Get fit while lying down (and be like Emma)

I follow American steeplechaser Emma Coburn on Instagram. She even provided answers to her success through an interview published on this blog.  This week she posted a hyper little demonstration of how she uses a fitness band to improve the strength and durability of her hip flexors. So I watched her do all those exercises and set a goal to “Be Like Emma.”

And look at these photos!! She could be my Fitness Sister, don’t you think?

Be Like EmmaIMG_9744

Stretchy vow

Back when I purchased my New Balance 880 training shoes (just like Emma!) at Dick Pond Athletics in St. Charles, I sprung for a yellow fitness band along with the purchase.

That band has been lying on the dresser in a wrinkled heap for four weeks now. Meanwhile, every time I run more than an hour my hip flexors tire out and tighten up.

Emma CoburnWell, duh. It might be time to do something about that, ya think?

Weak hip flexors holding you back? Pick up a yellow (or red, or grey, or green, or blue) band and lie down. Or stand up like Emma.  Of course, she can one-legged squats all the way to the floor and back up. In fact she looks like she could do those all day long.

I started working with the band by standing up. That has value when it comes to teaching yourself balance. But then I got down on the floor and used that stretchy band for a full thirty minutes. That’s a good way to start when your hip flexors are weak like mine They need work before you can even gain much benefit from standing up. Like Emma.

IMG_9768So I rolled around like a writhing little gator on the shag carpeting in our bedroom and worked those little hip (hop) flexors like they haven’t been worked in years.

Small ball fitness

Those connective tissues and “small joint problems” did not used to be problem for me. As an active athlete that played basketball in the off-season, or soccer, the hip flexors and other ‘small-ball’ players in the overall physiology got a consistent workout.

But now that I’m sixty and sit at a desk much of the day, and don’t play ballistic sports because my left knee has no ACL after it was torn the second time, the idea of cutting and turning in tennis or other sports to keep muscular balance is just not a good idea. Too much risk of catastrophic injury.

Stretching body and mind

So it’s onto the ground and use the stretchy band. I’m not going to offer some tutorial on how to do that. I’m no expert. But I know what hurts on my body, and how to stretch it. So that’s what I do. It will definitely help in the long run with hip flexors strength, durability and endurance.

But getting fit isn’t all about working muscles and joints. There’s also the head to consider.

Breathing poses no problem

Partway through the experience I slipped into a yoga position called Child’s Pose. That’s where you essentially curl your upper body over your folded legs and sometimes extend your arms in a passive or active stretch. There I lay, breathing for the sake of breathing. In…out. In…out. Finding my center.

IMG_9763I even grasped my own head in my hands for a minute. Just let the contact between hands and head resonate and carry all the way back through my toes. I was my own compact ball of sixty-year-old energy. Breathing. 

Then I finished another fifteen minutes of stretching and combined it with some planks and pushups. I’ll be adding core work to this routine, which I like because I don’t have to drive anywhere to do it.

And when it’s all done I’ll just lie down and let it all sink in. As long as you can still stretch, you’re still alive.

Thanks Emma Coburn, for the inspiration to stop neglecting my hip flexors.

 

 

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A sweet season heats up

This is the fourth in a series of articles about the Sweet Season of 1978, my college senior year when our Luther College team placed second in the nation in NCAA Division III cross country.

Volume one •  Volume two •  Volume three

MANKATO RACE

That’s me leading the way around a bend on the upper campus during a meet against Mankato. This was sophomore year, when I still wore glasses.

Nothing comes easy when you’re training 80-100 mile weeks. It was vital to get lots of sleep. That’s not always easy on a college campus. Adding to that challenge was the fact that my Resident’s Assistant duties kept me up late sometimes on Friday and Saturday nights. Then one night I was walking the dorm floor and noticed pot smoke roiling out from a room. I knocked and when the door opened, a host of my cross country teammates were lying around the room stoned. “Come on, guys,” I warned them. “Put a towel in front of the door, you rookies.” 

Pot jointYes, we ran quite a bit. And yes, we partied sometimes. But never enough to truly hold back our performances.

So by the fourth meet of the season, scheduled for a Saturday in Grinnell, Iowa, our Luther College cross country team was finding a groove of sorts. We traveled in a fleet of cars rather than a bus, and stayed with alumni or current student families that lived in the area rather than hotel rooms. It was like living a hippie commune lifestyle. 

Race results

I’d finish the race in 25:55 in the first five-mile competition of the season. The meet was held on a rolling golf course layout. Our Nike waffle racing flats were perfect for those conditions. We won the team title but engaged in a hard-fought race with conference rival Central College. It was a sunny, warm day and early in the race I found myself sharing the lead for a few strides. Then thought better of it. There were 4.5 more miles to go, and I knew that our lead guy and his top rival were about to start fighting it out. 

I’d wind up third man as I recall, and happy to finish strong as the victory came down to a few strategic places. I remember racing stride for stride with a runner from Central named Brian. That season we’d bang heads a number of times. Forty years later I reachd out to him through Linkedin. We exchanged friendly greetings. I complimented him on a healthy rivalry. He wrote back through Linkedin:

Chris – we both had more hair back in our college days! I think that you got your facts wrong – I am sure that you beat me more often than I beat you.

My high point of my running days was winning the conference track championship my senior year. We had to outscore the mighty Luther in the next to last race – the 5K – to do it. I believe that we finished 3, 4 and 5 in the race. This was after Luther had finished 2nd or 1st in the cross-country DIII championship that previous fall.

My running days are over. When I turned 50 I started running again and was able to break 40 minutes in the 10K but then my legs started giving me problems so I had to quit.

I probably should start riding a bike instead as I believe you do.

Take care,

Brian

IMG_6115 2I definitely recall the track race he mentioned. I had tried to double back in the 5000 meters after winning the steeplechase earlier that day. But my legs didn’t have the zip and my performance fell short, clocking a slow 15:20. With their effort, Central College took the conference track championship after Luther had won it for 17 years straight. I also recall some very bad sportsmanship that day when some of their athletes cheered when our All-American 400-meter hurdler shattered his leg going over the last barrier. Things almost came to blows on the infield between our two teams. They were sick of us winning and likely considered us arrogant. But old rivalries, even bitter ones, tend to disappear over the years.

Coming home

Coming back home after the meet, we arrived to find a warm fall afternoon, the 23rd of September. Some of us gathered the gumption to run a few more miles when we got home. That meant we’d covered four miles in the morning, two miles warmup before the race and a cool down on top of five miles of racing. Then another three miles of running when we got home. Quite the day. 

The next morning we got up to run a twenty-miler in the warm sun of September. All at six minute pace.

So I was tired and feeling a bit weary from all the racing and training when my girlfriend arrived back on campus that Sunday after making a visit back home to see her folks. While she was home, another suitor got wind of her visit and made some ardent ovations to win her attention. He invited her over to his apartment, and the guy found a way to traipse around naked to show off his ample dick.

She shared that story with me. At the time, I frankly wondered how she could even let herself get up in that position with a guy. If she truly loved me, why would she let that happen? Over time, I’ve realized that women trying to figure out their goals in life are more than willing to play the field and see what happens. In nature, even female cardinals entertain secret suitors when their birdy mates are away. 

No doubt:  I questioned what his motives were and hers as well. She explained that he was already out of college and working a job. Her parents liked the guy and they had suggested he might be worth seeing. Well, that came literally true, did it not? It taught me that her folks were not nearly as smart as they pretended to be. 

Thus I decided to follow my instincts and proceed with confidence rather than fall into some trap of jealousy that might make me look weak and insecure. I was done with that in life. Yet that moment, I learned to distrust her parents a bit. And to some degree, also her. 

Familial relations

Then I found out that her mother had actually met my father once back in Illinois. They were both enrolled in some kind of motivational selling course in the mid-1970s. That was not the high point of my father’s career or life. In fact he’d blown some money on a scammy network marketing scheme that had severely messed up our family financial picture and caused us to give up a lovely large house that we owned for a small split level that we rented. I get it: he was trying to create his big break in life. When that didn’t work out, he tried to leverage that negative experience into something worthwhile. That’s when he enrolled in that course and met her mother. She confessed her own reasons for taking that course with a bit of chagrin. Apparently it wasn’t her proudest moment in life either. 

Still, I was deeply in love with that girl, and things were going great on many fronts. But a slice of that life began to feel suddenly weird. I grew into a close observer of reality pretty quickly Her parents were seemingly well-off. They lived in a fairly wealthy Chicago suburb. Their house was a classic colonial overlooking a relatively spacious landscape of other classic colonials. Her dad commuted to Chicago to work everyday. When he got home, he’d go out for a 1.5 mile run-walk to work off the stress of his job. Then he’d stumble in the house sweaty and flop down in his favorite La-Z-Boy chair, because that’s where he worked.  

