A legacy worth riding home about

The photograph above is an image of my late grandfather Leo Nichols. I don’t know the year the photo was taken, but it was sometime in the early 1900s. The image was sent to me by my cousin Kermit Nichols, Jr. whose father Kermit Nichols was the older brother of my mother, Emily Nichols Cudworth.

I never met this particular grandfather, nor his wife who died the year before I was born. The things I’ve learned about those grandparents have mostly been through snippets and stories, especially from my mother whose diaries I also own.

Life and death situations

From what I do know of Leo Nichols, he was a cultured man who owned and farmed several hundred acres in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York. When I was a little we’d visit that farm each summer along with the farmstead right down the road where my father was raised. Yes, my parents grew up 200 yards apast. My father moved to that farm after the death of his mother from complications related to breast cancer treatment. He and his sisters were sent to live with an uncle and two aunts when their father suffered an emotional breakdown.

Time were tough during the Depression. But people took care of business, and their own.

Little of Leo

I share tdhis photo with my next-eldest brother via email, who observed a few things that he remembered about our grandfather. “He would give me the eye if I was misbehaving during dinner,” my brother related.

In other words, the man likely ran a stern household, for he had quite a few kids of his own. I also know that work was also valued by Leo Nichols. My mother raised vegetables on the farm and sold them in a road stand on Highway 7.

That highway ultimately ran right in front of the family home. But first the state highway commission had to take down one of the giant elm trees at the front of the farm property. Before that there was only a dirt lane leading from Bainbridge to the Nichols farm overlooking the Susquehanna River.

I was too young when we visited that farm during my grade school years to feel the echoes of my grandfather in that place. Relatives that had passed away were simply not discussed all that much. I did get to know my uncle Kermit and Aunt Margaret quite well. They ran the farm through the 1960s. But when our family moved to Illinois I never got back there again. Perhaps it is better. The barn burned down and the entire place changed over the years. Some memories are best left undisturbed.

Magical place

It was a magical place for me as a child. The little that I learned of farm life still delivered a few lessons and treasured memories. I loved cleaning the manure off the center of the barn floor when the cows came trundling in for milking. I’d clear the floor by using a scraper to shove the big cow patties into the troughs where the automated belt would carry it over to the manure pile and spreader. Sometimes my uncle would hoist me up on his lap and we’d take off flying on his tractor down the two-track lane to the “flats.” Then he’d engage the manure spreader and we’d fling large wads of poop out into the fields. That’s how the crops got fertilized.

My uncle Kermit was an animated and fun-loving man with huge biceps and a set of bulging pectoral muscles grown large from farming. He could pump those muscles independently and make us laugh. Or he’d sharply aim a spit of tobacco juice and nail a grasshopper to the ground. Sometimes he’d pitch a farm cat up on the roof to give it something to do.

But he warned me sternly one day: “If the bull ever gets out of that barn, you run straight to the house.”

Man of speed

Uncle Kermit also loved speed and drove his vehicles with verve and sometimes dangerous panache. That resulted in a crash or two over the years, yet he still lived to 94 years old after retiring from the government to live in Florida.

Earlier in life he was a brilliant distance runner who trained by running up and down those hills in the Catskills. His road race and cross country records stood for decades.

Circa 2017

That family love of speed makes me realize that photo of Leo Nichols standing with that bike ties to my own love of cycling and running. It now seems part of the family character. Leo Nichols truly looks like he liked to ride that bike fast whenever he had the chance. It probably suited his character.

Yesterday while playing catch with a baseball following our Easter dinner, my brother shared with me that Leo’s hair was red, much like his own. My beard used to be reddish when I grew it out as a young man. The same holds true from my son Evan.

I’m thinking Leo Nichols was perhaps a feisty and competitive person like me. Yet I’d have to tear back into the pages of history all sixty years of my life and sixty years again to ever get to know the man in that photo. The world was so different then. Yet that’s still a pretty cool-looking bike. And when I look at that photo I realize that in some ways, people do not change all that much. Not within a family, nor across the face of history.

We all have our ‘proud bike’ moments, and a desire to go faster in some way. The real challenge is in realizing that life itself goes far faster than most of us could ever know or realize. Which is why we should grab those bikes when we can, and go. Fast as we can. Then our photos may capture some moment in time for future generations.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, cycling, death | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On actually seeing a woman

Women deal with being women right down to their soles.

This morning on the way to the train station for her weekly once-weekly commute, my wife pulled an item out of her purse and opened it up. “I have new lipstick,” she told me. She applied it by memory, checked it in the mirror, then turned to show me the shade. “I like it,” she told me.

I liked it too. a mellow shade of pink that complimented her skin. She takes good care of her skin. And her hair. All that hair. I love it both straight and curly, which is how it looks when it dries naturally.

So many women shift their appearance from one look to another that way. Years ago I complimented a co-worker that her hair looked nice and she told me, “I didn’t do anything to it today.” She had wavy blondish hair that looked lovely. I said, “Well you can nothing more often and it will still look great.” She thanked me.

