Summer lovin’ 1972

cudworthkanelandThose formative years of distance running remain special to me because everything was still so new. The sensations wrought from running farther than I ever imagined possible were both stimulating and daunting.

Coming off a freshman year cross country season in which I’d run varsity most of the meets and helped lead the team to a first-ever frosh-soph conference victory was quite motivating. That spring in track I’d set the freshman school record in the mile at 4:57, but had to beg for the opportunity to go “up in distance” from the half to the mile. Despite having competed over three miles in cross country the previous fall, I never ran a two-mile on the track. That was for the “distance guys.”

Summer training

How times and perceptions have changed over the years. The notion of training over the summer months was just coming into fashion. I was also a baseball player and early in the season, when urged by a third base coach to take a chance and steal home, I slid into the plate where a big catcher from the farming community of Huntley fell on me in a crushing heap. That ended the inning and it was time to go back out and pitch.

As I raised my glove arm to start the pitching motion a sharp pain shot from my elbow to the shoulder. It hurt so badly I almost fainted on the mound.  The coaches came out to see what was wrong but it was clear that something had gotten broken in the home plate play.

It turned out to be a bone chip in my elbow. That meant a half-cast on the arm and no more baseball. It also severely limited any ability to put in training miles.

I think I wrote or called the cross country coach Rich Born that summer to let him know about the accident. He was encouraging. “Heal up and we’ll see you in the fall,” he told me. I stored the running log sheets we’d all been given to record or daily mileage. Mine were sparse and sporadic. Secretly I might have been a little relieved. Running miles in those thin gum-rubber track flats was no fun. And in the sun? Forget it.

That all happened late in the month of June. I ceased going to baseball games that summer and perhaps I was a bad teammate. But I saw no purpose in torturing myself sitting on the bench while others played.

Tennis player

As an active kid, I still tried to do something to keep from going crazy. I learned it was possible to toss a tennis ball up in the air with my ‘bad arm’ and that meant I could play the game. So we’d head down to a local community college where a massive spread of courts was available. That was my training all summer. Playing half-assed tennis in the heat of the day.

I also had a morning paper route that involved cycling about three or four miles around town. Then at night, I’d join my friends Eeker and Roy (nicknames) to ride our bikes all over Elburn, Illinois. I still recall the sensation of swinging around those curved streets of on a Huffy three-speed, clicking gears as we went. We all lived for the quiet smack of tires on tar and cool air rushing through our long hair. It made us feel alive.

All Things Must Pass

Thus the summer months whiled away. I’d spend time trying to get attention from the girls who lived around town. That summer I turned fifteen years old and somehow that turn of years made me feel much older. Fifteen.

Without sports to keep me busy I spent more than a few afternoons lying on the living room floor with my head wedged between two giant stereo speakers. George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass was one of 10-15 albums I’d play from beginning to end. There was Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection, Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush was my alternative rock and The Beatles were never far from my playlist either.

But I also liked an album my brothers gave me called Midnight On the Water. It was a blues-folk album so different from the music of my friends it made me feel weird. And I was a little weird. I liked birdwatching, art and poetry. Those weren’t big topics of discussion among my friends out there in cornland.

So I was still something of a tortured soul that summer. Blame the hormones and the general angst of girl-hungry fever. Blame the competitive small-town culture and angst over social friends and foes. Blame something, anything. That’s what teenagers do. I was angry at the world and wanted to take it out on something.

Cross country season

Then August arrived, and the cast came off after six weeks. It stunk. We threw it into a trash bin and that was that. My already scrawny left arm looked wasted and frail when it finally emerged from the cast. The arm had a weird tan stripe on the top where the sun could reach it. I’d taken multiple showers holding that arm aloft to keep the cast from soaking. Now I was free. Fortunately, I still had my right arm all summer to jerk off. I was fifteen, after all.

Somewhere in the middle of the month of August, cross country practice began again.  As always, it was hot and those first few runs around the high school campus were a struggle to get enough oxygen in the humidity. Yet all that bike riding and tennis had kept my legs in some kind of shape.

Within two weeks it felt like I’d never missed a beat. I had no real summer training to count on, yet that fall I tied for most team points with our best runner Bill Creamean. He’d logged a thousand miles in training and that was beyond my imagination. I’ve always admired that dedication. He was an excellent competitor who continued to run even through back pain late in the season. His legs were probably too strong for his midsection. I had a teammate in college built the same way. He had the same problems with lower back pain.

That team won the Varsity conference cross country meet that fall, and I largely served as second man. I even won a meet that our lead runner missed. So the question that has run around through my head over the years is whether doing a bunch of summer miles really would have helped much in those high school years. These days kids run together, but in those days, in a district where the towns were far apart and getting together to run was almost impossible, we either did it on our own or not at all.

Summer lovin’

I tried my best that first summer and every summer after that. But truth be told, I pretty much showed up in the fall and ran myself into shape with two-a-day workouts. By the time the first meet rolled around in September, things were coming together. Then we ran 18-20 meets with competitions Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday. Every week was a round of intense competition and hard racing.

Usually, by the end of that schedule, we were getting pretty close to past peak. It was probably too much racing.

Or was it? Back then it was what you did. Certainly, we all felt like we had a “real season” by the time cross country was done. And to my way of thinking, we also had a “real summer” in the sense that we didn’t burn ourselves out running too much, too often. Nothing wrong with summer lovin’.

But it took a busted elbow to make it happen in the summer of 1972. Such is life.