There was another dimension and connection in all those familial relations. Well before I met my new girlfriend, I’d somehow already come to know her brother. I felt for him because he’d been in some sort of accident earlier in life and had a brain injury that left him with some memory loss and some behavioral difficulties. It made schooling difficult for him at times, and we’d commiserated after I learned he was from Illinois and we shared a ride home at one point. But her family was bitter toward the college over how he’d been treated when his brain problems flared up. They had a chip on their shoulders about all that. 

Feeling chippy 

Cud with Maravich skillsIn fact there seemed to be a collective chip on everyone’s shoulder in that household. But they had a Golden Boy attitude toward the youngest member of the family, a son that was a junior in high school at the time I met her. When we visited their house during some fall break, my girlfriend started bragging about his basketball skills, intimating that he’d wipe the court with me if I ever played him. So I took that challenge, and beat him 10-2 in a game of one-on-one. I was a damned good basketball player and wasn’t going to take that kind of challenge lightly. 

She was a bit angry about the way I played so hard against her brother, and showed no mercy. But I told her, “What did you expect? I don’t know why all the women I’ve known always underestimate me as an athlete, and in other ways.” That stopped her cold for a moment and she admitted, “You’re right. I’m sorry. I love you.” And I loved her. There were so many other ways that we clicked.

It’s true that I had a pretty big chip on my own shoulder fueled by a host of past insecurities that I’d been working hard to overcome. In some ways, that’s the core of what brought my girlfriend end and I together. We both shared that “chip on our shoulder” mentality. In fact that previous year, she’d lost a lot of weight while I’d shaved off my ugly beard and cut my long hair. So we were ‘born again’ as fellow “chippies” and now were well matched. 

Perhaps her goal was to find a guy at Luther (or somewhere) that she might marry once she got out of college. Yet the concept of marriage was still foreign to me. That was a bit naive I suppose. Instead I was focused on the boyish and comparatively innocent task of running as fast as I could for as long as I could.

Deep inside a voice kept asking, “Is that some kind of sin? Is it so bad to be focused on this one thing in my life?” It was not. The truth of the matter is that all of us arrive at singular moments in our lives. In that moment we have “One Shot!” as the musical Hamilton so aptly suggests, to do this one thing that can be life changing.

I thought she should realize that was the case for both of us. She was also involved in a pursuit of her own, a performance of Godspell that was challenging and thrilling at the same time. She really could sing and dance with the best of them. Yet a Jackson Browne song that came out during the second year of our relationship that perfectly described how things were evolving: 

She was a friend to me when I needed one
Wasn’t for her I don’t know what I’d done
She gave me back something that was missing in me
She could have turned out to be almost anyone
Almost anyone–
With the possible exception
Of who I wanted her to be

Thus even in the moment, I respected her focus as well as the “chip-on-the-shoulder” determination that made her an invited partner in my own pursuits. Plus she had green eyes that just killed me every time I looked into them. But in the end, it may never have been meant to be more than that. That is just how love works sometimes. 

Standing up for myself

Yet in giving all of this consideration in the moment, I determined that the Dick Display challenge from the guy back home should be confronted. Thus I told her straight up, “I don’t want you to see him anymore.” I had never said anything of that sort to any woman that I’d ever known. She immediately agreed. She even seemed to be pleased that I had displayed determination and a sense of ownership toward our relationship. That is love too. It’s quirky and unpredictable. 

Feeling good about myself

However it also worked the other way as well. I was hanging out at a local pub four blocks from campus one night, having beers with my buddies when a lovely female classmate showed up behind me in the crowd. I’d turned around and was having a nice conversation with her, digging the crystal clear blue of her big eyes and blonde Norwegian looks. Her blouse stretched open between her breasts and the sight of her bra inside had me excited and curious about what it might be like to be with her.

So there I was, perched at the top of my social popularity after four relatively lonely years on campus, able at last to show some personality and pursue some pleasure. Now I had a series of great races behind me and a growing reputation for success on campus. Suddenly another beautiful girl had taken notice. I was taking notice back. 

And that moment is exactly when my girlfriend walked through the pub door and stepped directly between us. She knew competition when she saw it. Nothing was said but the message was clear. “You’re mine.” My potential new blonde friend gave a flash of her blue eyes and disappeared. She went on to become a doctor. Would that ever have worked? Those are questions to which we never know the answer. 

So that’s the problem with love. For better or worse, it tends to put a glow on you that other people see. Certainly other women see it. They’ve got a radar of some sort that lets them zoom in on a guy with something going on. Self confidence, you might say, is the ultimate aphrodisiac. 

Mankato and Decorah.jpeg

Matters at hand

So the relationship stuff was buzzing around in the background as the weeks rolled by.  But my focus was true, and there were critical running matters at hand.

We had a Tuesday meet scheduled against the University of Minnesota-Mankato. I recalled that the first time we ran against them when I was just a freshman. Our team left in mid-afternoon. as we made the drive up from Decorah, Iowa to Mankato, the weather cooled and there noticeably fewer leaves on the trees. We hadn’t come that much farther north, but the seasons had progressed a bit quicker. 

Oregon Waffle racers.jpgA cool wind blew off the flat landscape of southwestern Minnesota as we jogged around the course in our bulky cotton sweats and noted that the course was composed partly of cinder trails and grass. That led us to check our spike lengths, because short spikes do not work well on cinders. Only a few teammates by then were wearing the Oregon Waffle racers we’d ordered because the shoes were so popular they were on back order through a running shop in Minneapolis. Such were the early days of the Nike era. 

After the course tour, we stripped down to our racing singlets and stood there shivering as the coach from Mankato described the course. Then he bluntly stated that mile times would only be given out to the first few runners to pass. The rest were out of luck.

That made our coach extremely mad. He believed in the value of every runner on the team. He wanted every runner in the race to be given mile splits out there on the course. So he dispensed our team trainers to cover the mile points at two and four. It was cool out, probably in the high 40s, but the chill in the air was mostly between that coach and ours.

Hot for revenge

Somewhere in the archives of my cross country stuff the results of that meet are buried. But the memory of that conflict about mile splits never was forgotten. Thus when Mankato showed up on our campus for a dual meet on Thursday, September 26, 1978, we were all ready to run hard and beat them. They were always a good team, but we knew something special was going on at Luther College. 

As it turned out, those poor Mankato guys had dressed for the weather back on their campus, which was much cooler when they left. Their runners all wore heavy dark blue jerseys with sleeves that came down to the elbows. The material was a deeply woven shiny fabric that held in heat quite well.

And that was a problem for them, because the afternoon they showed up was hot, somewhere in the low 80s, and they were already sweating like hell as they joined us on the starting line. We all secretly smiled at each other, and while my time of 26:18 was nothing to brag about in terms of a five-mile effort, it was much faster than even their fifth man. We wiped them off the map.

Next steps

But things were not all perfect heading into the next steps of the Sweet Season.  Two of my former roommates on the team were still struggling with injuries. It was strange for me to be running well for the team when those guys were not up to par. There was a vague sense of guilt and a keen sense of responsibility at the same time. 

cudrunCertainly I’d led teams before, all the way through high school in fact, I was one of the top runners. Truth be told, I had trained for a moment or running revelation during all four years of college. I was coming into my own.

Now that I no longer had to rise early in the morning to work the dish room as I did the first three years of college, thanks to a new job on campus, I could train those early mornings and pump all my energy into athletic performance. Along with the improved self-image and dumping those stupid glasses on my face, it felt like anything was possible. 

There was nothing to do but look ahead, keep on loving my girlfriend and keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s the only way we get anywhere in life. 

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On the day your father dies

Sibling cloudsThree years ago today I visited my father in the hospital for the last time. He’d lived with the effects of a profound stroke for more than 15 years. My mother died in 2005 and that left me in charge of all his affairs, his health and ultimately, the end of his life.

He’d tumbled out of his wheelchair trying to do something he shouldn’t a few weeks before. My brothers had been out visiting and we were touring the Art Institute of Chicago together when a hospital representative reached me by cell phone. They wanted answers to a whole series of medical questions that seemed pretty deep for a basic medical checkup or even a short-term emergency visit. My dad was often taken to the emergency room by his caregiver or by ambulance over the years. I was used to getting those kinds of calls.

Broken hip

So this was different, and I finally asked what was going on. “Your father’s got a broken hip,” the woman told me. “We’re weighing whether he’s fit enough to handle surgery.”