This great band of women joined together for a photo atop a mountain in Arizona this past February.

I’ve always sought to be careful with my compliments. Not go over the line or make a woman feel uncomfortable. I actively believe that issuing compliments, when it it is done with consideration for the person to whom you’re speaking, is a still appreciated art. Thus I’ve complimented women my age on the beauty of their silver or gray hair. I’ve also looked down at a man’s feet and said, “Nice shoes.” In general, people appreciate the words.

The process of being

I have this theory now that if you want to engage in the act of actually seeing a woman, to see who she is and what she values, you must legitimately think about the process of conditions and actions that led to her appearance. The routine for many women in this world is by definition of gender quite time-consuming. Just the process from morning shower to drying hair to doing makeup to choosing clothes and accessories for the day takes time that men typically don’t have to spend. Then there are purses to wrangle, and dealing with feminine needs at progressive stages of life. I’ll say it plainly: Being a woman is not easy.

Expanding worlds

Yet women have actually chosen to expand the range of their endeavors in this world. This has taken place over the last thirty years in particular. Now I look around at running or triathlon races and there are typically as many or more women out there competing as their are men.

I met this beauty queen during a ride in Ohio.

One capable female triathlete friend always shows up at the starting line looking like a fashion model. Her makeup is done and even her hair is coiffed. And yes, she can swim and ride and run like a badass. She’s flown past me on her tri-bike going 26mph and trust me, it’s not about the makeup at that point. The women that know her marvel that she always looks so put-together, but those are her values and she does not piss around.

Unseen challenges

At least not that anyone would notice. Because the whole world of feminine anatomy and pelvic floor integrity is something few men can understand. The worst thing we sometimes experience is a numb package from a poor seat position. Women deal with their menstrual cycle until the age of 50-55 or so, and if they have children, they might have to deal with challenges like a tear of the perineum, a C-section or any number of other birth-oriented disruptions that can last years or a lifetime. My own mother almost died from latent complications twenty years after a breach birth with my large younger brother. Events like those can disrupt the whole workings of the reproductive or urinary system in the long term. And yet, women learn to deal with it.

And then, have to deal the impacts of jerkish male politicians trying to legislate their access to women’s health care, birth control or other reproductive rights. That’s because those men don’t spend time actually seeing women for who they are. They only view them in context of their own selfish male perspectives or receptacles for sperm. And that’s the most disgustingly shallow of all problems faced by women in this world.

Yet they deal with it

I’ve talked with so many women over the years about issues such as these. I’ve also helped women get legal representation when they face sexual harassment in the workplace. I’ve sat talking with women going through bitter relationships and listened to women longing for love or lamenting the loss of their life partners. In every case they are doing their best to deal with it. Not all of them do this perfectly. That is the point here. We’re all trying to deal with life’s challenges. Women simply have more of them in many respects than men.

So I’d suggest that if you actually want to “see” a woman in this world, you have to factor in the “deal with it” portion of their lives, because that’s one of the remarkable things that so many women do in this world. Despite lots of obligations and stresses that range from making a living to support themselves (in many circumstances) to raising a family the best they can, women “deal with it.”

My triathlete wife in full bike flight on a bright summer day.

Speed of life

Which is why it is perhaps so inspiring to see women out there choosing to “deal with it” in sports like triathlon, where the burdens and challenges are their own choice, not the circumstance of their gender or society’s expectations of them. Sure, some show up in full makeup and that’s their show.

Others show up with hair pulled back in a somewhat tangled pony tail, or stuffed inside a swim cap, bike helmet or running hat and off they go. And if they don’t look perfect out there making it happen, then it’s up to you to “deal with it.”

Actually seeing women

Here’s to actually seeing all you women. I’ve told my wife many times that I appreciate her. I also appreciate all the women I’ve encountered and watched train or compete all the way back to those gals in high school track and in college cross country who got out there in really poor-fitting gear, yet cared enough about what they were doing to see a future where the world would finally catch up with their commitment.

My respect for them was admittedly sometimes confused with a bit of desire. But again, that’s a compliment too. You women are amazing people.

And it’s a lifelong pledge that all of us should make to enjoy that company.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, cross country, cycling, track and field, training, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons, we run and ride, We Run and Ride Every Day, women | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons learned are like bridges burned

Image of Champion of Trees 10K from the Chicago Athlete website. Link below for full race review.

I finished the Champion of Trees 10K in 51:00 flat, a pace of 8:12 per mile through show and up hills and down. At various times during the race I definitely questioned my ability to meet my goal of 8:20 per mile, a decent early season pace.

I finished the Champion of Trees 10K in 51:00 flat, a pace of 8:12 per mile through show and up hills and down. At various times during the race I definitely questioned my ability to meet my goal of 8:20 per mile, a decent early season pace.

My Garmin Fenix watch kept me perhaps a little too honest. When you’re crawling up a hill and the pace reads 10:20, the mind goes soft. “Ahh, what’s it worth anyway?” that little voice says.

But then you’re headed downhill and the watch reads “7:20” and you lie to yourself a little. “I could keep this up all day!”

