Experiments in sun and wind and salt

IMG_2770.JPGA week ago we returned from sunny Florida. It was eighty degrees every day. We ran in shorts and swam in the afternoon. I walked a boardwalk taking photos of semi-tropical birds. It was lovely.

This morning (back in Illinois) I ran 4.5 miles in 18-degree (F) weather with a wind that made it feel like it was 2-degrees above zero outside. I wore nice thick Thor-Lo socks, my Saucony Triumph ISO running shoes, a set of Saucony windproof sweatpants, some shorts, a long-sleeve tee recently earned in the Fox and the Turkey four-miler on Thanksgiving, a hard-fleece long-sleeved overshirt with a neck gator, the new Proviz 360 Reflector jacket and a black balaclava for the full Ninja look. I was prepped for the weather.

And was plenty well-dressed with the exception of the top of my head the first mile. On really cold days like this it pays to put a thin Saucony hat over top of the balaclava, which isn’t quite enough thick enough to protect the top of my bald head.

Yet it warmed up soon enough and the run went well until I turned NW into the teeth of the wind. The left side of my face while running west had gotten quite cold. That was the result of a wind shear formed around the side of my head opposite the true wind direction. Perhaps you don’t know about the principles of wind shear. For your convenience, here is a somewhat fabulous illustration providing perspective on the fact that wind can split in two, causing havoc on all sorts of events ranging from airplane flights to the spread of pollution. It can also “race around your face” causing the side away from the wind direction to get even colder than the side facing the brunt of it.

Go figure.

Wind shear.jpeg

But isn’t that an interesting phenomenon? Perhaps you’ve seen the dynamic of wind shear in action, and wondered, “How the hell can the wind blow in two directions at once?”

Well I have news for you. If you’re a cyclist you know bloody well the wind can feel like it is blowing in all four directions at once. Go ahead and ride out in an open space some windy day. For twenty miles you can ride into a headwind thinking your big reward will be a tailwind on the return trip. Think again. Because when you turn around the wind feels just as bad in that direction. You think to yourself, “WTF?”

The truth of the matter is that crosswinds can be just as bad for cyclists and runners as headwinds. In some ways, they are worst. It’s all about angles, you see, and air pressure.

IMG_6253.JPGSo let’s talk about angles. That’s part of the reason why sunny Florida feels warm this time of year when windy Illinois feels cold as the freezer box at a grocery story. The northern hemisphere is currently tilted in relation to the angle of the sun’s rays. In summer the northern hemisphere is treated to longer days and warmer weather. In winter the days are cut shorter by the angle of the earth relative to the sun, and the power of those rays is not strong enough to overcome either the angle or shorter time the sun’s rays reach the northern portion of the earth.

Northern-midwinter.pngWay up by the north pole of the earth, the days grow short during the winter and long during the summer months. The sun does not even set before another new “day” begins.

Interestingly, that simple fact makes a farce of the somewhat biblical notion that the earth was created in seven literal days. After all, if a day lasts 24 hours in the land of the Midnight Sun, then there is no such thing as a “day” at all. But of course, the authors who wrote the Book of Genesis in the Middle East during a period 2000 years ago had no way of knowing that the earth was even round, or that it tilted in space, and that seasons and even entire climates depend on the earth’s rotation and / or its relative position to the sun. So they conveniently grouped all theological notions into “days” and left it at that. Along with a flat earth and the dome of heaven, that explained things pretty well in that hot spit of land along the sea.

But if God had gone to work at the North Pole in wintertime and was perched on the top of the world creating his stuff, then he had all night to work on that creation stuff and deliver it all around the world. And that, my friends, is how the legend of Santa Claus was born.

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As Santa proves, time itself expands when you’re having fun. But time can also run out when you least expect it. That happens when people get selective about what they want to believe, versus what’s staring them right in the face. We have Christians screaming about the “War On Christmas” when it was Christians who propagated the legend of a Santa Claus character that has nothing to do with the birth of Christ other than immersing ourselves in selfishly motivated gift-giving. I say this to the War On Christmas whiners. Fuck off. You brought this on yourself.

And just like the Christmas farce, America is now engaged in massive tax cuts for the rich and a go-go mentality with markets surging. It’s 1929 all over again, and people are none the wiser. But don’t worry! The newly ensconced Wizard of Emerald City with his golden hair is in charge. They not only look alike, they sound and act alike as well!

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But people forget this important fact: The so-called Wizard of Oz knew a lot less than he pretended to know. But he was quite good at fooling Emerald City into making him the Wizard. Of Oz.

So should we trust the man behind the curtain to guide the fate of the earth? All the man really knew how to do was give our awards and make speeches. Yet he was popular in Oz for being the Liar-in-Chief in Oz. How interesting.

But we really can’t afford to play charades with reality. Se let’s get real with our thinking about the relative climatology of the earth. There’s a reason why it’s hot at the equator and why tropical plants and animals thrive there. It’s not some random aspect of God plopping them down and things never changing. They all evolved in kind with the environment in which they now exist. The same is true of Arctic species. But when any given environment radically changes, living things that depend on it either adapt or die off. It’s a harsh truth: 99% of all living things that once existed on the earth are now extinct.

IMG_3280 3And it doesn’t help to pretend we’re all still running down a Yellow Brick Road.

But that blind belief happens because human beings always think they’re special. We have the ability to seemingly manipulate environments to our favor. It’s a nice attribute, but hardly foolproof. The experiment we’ve conducted with mass industrialization over the past 100 years is just that: an experiment that flies in the face of billions of years of evolution. We’ve only just begun to ascertain what the real outcomes could be.

Whether it’s the markets of economic reality or the dangers of environmental indulgence, people always seem to forget one thing: the scourge of the Flying Monkeys. They always seem to show up at the worst times, don’t they?

