Is racewalking the sport of the future?

IMG_4118.jpgWhile doing my strength worth this morning in our home fitness room, I turned on the television to watch the morning session of Day 10 in the World Track and Field Championships. And there was a sport that I’d forgotten about. Racewalking. 

The rules are strange. Athletes move across the ground as fast as they can, but one foot must be in contact with the road surface at all times. There are judges who specialize in watching the athletes to make sure they’re not technically “running,” which would mean they are moving with both feet off the ground at the same time.

IMG_4116.jpgAs a result, racewalkers move with exaggerated arm movements. They are the exact opposite of the Ninja runner that we witnessed in the women’s marathon. She ran with both arms straight down at her sides and very little hip movement at all.

Racewalkers “roll” through every stride. Their hips swivel up and down in exaggerated fashion. They might almost qualify for the Ministry of Silly Walks if the sport was not so damned hard to do. The four-hour competition was won by a Frenchman on the men’s side and a Portuguese woman that has devoted, the announcers were clear to say, more than 20 years of her life to the sport.

And women around the world should perhaps pay more attention to this event. From the looks of the competitors, racewalking is a great way to shed some pounds and get that butt in fine shape. Running is a risk for many women and men with all that pounding. Granted, for the men, that swivel walk may get you some strange looks in some states, but racewalking is far less pounding than running. You just have to work on your strength and flexibility. Racewalkers can get injured too. It’s always about overuse versus weak connective tissues.

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It was interesting to watch the introductions of the competitors. All were rather humble in their demeanor. No mugging like the sprinters in track or rehearsed moves like Usain Bolt or Mo Farah. They even introduced the men’s and women’s competitors at the same time. That’s because they competed in the same race on the same course.

IMG_4123.jpgThere is no danger of running into one another during the event, because they’re not running. They’re walking fast. There is plenty of time to merge after water stops, and competitors still traveled in race packs that broke up like meteors re-entering the atmosphere after an hour or two.

Every racewalking event is a study in perseverance. One male Norwegian competitor got pulled aside and given a red card penalty for lifting his feet off the ground. But that seemed like the least of his problems, for his shirt was stained red from his bleeding nipples. It was hot outside, and four hours in the sun and sweat and abrasion gave him a bad case of bloody nips. Which was fitting because the competition was held in London, where everything was bloody beautify during the World Championships except this guy’s poor nipples and Usain Bolt’s supposedly cramping hamstring.

Usain Bolt behind.jpegI don’t exactly buy all that. When Bolt got the baton, he was already far behind. He’d gotten beat in the 100 meters earlier in the meet, and knew he had no chance of running down the athletes ahead of him. I think he “cramped” in order to avoid another disgrace. That may seem cruel and cynical, but I don’t blame the man. He likely regretted coming to the meet at all. He accomplished so much in so many amazing ways the last meet of his career was bound to be a letdown. Usain Bolt I don't Buy it.jpeg

So I don’t blame him. But luck runs out even for the most talented athlete in the world. But if his hamstring truly was cramping, he should have just finished the last forty meters racewalking. Everyone would have thought he was gaming the world like he’s always done. And more power to you Usain. More power to you.

Usain grabbing

 

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The bumper crop of America

Killdeer.jpg

When I stepped out of my vehicle in the Remote Parking Lot at O’Hare airport, it shocked me to look at the front end of the car across from mine. There was an adult killdeer smashed into the grill.

Killdeer are a common species of plover that loves open spaces near water. They have beautiful markings on their wings and rump. Adult birds are known to feign injury to draw potential predators away from their nest or young. It works.

But killdeer have a habit of flying low over roads, and occasionally one of the birds gets smacked by a passing car. That seemed to be the fate of this particular killdeer.

The fact that the bird was still stuck in the grill is what surprised me. The options are intriguing:

  1. The person who drives that vehicle never noticed the bird in the grill
  2. The person(s) who drive that car are frightened or can’t stand the idea of touching a dead bird
  3. The person who drives that car is proud of the fact that they hit the bird in the first place, and are carrying it around with them like a trophy and a bumper crop

Obviously the bird will never get what qualifies as a dignified burial in any case. But neither do millions of other creatures smashed and smangulated by cars and trucks, trains and planes every day.

Tallying up the damage

I have run nearly 50,000 miles in my lifetime, and cycled another 50,000 more.  Generally there is a road kill of some sort along the road every five miles. That means during all my running and riding, I’ve seen probably 20,000 road kill victims including raccoons, squirrels opossums, skunk, chipmunks and foxes. Coyotes, deer, rabbits and plenty of domestic cats and dogs. There are lizards and butterflies, dragonflies and snakes as well. So many frogs and toads, salamanders and worms than I ever care to think about.

More than once I’ve gotten out of the car or stopped while running and riding to carefully move a turtle across a street or highway. They simply aren’t evolved to avoid vehicles speeding along from twenty to sixty miles an hour.

Is anything? Even human beings?

Avian debris

I’ve also encountered thousands of dead birds. Swallows, pheasants, owls. Hundreds of robins, cardinals and goldfinches. Buntings, warblers and thrushes. The carnage goes on daily. These are valuable individuals lost to eternity. More bumper crop.

Indigo Bunting

Most people never take notice of road kill while hurtling over the road in their heated or air-conditioned vehicles. Those of us who bare our souls and bodies and minds to the seasons also know that even road kill has its rhythms. In the words of Tom Waits,

“Road kill has its season just like everything, you got your possums in the autumn and your farm cats in the spring…

Human road kill

Only once or twice have I happened upon car accidents bad enough to witness death among human beings. But it has happened. There is human road kill as well.