Then you check the race results a couple days after the run and discover a second place age group finish and go, “Whoa! I wonder what the age group winner’s time was like?”

So I checked the race results and found out I was 119th overall. The 60+ age group winner Ed Straka was 111th overall with a time of 50:42. Just twenty seconds ahead of me.

Now I’m wondering if he was the tall guy in the blue shirt that was (wisely) walking the worst of the short hills along the way. He’d stalk up the slope and then take off running again. I’d hump my way up to a pair of anaerobic thighs and try struggling on.

In any case, the guy who beat me ran just two seconds per mile faster. I should know better. Lessons learned are like bridges burned, you only get to cross them but once.

Problem is, there are always more bridges to cross.

Posted in 10K, aging, race pace, running | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Checking in and out with Game of Thrones

Now that’s a wetsuit worth trying. The drag might be a little strong though.

As a triathlete whose bulk of time is spent swimming, riding or running, I’ve not always had the time to engage with every great series on HBO, Starz or other cable delights. I’ll confess to watching much of the late, semi-great series Spartacus. That was a violent and often profane lark of a show in which one scene featured the entire front of a warrior’s face chopped off.

Then I landed on an island with the show Black Sails. The pirate-based epic lasted six seasons and actually had a satisfyingly complete ending, unlike the show Lost, which I binge-watched together with my wife during the late stages of her cancer. Lost concluded with a lame-ass episode in which the main characters discovered a light in a hole in the ground.

Which brings us to the topic of how the massively popular program Game of Thrones will end. Game of Thrones seems headed toward a massive cluster-fuck of expected carnage.

Personally I think it would be great if those dead dudes from the far north wiped out the entire human race. That would be a cataclysmic ending suitable to the raw surprise often delivered by Game of Thrones.

Keep on trucking.

But my desire to see it all end with the white-walkers taking down the humans probably proves I’m not a “true fan” of the show. And to that, I say fuck off to anyone who tries to GOT-shame me. I engaged with the show in what I consider a game and open-minded fashion. At first I watched single episodes in random fashion. Whatever GOT episode was on when I sat down, I watched it. That forced me to piece together the plot on the run.

Which is actually a somewhat honest way to go about it. When you’re forced to figure out the characters on the fly, it makes you pay special attention to what they’re doing. Then you’re additionally forced to ask, “Why are they doing that?” When you figure out the answers, it is that much more satisfying.

At one point during all this mish-mash watching of GOT, I would have described the show like this:

“Okay, there’s this round-faced little girl who stood up to this massive brute with a half-burned-off face. She came out of her experience carrying around this long shiv blade that she uses to stab people. And oh yeah, this queen had to walk naked down the streets and get creamed by bad fruit and all kinds of shit because some holy zealot wanted to shame her. And there’s this smart little dude with a wrinkly countenance who’s always nearly getting killed only to think his way out of it.”

This isn’t all that more exposure than one typically gets in a soaked-through tri-suit.

Finally, with much thanks to repeated rebroadcasts of the GOT seasons, I put it all together and arrived at a decent picture of how the various houses of power and people grabbing for authority behaved in both honorable and evil ways. The show gives you plenty of people to hate, especially one brutish pig of a man whose abuse of the men and women in his life surely condemns him to die at some point. Yet he’s still around while some otherwise honorable people met ghastly fates. Such is life.

I watched a 60 Minutes interview with the author of the books on which GOT is based. He confessed that what he’s written about is basically the harsh and cold formula of human conflict throughout history. Like Star Wars or any other such fare, the setting doesn’t really matter so much as the characters.

Is white walkers some sort of veiled condemnation of prejudice?

I’m not hoping that evil wins, per se. But it might serve as a warning to millions of people that it is indeed possible that the bad guys truly can win out if people don’t work together in some fashion to combat the influence. That’s the overall plot of GOT. Just like the Bible.

Even at a personal level, one needs to feel as if there is enough good in the world to combat the bad. This morning I read an account of a triathlete competing in a 70.3 down in Lima, Peru. When she came out of the water, one of the pads on her aero setup was missing. And once she got out on the bike, she realized that someone had stolen one of the batteries from her electronic shifting setup. She couldn’t shift gears properly.

That is some nasty shit, right there. Whoever did that deserves a special place in triathlon hell. But it’s proof that some people will do anything to gain advantage over others. Whether it’s Game of Thrones (GOT) or Lust of Podium (LOP) some brand of evil is always lurking around the corner. They’ll smile in your face even as they conspire to bring you down. That’s one of the tarsnakes of our existence in this world. You can’t always tell who to trust or who your real friends are. Sometimes, either by mistake or on purpose, they turn out to be your worst enemies.

It pays to be vigilant in this world. Because otherwise the ice zombies and triathlon cheats will undermine our efforts. Kind of sad, it’s true.

So I recommend you watch GOT with a dose of fictional absorption. Learn what you can from this human drama, because you never know when things might hit closer to home.