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A black belt in fatherhood

IMG_5988Twenty-five or so years ago, our family went camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was a busy season, so campsites were scarce and the more remote campground in Hiawatha National Forest where we wanted to say was closed due to sanitary problems with the water and toilet systems.

So we sat on a waiting list for a spot at another campground and jumped on it when a campsite opened up. That’s where we gratefully set up our tents and hurried to make supper for our kids.

The week went generally well with occasional fishing trips and hikes in the forest. We did get chased out of the wilderness park at Sylvania by massive hordes of mosquitoes. I went for hourlong runs in the woods and tried to keep the deer flies at bay.

Perhaps I’m even mixing together a few different camping trips because we went on quite a few when our kids were little. It was easier when the wonders of the world were not so hard to show.

Receiving a black belt

black-belt.jpgAs the week was about to wrap up, one of the campers in the site next door walked over holding out a long black object. I thought for a moment that it might be a snake, and my late wife HATED snakes. Feared them. We’d even seen a long dark water snake lying on a strip of sand earlier that week. We left that lake immediately.

But it wasn’t a snake he was holding. It was size 34 black belt. “I found this on the road,” he told me. “Must have fallen off someone’s car. It doesn’t fit me but it looks brand new, so if you want it, it’s yours.”

I took the belt and tested it around my waist. At the time I was a size 32. Weighed 150 lbs. But the black belt fit well enough to keep. Who knows, I might need a size 34 someday?

Still fits

The belt still fits. It still looks good. The inside coating is a bit fragmented. In fact it looks like snakeskin. So that part of the tale came true.

That belt has been worn with business suits and blue jeans. It has held up Bermuda shorts and survived dozens of painting sessions with only the merest trace of white paint on its surface. I could remove that with some Goof Off but something in me wants to keep it that way.

IMG_5989I have a new black belt that I purchased recently. It’s a size 34 as well. My waist has remained the same through years of adulthood. The last couple winters my pants got a little tight at times. All my running and riding and swimming can’t quite combat the appetite of a formerly competitive athlete now in his 60s. So I’m trying to get a headstart on winter this summer. I’ve dropped ten pounds since January and want to go another seven pounds down. Whether that will remove the belly fat accumulated around my waist I have no idea.

Strong family ties

My son is an inspiration of sorts at this stage in life. He’s supremely fit right now through CrossFit and running and riding his bike to work. He’s got his reasons to want to rock the fitness thing and sometimes we learn as much from our children as they learn from us.

That’s where the symbolic black belt thing comes in. In many forms of martial arts, it is considered as wise to redirect the energy of an opponent’s blows as it is to strike them with a force of your own. That is the yin and yang of life as well.

Life has thrown me some considerable blows. It has been my goal to try to redirect some of that energy to the positive side of things. In many ways, that has worked out.

Yet sometimes I fail at re-channeling or redirecting that energy. Like a Black Belt who whacks a board but fails to break it, my aim and purpose have sometimes been “off.” I’ve offended or hurt my own children through lack of communication at times. I’ve neglected friends or insulted business associates. My black belt has also been my Dark Side at times.

All one can ask for those transgressions is forgiveness. And try to make it up to those you’ve hurt.

Good and bad belts

Man from GladSo in many respects the black belt that I where around my waist is a chronicle of both the good and bad that I’ve accomplished over the years. Have you ever put a belt on inside out and had to pull it back out of your pants, reverse it and pull it through the belts loops again. Life itself is like that sometimes.

There has been one steady factor in all this of which I’m quietly proud. Over the last twenty five years my waist has held pretty much steady. That is an accomplishment of sorts.

But that belt has also held together the years. The young man who accepted that black belt from a fellow camper that day in July could never have dreamed that belt would carry him through all these adventures in life.

White belts and that 70s look

All I can say in looking back is that it is probably best that it was not a white belt I was given to wear. That’s not a good look for any father, including my own. My dad once showed up at one of my baseball games wearing a white shirt, white pants, white belt, white socks, white shoes and a set of dark shades. One of my teammates shouted out, “Look! It’s the Man From Glad!”

Mr. clean.jpgThey might have been confusing my dad with Mr. Clean, who had no hair and wore all white as well. But you get the picture.

I’ll stick with my black belt, thank you.

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Things I learned today on a morning ride


The road through Johnson’s Mound, a preserve mounted on a prairie kame

At 5:30 this morning the air was cool and clear. A light north wind had broken the humid grip of mid-summer on our part of Illinois. It was a fine time for a bike ride.

I’d planned the morning ride coming off a rest day that involved mowing the lawn, an hour’s exercise that also led to a garage cleanup. But no official workouts. No runs, rides or swims. Just a Monday to recuperate a bit.

That was a good idea after a Friday morning repeat workout of 16 X 400, a Saturday morning bike ride of 50 miles, Saturday afternoon track workout of 6 X 800 in extremely humid conditions, and a Sunday morning run of 8 miles in 85 degree weather with 90% humidity. Guys my age need a recovery day.

Changing course

I pedaled east at the start of the morning ride, but decided against a route that takes me through downtown Aurora. Who needs stoplights at that time of day anyway? Turning south and west again, I rode past a large swath of wetlands that has been there my whole life. In fact I’m a little embarrassed to say that for all the birding I’ve done in the area, never have I walked those wetlands to see what might be found.