Like the Wicked Witch and the Wizard of Oz, what we’ve accomplished is a massive alteration of the “control” side of the experiment without a secondary or conservative alternative. And should the experiment somehow fail, overheat or blow up in our faces, there is no turning back. It’s a frightening foreshadow that the Wizard of Oz movie finishes with the Wizard blowing away in a balloon that he never knew how to navigate in the first place. And back home in Kansas? He was a flim-flam medicine salesman.

What fun! What frivolity. Make Oz Great Again. Give the controls to a real wizard.

IMG_6219 4.JPGMeanwhile the earth keeps tilting and the sun keeps roiling within itself. The sun’s rays course through 93 million miles of space to penetrate the earth’s atmosphere at whatever thickness it exists. It’s both a coarse and delicate process when you think about it. So much energy, yet rather precisely balanced to allow life on earth to exist and propagate. Some credit the power of God to that balance. Others give credence to time and the existential fact that everything must exist, or nothing would ever exist. It’s that simple.

There have been fluctuations in the earth’s climatological processes over time. Both oceans and glaciers have spread over the face of entire continents. That’s why we have limestone bedrock in Illinois, but also a flattened landscape produced by ice a mile thick. That’s how the prairie soils got started, and grasslands grew where ice once roamed. The prairies built soil up to a thickness 6-8 feet deep, but human activity over the last 100 years has dragged and washed and blown away billions of tons of topsoil downstream to the Gulf of Mexico.

What an experiment.

Salt and SunSo this morning as I stood over a small salt granule on the sidewalk outside my office, I studied how the angle of the sun cast a long shadow even with that tiny object. Then I bent down to look at the cool blue tone of the shadow, and the cold hard appearance of that salt granule. It would melt soon enough, and return to the earth. That is what it is designed to do: fight the ice on sidewalks so that people can walk and ride and run down those paths without falling on their ass. We can imagine we’re separate from nature all we want, but it isn’t true. There are seven billion people on this earth. All of those individuals will someday day and rot away like cosmic road kill, only to replaced by others waiting their turn to “run the race set before them.”

It’s all a grand experiment, this existence of ours. There is so much we take for granted, and yet so much depends on the angle you take in thinking about it all.

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Three coaches. Same sports. Different worlds.

Ted Haydon.jpegThe Illinois running community has produced some famous coaches over the years. Decades ago there was Ted Haydon, the former leader of the University of Chicago Track Club. His athletes included world record holders such as Rick Wolhuter and many others.

In high school track and cross country, there is no more famous coach than Joe Newton, longtime leader and recently deceased legend of the York High School cross country and track program. His cross country teams dominated the sport for decades, winning more than two dozen state titles. Even when they didn’t win, they often could be found placing in the top two or three teams in the state.

Then there is Al Carius, the former University of Illinois runner who went on to coach at North Central College, where he built an amazing Division III cross country program whose record at nationals rivals that of the state championships won by Joe Newton at York.

Different worlds

Ted Haydon was known for providing a vehicle for top-performing track athletes to compete. Newton was known for giving young runners a focus and discipline unparalleled in running nationwide. Al Carius has long been known for taking callow, often undeveloped athletes and guiding them to national-level performances.

RickW..jpg

I attended the same high school as Rick Wolhuter, who went on toe medal in the Olympics and set a world record in the half-mile.

I never met Ted Haydon, but my son ultimately attended the University of Chicago where I learned a bit about how that school fosters an open-faced belief in achievement. So while Ted Haydon coached at the university, he also saw beyond it. His UC_Track Club athletes carried the name of that school around the world.

Convergence with greatness

In 1984, I qualified to represent the Prairie District in the inaugural Illinois State Games, an Olympic style competition featuring all sorts of sports. We ran the qualifying races at York High School, where the presence of Joe Newton was clear in its organized structure and the love of running and competition. The other coach who guided the team was North Central’s Al Carius.

I already knew Joe Newton through association with a podiatrist named Dr. John Durkin as well as my former coach from high school, the late Trent Richards. Durkin had already earned a reputation for producing orthotics for the likes of Sebastian Coe, the great British runner, and many other world-class runners.

Seb Coe.jpg

Sebastian Coe (left) meeting with Coach Joe Newton

Authors

Durkin and Newton decided to collaborate on a book titled Running to the Top of the Mountain. Durkin’s section focused on running biomechanics and injury prevention. Newton wrote about training and motivation. I was hired to illustrate the book and produce the cover.

From what I could see, working on that book was both a labor of love and a source of torment for the two men. Years later when I’d gone on to publish several of my own books, I thought about the two of them grinding it out. They seemed to find it a painful process. At least that was the impression I got from hearing them talk their respective chapters.

Borrowed wisdom

Years later I learned that the two of them got tagged for plagiarizing certain aspects of the book. That struck me as odd because I’d also heard Newton give inspirational talks. He was a fantastic speaker. Yet the pressures of publishing a book, just like the pressures of running, can drive people to do strange things.

Mistakes like that do not necessarily diminish the life works of a person. That all came to mind because Coach Joe Newton just passed away last week. To examine his legacy, there is no question Newton inspired thousands of young runners to high achievement in the sports of cross country and track. Over the years, some have criticized the York program for perhaps putting too much emphasis on high school cross country to the detriment of those runners long term.

That’s a question each and every runner who came through the program has to answer for themselves. Very few people ever earn the thrill of winning a state championship in anything, much less an endurance sport. So whether runners choose to continue the sport after that period in their lives is a very personal decision.

Summers spent running 1500-2000 miles were part of the formula for York’s high school success. Having an appetite for training beyond that can prove difficult for runners raised in the discipline and sacrifice of that sort of program. Yet lessons learned from such experiences also last a lifetime. Like earning an Eagle Scout ranking or killing it in academics for a Valedictorian honor, the world of free will offers a ton of options.

The Carius legacy

Al Carius.jpegThat is why it is so interesting to compare and think about the career of North Central’s Al Carius as a coach. In five decades of coaching in college cross country, Carius repeatedly has taken high school runners with mediocre resumes and weak PRs and turned them into national champions. A kid might come into the program with a 10:20 two mile PR and emerge from college having run under nine-minutes for the distance.