Posted in Tarsnakes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons, we run and ride | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Black Holes, Red car doors and being a True believer

I think it’s a fair statement to say that most success in life can be found in stating the obvious. That’s why the Kevin Costner character Crash Davis in the movie Bull Durham taught the rookie pitcher how to spout cliches during interviews in the “bigs.”

Cliches work because they don’t ask people to think too much. Frankly, some athletes don’t have that much to say about life anyway. They’re physical superstars with immense focus on their sport, but that’s their genius. You hit the ball, you throw the ball, you catch the ball…It’s a simple game.

But not all athletes sit around and spout cliches. I had the opportunity to meet and speak at length with triathlete Sarah True while in training camp in Tucson this past February. She is an articulate advocate for her sport but also a great spokesperson for mental health and women’s equality.

Sarah True (in plaid shirt) spoke of her journey at our training camp in Tucson.

Women who don’t confine their statements to cliches approved by men or who refuse to “stay in their place” are frequent subjects of aggressive misogyny by people (of all genders) threatened by their intelligence and bravery. Insecure people hate having their own stubborn ideology or ignorance challenged.

Look at the reaction toward toward AOC (Alexandria Ocascio-Cortez) a woman who’s both articulate and unafraid to speak her mind about a clearly corrupt status quo that covets power…and that includes keeping women “in line.”

Quite predictably it is the Fox News network that most maligns AOC. There’s no irony in that fact because Fox is best known for its repeated sexual harassment scandals. True to form, Fox seems convinced that all it will take to silence AOC is to browbeat her and shove her back in place like an abused wife. That strategy has failed Fox time and again, but abusers don’t easily change their ways.

The same holds true for the Fox News approach to “news,” which is much like the paint job on this car…

Red State believers love this approach to news because it “states the truth.” That’s exactly how Donald Trump came to be President as well. He says things that are “obvious” to those who badly want to believe them. This is better known as cognitive dissonance. It’s how America has fallen prey to statements such as “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” That’s the same thing as painting a car door with the word RED and expecting everyone to buy into the joke.

Except that brand of suspended disbelief is not a joke. It is clear that many people can no longer separate fact from fiction.

Black hole of reality

Which brings us to the stunning picture of a Black Hole recently produced and distributed by a team of more than 200 scientists using technical equipment around the globe. These scientists captured an image that confirms gravitational theory dating back to Albert Einstein. This is important because the ability to mathematically predict an actual occurrence is an important foundation of science. That has significance to other branches of science that engage in theoretical predictions. The actual image of a black hole says “We were right all along.”

Since they were first proposed, black holes have become the cliche for anything that disappears without a trace. Yet that usage term in some ways diminished its true significance. The actual size of the black hole and its distance from earth are together so immense in proportion that most people cannot grasp the scope or scale.

That means some will inevitably deny its reality. That is the habit of people determined to confine reality to things they choose to understand. There are people who actively deny the fact that human beings have stood on the moon. There are people who are convinced that the earth is flat, not round. Fully 30% (or more) of Americans abide by a biblically literal belief that the earth was created in six 24-hour days and that a single man and his family ushered all the kinds of animals in the world into an ark to save them from a worldwide flood deep enough to cover Mt. Everest.

Conspiracy theories

The point here is that some people refuse to recognize truth in any form. They prefer instead to concoct a version of truth that makes sense to them. That’s why conspiracy theories thrive in this world. One popular claim is that the real Paul McCartney of The Beatles died in a car crash back in 1966 and that a lookalike Paul (Faul) was quickly recruited and integrated with the band so that Beatlemania could continue uninterrupted.

All this selective reasoning makes me appreciate there are people like Sarah True in this world. Her honesty about her own journey through depression during some of her peak years of athletic performing is both refreshing and challenging. And having met her in person, I can testify to the fact that she is as direct and honest in real life as the magazines and interviews tell us. As a result, I’m a True believer. I admire the woman.

Like the real Paul McCartney, she seems to grasp that her fame and accomplishments are a gift that come with a responsibility to be honest and open as possible. That’s called being a good person. There are many like her in the world. Yet they have to fight so hard to be heard at times one could swear all that goodness is being sucked into a black hole.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, Depression, running, swimming, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Confessions of a tree-sport athlete

Helping trees find balance takes some thinking.

The weather here in Illinois was stupendous yesterday. Clear and warm by spring standards in this part of the world. In the cool early morning, I rode 20+ miles on a favorite loop through Aurora, out along the Virgil Gilman Trail to Waubonsee Community College and home again with a tailwind.

It wasn’t a hard ride. 17 mph average. That pace was even lifted by the fact that the strong tailwind carried me to 23 mph and faster for long stretches on the return trip. I was simply “enjoying the ride” as they say.

Later that afternoon I rented a 12-foot ladder from Home Depot. My goal was to trim and thin out the trees on the east and west side of our backyard property. There are pines and spruce and birches aligned in the original plantings. Some of the trees were growing lopsided due to impingement by their close neighbors. A tree expert would have remedied this problem long ago. We moved into this house well after the process got started. It’s never too late to help out.