As I pedaled next to a bed of cattails I saw a sign that read, “Federally Protected Wetlands.” That made me both happy and sad. Glad that someone had seen fit to protect them. Sad and mad at myself for never really checking them out. Will do that soon, because as I came near a roadside section of open water the song of a marsh wren with its sewing-machine-like rhythm reached my ears. I love that bird. A true sign of quality habitat.

Then I crossed back over the curving line of Orchard Road that leads back to my house and turned south and west again.

Open country

The forest preserves in our county have a penchant for mowing fields in June and July. Some mowing is done to control clover, but the fields I passed were cut through in some places leaving rows and patches of tall grass between. It looked all ragged and torn.

Earlier this summer a field rife with breeding birds near my home was mowed flat. Birders protested, but the county wants to get rid of the clover. They own the mowers and the land. It may take a few years to reach a common consensus.

But nature adapts, and this morning I heard meadowlarks and kingbirds, yellowthroat and sedge wrens out in the open country. I learned that summer is not over. That’s the entire reason I went for the ride. We live and long for these days all winter long. This morning’s ride provided plenty of reason to return to those fields with camera in hand. Capture some of this glory.

Summer’s namesake

IMG_5922.JPGI was tooling along at 15-17 miles an hour most of the way. Then I threw in some harder riding after ten miles when my legs were warmed up. At the park known as Johnson’s Mound I turned to ride a loop up and over the prairie kame on which the woods has grown tall and thick.

There were both summer and scarlet tanagers singing high up in the tree canopy. That first species is the only bird I know named for the season we all seem to love. It is strawberry red from head to toe. Those birds sing a song like a robin too lazy to hit the high or low notes. It is still lovely to hear.

Heading home

Turning home from the country I felt a tailwind and torqued the bike up to 30 mph on a stretch of road that has a Strava segment. At home I learned that I’d missed a PR on the segment called Bunker Blitz 2.0,  a stretch that I’ve covered in 2:15. Today I rode 2:22. But my PR was set with a massive tailwind at my back. Today was the superior ride. Sometimes numbers lie.

Back at home from the ride I met Sue on her return from a hard run after an indoor bike session. Sweat streamed from her body and she was like, “Woahhh, that was hard.”

I hadn’t worked nearly as hard. But I’d learned and seen some nice things along the way. Sometimes that’s just as good.


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Sibling rivalry

Sibling clouds.jpgOur family consisted of four boys and our mom and dad. We apparently had a sister that died very early in life. She was born between my next oldest brother and I. Still hoping for a girl, my parents had the name Christine Annette lined up in the event that I arrived as a female. Alas, I was a boy. I was christened Christopher Lynn Cudworth.

I didn’t know about that sister until very late in life. She came up in conversation at some point with my mother and I went, “What? Wait…” and asked to be told about this sibling that I never knew. Growing up in the 60s, there were many family “secrets” that never got talked about.

Thus my brothers and I were left to fight it out in sibling rivalries. We competed at everything we did. From fighting for food at the table to games of basketball, soccer, baseball and side yard football games, we played and we played hard.


Sometimes the competition turned into fights. Mostly it was one punch and over when it was my brothers pounding me. But that one punch sent a message to me that I had better not take it further with them.  We were like chimpanzees.

The much more biting form of competition was the verbal repartee amongst us. Teasing was a ritualized form of brotherly torment. My brothers, being full of creative and dark energy, excelled at it. As a sensitive kid, it was the taunts and ridicule at times that hurt the most.

I once read an article in the Utne Reader that suggested our siblings raise us much more than our parents. If that is the case, my siblings raised me to be feisty and possess a strong sense of social justice. All that teasing made me eager to fight back. So I did.

Parental influence

IMG_5347But you can’t grow up without adding in the influence of your parents. My father’s fierce temper and occasional bouts of physical punishment impacted us all. Some of the sibling rivalry stuff was echoes from our father’s wrath and rage. There is more than one way to pass it along.

Yet my father also guided us wisely on many fronts when it came to sports. He refused to let us engage in either wrestling or football. He considered the first a graceless dirge of physical competition and the latter just a stupid way to mess up your body.

I still wrestled my way to a 7th grade championship at the behest of our gym teacher Mr. Davis. He arranged a wrestling tournament because he was a wrestling coach and a gymnastics teacher, so our gym classes involved a healthy dose of both. Being the competitive kid that I was, there was no way I was not going to wrestle given the challenge put forth by Mr. Davis.

So he called us out of class to wrestle our classmates. I remember trying to pin a wriggling friend named Greg to the mat. I felt pretty bad about it, but business was business in my competitive world. No mercy. Beyond that, I know there were other matches, but I don’t recall them so well. They were all against friends. Maybe I’ve blocked those victories out. Perhaps I even wrestled my best friend David. In any event, I beat everyone and earned my way to the final match against a guy named Tim.

Tim had jet black hair and a naturally tan complexion. His muscles also bulged. So while we were in the same weight class, the match seemed unfair to me. He was handsome and the girls loved him. I was a bit homely (by my own estimation) and had barely latched onto a Tier 2 girlfriend who at least wore short skirts. Thus I never thought I could beat him.

Yet Mr. Davis looked me in the eye before the match and something registered in my soul. All that competition between my brothers and I had taught me that much of competition is about mental assertion and momentum, and Mr. Davis somehow knew that. So I wrestled Tim and if memory actually serves correctly, I won.

Exceeding expectations

IMG_5417Life is a series of experiences like that. Sometimes we exceed our own expectations. To some degree, the control group for that experiment is our sibling rivalries. They test us from the moment we’re born. By the time we go out in the world, there is an entire catalogue of successes and failures already filed in our memory.