It’s all a fascinating study in how great coaches operate and how they have chosen to influence their runners and by proxy, the world. These three great coaches from the state of Illinois went about earning their legacies in different ways.

Three coaches. Same sports. Different worlds. 

 

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A Tale of Two Fitness Centers

Last night I visited for the first time in a long time a fitness center to which I belonged more than twenty years ago. It was once owned by a friend of mine who bought the club with his credit card and built it up to 1000 members before selling the membership roll to a pair of developers with plans to combine that member base with another nearby club to wrap them together with an architectural plan and pitch nearby hospitals to build a medically based fitness center on property the developers already owned near a major road.

IMG_6083Those plans went up in smoke when the developers refused to give the most interested hospital any money for use of their name. Perhaps there were other factors at work as well, but declining the hospital any value for their name was plain selfish and stupid.

And then the hospital approached the same architect that had drawn up the fitness center plans, flipped the design around and built the damned thing right on their own property. So it all blew up in our faces, because I’d been hired to run the marketing once the thing got pulled together. I’d been successful marketing my friend’s club for several years. So it all made sense.

My friend got out of the fitness business after that. He sold the original club to someone else in the very same property in which he’d operated. Virtually nothing’s changed about the place in all those years with the exception of some slapped-on signage.

The club is situated in a grand old limestone building constructed in the late 1800s. It has a nice patina on the floors from the days when real industry spilled stuff and didn’t clean it up right away. The wood is dented and blackened by the boots and tools of hard labor, and the walls were cut from river limestone one mile south of where the building stands today. So I’m not criticizing the place based on its location or appearance. It just can’t compete in many ways with what health clubs have become today.

It’s a lowbrow place in other words, but I’ve still joined for a couple reasons. The fitness center to which I have belonged for a year is two miles from my home but more than six miles from where I work. It isn’t practical to drive all the way out there during lunch and back to do a workout.

Now that I’m on IMG_9289the health plan with my employer there’s a monthly stipend of $25 to pay for fitness center membership so it makes sense to point that toward the local club where I can get a workout in during the day if I like. Membership there is exactly $25 per month.

The nearby club sits between two of the area’s busiest bike paths, so I can get in runs and even rides during the day as a counterpoint to the workouts I do before dawn or after dusk on cold mornings in winter. Because I really want to lose some of the pudge I’ve gained around the middle. I’m frankly disgusted by it, and that requires an increase in intensity these next three months.

But the old club is a brain rush for me. Walking in there reminded me of how long I’ve lived in this area, and how many years I’ve schlepped around fitness clubs doing my little weight workouts and perhaps jumping on the treadmill now and then. Once I actually slipped on the treadmill at the old club. I fell to the deck and the belt shot me IMG_2561hard against the wall. My feet punched a hole in the drywall. I was so shocked in the moment that I drove straight home clutching my shoulder, which really hurt. Then I called my buddy who owned the club and said, without explanation, “I just put a hole in your wall.”

He actually laughed when he heard how it happened. I’d been running 6:00 pace on the treadmill when a gorgeous woman showed up beside the treadmill to ask if I’d be long. Well, I got distracted and down I went.

“Serves you right,” I think he chuckled. But now that I’ve confessed that little tidbit I can probably never run for local public office. I was distracted by her ample cleavage when it happened. So there, I said it. I was forty years old and stupid at the time. But I guess I can still be president.

Well, the Little Health Club That Could keeps trundling along. And despite its somewhat sordid history in my mind, it’s an okay place to work out. The locals don’t seem to care that it’s not the height of luxury. Some of the equipment is beat up. While doing shoulder IMG_0736lifts I brushed against the bar end of a machine and the black plug that seals the metal tube fell off. Oh well, I thought, and put it back on.

By contrast, this morning Sue and I visited the other health facility to which we belong. It has a 200-meter indoor track, a wonderful pool and is one of the most clean and well-run facilities you can imagine. The park district that runs it wins awards every year for the quality of its organization and programs. The population of members is diverse and so is the staff. You just get a good feeling going into the place.

Sue and I ran a workout of 8 X 400 at her race pace. The indoor track is excellent for workouts like that. There’s also a jogging track upstairs for people who just want run without worrying about lap lengths. Yet many mornings when I arrive the track team from the university nearby is having practice in both the track and field events. It makes me think back to days of college competition, and I stop and encourage those athletes because it’s interesting to hear their stories.

IMG_9764So I can see the value of both types of facility in this world. The local, privately owned health club cuts the mustard for many people. I don’t think it’s got the same energy as when my friend owned and ran the club. He had trained fitness coaches on his staff, and there were classes of all types.

But I can imagine the cost of joining the larger facility with the track and pool would be exorbitant were it not a publicly funded facility. I’m grateful that local government does things the right way. Grateful such nice facilities are not priced through the roof.

What I’m saying is that while privatization does many things well, the public good is often served very well by people with a commitment to the intelligent proceeds of government. The same holds true with public lands and national parks, monuments to protect archaeological treasures and national wild and scenic rivers to preserve shores that might otherwise be buried under housing or commercial development.

There seems to be a big rush to sell off everything in sight in this country. But I’ve seen what happens firsthand when greed is the only motivator. Neither the public or the private good is always served. We see evidence of this fact almost every day. From corrupt red-light camera operators to pastors flying private jets while people all around them starve, greed is not always good. In fact, it screws up a lot of things in this world, even families, friendship and religion.

My Tale of Two Fitness Centers illustrates that for me in fullness. Feel free to counter if you like. I know there are people who think everything about government is bad. But I’ll take Glacier National Park in a bet against a private golf course any day of the week.

 

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Run rabbit run

Coyote licking.jpgYesterday morning my wife and I noticed a pair of coyotes walking the path behind our house. Our yard backs up to a wetland that attracts wildlife year-round. Rabbits lurk in the hedge between our property and the tall grasses behind.

