrible for me given the overall changes in physical ‘balance’ (weight to power ration) I now live with.

That’s actually the pace I want to run in my duathlons and triathlons to be respectable and have a chance at some hardware. If I can run 7:10 pace, cycle near 20 mph for a 16-25 mile distance and swim at 2:00 per hundred I’ll be in the hunt for age-group podiums as long as my transitions shrink a little.

Driven or not? 

I’m having fun at this. So while I’m not driven to kill myself these days, the training is still an eager challenge for the most part. Sue and I rode 41 miles the day after our race and managed 17.3 mph average in 20 mph winds. We rode 20 miles northwest into the stiff and buffeting wind with 1325 feet in climbing, then turned around with the wind and came home again. That felt a bit nicer, I can tell you.

Sue and KyleTired legs

My legs were genuinely tired those first five miles after racing the previous day. Then they loosened up for the middle thirty miles, and then I tired out again the last five. It was tough in that wind to find time to get much nutrition. I nibbled a bit on the way home but that was probably not enough. Sue pulled ahead of me as we neared home, but I caught back on using a couple downhills toward the finish. She’s a strong bike rider and was cooking along on her tri-bike in aero position. When she gets rolling it can be tough for me to keep up on a road bike. Or perhaps I’m just imagining that.

Later on…

We put our legs to good use in gardening this weekend as well. Sue was almost back in aero again on that little gardening cart. That afternoon and the next we finished our backyard gardening makeover and it felt so good to have a balance of activities over the weekend that I can say I felt happy and actualized by Sunday evening.

Balance is what I live for in everything I do, and whether that balance is New or Old, I still love it.

 

Posted in aging, competition, cycling, duathlon, healthy aging, healthy senior, race pace, racing peak, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer jobs

cudrun.jpgBetween years of college there was always pressure to find good summer work and save up money for expenses come fall. As a sometimes oblivious member of the human race at that stage of life, I was not always thinking ahead. Which meant searching for a summer job any way you could get it.

I doubt the process has changed much. Young people still put off the inevitable when it comes to needs and obligations. It may well be worse these days for college and high school kids. The continually changing nature of the economy is hard enough on young people graduating from college in terms of finding decent-paying work, much less trying to find employment for three months to save up between school years.

Weird sensations

All I remember is the weird sensations and temporary feel of summer work. In some ways I played it smart, and in others, not so much. On top of working all day or at least some of the day, which was new to me, there was pressure to get in those precious training miles to prepare for cross country in the fall.

Perhaps scholarship athletes have some of that pressure taken away, but not really. Training can be a form of work when you have to perform at a level justifying the support offered by a college or university.

D3

I was a Division III college athlete, so there were no scholarships. The campus jobs I was required to work as part of the financial package I was offered paid $1.10 an hour. That rate was earned at a college that charged $3400 the first year I attended and finished at $4300 that last year. So the student work program was not a source of income. It was working off the debt one had already accrued through enrollment.

Yet on top of getting up to work at 5:30 a.m in the dishroom, there were 80-100 miles per week to cover. So one essentially had two jobs to work.

Young and stupid

Fortunately we were young. And generally stupid. And full of manic energy. So we got by. But then summer would roll around again. That meant finding and working a “real” job that often wasn’t real work in the sense that it contributed anything to society. Whether serving as part-time park district stuff or doing manual labor at a factory, those summer jobs were character-builders to say the least.

Coaching

Still, it started off simple enough. The summer before my freshman year, I worked as a coach for the St. Charles Track Club, a competitive organization that attracted more than 100 kids ages 5-16. The job paid $500 for the summer, which seemed like a lot of money to me then. This was supplemented by some sales of my artwork that year, but I think I went to college that fall with $250 in the bank to last the whole year.

That said, our track club produced state and national age-group AAU champions from sprints to jumps to distance races. So that wasn’t a bad summer actually. Despite being in the proximity of all those runners, and racing a few times over the summer months, I did not do all that much mileage before heading off to college.

Still, I made the Varsity cross country team that freshman year and finished 9th in the Conference meet. We went to nationals in Boston where the weather sucked and the course turned to muck. But those were lessons learned for the future.