For example, the biggest achievement I could imagine in my elementary years was coming up with a joke funny enough to make my older brothers genuinely laugh. This was not an easy goal to hit. One had to be alert to the entire conversation and understand most of its context in order to enter with a witty comment. Then, would it be a mature enough comment to register as funny? Would it be quick enough to enter the joke stream at just the right time? The ultimate compliment would be, “Hey Chrissy, that was really funny.” They called me Chrissy. As did my mom. Perhaps they got their sister and daughter after all?

Brothers and sisters

Later in life, we relate to our teammates as we once did our siblings. All those miles of running done between the ages of 13 and 28 years old were spent in the company of a long series of teammates and rivals. And still, it was a prized ability to be able to make your teammates laugh. To entertain. To compete for witty approval.

Certainly soldiers in battle become brothers or sisters in arms. The same goes for athletes who enter the realm of competition together. We bond with them and sometimes that bond lasts forever. We also have sibling rivalries with those teammates as well. Two of my college running teammates roomed together freshman year and one refused to talk to the other within the confines of their own room.

That’s a little messed up, but that’s how rivalries sometimes play out until all the issues can be worked out. It’s a power struggle. That’s why those early sibling rivalries with our familial brothers and sisters are so formative. They teach us how to survive in the face of close competition.

Shared experiences

IMG_3726My next oldest brother actually got royally screwed in sports when our family moved from Pennsylvania to Illinois. He was going into his senior year in high school when we moved. That is possibly the worst time of all to change schools. Moving out to the cornfields of Illinois, he lost the two sports at which he had earned starting positions in soccer and baseball. He was also aligned to be on the varsity basketball team.

So lacking a soccer team, he went out for cross country. While he was not a natural runner, he got into the high 17:00 range for three miles on a hilly home course. Not bad for a guy who did not train for running the first three years of high school. He’d been a star goalie back east. He also went out for track that spring and did high jump and long jump. What a gamer.

At that time, I was busy trying to make my own way in the world of 8th grade at the new school. Thus most of my brother’s sibling suffering was appreciated in retrospect. I never saw him compete in a single cross country meet or track event. But the very next year I went out for cross country as well, and made the varsity as a freshman.

My brother could have been vicious or jealous about that. But I recall nothing but encouragement and admiration for my efforts. Because along with sibling rivalry in this world, there’s also thing thing called sibling pride. For all the testing and teasing and torment that can go on between brothers and sisters, there is still love to be found.

And that is all.

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Workouts don’t need to be insane to be good

Sue Running

Last night the weather was windy and hot. Hardly the ideal environment to do a running workout of 16 X 400 meters on an outdoor track.

Oh sure, I’ve done workouts far more insane than that in terms of weather and difficulty. As college idiots, we once ran 28 quarters (400 yards) on a single stretch of snowy road. It was dark on a cold winter’s night in Decorah, Iowa and we averaged 80 seconds per 440, about 5:20 per mile pace, with a minute’s rest between. Insane, right?

But Sue and I aren’t into insanity. We’re into running well. So we opted out of suffering needlessly in the heat and wind last night to run an indoor workout on the 200 meter track at the Vaughn Center this morning.

Besides, they have toilets at the Vaughn Center. And when running in the morning, we need toilets.

So we warmed up and ran the 400s at her prescribed pace. My calves were a bit tweaky and my repaired knee was temporarily creaky, but the workout went really well together. There were moments when I felt ageless.

See, workouts don’t have to be insane, to be good. Remember that when you’re wondering whether to suffer needlessly. You’ll thank yourself down the road.


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Jaw-dropping, grossout special edition: swimming in public pools and lakes can make you sick

RioOlympicsswimmingpool-GettyImages-519838356-59c09963054ad90011cf5247.jpgThis week I bumped into two separate stories about swimming in public pools. Both made me feel sick about it. One was an hilariously disgusting piece created by The Onion, America’s satiric news media outlet. Click through to make yourself queasy if you dare.

I laughed out loud reading that piece. But then I stumbled on a link from the Chicago Athlete Newsletter that featured a Chicago Tribune story about how swimming in lakes and public pools really can make you sick. That made me genuinely nervous.

The Tribune story concludes with this dandy bit of advice: “Swimming is a really great activity,” said Robinson. “No matter where (you are) swimming, try not to swallow the water.”

Oh, that’s wonderful. As, if…

Don’t swallow

Now, I try not to swallow any water while swimming in open water such as lakes. But the mere act of swimming in an open lake with other swimmers flailing around you guarantees that you’ll swallow at least some water during 15-30 minutes in the water.

At public pools, especially general public pools, the set-aside period for lap swimming isn’t even a guarantee that you’ll not gulp some water.

But what both these articles say is grotesque and simple: Basically we’re all licking the asses of everyone else who swims in the water. It is unlikely many people shower before they enter the pool. Those who do probably do not really soap up. So all those poopy, hairy-assed dingle-berries hanging around shady-ass buttholes are an incredibly gnarly source of all kinds of germs that can enter your system through your mouth, eyes and ears.

I mean, holy shit.