That’s the principle threat to people who cycle and run on the open roads. Despite the law that requires drivers to give cyclists three feet margin when passing, some people are too stubborn or too stupid to manage that simple driving maneuver.

Listen people: Separate hazards. It just takes a little planning. Some can’t be bothered. Others can’t do the math. But murder can be intentional or manslaughter. The results are the same.

We runners and cyclists don’t want to be road kill. Yet there is so much testimony to the hard facts of distracted driving it is hard to ignore the facts. The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information center says, “In 2015, 5,376 pedestrians and 818 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts). These two modes accounted for 17.7 percent of the 35,092 total U.S. fatalities that year.” And: The total cost of bicyclist injury and death is over $4 billion per year (National Safety Council).

Statistics like these do make one worry about winding up like that killdeer on the front grill of the red Toyota. The brand and style of vehicle doesn’t matter. When it comes to flesh versus metal, it is no contest. When that metal is pushed into action by a furious human being, you might as well throw the odds out the window. Anything can happen.

Angry drivers

It doesn’t take much to set some people off. Just get in their way on the road and they start screaming about paying taxes for the roads and the fact that they own them. And then it quickly can get ugly. It doesn’t take a crowd to incite violence. Note:: the video on this link shares graphic violence of an angry motorist attacking a cyclist with a club after he knocked the man to the ground with his vehicle. 

There really is no accounting for the levels to which human rage can be carried. The recent incident in which a driver in Charlottesville, Virginia chose to plow into a crowd of people is a keen illustration of the fact that there are people who regard their vehicles as a legitimate weapon against those who pose a hindrance to their perceived cause. The rest of us are mere bumper crop to their anger.

Driver -plows.jpg

Other close calls

Of course, not all threats to life are calculated. I’m actually fortunate to be here on this earth given the fact that my father almost got clobbered by a train in his youth. He waited for one train to pass, then jumped across the next set of tracks and was almost struck by a speeding train engine headed the other direction. Close call.

Orange traffic signal08-trump-good-news-folder.nocrop.w710.h2147483647.2xSo the fates are certainly fickle when it comes to who survives in this world. Most of us try to avoid ugly circumstance any way that we can. I personally grown more cautious on the roads the more I run and ride.

But it sure doesn’t help when people with anger in their hearts choose to buzz close to you, or from behind, and out of some sense of perceived privilege or affront try to run you off the road. They seem willing risk of stealing the life of someone else for the perceived satisfaction of cashing in their bumper crop.

There’s a whole world out there filled with idiots like that. When one of them gets into power, it emboldens the rest to play rough with the fate of others.

Civility itself seems to be stuck like road kill on the grill of America. Whether the nation has the conscience to slow the pace of terror in the post-modern world is a question for the ages. Those of us who love real freedom, not the freedom to maim and murder according to race, religion or refusal to share the road, cannot afford to back down. We must resist those who insist that it’s okay to view the rest of the world as bumper crop for anger and fear. That resistance must go all the way to the top. And to the very end.

 

 

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One for the ages

In August of 1973, heading into my junior year in high school, the world seemed as if it had shifted sideways. My father had moved our family to a new town twelves miles away from my former high school. That meant a whole new adventure at a whole new school.

Fortunately my mom got me an introduction to a cross country runner named Rob Walker in the new hometown of St. Charles. We’d seen each other in track and cross country meets the year before, so there was a nominal familiarity. And he was cousins, it turned out, with a close friend named Anna from my old school.

Rob introduced me to another buddy named Paul Morlock, who was supposed to be the quarterback that year for the football team, but somehow he’d made up his mind to switch over to running cross country. It was a mini-scandal, but a wise one. The football team went 0-9 that all. The cross country team went 9-1.

Group Photo.jpg

Marsha Walker, Chris Cudworth, Rob Walker, Catherine Morlock, Brian Hubbell, Paul Morlock, Dawn Ohman and Jeff Olson.

Th nucleus was formed for a unique period in our lives. That year some other runners including another friend Jack Brandli and a sophomore named Greg Andrews turned out to run, and we’ve all remained close friends ever since. 44 years now. Same number I wore in high school basketball.

Some of that friendship was heightened by the things that happened that year. We defeated a team that had not lost in sixty straight dual meets. We won a county championship and won the District meet too. All of it was a wonderful thrill ride of challenges confronted and met. The bonds built from all that shared effort on the hills and fields formed the relational cement that has lasted to this day. And every day, after it was all done, we sang our hearts out in the shower. We were throwing down deep roots that would stand strong for the next four decades.

Bottomlands.jpgWhich is why I flew to Norfolk, Virginia to meet up with a few of these friends to conduct a group birthday party. We all turned 60 this year. Rob and I actually share the same birthday, July 26. Paul celebrated his in June and Jeff Olson is going to catch up soon.

Paul did not know we were coming to visit him in Norfolk. That was all arranged during my wedding in May. But our encounter there was so brief the group decided it would be fun to meet up as we’d long promised to do for a weekend of food and fun and memories.

As it worked out, we all parked ourselves out on the beach as instructed by his wife while his son Jimmy led him out after work to find us all standing there in greeting.

PJ surprise.png

He’s not exactly a demonstrative guy, but the appreciation was evident in his raised arms and exclamations. “I had no idea,” he admitted. So it was Mission Accomplished.