It took some energy to lug that ladder around. I resorted to turning it on its side to drag it across the ground. The folks at Home Depot strongly recommended the twelve-footer over the much larger fourteen foot ladder. The base of that 14-foot monstrosity was nearly four feet across. It probably outweighed the twelve-footer by sixty or seventy pounds. I know, because I lifted it in the store.

I’ve learned a few things about trimming trees over the years, but still feel ignorant about much of it. The timing and the like. My father used to have me do that work at his home. The apple trees out back always shot up what we called “suckers” from the otherwise lateral branches. These needed to be trimmed off or the tree would be pumping too much energy into the extra growth and not grow apples like they should. At least that’s what I was told. It must be true. The apple trees at the country orchard we visit come September are all trimmed and small. The apples look like Christmas ornaments on those elfin trees.

That’s just peachy

The same could be said of the peach tree my father planted in his back yard. One year a branch snapped and he eased his way out there in his wheelchair and pasted black sealant in the scarred limb. It had already blossomed and the peaches grew on the half-dead limb anyway. Sadly, a group of neighbor kids stole a bunch of the peaches that year. But I’d already learned an interesting lesson from my father about peach trees. You don’t give up on them easily. Come fall he instructed me to go out and saw off the torn limb.

Perhaps I’m overthinking the whole tree-trimming experience in some ways, but my father always instructed me to create air and space in the heart of the small apple grove he’d created out back. That meant trimming branches that crossed over others. The trees indeed seemed healthier for the improved circulation and lack of confusion in those branches.

You can see how the birch impinged on the spruce, changing its shape as it grew.

That’s some of what I did with the pines and birches. It was quite an organic process. As I trimmed the birches the sap and water came dripping out of the branches, soaking my head through the mess of my trucker’s cap that reads Just Add Bourbon. The volume of that moisture was incredible to consider. Nothing makes you realize that a tree is a living thing more than the fact that these plants are so well hydrated. There’s a lesson in that for all of us, for sure.

Dead and dry

Some of the compromised branches that I trimmed were indeed dead and dry. These trees were so small when planted years ago it likely never seemed they’d grow big enough to affect the other. In the photo above you can see the skeletal remnants of a smaller birch that completely died. I keep it there for ornamental value and because small birds like to perch on it. The rest of the dead branches I tossed on our fire pit and burned together with the sizzling, crackling pine bows all green and shiny, then smoking.

Balance and growth

It all took a few hours to accomplish, but the end result was satisfying. It made me think about other aspects of life, such as how one area of activity can easily impinge on the other. Parts of ourselves can die off if we’re not careful to keep an eye on balance. That’s particularly true with triathletes as the three sports bump into each other in terms of training time. The sport as a whole can impinge on life itself if we’re not careful, edging out work, relationships and even simple peace of mind. Balance is as important as commitment to growth. The trees can tell you that.

Look, I’m a tree sport athlete!

When it was over I was a bit tired from all that work. So I went upstairs laid down on the floor of our bedroom, raising my legs up on the wall in a yoga pose that I like because it helps circulation in the legs. Turns the sap upside down, you might say. Perhaps it would have been fitting instead to do the “tree pose” by standing on one leg and then the other, but I go with the flow when it comes to yoga.

Sue entered the room and found me upside down on the floor. We’d agreed to go on a three mile run together. It was tough going, I’ll admit. My entire body felt sluggish and sore. Even my feet went numb during the latter (ladder?) parts of the run. I’d downed tons of water before heading out, but sometimes we’re not as well-hydrated as we’d like to think.

I was grateful just to be done with that run. It had been an eventful enough day with all that riding, yardwork and tons of writing and errands in between. Now I can look at our trees and feel peace that I’ve helped them (I hope) live a healthier and less cramped lifestyle.

Sounds like a worthy goal for all of us, don’t you think?

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, mental health, running | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An artistic kind of workout

The setup for my art demonstration at the Kaneland Arts Festival.

From Thursday through Saturday last week I got in some great training. First an indoor speed session at the track doing 8 X 400m at 6:20 pace. Then a Friday morning 3 X mile repeat session with Sue at sub-9:00 for endurance training. Come Saturday we rode 42 miles in what turned out to be a strong angled crosswind from the south. Thankfully my new aero-positioned Felt carried me through.

So I didn’t feel super guilty about not getting up to do a workout on Sunday morning. Plus there was a different kind of workout to do. I had been invited to be an exhibiting artist at the Kaneland Arts Festival. Any artist can tell you that showing your work is a workout unto itself. Carrying everything out of the house to the car often involves multiple sets of stairs and some lifting of displays as well. When that’s all packed you head to the venue and unpack it all to carry it inside. Then comes the setup itself, which involves carting work back and forth to make things look great.

The result of a tumbling table.

During setup, a calamity happened. The display table they’d given me broke on one end and everything I’d stashed on the table came sliding down to crash at one end. That sent my drawing supplies careening at a thirty-degree angle and they spilled out on the floor. Pastel pieces flew everywhere . Even the cleanly organized new set that I’d brought with me to the show wound up colorfully jumbled.