U-Haul

The summer after my freshman year, I somehow I stumbled into a job working at a U-Haul distribution. I worked for a trio of guys who both sold and delivered trailer hitches, boxes and the assorted needs of U-Haul rental locations across the Chicago area. I mostly drove vans around the area stuffed with orders that I picked and placed in the truck.

I certainly learned how to navigate the suburbs using maps and learned the names of all the towns and places I visited. That knowledge would come in handy later in life when I became an admissions counselor covering the same territory. You can’t get me lost in Chicago to this day.

That doesn’t mean some things did not go badly on a few fronts. While driving a U-Haul van, I crunched the rear end of a brand new Buick in front of a dealer on Ogden Avenue in Downers Grove one morning. The car pulled out quickly and I was glancing at the map when the van nailed the rear tail light. The guys back at the shop shook their heads but they’d all had fender benders too. So I got off easy.

Which made the incident I never told them about a bit more dramatic. Because one day while driving a box truck filled with a heavy load of refrigerator cartons I hit the brakes while approaching a busy intersection. The roads were slick with summer rain and the oil of traffic turned them into a skating rink for trucks like mine. The back end spun around and I went through that intersection backwards. I held the wheel lightly, then slowly turned the truck as it went through its gravitational gyration. When the front end came back around, I kept right on driving. Down the road I had a ‘death shiver’ when I realized how bad that could have turned out.

There were other adventures along the way, and the crew definitely got a kick out of my raggy jeans attire that was worn, I’ll admit, not to look too much like I’d given in to “The Man.”

Not exactly “work-ready,” was I?  So the last day the crew determined to teach me a little lesson about control and humility. So they snuck out to my Buick Wildcat when I rolled into work and put a prank whistle on some part of my engine that made it sound like it would blow up when I started it again. They slapped the hood and told me, “No go back to school.”

And that was funny. But during that summer, after many long weeks of glancing admiration for the hot young girl working in the front office, I worked up the courage to ask her to go on a date to a Jackson Browne concert. Turned out she was the daughter of the Big Boss, but he approved. That made the whole summer seem worth it. Saved a little money too, and wound up flirting with the Top 5 that fall in cross country.

Olympic Stain

There is no small irony in my mind that the job I worked the summer after my sophomore year was a company called Olympic Stain. It turned out to be a stain on my soul. Working conditions at that plant were awful. The fumes of turpentine hung near the ceiling of the plant all day long. There were industrial accidents taking place all the time, with forklift drivers striking 50 gallon drums of paint three stories up and mean-spirited pranks taking place between workers. Nasty, stupid stuff going on all the time.

And having had no training in pipes management, I turned the wrong release valve one afternoon and liquid latex shot out of the pipes and coated me from head to toe. That meant a trip to the industrial shower where I was stripped naked and shoved under freezing cold water. That day I also had to endure the teasing of employees embittered by their own sad reasons for working there. It was a nightmare, and some deeper part of me was traumatized by the experience.

That fall in cross country I struggled with feelings of depression and lack of self-worth. Everyone who knew me categorized that as “Cud’s Weird Year” and it didn’t help that I was immersed in studies of existentialism and the irreversibility of time. To this day I blame that summer job for pushing too many emotional buttons. I finished out of the Top 15 in the Conference meet but recovered enough to help our team compete at nationals where we placed 8th, our best effort to that point.

That winter a roommate turned to me after I’d spent an entire run complaining about the pace and said, “Cud, you just need to shut up and run.” So that’s what I did. And things started to turn around from that point on.

International Towers

Coming off a successful track season my junior year in college, in which I set all my PRs from mile to 5000 meters, I was feeling better about myself and shaved off the shoulder-length long hair and beard I’d grown. That led to the idea of getting contact lenses and an entirely new self-image going into senior year. While running, it helped not to have those Napoleon Dynamite glasses perched on my nose.

That summer I found work through my best friend’s father who hired me to work as a janitor at the tall office building he managed off Cumberland and I-90 on the outskirts of Chicago. That commute was long, more than an hour, but the money was needed.  So I took what I could get, to quote Bachman Turner Overdrive.