When an elderly person breaks their hip, it’s never good news. Many times it’s the first in a series of debilitating health occurrence that lead to death. Sometimes it’s the surgery itself that is too stressful. Or the anesthesia and other effects lead to pneumonia. It just isn’t good news when old folks break their hip.

They were considering doing the surgery on him that day. But I was the official Power of Attorney for Health Care and no one had yet consulted me on those plans. I realized my father may have given some indication of his wishes, and certainly, I’d respect that. But I still needed to know more about the prospects for his health.

First things first

We weren’t able to zip straight out of the city that minute. We had to catch a train, for one thing. But ultimately I showed up at the hospital and by then, things had settled down a bit. The health professionals were running tests, including blood levels given his daily use of a blood thinner. I’d gone through the entire list of his medications over the phone earlier that day. It was a lengthy catalog. Stroke meds. Anti-seizure drugs. Anti-depressants. Blood thinners. On and on.

So my father was resting comfortably as possible once I got back out to the hospital to visit. We talked about the operation and he was firm about doing it. The doctors even told him about the long rehabilitation he was likely to need on the back end of surgery.

My father was a tough and determined man. His upbringing had been difficult given the loss of his mother to the effects of cancer treatment during the height of the Depression. He went to live with two spinster aunts and a tough old uncle. And from there, his life story unfolded in winding fashion.

And here he was, lying in bed with tubes sticking out his arms as I’d seen it so many times before. I was there for his multiple bypass surgery in the early 2000s. Went to bring him home after the stroke wiped out half his body in 2003. And took care of the man both directly and indirectly all the way to that afternoon in October of 2015.

Not looking good

Thus I was aware of how his overall affect came into play. He was weakened by the accident. They even had to put him in a sling to move him about on the bed. Things were not looking good.

But it still wasn’t my choice to tell him whether to quit all that or not. In previous years, during times of quiet conversation, my father confessed he’d be fine if he just fell asleep one night and never woke up. Living with the physical, mental and speech effects of a stroke is no bargain. Honestly, I’d arrived at the point where I’d be fine with his passing.

Moving on

Sometimes I consider myself harsh in that respect. It makes me wonder if I lack compassion somehow. Was I being selfish in letting his prospects wander off in my own mind?

He went to surgery a few days later. It was successful. But within days his health collapsed with fluid on his lungs and on October 17, 2015, my father passed away in his hospital bed.

We’d been able to keep him living in his own home all that time. Following a series of rehab attempts following his stroke, he had been moved back home with my mother for a couple years. A live-in caregiver was hired. Then another. We made it work. It was tough at times, but we made it work.

And during the years of 2005 through 2013, I served as caregiver to my late wife. We made that work too.

Keep on keeping on

Through all that I found ways to keep on keeping on. Kept on running and riding. Kept working out to keep my sanity. Kept walking in the woods to birdwatch. Found ways to keep faith in life and hope even when things seemed hopeless.

In many ways, I owe the life I have to my father. It’s not a perfect life, because I’m not perfect, and neither was he. But he made many good decisions with me over the years and these countered some of the bad things that happened along the way.

But here’s the important part, and it’s not selfish. In the end, we all owe our own lives to ourselves. Which means that when we become fathers or stepfathers or mentors to other souls who depends on us, it is good to keep in mind that it is our own commitment to living that is the best example of all.

That’s why I let my father make his own decision about the expensive hip surgery performed by the hospital. He made the choice to keep on living.

Everyday choices

In so many respects that’s the choice we all must make every day. It may not seem that dire at times, but it’s still true. And to those facing down the effects of depression or other emotional states that vex their existence, that decision is so close they can feel it in the breath they let out of their lungs.

Which is why, while running in cold weather yesterday morning, I noticed the steam being released from my lungs and mouth and said out loud, “I’m still alive.”

Because they say that the day your father or your mother dies the winds of life blow straight into your face. We no longer get to “draft” off their existence. We stand on our own making every choice on our own.

We owe all that to our fathers and mothers. But we also owe it to ourselves.

Just breathe.

Pastiche

 

 

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, Depression, healthy aging, Uncategorized, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Who doesn’t appreciate a little dirty humor on the run?

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Comedian Nikki Glaser

There are a ton of interesting talk show topics across the “dial” of Sirius XM radio. I love listening to comedienne Nikki Glaser because she’s so blasted honest and isn’t afraid to talk about sex and other bodily topics. The same goes for The Bonfire with Big Jay Oakerson and Dan Soder, both comedians who aren’t afraid to mention a dick or two, now and then.

Ostensibly, I’m a Christian guy. But having religious beliefs does not––in my take on life––constitute adopting an attitude of willing ignorance or denying the earthier aspects of life. I ran for what most people consider a Christian college, and many of the guys and gals on that team were conscientious believers. Yet none of them were technically prudes. We had a lot of laughs and told our fair share of dirty jokes and stories. But reality was sometimes even funnier than the stuff we made up.

Morning practice

Morning.jpgI recall arriving for practice one morning when my cheeks were still flushed from having made love with my girlfriend just minutes before. Then I threw on my running shorts, trotted down the hill from the dorm and showed up for practice right on time. On my arrival, one of the freshman on our team pointed to my complexion and exclaimed, “You just had sex!”

When I chuckled, because it was true, he jumped around even more, yelling “Ahhhhhh! Cud just had sex!”

Man, was I glad to have just had sex. Several of the guys on the team actually fist-bumped me. They knew that getting it on was good for me and anyone else on the team that could manage that glorious venture. There’s nothing like having the love of another to make you feel strong inside even if you’re super relaxed from release of sexual tension. We never bought into the claim that sex would make you weaker in athletics. If it did, we were more than willing to accept the compromise.

Games people play

Insights like that are why I tend to like talk shows that cover sexual topics, especially if they’re done in humorous fashion. They remind me of the discussions we’d have and the teasing we’d endure on long runs.

Well after college, when I was living near Philadelphia, I trained with a group of guys in a club associated with a running shop called Runner’s Edge. They were great runners and a truly funny bunch of guys. One day we were doing a three-hour run in forty-five degree weather when it started to rain. It wasn’t a light rain. We just kept moving and let our body heat compensate for the chill air and cold precipitation.

We entertained ourselves playing a game in which each runner had to come up with the name of a place or town beginning with the last letter of the previous player’s word.

This lasted for a couple hours, and one of the players, a short but strong little runner named Steve, was enormously slow on the draw. It took him half a mile at times to come up with a new name. We’d all be laughing so hard waiting for his answer that it was hard to run.

Change of topic

joe-snyder-09-ryThen for some reason, perhaps to compensate for his inability to play the game well, he felt the need to brag that he’d recently been invited to “be in the movies.” He’d been approached on the streets of Philadelphia, he told us. So we asked him all kinds of questions about the film in which he was supposedly going to appear and as the details emerged, it became evident that the type of film in which he was invited to participate was indeed a porn film.

We hadn’t really noticed that aspect of Steve’s appearance before. But as he shared the manner in which the “producers” had approached him, we asked if indeed they’d seen him while running. Because now that we looked at Steve in that light, we noticed the pronounced bulge in his shorts. It was suddenly apparent, especially in wet running shorts, that Steve had talents none of us had noticed before.

That wasn’t actually a “dick joke” in the traditional sense of the term, because it wasn’t a joke. It was true. But we still had a prolonged laugh helping Steve come to grips, so to speak, with their real interest in having him star in their film.

“No way!” he insisted. But yes, it was true we assured him. “They want you to star in a porn flick. Because of your big dick.”

Porn party with Seka

A couple years later while training with a friend and fellow runner in Chicago, he invited me to to what promised to be a wild party in some refurbished warehouse on the Northwest side. “You have to wear a G-String or something under sweatpants,” he told me. “Because I hear the dancing gets real crazy.”

SekaThere was also a famous porn star named Seka scheduled to make an appearance during the evening. That was supposedly the big draw that was going to set the mood for this wild party about to happen.

When we showed up at 9:00 pm for the party, there was a long line of intensely suburban looking geeks standing outside. Each was wearing clothes that looked like the style manual for computer nerds. Thus it didn’t turn out to be a wild party at all. Instead it was a creepy crowd of uncomfortably stiff men milling about in hopes of seeing the famous porn star sometime that evening.

We left. But not before the lights went down and the dancing started. In the dark I could hardly tell one person from the next. Finally I noticed what appeared to be a pretty face next to me and asked, “Do you want to dance?”

And the guy said, “Sure!”