Obviously the organizers felt horrible. But by the time I’d finished arranging things it made sense for me to get rid of the replacement table they’d brought me. My classic French easel would do the trick.

Part of our agreement was to demonstrate by creating art during the afternoon. As hordes of people rolled past, I talked with the parents and kids, even inviting some to participate in the drawing. What better way to share in the process?

Some of the work I was showing is part of the Road Trip group of paintings and drawings I’ve now exhibited at Water Street Studios in Batavia and at The Old Elburn Hall where we recently conducted a paint and sip night. Come September of next year, the show will be hung in the Center for Faith In Life building at Luther College leading up to my 40th college reunion.

Reeling in the years

Yes, I’ve got that many years under my belt. Which also made it interesting to stroll down the hallway at Kaneland where I was a student from 8th grade through sophomore year. We’d moved to Illinois in 1970 when I was 13, leaving behind all my friends back in Pennsylvania. In Illinois I made all new friends in short order.

Then in 1973, my father moved us again to St. Charles, where I made all new friends heading into my junior year. That move from Kaneland was awkward in many ways because I still saw my former classmates at cross country and track meets. In fact the group of guys with whom I’d been teammates in track won the state championship their senior year.

Nice try. But wrong group of athletes.

I found the photo of that team deep down the line on the Wall of Fame where state level athletes were honored. There was another Kaneland track team next to them that had earned second place in the state track finals. I looked at those two pictures and realized they were in the wrong order.

Letting go

There was actually something liberating about finding that mistake. As high school athletes we all live for those achievements and the near term glory that comes with them. We also live with those accomplishments, or lack thereof, for the rest of our lives. I remember being proud for those athletes and impressed at the performances each one of them brought to that state championship. I didn’t make it to the state championship at the Class AA level. I went down to watch the meet, and on the way home flirted with a stunning Kaneland girl that I’d long admired and scored a date with her the following week. Sometimes the mystery of absence and lack of familiarity is enough to even the score.

To their credit, many of those former teammates went on to success in life. Some are already retired in their early sixties. One was a fire chief. Another a corporate pilot. Successful accountants. The list goes on. They were smart people, those Kaneland guys and gals.

The Kaneland basketball team that went from an average season to 2nd in the state Class A. I’d practiced with the team until my father announced we were moving to St. Charles.

I looked at that photo and realized that as life diverges it also comes back together again in so many ways. Then I noticed a photo of the Kaneland basketball team that had placed second the very spring I moved out of Elburn to St. Charles. The coaches at the school all agreed to pick me up on rotation and drive me to Kaneland the rest of that school year. My father must have arranged that, but no one told me the details. I was just a moody kid who could run a little bit and grateful to be able to finish out the school year and the track season. Frankly I felt a bit like a chess pawn in some game that I did not understand.

Chess match

Years later I asked my father why we moved. Was it the gas shortage, or to put mom closer to work at her job? He replied, “No, I just didn’t want your brother to play basketball in the slow-down offense at Kaneland.”

My brother went on to be All-State Honorable mention in Illinois and earn a full ride to play ball at Kent State University. My father was playing a chess game of sorts, and he was right to do so. Yet I asked him, “But dad, what about me? I was class president and the top runner in cross country?”

He looked at me and smiled, “You were a social kid. I knew you’d get along.”

A loner of sorts

I was also a loner of sorts. Loved to wander the woods and go birding. My Kaneland classmates loved to tease me about that. Some days it made me hate them.

Then there were all those laps run around the high school. We ran as a team, yet we’re all soloists of a sort when it comes to that inner drive. Mine was fueled as much by anger at some of the injustices I saw and felt around me. Some were real. Others perhaps more imagined. Such are the vagaries of the artistic mind.

The parking where we’d train in winter months doing laps around the school.

All that personal history swirled around in my head as I walked out the doors at the end of the Kaneland Arts Festival. I recall having trouble concentrating in school back in those days. Study hall and even class time was filled with me drawing cartoons and detailed copies of black and white photos from the Track and Field News magazines that our coach Bruce Petersen encouraged us to read.

I know now that my brain works differently than a lot of people. It was a struggle at times to make it pay attention in Spanish class or even worse, those horrific math classes that vexed me so. I did ace Geometry, because it was visual and I got to draw some, but by the time I got to Algebra at St. Charles I damn near flunked the course.

I know that I see the world differently than some. A blessing and a curse.

We can’t always look ahead and know our aptitudes or our destinies. We can only respond the best way we know how. The mistakes we make or the failures we feel can come to dominate us if we’re not wise to the fact that those experiences may change us, but they do not define us.

Some might call that the Art of Living. It is honestly a workout that never ends. Until it does. But by then it is our hope that we have done that workout well, and learned to live with the joys and the consequences.

Posted in 400 meter intervals, 400 workouts, aging, Christopher Cudworth, competition, cycling the midwest, running, track and field | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The eternal joy and pain of speedwork

If there’s one thing that I’ve noticed in six years of duathlon/triathlon experience, it is the fact that most of the triathletes I’ve encountered don’t do enough speed work.