The rest of the weekend was stories shared and even some running talk. But not too much. There is other ground to cover these days, including aging parents and the nature of responsibilities. All stood by me through all those years of caregiving for my mother, who died in 2005, and my late wife, who died in 2013, and my father, who passed away in fall of 2015. They all expressed happiness with the fact that I’ve found love with my wife Suzanne, and looked forward to the next gathering when she was not rocking a Half Ironman as she did this weekend.

Cypress Knees.jpgTime surely passes. We all are doing pretty well despite life’s shares of challenges in one form or another. The hugs are heartfelt and real. The spouses put up with our loud laughter and stories of stupid things we’d done. “You’re all lucky to be alive,” one of them said.

And it’s true. We are lucky. Because we also shared news of classmates that have passed on, and brothers. One of our clan has been battling Lyme disease for years, but only knew recently what it really was. Now the doctors at Mayo are treating it with full focus, and there is great promise of improvement. He was the sprinter among our midst, but finds himself in a marathon program of medications and treatment. But he has a sweet companion now named Dawn, who seems like a soulmate and we’re all happy for that.

PJ and Me.jpgPaul and I got out for a run on Sunday morning because Saturday featured a thick and unrelenting rainstorm. We parked outside a beautiful state park and trotted into the bottomlands where cypress knees stuck up from the black water and moss hung from the trees. A mild ocean breeze caught the top of the pines in a whisper, and we ran along talking as longtime running buddies do. Nothing dramatic or deep. Just the movement of bodies and thoughts. We were teammates and we remain so.

The evening before I’d wandered out to the beach at sunset. The water was calm and the skies were dramatic. I can see why they love living so close to the shore.

Norfolk Beach.jpg

On the way back home, I arrived at the airport in Norfolk only to realize that I’d incorrectly booked the flight home the next day. So I humbly made my way to the counter and asked to get on a flight to Chicago. Blessedly, there was room on a 4:24 flight. So I actually made out better for an additional $75 and no connecting flight through Newark, New Jersey. Ugh.

Driving home from O’Hare after such a weekend the passage feels like the timeline of a semi-sordid novel. So many checkpoints and familiarities mixed with memories of people picked up and dropped off at that airport. Love and hopes. Heartbreaks and losses. The inevitable traffic jams. The ads for hair replacement that can be ignored because I’m happy being bald. The ads for strip clubs promising $10 dances from women you’d never know. Signs for the I-90 interstate offering passage all the way east to where I was raised and all the way west to where the wind blows away the faintest wisp of relatives. It is both great and sobering to be sixty years old. But at least my life has not been a line from a Pink Floyd song. Someone did tell me to run. I did not miss the starting gun.

Amen to that.

 

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Ninja Running and other Meta pursuits

Creepy Mars WomanAfter yesterday’s piece on the Japanese marathoner who runs with her arms held low and stiff by her sides, my wife dug into the topic a bit deeper to find out that her methods are called Ninja running. Following up on her claim, I found this interesting bit of Ninja expertise online.

Some of the people commenting on the article asked these questions:

Will a high school girl be impressed if I can master this skill?
 
wikiHow Contributor
It depends on what type of girl she is. If she’s interested in this kind of stuff, then yes, you might be able to impress her.
How will this benefit me in my life?
wikiHow Contributor
Running is beneficial to your health. Being able to run quietly could potentially save your life in a dangerous situation.
T
Then I found this video of a “free running Ninja” who frankly looks rather slow even when he is bouncing off walls for special effect. In fact he looks extra slow bouncing off the walls.
But the real deal on so-called Ninja running is documented on this blog. It quotes the one of the women’s marathoners that has adopted the style.
Her form has been dubbed “ninja running.” Both arms held straight down with almost no movement. That idiosyncratic style carried Yuka Ando, 23, to the fastest-ever marathon debut by a Japanese woman, 2:21:36, at March’s Nagoya Women’s Marathon to land at #4 on the all-time Japanese lists. All at once Ando found herself catapulted to the top level of women’s marathoning, a candidate for Japan’s next great marathoner.

When she was younger Ando ran moving her arms like other runners, but she had a bad habit of moving robotically, her upper body and lower body not working in sync. The turning point came in 2014 when she joined Suzuki Hamamatsu AC. Working there with coach Masayuki Satouchi to eliminate the faults in her form, the pair arrived at the ninja running style that let her run relaxed. “Other people keep asking me, “Isn’t it hard to run like that?” but for me it’s comfortable,” she said. The efficient form helped her maintain her stamina and run head to head with Rio Olympics silver medalist Eunice Kirwa(Bahrain) over the second half of the race.

So it’s the Real Deal. Anyone that can run a 2:21 marathon deserves respect no matter how they get from the start to the finish.
I will no longer raise the issue as to whether Ninja Running is strange or not. The Japanese have long been known for efficiency and economy on a number of fronts. It appears they have again surprised the world with a bit of ingenuity.
In some respects, we may be witnessing a Meta form of running. Reduced to its absolute basics, one wonders if someday runners will move across the ground like the creepy faux-bombshell in the movie Mars Attacks.
Lookin’ good there sister! Can you do that cruise at 4:55 pace?
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You just never know about running form

Perhaps you watched the women’s marathon in the World Championship. And perhaps you saw a runner from Japan named Mao Kiyota racing the entire distance with a stiff arm motion that kept her wrists well below her waistline. It was the most uncomfortable looking running form, yet she kept up with the leaders all the way through 20 miles and finished in just over 2:30 for the distance. Quite impressive.