Leave it to The Onion

The Onion put it better: “Visibly alarmed CDC personnel explained that they received a disturbing report last week of a municipal park in Astoria, NY that contained what they described as “an in-ground reservoir filled with approximately 40,000 gallons of tepid water mixed with human sweat, body hair, bacteria, and mucus.” The officials stated that further investigation revealed dozens of similar cases in the surrounding area, touching off fears of a widespread epidemic.”

nematode.jpgStill, most of us have swum in public pools all our lives. Occasionally we might get Swimmer’s Ear or an eye infection. But truly, we’re probably actually enhancing our immunity by immersing ourselves in all that germ-infested water. I’m beginning to believe that swimmers such as Michael Phelps are nothing more than overgrown nematodes that have sprung arms and legs. It’s happened before in evolution. Why not again?

Dirty deeds

Dirt alone won’t kill us. I recall the day I came into the living to find my year-old son with a funny look on his face and a ring of dirty around his mouth. He’d dug his hands into the soil of a living room plant and shoved it in his mouth. I laughed, scooped him up and cleaned out his throat. He suffered no ill effects.

Infected existence

IMG_5419But I haven’t always been so lucky with infections and such. I spent one whole summer fighting an infection known as c-Diff brought on by a cat bite that led to cellulitis that led to antibiotics that led to a gut compromised by the death of my good gut bacteria.

All I did that summer (two years ago) was crap a lot and pray that my gut would someday heal. But I still swam in Lake Zurich that summer but did not podium in the Sprint Triathlon.

So despite all the satire and the weird news about public pools that is real, I’ll not stop swimming in them or enjoying the occasional spin in a lake. We don’t live in a void in this world. The Onion tries to tell us that every day. We just need to listen.



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All over the map

IMG_58BC0C7CF7E3-1It likely goes without saying that I don’t have a “plan” for this blog in terms of editorial content. Although I subscribe to some blog advice newsletters, and even paid for a yearlong seminar that I never used, the reason I write this blog is to feel connected to the things that matter to me in this world.

I always hope that the people who read this blog feel connected to what I write about. Certainly that works the opposite way too. My Follower numbers drop whenever I breach some political line that they don’t like. That’s how it works. If you’re honest about what you think, some people will eventually get offended.

Once in a while I give advice. But I don’t actually coach anyone directly, unless asked. I took the Road Runners Club of America Level One Certification class and missed passing the test by something like 1%. I could have taken the thing again for another $30, but was disgusted enough by the results (my own failure at test-taking) and the content (the test was a ridiculous thin and brittle exercise) that I just let it slide.

I regret that somewhat, because with that certification I might be coaching other runners now, because that’s something I do like to do. But perhaps deep down I realize that my writing (I’m working on two books) and art/painting (I have a solo show in September) really should take precedence in life.


So while it seems like I’m all over the map in some ways, in other ways, at a subconscious level perhaps, I’m maintaining focus.

But there are some writing projects and recent blogs that I’ve converted to pitches with running, cycling and triathlon magazines. I know my work is good enough when it is fully edited to be published. So this blog is like practice for that work. I try things out just like we try things out in running, swimming or cycling. Some of them work. Some don’t. We learn from them and move on.

The other night while riding with Sue, I was feeling a bit oatsy because we’d raced two days before and my Sprint Triathlon didn’t exactly exhaust me. She called out, “You can ride ahead, I don’t mind.”

Dialing it up

Pleasant Prairie 2So I turned onto a sleek little road called Wenmoth and hit the higher gears for some speed work. Sue gave me her other Garmin to use from now on. I have not ridden with a cyclometer in more than two years. It was fun to be able to look down at the numbers and get empiric feedback again.

At 27 mph the bike was humming along, so I wanted to see how long I could keep that pace. It’s humbling to realize the Tour de France riders cruise along at that rate for more than 100 miles. In fact I think they average that pace over the entire length of the Tour. That includes the massive mountain stages when they’re only going 11 mph up a 12% grade. That is flabbergasting to me. Such talent and strength.

“Was that fun?”

Toward the end of the ride Sue and I came back together and she asked, “Was that fun?” And indeed it was. I was fully living in the moment. We’d covered a mere 17 miles on our ride in just under an hour. When finished, I pulled up the Strava app (it will soon connect with the Garmin)  and found that it showed 1/10th less of a mile than the same ride earlier in the week. Huh, I thought. Wonder where that 1/10th mile vanished?

It shows that even when we’re riding or running or swimming in what we consider exacting fashion, we’re still all over the map. Our exactitudes are illusions. Perceptual dreams. Made up notions. Inventions of the mind.

Some go a step further and insist that nothing we do is under our own control. There are times when it feels like the cosmos is directing things, or God is shoving us one way or another. But I don’t believe God is a control freak. I believe God is all over the map, in fact.


IMG_5417Which is why I don’t hold myself to too many editorial strictures on this blog. It’s about freedom of thought and expression. We Run and Ride has been going on for more than five years now. Original thoughts on running and riding. That’s how it started. And now swimming.

Probably millions of words typed into this and many other computers. Hundreds if not thousands of missed edits, too, and I always cringe. ADD sucks. So does hurrying at times to post a blog before work or before bed. But for all its flaws, this little blog is mine. It is heartfelt if it is not genius. It is also honest even if not entirely worldly-wise. That’s the tarsnake of putting it all out there.

And it goes along with me wherever I go. That truly is all over the map.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, cycling the midwest, PEAK EXPERIENCES, we run and ride, We Run and Ride Every Day, werunandride | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

This falling in love thing

Five years ago this weekend (or so) I met the woman to whom I am now married. We connected through the dating app but we could just as well have met on a local bike path. The FS website showed profiles of people all over the country, but it turned out that Sue and I lived four blocks apart.