Having been to plenty of coached practices with 20+ athletes circling a track, I sometimes wondered what those athletes were trying to accomplish. Granted, many were Ironman hopefuls, and raw speed isn’t want many of them need to build endurance for a marathon after two miles of open water swimming and 112 miles of cycling. It’s all about one foot in front of another at that point.

And yet, the strength that comes from doing hard speed work is actually quite critical to efficient movement over the long run.

Having come from a track and field background, it has been my experience that if you want to get faster, you absolutely have to run faster. Even faster than your race pace, if you want to improve.

Get out there and enjoy the joy and pain of speedwork! It always pays off!

Which is why I did a workout of 6 X 400 at 6:20 per mile pace followed by 4 X 200 at 6:00 pace. One has to run fast in order to teach leg turnover and get accustomed to the mental and physical rigors of…going faster.

Sometimes while I’m on the track I laugh to myself about what I am forced to consider speed work these days. At 61+ years old, running six minute per mile pace feels quick. It is stunning to me that I once ran twelve quarters in 60-63 seconds.

Running 200 meters/yards at that pace these days would be beyond my capability. I simply don’t have the speed I once did. And yet, I get the same feelings of joy and pain training at this age-related pace that I did back in my racing prime. There is no shame in doing speed work a bit slower than you once did. You’re doing speed work for a purpose either way. To run as fast as you can, and do it efficiently.

And following up on yesterday’s fast set of 400s, I ran three X one-mile with Sue this morning at 6:00 a.m. We ran sub-9:00 pace for all three mile intervals. I was so proud of her for both the fitness she’s gained and the vast improvement in running form and efficiency she’s developed through consistent speed work. It was fun to run along together as a couple. Me in lane 2 and Sue in lane 1. I’m so grateful to be running healthy and for her as well.

We’re looking forward to a good season and a great year. As I was doing those intervals on both days I sort of chuckled to myself and asked, “How long are you going to keep doing this?”

And a little voice in my head said, “Probably eternally.” Joy and pain. They go together in this world, and the next I believe.

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Selfish absorption and distraction is killing police, cyclists and America

This weekend the Chicago Tribune reported on the death of yet another State of Illinois police trooper when someone crashed into them during a traffic stop. That’s the third death of a state trooper this year.

People keep crashing into state police by the roadside. Scott’s Law in Illinois states that drivers must move over a lane and slow down when flashing lights are present. Road construction crew members have also been injured and killed by motorists that crash into workers.

It’s a sick, sad sign that people are too self-absorbed or distracted to avoid such incidents. But as a longtime cyclist, nothing about the behavior and lack of conscience shown by motorists will ever surprise me.

Close calls

I’ve nearly been crushed by a car that missed me by less than three inches. I was cycling far out on a country where you’d think the riding was safer. But a motorist staring at their phone while barreling down a country road sees nothing ahead of them. My life was almost ended because some idiot was texting, looking at social media or downloading porn as they tore through Dekalb County on the road to oblivion.

I can’t imagine how angry and disgusted the Illinois state police must be at losing their valued colleagues to mindless traffic accidents. I can even less imagine the tragedy of the family members whose husbands or wives, fathers, mothers, sisters or brothers are never coming home. It keeps happening. Over and over again.

Symptomatic

The loss of life is symptomatic of a selfish, self-absorbed society whose only concern seems to be “What’s-in-it-for-me?”

That attitude crosses political lines on many fronts. And there are grandiose signatures of selfishness at work in our culture. The “I’ve got mine” mentality of the super-rich and the “Give me mine” of the populist meme-followers all contribute to the greater problems of a country so self-concerned it even has a name for its selfish brand of ideology: American Exceptionalism. Those words have been used to justify even the most egregiously outlandlish and prolonged wars of self-interest.

The real war is within ourselves. Recently Bicycling Magazine published a story about the dehumanizing ways in which many motorists view cyclists. The article contains some immensely disturbing outcomes of research conducted to survey attitudes toward cyclists.

“To test the results of a dehumanization perspective, researchers asked respondents whether they’d shown any aggressive behavior toward cyclists, from shouting and rude gestures to deliberately blocking their way with a car, driving close to them, cutting them off, or throwing objects at them.

About 31 percent of respondents rated cyclists as “less than human” on the trait scale, but the number went even higher when looking at the picture scale: When asked to answer how “evolved” they believed cyclists to be when looking at either the ape-person or cockroach-person evolution, 41 percent rated them as “less than human.” Both of these measures were linked to the aggressive behaviors, too.”

One third of all people

That 31% who rated cyclists as “less than human” aligns with other cultural stratifications whose worldview is dismissive of anyone outside their sphere. I think of those shouting political chants such as “Lock her up!” or the cries of marching white nationalists chanting “Blood and soil!”

You might think those are dramatic comparisons and possessed of too much hyperbole. But until you’ve been accosted by an angry driver who intentionally threatens you with their vehicle, or been verbally accosted for simply riding legally on the road, it is perhaps hard to imagine what it is like to be “the other” in those moments.