Distance.png

Every other woman in the race had a relatively high arm carriage. Some pumped and even flailed their way through the 26-mile distance. Kiyota kept her stride length short and low. She kept her arms straight down by her side, and ran from the hips.

In the first few miles of the race, I wondered aloud: “What is that woman doing?” It figured that she would soon drop off. Yet she didn’t. On and on she went. Right there with the African and American runners that would place 1-3.

She never faltered till after 20 miles. I sat there slack-jawed. Her performance raised all sorts of questions in my mind. Were the other girls actually wasting energy using so much arm motion? Or was the Japanese girl by some cultural or coached dictum losing speed and pace with her low arm carriage?

I did an Internet search to see if anyone made comments about the unusual running form of the Japanese athlete. Nothing. So I captured video from the On Demand recording of the race and it to a running group of longtime distance people. The comments were mostly curious, with a few jokes thrown in, about the nature of her form.

Looks very uncomfortable
Maybe they’re saving their arms for the last three miles.
Some Chinese runners, mostly female, also have the straight arm carry. Notice the corresponding low knee lift, short stride, and high turnover. I’ve also always wondered about the East African runners with closed elbow and hands up to the collarbone arm carry like the Ethiopian woman next to the Japanese woman 
I remember a talk by Jim Spivey before the Chicago Marathon one year. When you get tired just focus on the arms, cause they move your legs. So, I agree …goofy
Her watch and rings are really heavy…
I’m impressed.
 
This changes where lactic acid is created

It may be a cultural thing. I see many Asian women walking and running with the same form.

 

Yes, was trying to ascertain whether this is a physical strategy or more an cultural indication or attitude
It looks like the cheerleader/gymnast style of running. very odd
It feels like repression. I ran that way when I was 5 because I was so shy.
Or….”Wait. Wait for me. Oh. Wait for me! Hey Girls! Wait for me. Please. Wait for me!”
Here is what the site JapanRunningNews shared from Kiyota’s perspective:
Mao Kiyota, women’s marathon, 16th in 2:30:36

Even if the plan is to hang on, the best thing to do is to go with it from the first half. But as it turned out, when the leaders made their move at 35 km I couldn’t respond and go with them at all. I had trained to be ready for that and I really regret that I was totally unable to move.

I’d seen the course a million times and my coach had told me that even if the pace sped up every lap it would definitely slow down again on the city center part. I didn’t do anything hasty and I was relaxed enough to be able to tell who was cheering for me, so I thought that I had enough of a margin to be able to keep it together.

I think I dealt with the back and forth in the first half pretty well. But if I had to pick something that I did wrong, maybe I was too emotional and impatient. Every time, I keep on doing things that make it impossible to deal with the move in the second half. I have to get control of that, and from that to develop the confidence to be able to lead it myself and deliver a hard-edged race. I have to reevaluate my training approach so that I can gain that kind of confidence.

So interesting to hear her take on the race, isn’t it? You just never know about running form. And it further shows that we all have to get from POINT A TO Z our own way, and never mind the second-guessers and the critics.
Just run.
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Running to the End of the World

You may be aware of this already, but recently there has been a large uptick in the number and urgency of people who believe that the earth is flat. It may seem silly to you, but to Flat Earthers the evidence of our home planet’s flatness could not be more clear.

Flat Earth Society.jpeg

The image you see here is an actual rendition of the earth produced and published on the Flat Earth Society website.  As you can see, they accept that the earth is in some respects “round” in the sense that they believe all the continents are lying on a flat circle. What they do not accept is the idea that the earth is somehow spherical.

The originator of the Flat Earth Society was a gentleman named Samuel Shelton, deceased since 1971. But the Flat Earth Society has persisted and grown like an intellectual zombie hoard ever since. Now the zombies of Flat Earth have ventured forth through the wonders of the Internet, and are happily consuming the brains of all those who don’t believe in rocket ships, moon landings or the curvature of the earth when seen from space.

If you thought the denial of creationists toward evolution was bad, they are nothing in comparison the Denial Zombies of the Flat Earth Society. Never the mind the fact that with a simple telescope in hand, we can gaze into the night sky and study the moons of Jupiter circling a very round planet. And using more powerful telescopes we can literally see the rotation of other spherical planets in space. Flat Earthers deny all this is relevant. They see no farther than the biblically-described dome they perceive above the earth.

Down to earth

But let’s connect on a more terrestrial level to ask a simple question: If the earth is genuinely flat, why has no one ever fallen off? This is what one responder posted on the Flat Earth Society website:

“Seeing the edge is not possible. The temperature drops violently to that of space, the pressure drops, it gets incredibly dark and magnetic distortions happen due to the aetheric wind rushing past the earth at its edges. In short, its impossible to navigate there.”

This is the same realm of argument given by creationists who disagree with the tenets of evolution. “Nature has irreducible complexity,” they argue. “Therefore we can’t know the mind of God. We can’t go there.”

Where we can go

You might be asking yourself, “Why does any of this matter? Can’t we just live and let live?”

That would be nice, if it were only so simple. But the Flat Earthers and creationists and intelligent design folks are not satisfied leaving well enough alone. They want to install their worldview in public education, public policy and the head of government. Vice President Mike Pence is a devout creationist. This is a very major problem. It signifies an eclipsed worldview of blocked intellect and broad intolerance for fact. He’s also a step away from the most powerful political office in the world.