The job was illuminating on many fronts, as I got to witness the background activity of an office environment that included a group of lusty middle-aged women who drank wine in the restroom during lunch breaks. I also got to witness labor disputes and union controls. And during lunch one day, my best friend’s father took me to a bar where the waitresses wore revealing negligees if they wore anything at all.

Making it happen

It was tough putting in running miles after such long days, but I sensed there were good things ahead for me. The job paid $5.00 an hour and I saved up quite a bit of money. That was a rather new experience against the other summer jobs I’d worked.

That fall, with an entirely new attitude brought on by not looking like a geek, I also fell in real love for the first time with a gal that I met at RA retreat. That helped.  And that fall on campus I also had a job doing promotional work for the campus recreation office. No more dish room labor at 5:30 in the morning. Thus I trained twice a day and my times over the 5-mile distance dropped down to near 25:00. For most of the season I ran second man to my roommate and was fifth man on a team that placed second at the National meet.

Lessons learned

What I learned is that there is a 1:1 relationship between work stress and overall performance in life. There is no doubt those summer jobs shaped me, some for better and some for worse. All tested character and taught lessons about self-discipline.

Ultimately those are tests we all have to pass. I could have been smarter searching for summer jobs, but I also had the courage to try something else. Coming off my senior year in college, I spent two glorious weeks doing exceptional watercolors from life. I’d scored some expensive watercolor paper for a very cheap price at a local office supply store that was selling it out, and I was on fire with creative energy.

But when I told my mom that I wanted to paint that summer and try to sell my work rather than work a traditional summer job, she freaked. My dad had been in and out of jobs during my college years, and she had a fear going on about money. So she wasn’t exactly encouraging.

Still, I persisted in my hopes of selling artwork and signed up to sell my paintings at a huge local art festival in Geneva, Illinois called Swedish Days. It was a good prospect actually. I had all my work matted and framed. And then it rained. And rained. And rained. The show was  literally a washout. I sold only one piece of artwork that weekend. My plan was foiled.

But all was not lost. Later that fall I held an art show at the college and every last piece of that artwork sold. Sure, it was too late to prevent the need to work that summer job. So I did work that janitor job in July and August. I was grateful for the work. But I wonder to this day what summer might have looked like (and life beyond) had I earned $2000 in one weekend as happened that December. That could have been one sweet summer.

Iconic

During my work in the field prior to my painting sessions, I’d found a dead red-tailed hawk that summer on the roadside. Now granted, it is highly illegal to pick up raptors or any other species of bird and keep them. But I did so because I wanted the bird for reference purposes, and felt a higher calling, legal or not. So I cut up the bird and saved a talon from the middle toe of the hawk to make a necklace.

That fall my new girlfriend (whom I would date for two full years) asked about the necklace, and I told her, “I’m going to be completely focused on my running this fall, so my love of nature and artwork will have to wait a little. But this talon reminds me that I’ll get back to it.”

That may sound hokey, but it worked in many respects. I’ve never stopped running and I’ve never stopped painting.

Now I believe that summer is meant to be lived with such purpose that every day feels like a vacation. Even if you’re working a full time job, there are noon walks to take, and early morning bike rides to enjoy.

It takes commitment to keep that level of relaxation in mind. But that’s another thing I’ve learned from running all these years. Sometimes the hardest efforts in life can feel the best, and that which does not kill us really does make us stronger.

 

 

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, cross country, cycling, healthy aging, mental health, running, trail running, triathlon, we run and ride | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Livestrong still has a tale or two to tell

yellow livestrongRecently I saw a link to the Livestrong Foundation website and decided to visit and see what they’re doing these days. Despite all the bad press its original spokesperson Lance Armstrong generated through his admission to lying about use of performance-enhancing drugs, the Livestrong Foundation expanded and moved on from the controversy.

I certainly don’t blame them for keeping the mission alive. That mission is simply stated as “Helping you live Stronger, Healthier and Happier.”

In other words, you don’t have to be a cancer victim in order to benefit from the information and services provided by Livestrong. But those who do go through cancer in any form deserve all the inspiration they can get. So I tried to provide some. And it was published (see link below.)