A petri dish of hate

America is a petri dish of tribal hate. The festering growths of stiff-necked religion and political interests spread like germs and do infect and affect the collective behavior of the population at large. That America is founded on a premise that is consumed by hatred of the other by a proportion of one-third is no longer just a theory, and never really was. We’ve been through a Civil War, women’s emancipation and racial riots just to guarantee rights that should have been granted to people all along. Hate is what kept those rights from being delivered.

Hate is the direct product of selfish absorption and a desire for distraction from the need to respect others. The United States has long been a nation that abides these vicarious aggressions. The fact that our country aggressively ignores the first phrase of the Second Amendment, “A well-regulated militia…” in favor of tossing around the “right to bear arms” as if it had no effect on human life is further evidence that selfish interests far outweigh the daily tragedy resulting from weak and irresponsible gun laws.

Death on the highway

The police on the streets of America are essentially locked in a war with a public where there are literally more guns than people. Every big and little town in American will someday have their own gun tragedy and wonder aloud, “How could it happen here?” Here’s a clue to all those hoping it won’t: It will. It’s only a matter of time as long as we continue to allow self-absorbed policy to rule the land.

But it doesn’t take just guns to kill. State troopers are dying along the highway because people are too stupid, selfish and stubborn to even slow down. It should be so simple. Don’t be so self-absorbed that you cease caring about others. But that’s a stretch for too many people. Fully one-third of America behaves as selfishly as a two-year-old that refuses to share.

Lack of conscience

If America genuinely has any religious conscience left at all, being less self-absorbed would be a great starting point to fix what ills us. But when the so-called Religious Right is so consumed with pursuit of political power there is no room left for moral compassion. Those seeking a political theocracy in America can’t sacrifice their principles fast enough to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle. The Religious Right and evangelicals are turning tricks in return for political favors. The true Whores of Babylon are upon us.

Less than human

In the meantime, I clip a bright light on the back of my bike and hope to heaven no one hits me because they either 1) don’t care or 2) view me less than human. Rather disturbing, isn’t it?

Posted in bike crash, cycling, cycling the midwest, cycling threats, death, evangelical Christianity, game of chicken | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins… and anxiety

By Dr. Seuss

Like millions of other children raised in the 1960s, I grew up reading books by Dr. Seuss. One of the most perplexing was the story of Bartholomew Cubbins, a kid who upon encountering an authority figure was supposed to remove his hat as a show of respect.

Well, poor Bartholomew takes off his hat and another one is there to replace it. While reading that story as a child, I sensed the anxiety behind it. We’re all told to respect authorities. Yet here was this kid trying to do things right and circumstance kept messing with him.

Daily sensations

I’ve come to realize that Bartholomew’s predicament perfectly captures the daily sensation of anxiety for those who live with it. Those hats symbolize the desire to live in normalcy and not worry about stuff that can’t be controlled. Yet every day we wake up with a new red hat on our heads.

That may not seem such a tough predicament. Some might say, “Suck it up, buttercup!”

Lord knows that those of us with anxiety learn how to remove those hats. Like that tough little bastard Bartholomew, we yank the Red Hat of Anxiety off our heads every damned day knowing it will come right back again. But we persist.

Sisyphus

The story of Bartholomew Cubbins bears some relationship to the myth of Sisyphus, the poor dude assigned by the gods to push a rock up a hill only to have it tumble back down again. For eternity.

And to apply another tangent, I well recall studying the concept known as the ‘irreversibility of time’ in a college course called Philosophy of Existentialism. Man did that class mess with my head.

One of the many bad hats I’ve worn over the years.

New ways of looking at things

But in many ways. studying the complexities of the mind ultimately freed me to look at my anxiety in new ways. For example, it taught me that while we are all alone in this universe and stuck with our fates, in that respect we are not alone at all. And as I ran all those miles in high school and college and beyond, it served to blow a lot of bad hats off my head.

Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

That condition was also captured in a book titled The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Those of us that have engaged in that pursuit for many years know that being alone in our running is not as bad as some people make it out to be. Having time to process your thoughts is a really good thing actually. It helps assuage anxiety, if you ask me.

Writing also frees the anxious mind.

But it is the anxiety of being forced to joust with false brands of authority that really brings out the worst anxiety in people. And when false brands of political or religious or cultural authority impose upon our lives, it traps the spirit within. We feel pressured, forced to perform and anxious about what comes next.

All good in the end

The story of Bartholomew Cubbins turns out alright in the end. But during that phase when he’s tearing hats off his head you really start to wonder what comes next. Will the poor kid lose his head to the king who demands that he remove his hat?

If you study that story, you begin to realize that it’s not Bartholomew that has the problem at all. His anxiety is the direct product of false righteousness and the imposition of authority without reason. Unfortunately, that is how much of the world actually works. So it makes total sense that some of us run into that falseness and find it offensive. But in the meantime, we grow practiced at tearing red hats off our heads every day of our lives.

Posted in running, track and field, trail running, training | Tagged , | Leave a comment