And you still ask why any of this matters? 

The answer is simple: It matters because big decisions get made around matters such as whether the earth is round or flat, or whether the theory of evolution should inform policy on ecological and environmental management.

Which would you trust, a coach who can show you the metrics of your last training session defined in empiric terms such as time, pace, heartrate and wattage outputs, or one who says that you should just leave your training to God, and let that be your guide?

We understand that training has measurable physical effects. That’s why we chronicle our training through metrics and plan our workouts in response to known factors such as oxygen uptake, delivery of food and hydration to our bodies, and building tolerance to heat, cold or other environmental factors. We train by principles formed around how the world actually works.

Round instead of flat

IN the same way, we understand that the earth is round instead of flat. It also matters in our lives that we comprehend the scope and function of evolution, the movement of the continents across the face of the earth, and the fact that human beings can affect the climatological conditions of the planet. These are empiric, not conjectural matters.

It matters just as much as the fact that gravity is real. Or course we can’t actually see it. We can only see gravity’s effects. We do understand certain elements of gravity mathematically. Certainly we can measure it’s impact on us every time we run, ride or swim. Gravity is a trusted scientific theory. But let us be clear: the word “theory” does not amount to admission of ignorance. It is instead a statement of known factors at work in the world.

People who run, ride and swim know empirically that gravity is real. We state our mile times with pride, and our mile time averages with purpose. We post in our journals: “Averaged 8:34 per mile on today’s run.”

To the point of a flat earth

We take gravity as a fact, but our dependence on material reality does not end there. The fact that we can record our pace and mileage by bouncing signals off satellites to measure our every step is critical to that knowledge. We know that satellites circle the globe at a fantastic rate, and that we can relay signals from earth to satellite and bounce it around the globe. We know this because scientists and inventors figured all that out long ago.

But people in the Flat Earth Society don’t buy such logic. There are also people who don’t believe in the moon landing because they think it was all a conspiracy of big government or mind control. Some of these people get earnest beyond reason. That’s why Buzz Aldrin was ultimately forced to punch one of those stupid bastards right in the face when he wouldn’t get out of Aldrin’s face with his accusations that the famed astronaut was a liar about traveling to the moon.

The End of the World

Nibiru-1025335

Nibiru: the hypothetical Planet X

Punching that guy was appropriate response by Mr. Aldrin. People who deny fact as a practice of belief are literally cheating reality of its richness and purpose. Consider the likes of David Meade, a so-called “Christian Numerologist” who claims that the upcoming eclipse signals the End of the Earth as we know it.

As reported on the website http://www.express.co.uk/

“He believes Planet X, also known as Nibiru will appear in the skies on September 23 and then crash into Earth. Nibiru, which is also referred to as Planet X, is a hypothesised planet on the edge of our solar system.”

Meade thinks the End of the World is all going to be set off by the upcoming solar eclipse. “Such a solar eclipse has not occurred since 1918,” Meade says, “which is 99 years – or 33 times three.”Mr Meade has used passages from the Bible to back his theory, in particular Chapter 13 of the Old Testament Book of Isaiah.

Strange times indeed

 

These are strange times indeed in which people by the millions are putting denial before fact. We all have a shadow that grows longer as the earth rotates around its axis and even further, around the sun because the world on which we live is round, not flat.

We should not place our trust in people who paint themselves orange and require a daily combover of compliments to block out the plain facts of reality. We can do better than this. Those of us who live by the watch should be on the watch for those who lie about the nature of reality.

 

 

 

 

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Try something different today

Graham's board.jpgOn mornings when I drop my wife at the train for her commute, I circle around to Graham’s 318, a coffee shop on quaint little Third Street in Geneva, Illinois. But given the fact that I don’t like coffee, that is never on the menu. But chai tea is good in winter when it’s cold outside. And iced chai is nice in summer when it’s hot outside.

I also love their Frozen Hot chocolate. Basically, the drink consists of 1) chocolate 2) ice. It is devilishly good. There is something in the chocolate that truly stimulates my brain. Perhaps this is due to the naturally occurring caffeine in chocolate, but FHC feels different than drinking a Coke or other such sugary soda. Frozen Hot Chocolate produces a feeling of euphoria in my brain of the exceptionally creative kind. Thoughts clear up and my writing spreads out before me like an outline. It is the opposite of my Kryptonite. I feel like Superman when I drink it.

There’s just one problem: that stuff is so rich in calories it does not pay to drink one every day. Plus, I don’t want to lose the special aspect of its effects. You can argue one way or the other, but we all need a drug of some kind to make us happy now and then. Running is that drug on many days of the week. Lacking that, Frozen Hot Chocolate does just fine.

As you have surmised by now, I do not believe it pays to get into a rut with anymuch of anything. Sure, some routine is nice in life. But it can ultimately kill the will as well. Which is why, a couple weeks ago, I took a look down the menu at Graham’s and noticed something interesting at the bottom of the menu. It’s called Iced Matcha Escape. So I asked about the young gal behind the counter about it, and she lit up. “Do you want one? They’re great!”

So I did something different. I ordered the Iced Matcha Escape. And it was good.

Matcha Escape.jpgThe drink is a little more expensive that my norm. 12 ounces costs $5.00. Okay, that’s probably absurd. But when I sit in Graham’s enjoying the atmosphere and chatting with the regulars, there’s a value I’m purchasing there as well. The same goes for Starbucks, but in a different way. In both cases it is the Wi-Fi that I also appreciate. If it’s fast and reliable, I figure the couple bucks extra that I pay is compensated by the access to Wi-Fi so I can write freely and without interruption.