Frankly I didn’t know what to do in that moment. But it was the early 80s and the dividing line on sexuality was pretty stark back then. These days I’d just dance with the dude. But back then, I booked out of there and trotted my way home through the cold Chicago night. That was how I learned that running in a silver G-String under sweatpants is actually pretty comfortable.

Hotel room prank

Candy drawers.jpgDespite these past experiences, my reputation as a relatively staid and moral guy was intact by the time I’d entered the work world. In fact I’d earned the nickname The Professor at the marketing agency where I worked simply by accurately spelling the word “pterodactyl” for one of the salespeople who wanted to put one of the flying dinosaurs on a marketing piece.

To test my supposedly professorial resolve, the President of the marketing agency for whom I consulted decided to “pimp” me by having me room with one of our print suppliers the first night we traveled to another city. The guy was a total pig. Think John Candy in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Plus he snored like a hog, and I came down to breakfast the next morning disgusted by the whole experience. The President roared with laughter as he asked me how my stay was so far. “It’s like living with a farm animal!” he chortled.

The next night he gave me my own room. So I decided to teach the President a lesson. I slept well on my own and rose early to go out for a run. On the way back through the lobby, I stopped at the reception desk and asked them to do me a favor. “Could you print up a phony receipt that makes it look like I rented every X-Rated movie you have on those channels?”

They chuckled and said “Sure.” That list of movie titles was as hilariously bad as you could imagine. Plays on words like Star Whores instead of Star Wars. Things like that. Collectively, it read like an All-Star lineup of bad sexual puns and corrupted classics.

Then at breakfast, I brought the receipt with me an waited until we’d all had a chance to finish eating. Then I slid the fake (yet real-looking) receipt across the table and said, in a quiet voice, “Hey, I’m really sorry about this Vince. But I just couldn’t help myself last night.” Then I sat back and sort of looked away in a guilty fashioin.

The President’s eyes literally flashed down the list and back at me. And he said, “Well, okay then. No problem.”

I burst out laughing and said, “Seriously!? You think I’d actually rent that many porn movies? In one night?”

I sat there laughing as a wan grin spread across his face. He was the known trickster of our group, always playing pranks of one kind or another. But this time I’d gotten him good and it was all because my Goody Goody made it work so well.

Obsessions and otherwise

marilyn.jpgTo create a bachelor party gift for a running buddy that was getting married, I once made a mashup of the movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure with the porn classic Behind the Green Door starring Marilyn Chambers. It was a big hit and got passed around between guys getting married until some idiot tape over it to record a PGA tournament on TV.

The funny part about the place where I rented the porn film to make that mashup is that it was only one of two shops in the mid-80s that rented such fair. Both stores were located in a prim little white-bread community that prided itself on its reputation for “family values.”

Well, so much for that.

The proprietors of both video stores were friends of mine from my days selling advertising for the local newspaper. Without divulging any names, they confided that it was many of the town’s most respected citizens who rented the most porn.

Does that really surprise anyone these days? 

Over time all that porn content migrated to the Internet. It seems like it’s only those strange stores along the Interstate that rent porn any more. Apparently there must be a market among truckers or something like that. Otherwise, who the hell visits those places?

On second thought, spare me that information. I don’t really want to know. That was just a rhetorical question.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When someone tells you that you’re not good enough

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Photo from the Instagram of Lucy Charles, pro triathlete (link below)

There are a lot of people out there in the world confronting the problem of bullying and how it harms the psyches or people young and old. I lived with bullying growing up. Many times I fought back. I’m not saying that I wasn’t afraid, or that I didn’t wind up getting my butt thrashed in one way or another. I was just a competitive kid with a chip on my shoulder that was composed of equal parts family life, native anxiety and 50% mink. 

But bullying isn’t the only way that people can cause you to feel anger or want to avoid reality. In some ways it’s far worse when someone tells you that you’re not good enough. During those moments in life you’re faced with just as difficult a choice. You can accept their take on your abilities or you can set out to prove them wrong.

Most people do find a away to prove their detractors wrong. Others let criticism or negativity haunt them the rest of their lives.

Divorce of course

DivorcePerhaps the most difficult example of “you’re not good enough” is going through a divorce. I know many people that have gone through that experience and with rare exception, it is a bitter passage. The best outcome is perhaps the ability to remain friends through it all upon realizing that you just weren’t meant for each other in the first place. People make mistakes in relationships and everything else in life.

The worst outcome is the knock-down, drag out type of divorce where scorched earth becomes the goal of one person or both.

I have a wonderfully conservative friend whose son’s marriage to a woman was on the rocks. His advice and help was novel indeed for his son. “I’ll give you $5,000 to get your own apartment and start fresh. Give her everything and just break it off clean,” he advised. And it worked, for the most part.

But the harsh hurt of divorce is the underlying realization that in some way, shape or form, you weren’t good enough for that person, or they weren’t good enough for you. That hurts either way.

Open water.jpg

Open water

Which means struggles with self-image when you start all over again. One of my least favorite moments when swimming is starting over in the middle of the water when for some reason (like a loose set of goggles) I’ve come to a stop.

It’s just not easy to start swimming again. You have to kick and pull and it still takes several strokes to get going again.

It’s even worse in open water when there are dozens of people swimming around you, and you start to feel like an ignoramus for bogging in place to get your bearings. Makes me think of that Brian Wilson/Beach Boys song Til I Die:

I’m a cork on the ocean
Floating over the raging sea
How deep is the ocean?
How deep is the ocean?
I lost my way
Hey hey hey

The pain of self doubt

Self doubt.jpgSo it takes a considerable boost to the constitution of self to get going again when things in life slow you down or stop you cold.

That’s because self-esteem can be a fragile thing. When someone coldly tells you that you’re not good enough at something it can raise genuine doubts in your mind. It’s startling how fast that can happen.

For example, if a boss pulls you in and says, “You’re not pulling your weight on this project,” the shock can be devastating. It makes you wonder how many other people might be thinking the same thing…and if they knew or thought that about you, why didn’t they say anything? That seems the cruelest thing of all.

It can be hard to get going again when you feel like everyone has doubts about you. That collective sense of “you’re not good enough” is daunting indeed. The fear that others doubt you or think less of you for some aspect of behavior or even physical appearance can be devastating.

Social pressures

I think back to that period in life when girls of middle school age were all starting to sprout boobs and wonder what that must have been like. There’s literally no control young women have over that aspect of their physical appearance. Of course boys were typically drawn to girls with bigger boobs. The fascination and mystery of all that was profound in both its immaturity and its dismissive ignorance.

I also recall the hissing criticism of certain girls who were considered “flat.” That was the insensitivity of 70s lexicon. Yet I also recall hearing the strong statement of a friend named Holly when she overhead a group of boys discussing breast size during lunch hour. She was a dancer as I recall, and she walked up to the boys, stood there boldly and said, “I may not have a lot, but what I have is quality.” To a person, those guys probably did not know what she meant. But she did, and that’s what ultimately counts.

I have never forgotten that incredible example of courage and the education Holly dished on those guys. By proxy, they were trying to insinuate that Holly was somehow “not good enough” because her breasts were not as large as other girls.

Fortunately, that brand of assessment of the female anatomy is changing at last.

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Pro triathlete Daniela Ryf, winner of the 2018 Ironman World Championships

That strong statement by Holly came to mind while watching this weekend’s Ironman World Championships in Kona. Breast size was the least of those women’s concerns as they swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 and ran 26.2. The lead swimmer among women was Lucy Charles, and she swam much faster than a ton of men. Not only that, but she biked all 112 miles well under five hours.

And then ran 26.2 miles at a pace most people would kill to achieve. And as impressive as Lucy Charles was in that race, she finished second.

Perhaps someone would have the gall to dismiss her achievement and tell her that she’ll never be “good enough” to beat Daniela Ryf, the “winner.”  Perhaps on that day in Kona, Lucy wasn’t quite fast enough. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t “good enough” in any way, shape or form. Same goes for the hundreds of other age-groupers who, though not blessed with world champion speed, were able to complete the race.

Even those who did not finish got out there and gave it their all.

Lucy Charles.jpgThe lesson here is that the real problem lies not with those who try, or fail. It rests instead with people that have the gall to suggest someone else is not “good enough” in some way. It’s such a common thing that we sometimes take it for granted.

My own son once turned to me and said, “Dad, did you ever notice that when people say ‘good for you’ they’re being condescending?” He was in fifth grade. Yet he’d already picked up on the fact that even ‘well-intentioned’ forms of compliments can amount to insincerity. Hidden in that faint praise was a hint of dismissiveness. That’s not always true when someone says ‘good for you’, but you have to be alert in this world to know what people truly think.