The email that arrived in my inbox from a Digital Marketing Intern said the following:

I hope this email finds you well.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us! We have just published your blog, which you can find here: https://blog.livestrong.org/because-life-does-go-on-244240ff434f

If you ever need support, please feel free to reach out to us here at LIVESTRONG. We are happy to connect you with a cancer navigator.

That last bit is an interesting evolution and potentially valuable service from Livestrong. If someone is experiencing cancer themselves or acting as caregiver to someone going through treatment, it helps to know there are people willing to help you navigate through it. Just the health insurance maze alone can make you crazy.

As for our experience, I decided to tell our story again through Livestrong not only to share the experience of cancer survivorship and caregiving, but to encourage people that there is life beyond cancer even when the outcomes are not always what we desire. And from there, life does go on.

Jeff Long

Photo of Jeff Long from the Beacon News (link below)

Just this week I received news that an associate in the public relations business had passed away due to cancer. Jeff Long was a great person, family man and lover of the outdoors. He worked in PR for the Fox Valley Park District and despite occasional encounters with him through a regional PR association, I never knew he’d been through hundreds of rounds of cancer treatment over his years of survivorship.

His death made my heart sink a little. I mean that almost literally. I had this sinking feeling in my chest when I noticed people commenting about his death on Facebook. I asked someone who knew Jeff to private message me about the details as the news stories had not yet come out. Yet Jeff is featured today on the front cover of a Tribune publication, the Beacon News, and is featured as well in a story at the newspaper where I once worked, the Daily Herald.

Bracelet time

It all feels like a very long arc or even a big loop for me to go back and think about cancer survivorship. When immersed in treatment or caregiving, the cycles of treatment feel like a Mobius strip, never-ending and often hopeless.

That is why, for several years while Lance was winning big time and wearing those yellow Livestrong bracelets was a fashion trend, I wore my bracelet with what felt like a deeper connection to the optimism it seemed to provide. I’d read the Lance biography and absorbed the Lance legend by watching all those tours he won in France. That little yellow bracelet on my arm made me want to go out and ride, work off the stress and find a way back to the character needed to be a good caregiver.

But then, as Lance’s image was at first tarnished and then stomped upon by those who consider him nothing more than a cheater, my reaction was initial surprise and then resignation. Don’t get me wrong: I dislike cheaters more than anyone. The sports and political world is full of them, and my criticisms of those tendencies are never hidden. But because of my direct connection to the world of cancer, the action Lance took in that realm of his life still had significance. His “cheating” in the world of cycling had not diminished the triumph he’d achieved in overcoming cancer and then serving as an inspiration to many millions of people.

Mostly people were confused by the seeming contradiction of taking drugs after going through so many drug treatments to cure his testicular cancer. But I say that’s exactly why it was not such a stretch. If poison drugs (and that’s what chemotherapy is) can save your life, does it seem like such a sin to use them to celebrate life?

When Lance was being treated for cancer, he challenged the doctors by saying, “Give me all you got. You can’t kill me.”

But the doctor replied. “Oh yes we can.”

Maybe that changes a person in ways that some of us don’t understand.

Forgiveness

Lance was a jerk to some people in ways that deserve punishment. But my Christian upbringing and personal belief system encouraged me to look behind the Lance Armstrong persona well before he came out with his actual confession.

Here’s an excerpt: “Admirable in its forceful defense of his victories, Armstrong’s statement still stops short of saying he was truly innocent of doping. And that, in the context of all the evidence now emerging in full context of teammates confessing and accepting bans and possible other punishments for their sins, amounts to a confession by Armstrong as well.”

That is what I wrote then, and it still holds true. And I went on to say:

“He has done even more for the challenging plight of cancer patients worldwide through the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Livestrong, the highly active and effective education and assistance organization that delivers key resources and advice to cancer patients and their caregivers. So that is the balance in judgment many are being called to weigh. Which of his achievements is most important?”

I come down firmly on the side of that value. My contribution this week to Livestrong Voices piece is a tiny, tiny fragment of the overall purchase of that cause.

But it still matters. Every little bit matters. Because you never know who you might touch with your words or actions. And what it means to them is far more meaningful that most of us can understand.

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