So the day-to-day choices we make are dependent in part on reliability but also in variability. That’s why it pays to have some running and cycling routes you trust. But on days when the schedule isn’t so demanding, it truly helps to go run somewhere different. Last night after dropping our family dog back at my daughter’s house after his weekend visit with us and the cats, I stopped on the way home to run at a beautiful forest preserve called Herrick Lake. There are limestone trails that wind through woods and restored prairie, past wetlands and around the lake when you get back. Sue and I trained there regularly for several years with our former triathlon club, but it got a little old going there every week. Yet the return trip was a pleasure.

We Run and Ride LogoThe same goes for cycling. Last year when I got my Specialized Venge I purposely avoided strapping a cyclometer on the bike. There were too many rides on my Felt where I did little but stare down at the cadence and MPH numbers.

Now (sans cyclometer) I ride just as hard as I once did, only I do it by feel. This has been liberating and fulfilling. It turns out that staring at the number on the bike computer does not actually make you ride faster. It only reminds you that you’re going a certain MPH. The legs and brain still have to do the work.

The liberating effect of riding without a cyclometer has been the reward of drifting off on roads that I would not take if I was worried about MPH average or a Strava result. This has delivered a new will to do something different on the bike far more often.

As for swimming, everything about that sport is still relatively new to me. The recent sprint triathlon race was a blast and I had no problem swimming 800 meters with my wetsuit on. It gave me the courage to swim a mile at some point, possibly as early as two weeks from now.

Do something different. It can change your life now and then, and in the future.

In the meantime, I’m singing this song…Matcha Matcha Maaaaaan….I’m gonna be, a Matcha Maaaaannn. 

Matcha Matcha Maaaaaan….I’m gonna be, a Matcha Maaaaannn. 

 

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On the road with the Road Runners Club of America

Harner's.jpgLast year in August or so, I was signed up for a Road Runners Club of America coaching certification program in southeast Michigan. On the Friday night I was scheduled to leave for the weekend, a massive rainstorm surged northeast along the same route I needed to take to get to the program. I drove for an hour and the rain beat down so hard that I could not see the road. I pulled over and stared at the phone. The sound inside the car was so loud from the rain that I could not even hear the radio. The map showed a furious red dragon of storm pattern right over the I-94 corridor I was expected to drive. And it would have lasted for hours.

So I turned home.

And it stung that there is a no-refund policy with the coaching certification program. But I get it. No one has time to chase down the dead fish in the wake of a fast motorboat. Time rolls on. There’s always another city like another island in the ocean for the RRCA to attend.

So I got proactive and studied the RRCA website thoroughly for opportunities to attend another coaching program. They fill up fast all over the country, so you either have to make a decision early and find a spot near enough home to drive or bite the bullet and fly to a certification program in another city.

Making choices

As we all know, there are pros and cons to either. If you drive, there are hours to spend in the car, hotels to reserve and meals to buy. Same goes if you fly, plus the hassle and expense of air travel is seldom fun.

So I decided to get smart and host a coaching certification program myself. Right in my own “back yard.”

Not literally, of course. But close enough that I could host the course and never have to leave home. As it turned out, there was tremendous demand for a session right here in Chicago. The class filled up with many registrants from the Chicago area, but also travelers from Colorado, Texas and other farflung locations.

Getting organized

The host’s main jobs are securing a venue to host 35 students and purchasing food for the Saturday-Sunday needs of those people. So I chose the Vaughn Center, a recreational facility just two miles from my house. The RRCA gives you a budget for the room and money for the food. Then it’s a matter of mapping out the breakfast and lunch plans for two days.

It doesn’t sound that hard, but today’s dietary needs are different than when I hosted so many events back in my days as a marketing manager for a media company. These days there seem to be far more people who don’t eat meat, or gluten. Dairy, or sugar. The list goes on and on.

So I roamed the aisles of Woodman’s, a massive supermarket near my home. I was carrying the grocery list I’d made, and normally I’m good at planning it out for our family groceries so that I don’t have to backtrack. Because if you forget something on one end of the store it is nearly a five minute walk to get back to the other side. But when you’re shopping with a mind open to goods you might not normally buy, such as gluten- free oranges or sugar-free bananas, the shopping circuit isn’t so easy. By the way, I just made those foods up, but I made you think I bet.

bowl of oranges.jpeg

Woodman’s claims to be ’employee-owned’ but secretly, I think they actually live somewhere in the back of the store. It’s that huge.

I’d already ordered bagels for breakfast and deli sandwiches for lunch on Saturday. So the real mission was finding snackables that would keep people happy during eight straight hours of coursework.

Healthy choices

So it was bananas, oranges and grapes. Then pretzels, granola bars and a new product that I had not seen before, granola bites. There were peanuts and trail mix with M&Ms mixed in. Then peanut butter and mini-carrots, which I’ve learned are deformed large carrots shaved down to bite-sized orange edibles. Which proves that God even loves deformed carrots. Or something like that.

I bought some chocolate chip cookies too, because they are a major food group. But I tossed in a couple bags of relatively harmless animal crackers in standard and chocolate form because they’re relatively low sugar and still give you that cookie satisfaction.

All that proved to be a decent plan. People seemed happy with the mix of healthy and indulgent choices. Or they were too nice to complain.