She was recently divorced and I was recently widowed. Yet as our lives converged, we learned of so many mutual friends and acquaintances it was a surprise we had never met before. Sue at Kaneland

Our first date was wine and appetizers at a riverside cafe. She arrived with her blonde wavy hair in full summer mode. We sat in the afternoon sun nibbling lightly at the artichoke dip and chips we’d ordered, and talked.

It felt so easy. We agreed to meet for a bike ride that next Tuesday. When she showed up looking great with her little black bike shorts and strong tan arms, I will admit to being a bit dizzy in the moment.

Google me baby

She’d already checked me out online. Googling Christopher Cudworth turns up quite a bit of information about me. Plus she’s a whiz at searching things anyway. That much I’ve learned in five years of being together.

Our first bike ride together was sweet and quick. She was fit and ready for a Half Ironman in Racine, Wisconsin. She was also somewhat between jobs. That gave her plenty of time to train. “I love being able to take a nap in the afternoon,” she said.

Sue and ChrisAnyone that has trained for an endurance event knows the value of extra sleep when you need it. But she had a question. “Does it bother you I’m unemployed right now?” she laughed.

It didn’t. Lord knows I’d been through enough job transition stuff in my own life. She seemed to be addressing the situation with relative calm and little drama. That was an attractive trait to me too. When a pair of job offers came along a couple weeks later, she went for a run and came home having made the decision in her head. I liked that too. I could relate to that.

Falling for her

There were so many things I liked about how she carried herself. How she looked in summer light with her naturally curly hair. Yet she straightened it on occasion for business. That was like a two-for-one deal to me. Ka-ching!

Sue at ChurchillI also loved how she dressed, alternating between feminine flair and athletic practicality, neither of which took long to accomplish. And that hat she donned at Churchill Downs? Just for a moment’s fun.

She was practical and smart about so many things. Two weeks after our first meeting, I drove up to watch her race a Half Ironman in Racine, Wisconsin. After the race, she did one of those service station bathroom changes and freshened up without fanfare. What a breezy babe, I thought…

We chatted on the way back home until she finally got tired and rested her head on the seat back. She was tired from racing six hours in the summer heat. I admittedly kept glancing over at the sun shining on her tan thighs and thought to myself, “Yeah, this could work.”

Falling for new things

Sue also digs trying new things like riding Fat Tire bikes on cool fall days. We’ve also run and cycled through weather conditions that would make anyone else stop in their tracks. So she’s tough. A hard-headed woman, as Cat Stevens once sang.

Sue malanaphyShe also once dressed up as freaking Catwoman for Halloween, and rocked it. That floored me cause I was like… Meee-owww. And that whip? Don’t worry, she didn’t use it on me. And I wouldn’t tell you even if she did. LOL.

Falling for her friends

I truly love the way she cherishes her friends, greeting them with a familiar “Hi Lovie!” and a big hug.

One can tell quite a bit about a person by the people they abide. One of her closest friends checked me out after our first few weeks of dating. She was a swimming buddy who later turned into an Ironman athlete, but we all agreed to do a relay together in the Naperville Sprint Triathlon. That meant there was time alone with her friend Lida while Sue was out doing the bike course. She didn’t grill me per se, but I sensed her curiosity as one woman looking out for another. Sue later told me that I passed the test. Plus we won the relay. Love you too, Lida! And all our friends. We love you all.

Falling with me

Sue in E2 Gear.jpgBut the reason we were doing the relay in the first place was fallout from a bike accident that Sue had experienced while riding with me. On a slight downslope on a bike path through a moist woods, Sue’s front wheel on her tri-bike slipped on some wet debris.

Down she went in a heap and injured her shoulder badly, tearing her rotator cuff. We went to the hospital together and I realized with a sudden surge of emotion that I cared for her in a very real way.

Falling for romance

That’s how life works, you know. The romance side is wonderful, but it’s the times of trouble that really test your feelings. Both Sue and I had come through challenging times before we met. So she was honest and serious about our time together. In fact, early in our relationship, she made note that while the getting to know each other phase is great, it’s the commitment to each other that ultimately matters.

Yet that seemed to grow quickly between us. By autumn that year I knew my feelings for her were genuine. She needed surgery to repair the shoulder she’d banged up in the bike accident back in July, and I sat with her in the hospital that day. It is in moments like that, when people are stripped down to their basic vulnerability that you find out where the core of your love resides. And I loved her. A couple weeks later she wore a big old shoulder harness to the state football championship game in which her son’s team won.

Then came the holidays. We laughingly hung a plastic severed head that she owned for Halloween decorations and then gathered our families together for Thanksgiving and even some of Christmas. We were starting to knit our families together. Our respective sets of kids were slowly getting to know each other. Things were feeling good. The bond between us was growing.

And then she had the first of two affairs that I never saw coming.

It’s tough to compete when the Other Man is an Ironman.  LOL.

Falling for Ironman

Ironman Louiseville finish line.jpg

The finish line at Ironman Louisville

In 2015 she trained for Ironman Wisconsin and I was her Sherpa through a series of long training rides, runs and more. I couldn’t match her mileage all the time but being there through big chunks of it surely helped. It made me feel part of the effort. There were also a series of difficult events leading up to the event. These included a near-tragic bike slide for Sue when a huge white Escalade turned into her lane on a semi-country road and stopped cold. Sue had to ditch the bike and tumbled sideways across the road.