Coaching

Now grant you, it is the job of the coaches in this world to push an athlete, even to the point of what seems like an insult of sorts if the athlete or an employee is not being honest with themselves. One has to cut through the crap at times to get the message across and produce better results. I once had an editor pass along a piece that I’d written that was clobbered by the Publisher for its vacuous tone. I deserved that criticism. It made me a better writer in the short and long term.

Thus it’s acceptable when critics focus on some aspect of performance, not working hard enough or ignoring the central objective. There is such a thing as legitimate criticism. Only fools and narcissists reject the benefits of such insight. We’ll get to that in a moment.

So this essay is not a call to create some sort of “safe space” in the world. We all deserve and need criticism at times. Constructive or otherwise, it can help us assess our efforts and dial in for better results. But constructive criticism is a far different thing than telling someone, without consideration of that individual or group, that they’re not “good enough” and therefore don’t deserve respect.

Dismissed 

Christine.jpgIt’s the dismissive brand of “you’re not good enough” that deserves resistance. We experience that brand of cynicism at its earliest stages when grade school friendship and jealousies enter the picture. It’s a sad thing to realize those petty jealousies can turn into political divisions, racism, classism or sexism as a product of childishly tribal instincts.

The difficult part at that point is taking the high road. We all know that doesn’t always work. Thus the most satisfying part is taking falsely directed criticism and funneling it into motivation to prove the world wrong when someone suggests you’re not “good enough.”

Good enough or ‘good’ enough?

I’ve thought much about the concept of being good enough in context with the nationally televised testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, whose “word” was apparently “not good enough” to be taken seriously by a group of eleven men passing judgement on her past experience. Instead they provided a “he-said, she-said” stage in which her words were heard but she was not allowed to corroborate them in any way. They initially judged her testimony “not good enough” to merit a corroborative approach.

Senate j.jpgInstead, they conducted themselves in a specious manner by conducting a hearing that was more a show force. The Senate Judiciary committee was essentially eleven men with their minds already made up against one woman with the courage to stand her ground.  The committee even hid behind a “hired gun” female who was doing the dirty work of asking the question. Thus we learned how the “system” really works when it is confronted by a threat to its power. It runs and hides like a bunch of little boys who broke something valuable and don’t want to admit it.

That valuable thing was the trust of America. We learned that the word of millions of women would never be good enough to be trusted by men who feel they deserve the right to hide behind whatever construct they choose to categorize as a “defense” and still claim accountability. The promised FBI “investigation” following the initial testimony of Kavanaugh and Ford was just an extension of that farce, mere stagecraft for a political agenda on full display. It did nothing to reconcile the gap between what she said and what Kavanaugh screamed and cried in return.

We bore witness to a guy lying about the brutal habits of his unbridled childhood. He even lied about the meaning of the terms used to disparage women. Perhaps Kavanaugh grew into roles of responsibility and better judgment later in life. He certainly was not willing to cop to his poor judgment early in life. That may be the worst aspect of the whole sordid affair. Can a man that has not reconciled his past to his present really be a good judge of law and human character? It’s frankly doubtful that he can. It is much more likely that he’ll grow ever more arch in his convictions and increasingly partisan to defend the supposed honor that he lost due to his own lack of contrition. That is the way of authoritarians trying to compensate for personal failures.

Kavanaugh-Crying.jpgKavanaugh’s principal (not exactly principled) defense was that his character was being assassinated by the nature of the accusations. But that deflection still didn’t legitimately answer the question: “Did you attempt to rape her? Have you lied about it?”

He says he didn’t. And in a rush to judgement, the Judiciary committee partisanly took his word over hers. We all know that it’s “innocent until proven guilty” in America. But what if no real effort was made to prove innocence or guilt? What then?

Sorry, Christine, you just weren’t good enough

Rather than pursue those questions to their legitimate (and legal) end, the so-called Judiciary Committee instead shoved Christine Blasey Ford aside and said “Thanks, but your word just isn’t good enough.”

Which forces us all to ask a different kind of  question, “If justice can’t genuinely be served by a Judiciary Committee, are the people leading this country genuinely good enough to deserve the job?”

Trump sneering.jpgGut check time

That’s why November 6 in America is a gut check on whether the nation itself is good enough (which means something entirely different, mind you…) to carry on the system of democracy created by its Founding Fathers and the republic upon which it depends.

Is there enough good left in this country to resist those who abide in ownership of power at any cost, and who seem to worship a narcissist willing to tell people, every day of his life that they’re not good enough to deserve respect, much less a place at the table?

How it all fits together

How does all this tie together? The same man who is known for judging women solely by their looks is also known to criticize, use and discard all those people (both men and women), with whom he grows bored or disenchanted. Typically, they fall into a familiar category of criticism. They just weren’t good enough for Trump. That’s what Trump said about John McCain: “I prefer the ones that weren’t captured.” In other words, suffering torture and captivity as a member of our armed forces was not “good enough” for Trump. Neither are the guys who kneel at NFL games in protest of racial inequality. Not good enough for Trump either.

And when someone isn’t “good enough” for Trump he attempts to shove them out of the way. He’s also paid women to silence them, and refused to pay those who actually do work for him. Think about that for a moment, and consider what the symbolized. Even people that had a contract and finished the work as promised for Trump were not deemed worthy of being paid the full amount promised them when they took the job. What kind of corrupt character does it take to justify that brand of selfishness?

That’s ultimately what deserves investigation, because Trump’s word clearly cannot be trusted on any aspect of his personal or professional behavior. We are forced to ask: How might he be bilking America as well? Is this presidency thing just a scam to get richer?

That’s what’s on the block, and it is stunning that some otherwise honorable women and men (Trump supporters) still seem to abide by placing trust in a man and a puppy dog Congress and Senate that has such low regard for women. Only those willing to compromise their values and integrity to join his version of authoritarian rule are welcome, and that 41% has been loyal as a pack junkyard dogs being fed scraps of red meat. That’s what those Trump rallies are all about. Red meat and promises of more. So much winning.

“We won”

We heard the belief system of our Narcissist in Chief last night in a 60Minutes interview. He gave us an abject indication of what he really thinks about, and the shallow depth of his values when asked if he cared about how he mocks and belittles others, and he said: “We won.”

In other words. Screw anyone that does not agree with me. You’re not good enough. 

How’s that really make you feel, America? Is this really winning, or is Trump leading us down a shithole of his own making, and dragging you with it? Hope you’re proud, and it seems that many people are.

But we’re warning you, MAGA fans. the farmers in America recently got a taste of Trump’s dismissive policies, and you’re next. We’re living now in the land of promises made to be broken. That’s because no one is good enough to deserve respect in Trump’s America. He’s in this only for himself. The rest is just wishful thinking, and that’s not good (enough) for anyone.

 

 

 

 

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What if you knew this was the last workout you’d ever do?

Halloween.jpgHere comes Halloween, the night when thoughts of death and hauntings swirl around the minds of millions of people. As a Hallmark Holiday, it may not be taken all that seriously. But as a seasonal celebration with pagan and religious origins it owes its history to All Hallow’s Eve, the annual time to remember the dead.

So this I’ll do. It will be two years since my father passed away in October of 2016. It was 2005 and thirteen years ago that my mother died in November. My father-in-law passed away in December of 2012. My late wife died in March of 2013. I also lost a coach two years ago who was a major influence in my life. He died after a long and harrowing struggle with lung cancer.

But the thing I recall about that running coach, and everyone else that I’ve recalled in the paragraph above, was their ardent will to live.

Coming aliveMortal risks

None of us knows when the day of our dying will come. I’ve written about the Art of Dying because mortality is a highly instructive thing.

But as I climbed out of the pool today after a noon workout, somehow the thought popped into my head: “What if that was the last workout you ever do?”

It could happen to any of us. Accidents happen. Sudden illness or cancer or a heart attack can sneak up from behind. A fellow on our block nearly died last July 29 because one of his arteries was blocked from plaque. They barely got him into treatment on time. He shared the tale during the Gratitude Circle we conducted. We went around the circle and each person took a moment to reflect on their lives. If that seems like an unusual thing to do at a block party, that’s because we live amongst wonderfully unusual people. That’s a gift unto itself.

Healthy hopes

I also just received a health assessment report from a company that administered blood work and gave us surveys to provide feedback on how we’re doing. I’m really healthy except for one thing: my bad cholesterol is a little high. My family doctor recommended a treatment for that a year ago. Thus far I’ve ignored his advice. But my college roommate and former college running teammate told me that he’s on medication for that specific reason:  his family history with heart disease is daunting. His father had heart disease and so did mine.