Drinks on me

The real problem in today’s health-conscious culture is what to buy to drink. Beyond the coffee jugs from Panera one day and Dunkin’ the next, there were four cases of bottled water. Guilt still surges through me at the sight of all those plastic water bottles. But the market for bottled water only seems to be growing despite 7 zillion tons of plastic floating around the Pacific. So onto the cart they went.

Then the soda option? I bought Coke, Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Pepsi, Sierra Mist (I HATE SPRITE) and a couple cases of LaCroix. And lots and lots of ice.

It all seemed to fit the bill. At least people did not complain.

Vegan

The only hiccup was the pizza on Sunday. A sweet gal from the class walked up and quietly asked if it was too late to order a vegan pizza. Just dump the cheese. Nothing to it. The local pizza place gladly accommodated the request at the last minute.

But later we had an interesting moment while covering the nutrition section of the coaching curriculum. The subject of vegan diet for runners came up. The instructor surveyed the crowd to find out how many vegan or vegetarian participants were in attendance. Now understand: I’d ordered a set of veggie sammies on Saturday and a veggie pizza on Sunday. But the complete ban on animal products favored by vegans includes even honey as a product to avoid. I was learning things.

Then one of our class vegans blurted out. “My dog’s a vegan.” Well, it so happened the instructor for the class is a veterinarian by trade. “Your dog…is not a vegan…” she responded, with a bit of astonished perspective in her voice. “Your dog is an opportunist. They’ll eat what they can. They even eat dog shit.”

It was not mean-spirited in the least. Just a statement of fact. The point behind the commentary is that human beings are equally opportunistic, and a lot of us do eat shit that’s not good for us. Yet we need to be realistic about the facts of our evolution and our biology. The world may not be as pure the ideas we impose upon it.

No shit. Well, maybe some. 

Rabbits even eat their own poop. It’s a way for them to get back the nutrients lost to digestion the first time around. Indeed, Entire ecosystems in Africa depend on the leftover nutrients in elephant poop. And get this;  the world’s most expensive coffee is made by feeding coffee beans to elephants and plucking them out of their poop. Perhaps it’s time to open a line of coffee shops called Starbutts.

Shit that counts

Don’t worry, I did not feed intentional shit of any type to anyone in the Road Runners Club of America Coaching Certification Program. Yet I did stare down at the second Coke I was drinking on Sunday afternoon. When the fizz goes out of that stuff it sits there like a cup of dark poison. The ice had melted too, so the liquid looked like one of those iron-soaked springs in the north country where bogs spew acidic contents into the water.

So I walked over to the sink and poured out the last of the flat Coke. The caffeine did not seem to be having the desired effect of keeping me alert and engaged. That effect took hold when it was our turn to stand up and talk about the training program we’d written for a mythical character called Robin. And unlike some others, we treated Robin’s lifestyle choice with respect, allowing him to keep his prized yoga session and his weekly Spin class. Then we mapped out a twelve-week program to prepare him for a Boston qualifier race.

What we learned

Road RunnerAll the participants in the class were encouraged both to think inside the box and learn baseline coaching principles. But were were also encouraged to think outside the box on what kind of coach we’d like to be. There was even some discussion of ‘personal brand’ and a test to summarize our inherent personality. I tested so far into the AMIABLE category my measurement shot off the chart.

But others showed up Expressive or Domineering. None of us is wired the same. Nor are the athletes we coach. Which means that as a running coach what you actually know about running is always going to be balanced by what you can effectively sell to others. Athletes don’t just soak this stuff up automatically. They may hire you as a coach, but it might turn out what they really want (or need) is someone with whom they can argue, or complain, or find themselves apart from all the other relationships in their lives.

The core of the course is common sense running knowledge with a bit of  proprietary insight mixed in. The RRCA also provides coaches insight on the business of coaching and the ability to become insured if they get serious enough to make it a business. That’s critical, because there is no shit like the real shit that happens when the shit hits the fan and someone sues you for an injury or an accident. It can happen. Maybe not that often. But life is full of mistakes and miseries. You can’t be too careful in anything you do.

Here’s my advice to all prospective coaches: don’t ignore the importance of elephant poo. It will likely show up in the next Runner’s World as the Diet of the Future. You heard it here first.

We Run and Ride Logo

 

 

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Transcending the vicissitudes of life

Up until The White Album, the Beatles were a fairly unified bunch of music makers. They’d ascended to Fab Four status, toured to screaming fans, taken America by storm and were starting to feel fed up with it all.

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They gathered up their stuff and headed to India to study with Maharishi Yogi, because the Beatles were simultaneously stressed out by all the fame and always up for new experiences. The Boys had all been doing a fair amount of drugs, but it didn’t help them find the meaning they were seeking. So they went looking in other places.