Her favorite Scott bike frame was cracked.

Making it work

That meant borrowing bikes while we figured out if insurance would cover repair or replacement. But those precious weeks leading up to Ironman are key in terms of bike training. Throw in the weighty challenges and collective fatigue of Ironman training and things were more than stressful for her. My heart ached watching her worry about it all.

Ice BathIt all came to a peak one day. We stopped and stood together during a run on a hot late summer day. She sobbed with fatigue and mental exhaustion at trying to overcome all the obstacles. I knew not to try to fix it all then and there.

Then along came a triathlete teammate running on the same trail. She stopped and gave Sue a big and welcome girl-power hug. Then another teammate found us, and she consulted warmly with Sue in the moment. I moved away to let that take place and hear an assurance there would be a way to find a new bike before the race. “It will all work out,” she told Sue.

As it worked out, Sue finished her first Ironman, a goal she’d set years before. As she ran down the last miles toward the Ironman finish in Wisconsin I called out to her in encouragement. She turned to me and said, “Well, it wasn’t the day I wanted. But I’m going to be an Ironman.”

I openly cried for her. In happiness.

Falling in love

Chris and Sue and wedding too.jpgBut enough of this triathlon stuff. Let me tell you about how she dances. I feel like she makes the space she moves in come alive. On our wedding day a year ago, she absolutely owned the dress she wore and danced with friends and kids and me, and it was wonderful.

We’ve gone to many concerts together as well. Listening to live music makes her smile. She’ll turn to me with a big grin and flashing eyes, dancing in place as if no one else in the world exists except perhaps, for me. And that is lovely. That at many other things have made me fall in love with Sue.

Falling forward

11169852_10205615038072077_292278208289650118_n.jpgThis life’s journey is like falling backward through time. We can’t see what’s ahead of us but we keep on going. The photo above was taken in England, the first time either of us ventured overseas. We have stretched ourselves in many ways, and I’m grateful for the energy she brings to life. It has fostered my own children, and I believe my influence has helped hers as well. That’s what life is about. Making it work.

Looking back on the things we’ve experienced, we can sometimes see how they all make sense. That’s hard to figure out in advance, and the falling in love thing is the most unpredictable aspect of all. But it happened. It has happened that way for some of our friends as well.

20151025_083853.jpgLife is full of challenges ranging from money to work to family and friends. That juggle takes perspective, and it can really help to have someone you trust and love to help carry you through. It also helps if they happen to look great in bike shorts and hug you as if there’s no tomorrow.

Because there isn’t one, unless we make it.




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On being Lawson Craddock, one tough kid

Lawson CraddockI’ve been watching the first few stages of the Tour de France. One of the first dramatic storylines is Lawson Craddock, the Houston, Texas kid riding his first Tour. During a stage of the race, he was unfortunate to strike a full water bottle that fell on the road. At 45km per hour he had no chance to swerve or stop within the peloton. He wound up with a broken face and a fractured scapula (shoulder blade.)

The last person I met with a fractured shoulder blade was a female triathlete from Madison, Wisconsin. She was a top grade athlete and she was also out of action for six weeks while the injury healed.

Toughing it out

Craddock finished the stage in which he crashed, a long ride to finish off a likely 200km of riding that day. Then he healed up the best he could overnight and got up the next morning to ride “on the rollers” as fellow cyclist Taylor Phinney explained in a rolling interview later that day. That means Craddock rode on metal rollers to see what his body could handle.

If you’ve ever crashed a bike, you know that the stiffness and pain can be quite constricting the morning after the accident. I’ve had the joy of crashing several times at fairly high rates of speed (once at 40 mph and one at 20mph) with painful results.

The day after the 40 mph crash I went for a two-mile walk because I knew that I’d be stiff and sore beyond measure without exercise and movement of some sort. There was Vicodin in my system and it was a bit funky walking with my arm in a sling. Upon return to the campsite where we were staying, friends accused me of being nuts for going on a hike.

I know my body pretty well after decades of competitive sports. The stiffness that comes about as a result of a high-speed crash is far worse if you don’t move your body. But that walk I took is a far different enterprise than getting back on your bike to ride a competitive Tour de France stage in which you have to stay in touch with the peloton or get dropped from the race. That’s what Lawson Craddock did the next day.

Before the stage began, a television interviewer talked with Craddock. Midway through the interview, the young man convulsed in frustrated tears. These were not tears of weakness, but of strength. He said something on the order of this: “I’ve trained so hard and long for this race. I don’t want to quit.”

There’s the word we all hate to hear ourselves say. Quit.

Pressure’s on

Craddock reportedly had a rough year last year as a pro cyclist. This year he has ridden well enough to qualify for a Tour spot. That’s a major accomplishment on its own. The Tour cut teams down from nine riders to eight. The pressure is immense on riders as it is.

Then to add major injury to the list of obstacles is a hard slap in the face. Yet there was Craddock, wiping a flat tear from the cheekbone opposite the fracture and the long wounds above his left eye. I sat there on the couch looking at that young man and said, “That’s one tough kid.”

He’s in his early 20s. It takes years of riding to actually become competitive in a race the level of the Tour de France. Even the best riders in the world crash during the Tour. Multiple Tour winner Chris Froome even slid off the road during the first stage and bounced into a ditch. He got back on his bike in eight seconds but did wind up losing nearly a minute that day.

Then his mates pulled him through to a fast time in the team time trial and the favorite was right back in it.