That’s what the coyotes were seeking. There was a pale, smaller coyote and a large dark, wolf-like creature who moved with such authority and stealth it gave you the creeps.

Catching rabbits isn’t easy for a single coyote, so they sometimes work in teams. When the rabbit flushes it might mean one coyote gives chase while the other runs reconnaissance. A species of bird called Harris’s hawk excels at this kind of predator and prey collaboration. The net gain is less energy exerted by the predator and a shared meal at the end.

Harris Hawk.jpg

Thus nature has its forms of cruel altruism. Human beings work the same way across a platform of social constructs from politics to religion to family fights. The entire premise of the show Survivor is learning how to leverage alliances to one’s own advantage.

I well recall races in which I worked with teammates to chase down opponents and demoralize them. Sometimes this was a natural part of the race dynamic. But often it was verbalized and calculated. Coming to the last half mile in a competitive invitational, a teammate and I spotted the last guy we needed to pass to win the meet. We made a purposeful plan to pass him on either side and close the space in front of him. That was our way of shutting the door on his hopes of keeping up with us.

He was the rabbit. We were the coyotes. It’s a classic theme played out every day of existence. Thirty years ago I read the series of books under the Rabbit title by John Updike. Those books immerse one in a world of raw endeavor, success and failure. Here are some quotes that apply to today’s blog theme of “run or be eaten.”

“If you have the guts to be yourself, other people’ll pay your price.”
― John UpdikeRabbit, Run

“…hate suits him better than forgiveness. Immersed in hate, he doesn’t have to do anything; he can be paralyzed, and the rigidity of hatred makes a kind of shelter for him.”
― John UpdikeRabbit, Run

“I once did something right. I played first-rate basketball. I really did. And after you’re first-rate at something, no matter what, it kind of takes the kick out of being second-rate.”
― John UpdikeRabbit, Run

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That last one rings true for all of us that once excelled at running and now plod along as part of the pack. We’ve been the rabbit, and now the world preys upon that sense of loss and age and mortality. It takes a strong person to avoid feeling defeated by that realization that you aren’t as fast as you once were. In some ways, one must be stronger to stand proudly in that moment than any other you faced in life.

And keep an eye out for the coyotes.

You’ve invited to connect with other writing by Christopher Cudworth

Genesis Fix

The Right Kind of Pride

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How warm was my snuggly bed this morning? I’ll tell you.

My wife Sue rose early this morning to head out for Master’s Swim. It was 4:40 a.m when the alarm went off.

When it comes to getting up for workouts, the woman has the discipline of a tigress stalking prey through the jungles of India. She has the willpower of a mother polar bear coursing through Arctic seas to snatch a seal off an ice floe. She has the determination of a golden eagle soaring high above the mountains scanning cliffs for signs of moving prey.

KoalaBy comparison I have the relative motivation of a koala bear crawling the limbs of a eucalyptus tree for leaves to munch. If they’re in reach, I’m all good. If they’re not, I sit there a moment with my eyes half open hoping the winds will blow enough to bring the leaves closer. At least that’s how I feel after she leaves our warm bed in the morning and I’m still there under the covers.

Of course, I exaggerate. In truth I’ve always been an early riser. Even as a child I’d pop out of bed at dawn to head out on some adventure. If there were none awaiting, I’d invent them as I go along.

So I’m teasing about the whole koala bear thing. Nor am I slothlike, letting moss grow on my back while crawling slowly through the Amazon canopy. These days I fall somewhere between a mink (about which I’ve written before) and a honey badger, perhaps the most industrious and relentless creature on earth. Next to a Republican trying to force a tax plan through at the last hour. Merciless buggers.

But as I lay there in bed this morning, the covers seemed to hold me in place like the warm hands of a thousand angels. “Stay in bed,” they seemed to say. “It is entirely too snuggly in here for you to leave. This is heaven on earth.”

I moved my foot a little, and it felt so warm under the covers I imagined being embraced in the arms of ten thousand tiny kittens, each one purring as it pressed their soft little paws against me.

Beaver denOr maybe it was like being in my own beaver den below the ice and freezing waters of a winter pond. Warm in my pelt of thick, soft fur, the world outside could not reach inside my huddling den.

I was so warm and cozy under the covers I thought about a family dog by the fireplace comforted by the sounds of his people bumping around the house. The dog nuzzles his muzzle into two big paws and dozes off with the fire winking brightly before him.

Other worlds

Warm Icelandic springsWhat other places in the world could be so cozy and warm?

A thermal spring in Iceland, where the inner warmth of the earth itself defies the cold air all around?

Or perhaps ledge of some vast mountain valley in tropical Hawaii, wrapped in humid green trees graced by the whistles of rare mountain birds, the last of their kind on earth?

Yes, I was mighty comfy in bed this morning. But then one of our cats came stalking into the bedroom. I sensed the small beast at the bottom of the bed. So I skritched my toe against the blankets ever so slightly. Then again. He pounced. The cat loves that game. So I scratched with my fingers on the other side of the bed. He leapt across and pounced on my hand as well. We wrestled through the thickness of the sheets and blankets and covers. Then he jumped off the bed and stood in the doorway.

“Oh, is it time to eat?” I asked.

So I wrenched my legs out from Cozyland and slipped my toesies into the plaid slippers I got for Christmas last year. Then I led a Cat Parade down the stairs to the kitchen where I dished out four even bowls of cat food so they would not fight. Then I turned around to find a note written on a napkin in silver Sharpie.

“Cats have been fed.” 

Ah well, the buggers tricked me. But now that I was up and moving, it was time to go on that run I’d promised myself was going to happen.

It turned out to be a wonderful morning to run with a bright 3/4 moon lighting up the sky. The sun was not yet impacting our part of the world, but the moon’s illumination made everything blue and wonderful. I ran four and a half miles at my typical 8:40-9:00 training pace and got in a couple sprints by crossing the four lanes of Orchard Road a couple times.

Nothing special in terms of worldly encounters, yet really special in its way, because it was my way. The warm snuggly bed did not keep me from a good run after all.