IMG_4864So that’s that. No more pissing around on my part. I’m going to follow my doctor’s orders going forward. Because this past spring, a longtime friend who is also a running coach suffered a scary heart attack out of the blue. He’s been running for fifty years. Didn’t help.

Runners and cyclists and swimmers are not immune to heart problems as we like to imagine. So it’s time for me to take responsibility for my own health and not dodge the rational response to a congenital condition and susceptibility to heart disease.

My dad had triple bypass surgery back in the early 2000s. A few years later he had a bad stroke that disabled him the last 15 years of his life. I was his caregiver all those years and saw firsthand how the effects of stroke can change your life. It’s scarier than any row of frighteningly carved pumpkins you’ve ever seen, I can tell you that.

But I still don’t choose to live my life in fear that something bad always going to happen. It just makes sense to take the precautions that you should. And then work out a healthy amount.

Last workout you’ll ever do

IMG_5697Which is why that moment climbing out of the pool this morning felt so immediate. I knew what I’d do if it were the last workout of my life.

There are no rules to this game, so I can make them up as I like.

First I’d go for an open water swim. Ideally the water would be cool enough to allow me to wear a wetsuit. Then I’d swim a mile, which I actually haven’t yet accomplished in my still-young triathlon career, and crawl out tired but wanting more.

Then I’d climb on my bike, perhaps with aero bars stuck on the front, and go cycling for all I’m worth, and cover about 26 miles. That’s what I consider the perfect distance for a ride, and it happens to be the distance (or thereabouts) typically covered in an Olympic-distance triathlon.

When the bike was finished, I’d strap on the lightest running shoes I could find. Then I’d go out for a nice hard run, probably for 10K or so, and hang on to my race pace for as long as I could. I’d still manage my effort to finish strong, but that would certainly be possible knowing that I might never work out again. That’s some pretty strong motivation right there.

IMG_7409Suffer in joy

Because I have to say, it’s been a long and fun road all these years. I have learned how to suffer in joy. That seems like a contradictory phrase, but I know that you know what I’m talking about.

To learn how to suffer in joy is a perfect allegory for life. When we learn how to suffer in joy, we know the richness of living despite all the challenges, problems and eternal questions that confront us. That is the tarsnake of existence, right there.

None of this makes triathlon into some form of religion. I’m not proposing that we’ve found a new trinity through participation in multi-sport competitions. But there is a genuine satisfaction in having tested yourself thoroughly. We can live in peace if we can can say, “That’s the last workout I’ll ever do,” and follow it with a single word: “Today.”

And if tomorrow never comes, or should All Hallow’s Eve claims us for eternity, at least we’ll know what it means to live life to the fullest.

 

Posted in cycling, healthy aging, healthy senior, mental health, race pace, riding, running, swimming, Uncategorized, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

By invitation only: Sweet Season #3

Season heating up

cudrunHaving come off a speedy team performance in a quadrangular meet against Augustana College, University of Northern Iowa and the University of Iowa, in which we lost only to UNI, our squad was fired up going into our own Luther College invitational. Our top runner had just won two races in a row, and there was a good chance he’d also take the solo victory at the Luther Invitational.

It would be held on September 16, and that September the weather been fluctuating between cold mornings and really hot afternoons. The quadrangular meet had been scheduled as a five-mile race, but was shortened to four miles due to extreme heat at the noon start.

Not so hot shoes

Etonic streetfighter.jpgCross country is always a sport of adaptations I’d purchased some Etonic Streetfighter training flats before leaving home for school, and those shoes were proving to be a mistake doing all the high mileage. They were too wide and too flat, and the rubber felt hard. Plus they blistered me. It was time to dump them. 

That meant the bulk of my running was done in waffle-style trainers from Nike. The company had truly come into its own during the years 1975-1979. Some of their shoe-design experiments were noble and compelling but others made us feel like suckers and guinea pigs. A style of shoe called Nike LDVs were issued in a version so wide and flared that the inside edge of the sole at the heel scraped away at inside of our legs until they were raw. We tried sawing them off but that made it worse. Even the bow-legged among us were not safe. 

Making them last

Nike LDV.jpgWe’d all tried to make our shoes last longer by placing layers of athletic tape on the outside edge of the heel to keep it from wearing away. That was actually a quite genius and practical solution. It would prevent the uneven wear from one side to the other if one had a longer leg. It also kept the shoes from wearing down so badly on the heel before one got the full value from the rest of our shoes. We’d sometime get 500-600 miles out of a single pair that way. Then again, that only meant 5-6 weeks of wear. Then it was time for a new pair.

Still, we’d all found the less radical version of the LDV in yellow with a sky blue swoosh to be a perfect shoe for backroads training. For racing, the flats that most of us wore were Nike Waffle Racers, blue with yellow swooshes. As a racing flat, those Elites were more substantial than spikes and could be worn to race across a variety of surfaces, which was often the case in college cross country.

Racing at home

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The Luther Campus has filled in since we ran on the upper campus in the 70s

That third week of the season it was time to prep for the home course, which started on the lower campus on a massive athletic field split by baseball diamonds, rugby pitches and even a soccer field, the earliest nod of acceptance for that sport at our little college in Iowa. We’d run hard mile intervals on that flat expanse of grass, dipping down below 4:50 to get ready for race pace. 

The cross country course headed straight from one end to the farthest reaches of the large mowed field. Then it urned right for 400 meters and right again to reach the base of a hill. The course would all be marked by a white line. Generally it was straight unless a cross-eyed facilities named Earl was assigned to lay down the line. Then it would swerve like a giant snake because he literally could not see straight. 

That was the case the morning of the Luther Invitational. We all laughed during warmups as other teams kept coming up to us asking what the deal was with the swerving line. We told them: “Just run straight.”

The right philosophy on running

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Years later, Luther standout Tureena Johnson would win national championships

Before the gun for the varsity race, there were a series of other races including a high school competition and races for JV, women and Open runners. These were all held in line with the philosophy of our coach who believed that running was for everyone that wanted to participate. By the time we were seniors at Luther, the women’s program that started with just two gals was now thirty in number. Within a few years the program would see Luther women earn individual national championships.

So there was plenty to cheer throughout the morning, but as the day warmed, the guys on the varsity all found a place to hunker down in the shade until our race came around. While we waited, one of our teammates rigged up some huge speakers to a stereo parked in a truck. The music of The Cars was blasting more than 100 decibels as we warmed up. There was lots of slapping of hands and “Let’s Go!’ before the gun went off.

True to form

My roommate Dani Fjelstad again won the meet, his third individual victory in a row, this time going head-to-head against a tough University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse runner named Jim Ingold . I finished as our second man in 20:42 for 11th or 12 place overall, but Luther still finished second to Augustana, our arch rivals for many years.

 On hearing that announcement, I blurted out a loud and disgusted  “Fuck!” and was immediately chagrined that my competitive blasphemy was heard by so many people. So I instantly trotted off to console myself with additional warm down time.

Unintentional break

The loss stung, but we got right back to training. Or most of us did. For reasons of love and distraction I completely forgot about our Sunday morning workout the day after the invitation. Instead my girlfriend and I rented a tent and went camping high on a hill overlooking the road that led out of campus. We stayed up late as the air cooled and  shared a sleeping bag. In the morning, with the calls of crows ringing out above us in the trees, I recall hearing the familiar voices of my teammates passing by on the road below, chatting as usual while they headed out on a Sunday morning run. I watched them through the screen of the tent door and realized that I’d simply lost my head in love with that girl and was now missing a workout.

“Oh no!” I said out loud. “I forgot we had practice this morning.” 

It was too late to try to join them. I was simply smitten with my new girlfriend, and in the scope of things, missing that Sunday practice was no big deal. But there would be new tests to come in our relationship. Even as we grew more in love, there were competitive issues swirling around us and life’s demands waiting down the line. That night in the tent was symbolic of things to come as each of us would be pulled in different directions.

But first, there were practical matters at hand. And when I showed up for breakfast later that morning the guys told me coach was so ticked about the fact that we lost the team title at the invite, he hardly noticed that I wasn’t there for practice. “But he made us run hard this morning,” the guys told me. “So you better put in a good workout.”

I waited until the afternoon heat was fading a bit, and then went on a solo run of nine miles, just like the guys in the morning had done. In keeping with the call to run hard, I ran nine miles at six minutes per mile. And having been fueled up by the affections of the one I loved, every step felt light and purposeful. I flew along with sweat flipping off the blonde ends of my brown hair, a look that was fading as the September light took over. That was the last practice I’d miss that season for any reason. But it was worth it.