Admiration for Lance

Craddock admires and has ridden with Lance Armstrong and still considers the 7-time Tour winner the best cyclist who ever lived. Craddock rides in an era when doping controls are strict and insists there is very little chance of anyone doping anymore. I saw the kid a first time in some stage race a couple weeks ago. He’d soared into the lead and I went, “Who’s that?” Turns out he’s among the Who’s Who in upcoming Americans.

And like Lance, it’s not the doping that makes a rider great. It’s being tough as heck in all kinds of circumstances. Decades ago I found inspiration to begin cycling by watching a young kid from Texas wow the world when Lance Armstrong fought back from cancer to win the Tour. And again. And again.

I don’t think doping made the possible. It only made it slightly more probable. The rest of was hard work, and lots of it.

Granted, Lance did some bad things to some good people. Don’t we all. But he also did some badass things that the average person cannot imagine. Pain. Suffering. Toughing it out. Willing yourself not to quit even when injured, sick or seemingly out of gas.

In Lawson Craddock, I think there is some of the Lance we admired that wasn’t about the cheating or the doping. Toughness is a required commodity in cycling, and this kid Lawson Craddock seems to have an ample share of that.



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Just call us Podium Boy and Girl

Male 60-64.jpegThe wonderfully weird thing about endurance sports, especially triathlon, is there’s really no such thing as age and gender when you’re out there on the course. As a sixty-year old dude I realize my fastest days as an endurance athlete are long over. But it doesn’t mean there’s not an opportunity to compete at whatever level one wants to choose.

Two weeks ago at Pleasant Prairie I was one second off the age group podium. One second. LOL! So I was seeking a Podium placement this Sunday.

Time traveler

So this week I made a little better scene out of transition but still averaged almost two minutes getting in and out of there. That can still improve. But really, the more painful loss of time most was my flailing effort at the first open water swim without a wetsuit.

Having spent more time in the pool and gotten real results of late, I was confident of the ability to swim all 700 meters or whatever it was. But it’s not like you’re running on a track out there. I swam off course to the right this week after swerving to the left several times two weeks ago.

Perhaps I need a map like the one created by some sweet little kids on a cheer poster for their daddy.


Fourteen and counting

It took me far longer to finish the swim than it should have. I have this thing where I fatigue early no matter how slow I start.  I begin at a crawl, but still my arms funk out and I’m forced to pause and catch my breath. During workouts, I don’t swim efficiently until I’m really warmed up. Then I’m fine. Whether it’s age issue or leftover rookie swim tension, a body quirk or plain old warmup woes, it’s a mystery I’ll have to solve. Some of that is surely race tension. I’m still fairly new at some of this, especially swimming sans wetsuit.

Once I got going again it went okay, but I’m giving away minutes in the water that I can’t quite make up on the bike on the run. I was nine seconds away from second in my age group this time around. My swimming is improving so I’m confident I’ll get there.

Run Out

Is there anything better than the Run Out at a triathlon? Typically you go stomping up some sandy beach and the morning air is so cool and fresh. People cheer you on and the world feels so fresh and new.

And talk about new sensations! This time I didn’t even have to peel a wetsuit! That lack of hassle is worth getting better at swimming for summer events. For those of us that have come back to swimming late in life, these are revelatory moments.


Bike Out

It’s also cool when you plop your wet butt on a bike seat and ride into the early morning air on your bike, thinking: “Damn this stuff is fun!”

I averaged just over 20 mph for the bike course but the results showed everyone going two or three miles per hour faster than they really did. For example: I was listed at 23.5 mph average. That would be nice, but that did not actually happen. Not with some of the hills we climbed. I geared down to climb and spun like mad, but I was not going up those hills at 20 mph. No way.

But racing your bike is fun even if it is sometimes painful at the top of a long incline when your hamstrings feel like large rodents are chewing on your lower glutes. It’s getting off the bike with hammies tight from riding that makes it so tough to run.

But at least I didn’t earn a 2:00 a penalty for drafting like the dude who placed behind me in fourth. He must have been trying to sneak some time against the wind. Bummer.

Run On Home

My legs still felt decent coming off the bike. I managed a 7:22 first mile and averaged 7:40 overall for the three miles. So I slowed, but again there are real signs of progress there. Two weeks ago I ran an 8:00 average. So I am confident that with some actual speed training this summer, I can run 7:10-7:20 per mile in an August Sprint.

Then I may go the Olympic distance, but only with a wetsuit on this year. I’ve still got a ways to go in the swimming category before spending a half hour+ in open water in just my skivvies.

Up on the Podium

At any rate, I finished third in my age group by only nine seconds this time around. The winner was five minutes or more ahead, and three years older, so there’s no reason I can’t improve too in the coming years.

In the meantime, I’m accepting kisses from sweet dogs as consolation for my weakass swim efforts and slow transitions. I’ll be blunt about this: While I plan to improve I’ll not obsess about it. All told I still do this for fun, and my wife and I share some great times going to races and training together. It’s a bond formed of sweat and love. But I’ve yet to convince her to lick my face like this labradoodle did after my race on Sunday.


I plan on being Podium Boy a while longer, so there will be other chances. And maybe I’ll just lick my wife’s face because she was Podium Girl on Sunday too! See how happy she looks? We even got matching cups for our age group placements.  She was second best in her age group in both the swim and the bike. Her 10K run in the heat went pretty well too. Hence she was a Podium Girl! Way to go honey! Love you!




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