Then my tigress wife arrived home about the time I was done with my run. I’d gone out back to feed the birds and met her at the open garage door. We exchanged warm kisses in the breach and I realized it was a good thing to have left that warm bed after all. It turns out kittens, angels and warm Icelandic springs can’t hold me back. For long, anyway.

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Shrinking the public penis problem

Davy-Jones-from-Pirates-of-the-CaribbeanFrom the evidence of recent news reports, it appears that every penis on the planet has now officially either been photographed and either sent as a text or exposed directly to a member (pun intended) of the female human race. So it’s time for some serious discussion as to why this habit of men exposing themselves is so common.

It turns out that multisport athletes ultimately have something to offer the world when it comes to keeping the male genitalia under wraps of some kind, or some sort. But let’s admit something first. Lycra and Spandex do not exactly function as camouflage for the Male Unit. More than one triathlete can be accused of putting it out there a bit too much. The shiny outline of a dick in anything other than black tri-shorts leaves nothing to the imagination. And yet, those dicks in view are still not completely exposed. Thus people of both sexes can look away and tell themselves they have not just been flashed.

Murderous nature

When most males do actually pull their pants down, the typical male member is initially no tribute to masculinity. Even a well-hung penis sort of lolls there like a 7th-grade wallflower at the Middle School dance. Penises look awkwardly slack until they’re erect. And then they frankly often look murderous.

That last sentence reminds me of all the books I’ve read by author Henry Miller. The “murderous” nature of the male penis is somewhat stolen from a tremendously sexual passage in which he’s already come a couple times and now his manhood is entirely within his control, half erect and determined to carry on. He describes it as murderous, and sometimes a penis seems to have a mind of its own.

Fantasies of desire 

This sensation of male domination and control is something men fantasize about at length. In a review of Henry Miller’s work published in the Paris Review, writer Hannah Tennant-Moore ponders why some men seem to feel the need to degrade women in the sexual process.

Yet her treatise shares Miller’s own words of denigration for his penis, engaged as it was in lovemaking with his wife, when a strange objectivity came over him:

It looked disgustingly like a cheap gadget from the five and ten store, like a bright-colored piece of fishing tackle minus the bait. And on this bright and slippery gadget Mara twisted like an eel. She wasn’t any longer a woman in heat; she wasn’t even a woman; she was just a mass of undefinable contours wriggling and squirming like a piece of fresh bait seen upside down though a convex mirror in a rough sea.

Adoration and disgust

I personally love Miller’s work, and have thumbed backwards through his books seeking the sexcapades within. He writes with adoration of some women and disgust toward others. Books such as Miller’s Sexus are about the manic behavior in us all. Sex is one expression of our deep desire to be wanted. But it is just one of many facets of existence. Miller grapples with his work life, and lack thereof. He regards even his closest friends with both angry and gleeful detachment. He marvels at the world of fuck-ups and selfish fucks around him. And he admits he is fully one of them. But he knows better.

Required reading

In fact I think the writing of Henry Miller should be required reading for every male on the planet. It convinces one of both the virtues of the male penis and also the alternating role of priestly engagement and comic lust it plays in the lives of women.

Penises have a purpose, and that is that. Men try to give them more importance because the desire to be wanted drives men to do stupid and unwitting things. That’s what brings on the sad distraction of people such as Louis C.K. who repeatedly whipped his dick out to masturbate in front of cohorts in female comics. It’s a disturbing admission of idiotic frailty and flawed character, but he just couldn’t help himself. Now he’s paying the price.

Behaving like dicks

By contrast Matt Lauer seems to have convinced himself that his dick was some sort of portal to enlightenment for the women he essentially assaulted. Here’s a guy who basically had everything he could desire, and yet it somehow not enough.

That’s how it is with dicks, both literally and figuratively. When young and presumptuous, they sometimes demand attention too frequently and with the least concern for ramifications. Yet this tendency can carry on if it is rewarded somehow or ignored, and one cannot tell which is worse.

That is why men such as Lauer tend to lack judgement over who should see their dicks or not. That’s why famous men with a tremendous need for approval so often get into trouble due to their dicks. It’s a sad admission that they’re frankly incapable of being satisfied with the approval they’ve already gotten. It drives them to seek attention, even the negative sort, in uncomfortable ways.

Shrinkage

It’s rather funny that among male endurance athletes, the penis often shrinks during exercise or through exposure to cold or wet circumstance. The Seinfeld character George Costanza famously freaked out when his potential love saw his penis in a small state of existence. “Doesn’t she know about shrinkage?”

So it’s a convenient fact of fate that when men are doing something productive such as working out to the point that all the blood in their body is occupied with grander things, the penis takes a back seat, so to speak, and simply goes along for the ride.

So it should be with more activities in life. Penises are not something women want (or need) to think about in the calculus of daily life. Nor do they want to be confronted with that issue unexpectedly, especially in the workplace. That is abhorrent, wrong and frankly disgusting.

But it is men dissatisfied and not properly engaged with what they’re supposed to be doing that are causing all these problems. That’s why the athletes among us, prolifically engaged in increasing endurance and strength (not flashing their penises) that are prime examples of intelligent behavior.

So if you know someone whose focus is too much on their dick, tell them to go workout. It can cure what ails them, and shrink what travails them.

 

 

 

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Why it pays to walk, not run nature’s boardwalk

AnhingaYesterday I visited Lettuce Lake, a nature reserve park east of Tampa, Florida. The park is situated next to the University of South Florida on the Hillsborough River. The environment is classic backwater swamp habitat. Big cypress trees with characteristic “knees” line the waterways. All other ground in the river basin is soggy if not completely immersed under deep vegetation and methane-freckled water.

IBIS in ShadeI went there specifically for the birds, but there were plenty of people tromping around the boardwalk path that snakes through the woods. My feet were tired from a morning run of five miles, so I wasn’t in for a huge-ass hike anyway. I could have done a quick stint at Lettuce Lake and headed north for a much larger preserve east of Spring Hill on the way home, but something told me to stay put.