Another Saturday

Luther men's cc

Luther men’s cross country continues to embrace all levels of runners

There was another Saturday coming up fast. We’d be traveling to Grinnell, Iowa for a matchup with our conference rivals from Central College at the Grinnell Invitational. We hated those Central guys, and they pretty much hated us. Our competitive instincts were kicking into high gear. It would be a race to remember.

That’s how every meet felt that sweet season. I was running so well that I relished the chance to compete. At the same time, those old runner’s doubts would creep in now and then. I’d been second man every meet in the season so far, and wondered if my luck or training or something might fade. But every week, arriving home at our room after every meet, my roommate would crack open a victory Michelob and hand it too me with the mist of the beer floating above the lip of the bottle. “Good job,” he’d tell me. “#1 and #2. Way to go!”

It felt as if I was running that well by invitation only from my roommate, who was on an incredible roll and was now ranked nationally for his results. By invitation only, indeed.

 

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Swim time

IMG_5697.JPGThere comes a time in every athlete’s life when it does no further good to offer up excuses why things aren’t happening like they should. When I started swimming three or four years ago, I could barely manage a couple laps in a 25 yard pool before grasping the side and waiting for my breath to return.

It seems so foreign now that I struggled so badly at the start. I kept telling myself, “You’ve always been a good athlete. Why can’t you make this work?”

The answer, of course, was that I was doing it all wrong at the start. It took quite a bit of time to 1) learn enough about swim strokes to swim efficiently and 2) build up enough stamina in swim-specific muscles to manage sustained efforts. All that takes time. Swim time.

Other time

Perhaps you’ve struggled that way in one sport or another. We all seem to have our weak spots in multi-sport competitions. Some hate running, or running on the track. Others fear time on the bike with all that traffic, not to mention the hills, and the wind. Bike time can be a killer.

Late learner

Returning to swimming late in life was hard because there was so much for me to learn just to be able to do it at all. The fact that a basic freestyle stroke has so many moving parts was frankly confounding to me at first.

I’ve still got to work more on my catch position. My rotation seems good, and my elbows are coming out of the water high enough about 70% of the time.

And my kick? Sucks. So swim time still means working on some of the basics for me.

Good time

All that said, I arrived at the pool yesterday morning feeling more confident than ever. I swam some warmup laps and put on pool buoy between my legs and hand paddles on my mitts to do some strong pulling.

Then I swam a couple hundred yards and paused by the side of the pool to decide what my actual workout should be. It occurred to me that my near-term goal is to swim a half-mile (800 meters) without feeling stressed. That’s the distance of most Sprint triathlons, and it was time to just do that in the pool and not worry about it.

So I swam all 800 meters at my 1:55 per 100 pace and felt stronger as I went. Which also suggested that swimming a mile should be no problem from now on.

Bigger goal

That’s my bigger goal: to swim a mile without stress with or without a wetsuit. Too many summer races are “iffy” as to whether they will be wetsuit legal and I need to feel confident to swim a mile in open water if conditions are reasonable. As in not insanely choppy or waves over two feet tall.

That half-mile I swam in the pool was swim time that I truly enjoyed. My form felt good and the pull of my arms underwater felt strong and secure. That’s genuine progress from the days when I’d clung to the wall between laps to save myself from drowning.

Swim time is finally here in my life. Now let’s see how much faster I can get, and how much longer I can go. That’s what swim time is all about.

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Life between the cornstalks

Corn 3.jpgSaturday morning we rode into a stiff west wind following early morning rainstorms. The roads were so wet the rooster-tails of the rider ahead of you made it difficult to see as rainwater coated the lens of our sunglasses.

But it wasn’t unpleasant riding despite the early morning conditions. We traded pulls while heading into the wind coming at us from a 45-degree angle.

Our route took us into open country, out among the cornfields where it seemed there was nothing to abate the wind but the dried, shredded wall of cornstalks waiting to be harvested.

At fifteen miles we turned south and felt the relative tailwind begin to push us along. The average speed lifted immediately. We rode side by side now, talking a bit and keeping an eye and ear out for cars or trucks approaching from behind. Blessedly, there was little real traffic out among the freshly harvested fields of Illinois.

Collectors

Later that day we’d drive out in the country to harvest a few wayward corn stalks to mount on our front porch pillars. We feel no real guilt or get a sense of stealing considering how much corn actually grows in Illinois. The harvest process scatters seed in the flat fields where huge flocks of Canada geese walk among the fallen corn to pick up up seed with their thick black bills. The sight of live geese in the fields always brings a thought of decoys to mind. There are hunters around, but enough to make much of a dent in the regional goose population, whose numbers likely top 50,000 in the Chicago region alone.

Migration

Corn 2.jpgThe geese in Illinois, like so many other states in this country, don’t even migrate any more. They have everything they need to survive cold winters, especially neatly mowed golf courses and corporate campus lawns. In many ways we’ve genetically engineered a perfect goose environment.

We cyclists are just like flocks of geese. We have our formations, for example. And all summer long we’ve ridden through oceans of deep green cornfields.

Perfection

Come late September, the corn turns pale brown and the leaves are left sagging on the stalks. It’s almost frightening how well-engineered a cornfield looks today with the ears all perfectly positioned about four feet up from the ground. Props to the crop engineers.  They’ve done their job over the last 7000 years.

Right now there’s consternation out there among the farmers because the tariffs imposed by the United State on China and other corn-buying nations have created a backlash. The US government is now pouring $50B back into the farm belt to pay farmers for damage caused by messing with the markets. It’s all part of a “get-even” strategy on trade levels, but the people paying the price are those with the most to lose. How bitterly ironic it must seem to Republican farmers to get whacked by the policies of their political kin.

Laid low

The farmers still hauled in their crops. The fields are laid low in swaths so big the landscape seems to have blown clean. I recall visiting the cornfields near Plainfield, Illinois the week after a tornado tore through that town. The funnel stripped a clean path right through the green cornfields. It looked like a cosmic lawnmower had passed through. In town the trees were ravaged, houses and high schools were blown apart, and debris stuck out of walls as if an insane decorator was given a massive budget to spend on a town celebration.

It’s all proof that man can only control nature to a certain degree. The chaos we tend to credit to God. And that’s ironic too.

Owned

Corn 1.jpgThose of us who ride between the cornstalks all summer come to think of those fields as our own. We suffer in the heat blowing off the fields. We sweat and whirr between the corn walls and let those images burn into our minds. We become children of the corn.

Of course the farmers might radically disagree with our coveting of their fields. Many don’t even like us riding on “their” roads much less visiting our pretend ownership of their expensively maintained fields.

More than once we’ve encountered weathered looking men in overalls who pull up and get out of their pickup truck to yell at us for cycling on the country roads near their homes. “I pay taxes,” one of them screamed in my face a few years ago. “Um, so do I,” was all I could muster in the moment. It didn’t seem to occur to him that a bike rider might have a life outside the lycra and the blinkie lights on the back of the bike.

Strangers in a strange land  

Cyclists seem to be perceived as foreigners or strangers in a strange land. All we’re trying to do is ride between the cornstalks, which serve as a wall of sorts during the summer months. But it’s not the wall upon which you can paint graffiti or leave any evidence of your presence. It is a wall designed to pump sugars into seeds. When it’s done, those seeds are herded into combines and pumped into harvest trucks to be hauled to grain silos that stand out from the former prairie soil like the beheaded remains of the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz.

Some people view life between the cornstalks boring. And I’ll admit, there are days when riding gets a bit dull with nothing to look at but the homogenous, genetically-engineered, shining leaves of corn growing in the fields. But back at home, we feed seed to the birds, and there are bits of corn mixed in. The squirrels kick it around and even carry it all the way around the house. We’ll find cornstalks suddenly popping up out of garden beds or from the soft soil beside the drain spout. Corn is nothing more than a glorified form of grass. And there’s plenty of that in the world too.

Corn 4.jpgThis September we let one of those stalks grow in the back yard next to a sunflower that also propagated from a single seed cast off from the bird feeder.

Our lone corn stalk will not reach maturity before the snow flies, but there’s something about letting this exaggerated piece of grass taught to produce seeds for human consumption that has both a domesticated and wild charm about it.

It’s roots (pun intended) go back thousands of years to the region of the world we now know as Mexico. From there it was distributed and diversified across the North American continent until it was eventually shared with European visitors in the 1600s.

The myths of origins surrounding corn are considerably different from the practical reality of its development and domestication as a food and feed crop. Some native Americans tell a story of how a woman descended from the clouds, was fed some deer meat by a pair of hunters, and in gratitude promised them a reward for their generosity. They returned the next year to receive corn, beans and tobacco. Such a deal!