As quoted on The Beatles Bible website:

We’d seen Maharishi up north when we were kids. He was on the telly every few years on Granada’s People And Places programme, the local current affairs show. We’d all say, ‘Hey, did you see that crazy guy last night?’ So we knew all about him: he was the giggly little guy going round the globe seven times to heal the world.
Paul McCartney
Anthology
The Beatles first went to hear the Maharishi speak in London. Here’s how George Harrison described it:
I got the tickets. I was actually after a mantra. I had got to the point where I thought I would like to meditate; I’d read about it and I knew I needed a mantra – a password to get through to the other world. And, as we always seemed to do everything together, John and Paul came with me.
George Harrison
Anthology
And this is what Ringo said:
I think he realised that these boys could get his message across real fast. And so after we met him, he brought up the idea of us going on tour again and opening up a place in every city. But we didn’t do that, because things began to change.
Ringo Starr
Anthology
While studying in India, news came over that their longtime manager Brian Epstein had died back in Great Britain.
We loved him and he was one of us. Maharishi’s meditation gives you confidence enough to withstand something like this, even after the short amount we’ve had.We all feel it, but these talks on Transcendental Meditation have helped us to stand up to it so much better. You don’t get upset when a young kid becomes a teenager, or a teenager becomes an adult, or when an adult gets old. Well, Brian is just passing into the next phase.

John Lennon, 1967
Anthology
The Beatles were not the only rock group experimenting with Transcendental Meditation. The Beach Boys were similarly looking for meaning beyond the fame they had achieved as well. Certainly Brian Wilson was going through his own personal hell, a passage from cruel treatment by his dominating father into a state of mental illness that for years stifled his creative abilities.
I saw Brian Wilson’s first live performance after years away from music due to mental health issues and stage fright. It was moving to see him perform again knowing all that he’d been through. His genius had resurfaced through production of a new solo album at the time. He was coming up for air again, and has since created more music and gone on tour. Brian did not come out of his mental illness unscathed. But he did survive to thrive in an all-new way. In some respects, that it transcendent.
mike-love-tm-meditation-beach-boysBrian Wilson’s Beach Boys bandmate Mike Love preserved his sanity through rock’s manic impacts (including close encounters with Charles Manson) by engaging in transcendental meditation. As quoted on the website TMHome.com, “It gives me rest and relaxation in pursuing activities and combats fatigue,” the singer-songwriter said. “It gives you a sort of high without having to resort to alcohol and drugs. That’s been a big benefit to my life.”

Mike Love started meditating after he met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Paris in 1967. He feels Transcendental Meditation has been central to surviving the life on the rock-‘n’-roll highway.

“You have the clarity and energy to entertain the types of activities we do with traveling and rehearsing and performing. When you meditate, all those feelings of grogginess and irritation and fatigue are eliminated. Your biochemistry changes. It’s very simple but amazing stuff.”

Those last words are interesting fare for those of us who run and ride. Running has long been associated with a change in brain chemistry that equates to a form of ‘therapy’ for the mind by releasing endorphins responsible for mood change. Likewise a long bike ride can bring on a transcendental flow feeling that leads to calm feelings both during and after the ride. The same goes for the flow of an open water swim. The motion and the real fact of floating over water is a perfect expression of mindfulness and freedom combined.

Even the most famous and talented people in the world feel the need for something greater within themselves. Transcendental Meditation leverages the mind to relax the body. Running, riding and swimming leverage the body to relax the mind. It works both ways. And you don’t have to travel to India or turn you life over to Sexy Sadie to do it.

Vicissitudes are defined as “a change of circumstances or fortune, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant. Alternation between opposite or contrasting things.”

We all need methods for dealing with that. Whether it is transcendental meditation of a simple three mile run to get a grasp on what’s going on in life, it’s all okay.

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Something’s missing

Fit Contraption.jpgI missed a day on the blog yesterday. No biggie. It’s just like missing a day in training though. When you live by a certain rhythm and things change for reasons of necessity, it’s time to adapt and move on. Don’t dwell on the missed opportunities of yesterday. Sure, you have to deal with the feeling that something’s missing in your life. But you can’t go back in time.

And while I missed writing a blog, I did not miss training. At 6:00 a.m. I hit the gym for needed strength work. If I don’t keep up with leg workouts all sorts of bad things start to happen, especially with the knees. So I lifted and came back home to get ready for work.

Fit Pix.jpgAnd I wasn’t thinking about getting in a ride because there was a busy day ahead. Part of the busy schedule was a bike fitting session however. So I showed up with my cycling gear and after an hour of measurements to test out flexibility and body structure, it was time to climb on the fitting contraption and ride while the bike fit guy taped me up with dots to study my riding form against the empiric lines of a background grid.

Then I rode and rode and rode. A tablet read back the effort with cadence and I kept it above 90 the whole time. Minutes turned to hours. Sweat rolled down my body. The bike fit guy moved back and forth between his computer and his bike tools, tweaking here and asking questions there.

Fit Butts.jpgThe results are not complete. We’re going to consider a narrower set of handlebars and some other consideration. My bike seat was rigged with a pressure pad to test how my butt bones interact with the seat. I sweated so much the bike fit guy had to put more dots on my body. And I pedaled. And he watched. And I pedaled some more.

But my hands still hurt on the hoods in the bike measurements he took from my Venge to the bike contraption. He assured me that we move from the pedals up, and that we’d get to the hands, shoulders and upper body position eventually. “You’re long in a lot of places,” he warned me.

And I thought: “Like I don’t know that.” I shared the fact that the most comfortable bike I’ve ridden was a Robaix out west during a training camp. And we both knew the elephant in the room at that moment. A Venge is not a Robaix. So there’s that.

I’m reticent to share that he also tossed me on a brand new Trek Madone, and that bike felt like silk in a mile-long test drive. So there’s that. No hand tension. Will there be a solution to all this in my future? We’ll see. Fit Dots.jpg

But in any case, I did not miss a day of training. All that riding added up to a solid hour+ of riding at a good pace. Proving that all of this is a day-by-day proposition.

 

 

 

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