The weather was classic Florida. Eighty degrees and calm except for the thermals carrying large flocks of vultures above the woods. They wheeled and spun, crossing each other’s paths as jets heading into Tampa Airport sailed behind.

Ibis in Mossy TreesMost of the bird action was not focused above, but within feet of the walkways. Hung on the moss-covered trees were large flocks of white ibis. Their voices sound digital, clucking and chucking like a video game stuck in repeat. The requisite white egrets were there too, but I can get them at home too.

LimpkinInstead, I wanted to see real Florida birds, and was not disappointed to hear the calls of Limpkins carrying through the woods. They hunt for large snails to eat in the deep muck, and can’t be seen while wading through the tall “lettuce” of water plants. So I cheated and played a limpkin call on my bird app and like magic, a limpkin head popped up from the green void looking for the source of the call.

Limpkin With Snail TooI’d see several more before the day was through. Their olive-green plumage flecked with white streaks was perfect coloration in the deep shadows. Then I saw an individual within ten feet of the walkway plunge its head into the water and pull out a large black snail. “There,” I thought ot myself, “Is the source of life itself.”

We all need sustenance in this world. We need food for nutrition, water to hydrate our bodies that are 75% water, and air to breathe. To witness a formerly rare bird take its meal in an environment so unique to Central Florida was a moment to cherish.

Gator Closeup.jpgI decided to walk even more slowly, and so things turned up that I might otherwise have missed. There was a modest-sized alligator lolling on a dirt hummock. Its dark skin was lumped with spikes and knobs. It looked so quiet it was hard to image such a creature could move quickly. We all like to think we’re faster than other animals in nature, but it isn’t true. Not for the average human being anyway. While visiting this time around, I golfed with my brother-in-law and we recalled the news story in which a father wading in a pond with his child in Central Florida was horrified to see a large gator take his child out from his grasp.

Yes, we’re generally isolated from such terrors in nature. Yet even people in Illinois have ot watch their small dogs lest they be snatched by coyotes.

Water MoccasinSo it’s a bit of a desperate balance we seek to achieve by setting up parks such as Lettuce Lake. Lifted above the muck and water by the boardwalk, there are not many dangers to encounter. The cool reminder of this safety was a water moccasin coiled on a hummock just below the trail. It had the prototypical diamond-shaped head of a poisonous snake. Those venom sacks take up space in the head. So do the fangs.

Wood StorkAs the evening sun sank lower the birds settled into a heavy feeding pattern. I saw a white phase Little Blue Heron and then a giant white Wood stork with its naked, bare head. These birds are still threatened by diminished habitat in Florida. They need plenty of accessible food and the human population down here is hungry for land as well. While elderly come here to retire, the birds only hope of survival is this spit of land sticking down into the Gulf of Mexico.

After the long, slow walk through the woods I was happily tired and thirsty. The wildlife encounters were sweet and vital. The human intrusion was noisy and at points almost insanely unaware of the wonders around them. But that’s the price of having a preserve so close to a big city. Perhaps everyone absorbs some sense of nature just by walking through it. You might not know it, but you also never know.

After all, it’s the local 5K race that motivates so many people to “try it” and embark on what often turns out to be a life-changing experience. We can only hope that happens for this planet before it’s too late for the animals, or for us.

 

Written in the Tampa airport. 

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Salt Life Confessions

View of Clearwater.jpgThe Gulf of Mexico. That’s what they call it. You can stand on the 9th-floor balcony of the Opal Sands hotel in Clearwater and squint all you want. Mexico will not become visible no matter how you try.

That’s because the earth is curved. You’d have to construct a building much taller than the Opal Sands to ever catch a glimpse of the Mexican shoreline. Or you could build progressively higher-flying rocket ships until you can get high enough to see across the Gulf. That’s what some modern era dope who still thinks the earth is flat has begun to do by making steam-powered rockets so he can get high enough to prove the earth is flat. He’s a limousine driver by occupation, but has a knack for building rocket ships it seems. Such are the endeavors of fools.

He used to believe in a round earth until the Flat Earth society convinced him that modern knowledge is all a scam. Their belief system rests on the idea that the earth and all its continents rest on a flat disk of some sort. This requires them to ignore the satellites and technology that bounce and trade signals all around the world as well as all evidence from the space program including moon landings.

Never mind the fact that the human race has essentially left the moon behind, launching rockets with space equipment and cameras that have recorded the highly spherical shapes of Saturn and Neptune. The Cassini probe sent back this last photo before it plunged to the surface of Saturn.

Saturn.jpg

One has to be a true mental bigot to ignore the immensity and clarity of such a photo. It clearly shows the spherical shape of Saturn surrounded by rings that are only now revealing their mysteries after years of study by the Cassini probe. A simple Google search turns up this fact: “Saturn averages 886 million miles (1.4 billion km) from the sun, nine and a half times Earth’s average distance.”

 

Salt and Sun

View of the sun through the hotel balcony divider.

That is a long, long ways off. The place is not natively inhabitable for earthlings. Nor are any of the other planets, large or small, near or far, in our solar system. Most are either too hot or too cold to sustain human life, or any other for that matter.

 

So we’re stuck here on earth for the near future. It’s a mighty fine planet for us. Most of the earth’s surface is covered by water, which is salty. Human blood is about half as salty as the ocean. But it’s a safe statement to say that we are all living the Salt Life whether we lay claim to it or not.

You just feel closer to the salty water when you’re visiting down here in Florida. All along the Gulf Coast there are sandy beaches lined with tall hotels to give people quick access to the ocean waters in all seasons. The mindset of hanging by the ocean is not for everyone, but millions do love it.

Salt LifeThere is even Salt Life gear that takes its name from our ocean affinities. But most people seem to prefer walking around in as little as they can. Even the fat guys with the big guts and deep tans wear their Salt Life shorts and hats proudly. This is not the land of apology. No Sir. People wear their fat with pride here on the Florida Coast. It’s almost a personal trademark like having a tattoo, sporting really large breasts or a bulge in the shorts. Millions of people each grabbing for the straw of individuality.