Horned_Lark_maybe_female_3-16-16.jpgNow that the corn and bean fields are being harvested there is little to occupy the fields but the horned larks, Lapland longspurs and snow buntings descend from the north and stay in the cold and snowy fields all winter. They feed on weed seeds and roadside pickings, a truly cold comfort lifestyle for survival. But they do survive and return each year.

It will be too cold and harsh for us to cycle out in the open by then. So we wait for the first turn of sod in spring,  and venture out in the cold wind to course the open roads again. Usually, that happens in March, if we’re lucky, or April, if it’s a long winter.

Then we ride while watching for the first green tips of spring corn plants to emerge. Then we acknowledge the “Knee High by Fourth of July” progress of said crops and gladly eat our sweet corn in late July in August.

By October, we strap  corn stalks to our porch in commemoration of the passing seasons. Death leads to growth. Growth leads to death. That’s life between the cornstalks.

 

 

 

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The question for men of a certain age

Doctors get to ask strange questions and do a number of odd things. Sticking a finger up the bum of a male subject to check out the prostate gland is just one of many medically invasive things doctors need to do in order to check the internal health of their patients.

There are diagnostic tools as well, such as x-rays, MRIs and CAT-Scans to help doctors look inside our bodies when something seems broken, bruised or stressed. Dentists flip on the x-ray machine to check the bone and root health of our teeth. The medical field can even look inside our heads.

brain scan.jpg

I’ve had a brain scan done. Years ago I’d get optical migraines now and then. My  doctor sent me to get a brain scan to make sure there wasn’t anything going on behind optical nerves such as a mass or a tumor. Fortunately, the scan showed nothing except the fact that I do appear to have brains in my head. So that was a good result.

Usually the optical migraines were the result of stress, and possibly a combination of of hormonal issues. The vision in one eye would close down like a black curtain. After a bit, it would abate and go away.

retinal-detachment.jpegAt the mere age of twenty-one I was diagnosed with a retinal detachment in the back of my left eye. The small-town optometrist in Decorah, Iowa sent me to the Gunderson Clinic in LaCrosse, Wisconsin where they hooked me up to a machine the size of a Volkswagen and shot laser beams into my eye to coterize the hole in the retina. It worked, and I never had to have the intrusive surgery where people wind up out of action for weeks. So I tend to trust what doctors and dentists and opthamologists and the like have to say.

Four hour erections

But sometimes, they still catch you off guard. Such was the case with my last doctor’s appointment a full physical exam.

“Do you still get erections?” he asked.

That question wasn’t so much a surprise as it was a point of consideration. For years I’ve seen those Viagra commercials, sometimes in the presence of my daughter, who being of middle school age at the time, would laugh out loud when the commercial said, “Check with your doctor if you have an erection lasting more than four hours.”

“Four hours!” she’d laugh.

As a good father, I’d laugh right along with her, then make jokes about all the interesting and useful things you could do with a four-hour erection. “You could punch the elevator buttons without using your hands,” I jested one time.

“Okay dad, enough,” she insisted.

Erection scan.jpgI answered my doctor honestly that to this point in my life, there’s not a problem in that department. Erectile dysfunction, as they call it, has not caught up with me. And by the way, that’s not my junk in the illustration above. But according to slide C it looks like someone could be a Leftie. 

A part of me (yes, that part) believes that staying fit helps in terms of all body functions. Unless there’s a congenital (yes, that was another genital joke) heart problem, generally fit people are better prepared to have sex. Even the Viagra and Cialis people tell potential users to get their heart checked before popping their pills. It doesn’t help to have a four-hour erection if you’re already dead. The coroners would arrive to find the body and say, “Oh, look, we’ve got two stiffs.”

Well past hump day

It’s Friday, what can I say? I’m on a roll.

All I can say as a Man of a Certain Age is that it’s frankly a bit of a relief to not be as manically horny as I used to be. That drive had its purpose somehow during those hormonal years. For one thing, it made for fascinating playground conversations.

I remember hearing how to jerk off from a friend in the sixth grade during recess. Then we all made a pledge to go home and try it out that. The next day we reported back as if we had just completed a book assignment. Our leader was proud. “Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it?”  the Jerkoff Wizard enthused to us. To the six of us, he might as well have been Merlin, for he’d opened our world up to a magic we never imagined.

Relieved

Armed with that information and the sensations it wrought, we all graduated to a male habit that for many millions of people consumes countless hours and untold reams of toilet paper or socks. The guilt that used to be associated with masturbation has been largely relieved of its repressive power by a much healthier attitude: releasing sexual tension can be healthy for both men and women.

Be honest: There were times over the years when it was simply hard to concentrate without letting off some steam. Most of us guys turned to Playboy and Penthouse for sex pics. But these days? In the era of Internet 6.0? With live streaming and the like? I seriously don’t know how young people of any gender manage themselves in what amounts to the Golden Age of Porn. There is literally no limit to content for stimulation. But millennials seem to have their minds together on the subject. It’s just sex. They deal with it and move on to other things. Thus I admire millennials for many reasons.

A real sex education

The one good thing about the availability of online porn is that people no longer have to wonder about what human anatomy looks like. Male, female, transgender? It’s all there. No real biggie. Once you’ve seen a thousand, the mystery wears off.

Porn? Let’s laugh at some cats knocking things off counters instead.

But the question for men of a certain age is whether any of that sex stuff matters if the libido abates or the equipment doesn’t work. There are pills for all of that of course. But when it comes to legislation, it seems that men’s “health” (otherwise known as getting boners) is a big issue while women (can anyone say Sandra Fluke?) have to keep quiet and deal with the business of their lady parts and birth control on their own dime and time.

Big and little problems

The bigger problem these days isn’t the lack of libido in men. It’s the prevalence of insecure men consumed by power over women that is truly vexing society. Some of that fear of women is still driven by the relationship between sex and the power women ultimately have over men.

That makes the visage of dirty old myopic men passing judgement over a woman testifying to a rape incident in the past a truly creepy thing. It also brought to the fore the sight of an obviously conflicted man foaming at the mouth in denial of an attempted rape. If video had existed, it’s likely the old men in that room would still deny it as evidence. Their lust for power is raping justice in America, but they blame those who are trying to hold their ilk accountable for causing a disturbance in their force.

Matt lauer.jpegBecause it’s not the Democrats against whom the judge in question should be raving. It’s the proven and litigated behavior of sexual harassers such as Fox News’ Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly that are to blame for the suspicions from the public about power hungry men and boys behaving badly.

Kavanaugh can also blame TV props such Matt Lauer and yes, even Donald Trump for proving that men can be absolute jerks with their self-locking doors and pussy-grabbing habits. Those are the people Brett Kavanaugh should blame for the doubt cast upon his character by rape accusations from Christine Blasey Ford. And Bill Clinton does deserve criticism and public shame for abusing his power for pleasure. But his wife is not the one who did it. She stood by her man and worked toward forgiveness. What a Christian example of fidelity that truly was.

So the nation has been divided into camps that are determined to repress and excuse the truth about ugly male behavior and those who stand by the will to change. The right of women to be respected in society is the new Civil War in America. It’s that clear. And there will be other Civil Wars to come, because prejudice and zealotry and fear all go together, and they don’t give up easily.

No conscience at all

It’s not as if any of those Senate panelists offered any insight on what it’s like to be female and to be abused in society. They stood back from fear of “bad optics” and let a woman do the patented grilling of Ford. Then the men all came forward and fawned as Kavanaugh went rogue in preaching the belief that men can do what they want for two minutes or four hours or engage in a lifetime of bad behavior and women simply have to put up with it. There are no consequences for the permanently assumptive and the jerks who exhibit no conscience at all.

Annnnnd Fuck You, Lindsey Graham.  

The joke used to be “go take a cold shower” when a man got overheated. Shrinkage can go a long way in terms of managing an overwrought libido. But a conscience overwhelmed and shrunken by unresolved issues of control and repression toward women cannot be so easily healed. Let’s not forget that Vice President Mike Pence does not even trust himself to be alone in the presence of a woman other than his wife. No real control over his own conscience? That’s some repressive shit, right there. And it’s rife within the hearts of those who can’t stand the idea that women deserve respect as people, not just objects for male sexual desire and manipulation.

It seems there’s a lot of that going around these days. Men of a certain age seem to be the worst at understanding that. Like athletes living in the past, they long for the “glory days” of having their way without being questioned. If only we had a little blue pill for conscience that would last longer than four hours, America would be in a much better place.

 

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