And mostly, life makes a big sucking sound at the other end of it.

I look in the reflection of the hotel windows as we walk past and all it does is make me realize that I’m just borrowing the salt of the ocean for a little while. Despite inane claims by biblical literalists that human beings once lived 900 years, the typical life span of a person is between 80-100 years. If you’re lucky.

I want to live that life as well as possible. And, to actually feel what it means to be alive, I run, ride and swim. Seems like those are tyings many of you like to do too, if you’re reading this. Never, ever apologize for that. Be sensible, and don’t literally kill yourself. But do take it to the edge now and then. Find out what it means to hurt a little. That’s a holy venture, I promise you. But also let it flow. Dream it. Live it.

And when you come back from a long workout and sweat streams down your face, take a lick of what comes out of your body. Check your shirt and shorts when they dry. They will be lined with salt sometimes. Because you’re the ones living the true salt life, wherever you are. There are plenty of places to do this all around the world. Because the world IS round, despite what the deniers, the mental bigots and the biblically distracted want us to believe.

 

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Okay I’ve tried retirement in Florida. What’s next?

Anole lizard.jpegWe’re staying in an elegantly constructed retirement community in Spring Hill, Florida. As my brother-in-law explained, it’s nice as retirement communities go, but not the most luxurious. He explained: “There’s one north of here that’s one of the wealthiest in the world,” he told me.

But the one in which we’re staying is pretty nice. There are gates at the entrance to keep the Central Florida riff-raff out. That’s not my judgment. That’s practical knowledge. Florida is known for being of the biggest mishmashes of cultural influence created by man. Central Florida seems to have a gravity of its own when it comes to strangelings, half drunks and other oddballs.

The other night some friends who are also down here on a short vacation went out to find a movie theater. They Googled a location and drove up to find a dude sitting on the curb in front of the theater. “Is this theater open?” they asked. He looked at them for a moment and muttered. “I think so. I’m so wasted right now I don’t know.”

The threadbare yet often tortured cognizance of warm weather denizens is everywhere here in Central Florida.  This morning while driving back from the Southern Hills Golf Course where my brother-in-law is a member, we drove past some modest houses along the main highway. One house was adorned with a big, spray-painted sign that read: “PTSD.” Now that’s honesty. It’s simple. Stay. The Fuck. Away. 

Perhaps that person would be willing to admit they are engaged in a retirement from reality. Or perhaps not. Yet we should excuse them for whatever behavior emerged when the UnWar of Iraq and Afghanistan or Vietnam ripped away a part of their mind.

Southern Hills

By contrast, the world of golf is one of the world’s best unreality shows, and it’s a game of choice, not force conscription. Yet the game of golf somehow seems to share the language of war. One has to watch out for bunkers and waterhazards and shots that go “out of bounds.” All that’s missing is a demilitarized zone. And you’d probably get a lift out of there.

The environment of a golf course is a cross of nature and a manufactured world where the grass stays short and the sandhill cranes wander around the faireways picking off bugs and small toads that wandered out of the wetlands below. At Southern Hills there were also pileated woodpeckers calling from the peaks of tall pines where red-shouldered hawks also flapped and cried. Moorhens and Hooded Mergansers paddled around the ponds and one big-ass alligator floated like a sullen log in a pond by the 17th green.

Dose of retirement

Every game of golf is like a dose of retirement. Which means those of us that play (about 10% of the American population) have been engaged in a form of faux retirement all the years we’ve been playing. As one ages, the opportunities are supposed to increase. That means some folks start golfing “full-time” as part of their retirement plan. And if one has enough money saved up, the golf course beckons daily.

That’s retirement as a lifestyle. Golf when you want. Lounge in the pool. Play bocce and soak up the Southern Sun until the skin doctor tells you you’re too fried to continue. I heard one guy by the pool today talking with his friend about having a skin biopsy on his back. It was not good news, but not terrible either. Such is the odd stasis of retirement.

I also watched a guy “swimming” in the pool. He tied himself with a bungee cord to the pool ladder, and strapped on a mask and breathing apparatus. Then he swam in place with one arm slapping outside the water while the other swarmed through the water in what looked like a Dive of Death.

IMG_8946The noise he made swimming resembled the struggles of a waterbird I once saw whose leg was snagged in the mouth of a giant snapping turtle. The bird was flapping one wing trying to pull away and escape. It was the most pitiful sight. However I did not know at first that the snapping turtle had the bird by the leg. I though it might be trapped in some errant fishing line or other manmade horror. So I waded out to the bird and reached down to follow its leg underwater in hopes of freeing it. But when I reached down to feel the face of large snapping turtle, I recoiled in fear, and backed away. “Sorry, dude,” I said, and waded back out of the water.

Gator versus child

That’s nature’s way. But it brings to mind the sad, sad story of the family visiting Florida on vacation whose child was captured and killed by a marauding alligator on the resort where they were staying. One minute they were enjoying a family vacation and the next, the worst fear in all the world took place.

Life is harsh and cruel. Which is why retirees prefer these gated communities where passes are checked at the entrance and strangers are regarded with suspicion. That approach to life can engender unfounded fears, yet the retirement community itself seems as egalitarian as a Disney display. If a person can afford the price of admission, they are gladly accepted into the community as a friendly face at the community pool. People aren’t necessarily prejudiced by nature. But they do grow prejudiced through fear.

Weightier issues

But the price of admission to retirement communities in Florida also seems to include getting horrifically fat or genuinely, demonstrably overweight on the front end. Every single elder at the pool exhibited wrinkling rolls of fat or else the giant gut of men who seem to have no qualms about being as huge as a pregnant woman. These fellows ease themselves into the pool and tuck floaty devices under their crotch to bob there the whole afternoon chatting with equally fat men bobbing in the pool. They stay largely quiet until some friend who merits some sort of teasing enters the gate and the entire crew ripples the smooth pool surface with geriatric gesticulations, giggles and slaps of the hand on the water.

They sport Green Bay Packers hats and Minnesota Vikings tee shirts. Their teams are hard to find on TV down south where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dominate the airwaves. Yet a few to subscribe to the NFL package where all the games are broadcast each weekend. Those guys are key friendships to maintain.

Spare me

I simply don’t want to join that club. Not in this life, I don’t. Football bores me after an hour. So does lounging in the pool. The Christmas Party trappings at the retirement community clubhouse looked like a caricature of the Christian holiday. I (and many others, I believe) already abhor the force celebrations preached by the War On Christmas crowd. It seemed the life-sized figure of the Grinch  perched on the stage of the retirement community stage felt the same way. His eyes were closed as if in prayer for whatever alternative he could achieve.

We Run and Ride (and Swim) 

The entire scene made me want to go out and run until I bleed from my nipples, ride until my sitbones hurt like knobs of glory and swim until my pores are so clogged with chlorine even the spray of a live skunk cannot penetrate the chemical shield.

I’m not saying retirees are wrong for wanting the peace and predictabilty of their existence. They got rich enough to slow down, and they can choose the lifestyle they want. But that’s probably not me. Nor would I want to slow down if I could. I don’t see these people noticing the amazing wildlife crossing their paths at the golf course or floating high in the air above over their sodden bodies at the pool.

I prefer life that embraces difficulty and accepts that I may never “slow down” in the conventional sense. I admit I may suffer from Old Age ADHD. Well, I suffered from Young Age ADHD. So what’s the difference.

But from what I’ve tried of so-called ‘traditional’ retirement, other people can have it.

Lizard Wisdom

At one point in the pool I was hanging on the edge looking at the dark wall of pines beyond the perimeter. Then I noticed an anole lizard perched on a white lamp above the heated whirlpool. For some reason I though slapping the cement edge of the pool would attract his attention. And sure enough, the four-inch creature scrambled down the wall and ran toward me. He paused about two feet away, clicking his eyes shut and open. I tapped one finger as if it was a lizard, and he perked up as if there might be a male opponent at large.

I sat there for five minutes admiring the little lizard. It was so alive and real. But when I rose out of the pool it ran away and sat there looking at me with a quizzical lizard look. Blank yet determined.

That was enough to pull me out of a retirement reverie. Tomorrow morning I’m taking my big-ass camera lens into the woods and out on the shores of Pine Island to take pictures of some badass Florida birds. Those creatures never retire. The live and live for generations. One turns over the look of evolution to another. That is all I can think to do myself. Because I’ve tried the retirement thing. And the question it begged of my head was simple.

“What’s next?”

 

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Scratching out an existence

Earth View Three.jpgClimbing into a Boeing 737 Southwest Airlines jet in Chicago, I settled into the window seat next to my wife. Our flights to Florida and back were quite affordable, and we had family business to attend.

There was a layover in Nashville, Tennessee. We approached the airport descending over lumpy ground that surrounds the place country music calls home.

I’m no big fan of country music, but have long admired the country rock of folks like Jackson Browne, the Eagles and even Neil Young. Their songs have fueled me over many miles of training.

It is well-known the Beatles were big fans of country music. They drew inspiration and covered songs by country icons such as Carl Perkins. I love the Beatles, yet I’ve never completely warmed up to the workings of so-called “pure” country music.

Actually, I’m not sure such a thing exists anymore. The twang and accents of what passes for real country music today seems like so much affectation. So I find it repulsive. The cowboy hats tipped over the eyes.  The “country”  costumes all feel fake as hell to me.

Earth View Two.jpgWhen we landed in Nashville, we climbed out of the airplane and dined at a restaurant in the airport called Gibson’s. It is named after the famous line of guitars, which makes sense in such a music town. I’ve played songs on Gibson guitars, but I cannot make the claim that I am actually a guitarist. I can strum chords but can’t make it cry and sing. So I’m not really a musician.

It seems like even musicians aren’t musicians anymore. I’ve heard classic rockers such as Joe Walsh of the Eagles lament the relative state of recorded music these days. It’s all produced like a genetically modified digital crop. Everything engineered to tight specifications unless it flows through the Indie channel system where distribution is up to the creators, not record companies. Even that system of selling music has been undercut by free music applications such as Spotify and Pandora.

It’s like the entire world has been left to scratch out an existence on the thinnest of premises. It’s true with industries as organic and central to existence as farming, where “salt of the earth” people create food from the land.

Earth View Three.jpgEven though I spent considerable time on a farm as a kid, I was never really a farmer. I visited my uncle’s farm and did some chores when I was there. But that’s not the same as living on a farm year-round, or milking cows at 5:30 in the morning. But I did develop an appreciation for the work that goes into farming.

These days the sight of the massive grid of square fields below an airplane gives me an empty feeling inside.The whole enterprise of farming in America seems so shallow. From high above, it just looks like scratching out a living on little squares that mean so much to the owners, but what is the real dynamic?

Earth View FourSo many farmers rent their land or equipment now it’s all mortgaged and leveraged to the max. Everyone in the farming business paying bankers at some point, and delivering crops to the maw of the markets.

Even the seed that farmers purchase these days is manufactured by giant companies such as Monsanto. Farmers basically “rent” seed to plant, and aren’t allowed to keep any of their seed stock from year to year. Farming crops like corn or soybeans is thus as shallow as the thin layer of dirt on which they depend for life

 

Yet I also recognize that those of us who run and ride rent the space to do so from society as a whole. There’s no way that any of us can “own” the miles we traverse on country roads. Just like musicians or farmers or any other occupation on God’s green and brown earth, we’re scratching out an existence like so many ants below the airplanes flying through the blue space above. It’s all very humbling, and we barely deserve an inch of it. Yet here we go again while the earth turns, the sun appears to rise and the miles roll away beneath our feet and tires.

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