I don’t recall if the Nike brand slogan Just Do It coincided exactly with the peak of my competitive running career, but I know that I lived it just the same. The very early 80s were a heady time in the road running scene, with tons of elite and sub-elite runners duking it out at distances from 5K to Half marathon. In 1984 I raced 24 times and won about half those races.
A year after that tremendous investment of energy, I’d effectively completed the course of the competitive surge that had began after college and lasted into my mid-twenties. By fall of ’85 I’d decided to back off the training and start looking at other things in life. But not before getting married and giving all my groomsmen a set of Nike Air Pegasus running shoes. They were silver with grey swooshes and matched our tuxedos with flair.
Those shoes were purchased through the Running Unlimited store that had sponsored a racing team on which I competed for two years. The top tier of guys on that team included Olympic Trials qualifiers in the marathon and one guy who just missed by 20 seconds. Several had 10K times under 30:00, so I fell somewhere in the middle of the group overall.
That was the second Nike-based racing team of which I was a member. In 1982 I’d signed up to race for a team out of Paoli, Pennsylvania sponsored by the Runner’s Edge running store. That team also had Olympic quality runners from whom I learned more about running in six months than perhaps all the racing and training I’d done before.
Mostly that meant slowing the hell down on longer runs and finishing with a flourish to test the legs when tired. That ran counter to the methods we used in college in which we ran 6:00 pace all the time. Practices essentially consisted of race-quality efforts every day, including twenty-mile runs done in two hours. With no water.
I’m not sure how that made us faster in races of 5 miles. But that’s how we did it. So the training knowledge gained over the years from high school through my early 20s was a mix of good and bad.
In 1982, the job I held in marketing for Van Kampen Merritt required moving to Philadelphia in a consolidation of resources. Eight months later the whole marketing department was given the heave-ho because the VP of Marketing wasn’t giving the sales team what it needed to succeed. I was given $7K severance and a pat on the back.
The sudden change stung a bit. Armed with that bit of anger and the harsh realization of finding new work in a relatively down economy, I moved back to Chicago to live with a close friend in the city. Arriving in Chi-town in the months of May1983, I dialed in and started running for all I was worth. I mean that both literally and figuratively.
You talk about your Just Do It moments in life? This was it. I figured there wasn’t much to lose at that point. Deep down I knew that I’d never be world class or make it anywhere close to the Olympics. But I did want to try to be the best I could be at running. This was my one chance at it. There simply isn’t a second go-round in life. Just Do It.
Ready for action
After a summer training on the trails of Lincoln Park, by fall I was ready for some real racing. Right out of the box I took a win at the Run for the Money in Arlington Heights. I ran 31:53 on a course that a fellow competitor had personally measured and shared that it was more than 200 meters long. So I knew I was fit. After a couple more wins in smaller races, I won the Frank Lloyd Wright Run in Oak Park in 32:00 flat on a winding course. I didn’t break the race record set by Tom Mountain, a better run than me, but in terms of concentration and control of circumstances, beating 3000 other runners was a significant point of triumph. I enjoyed every step of that victory, which happened to deliver a real silver cup as the top award.
By that point, I really was Just Doing It. There weren’t many other immediate obligations in life. Those results produced an offer to join the Running Unlimited racing team. The sponsorship included free Nike running gear and a couple pairs of Nike shoes along with steep discounts on anything else needed to train and race. The contract called for competing a minimum of twelve times in 1984. Just Do It.
That turned out to be a sweet year. It was defined by a shared love of competition with the other guys on the team. In several races, we gobbled up the top ten positions on the day. I’m not sure how that exactly helped the reputation of the shop, because it shut out other runners from the podium and age group placings. But it sure was wild competing with eight or nine other guys wearing the same spare white and blue running uniforms.
For races on the track that season, I chose a of Nike Air Zoom spikes. They were white with a sky-blue swoosh. Light. Airy. And fast. I ran my PR for 5K on the track in those shoes. The race was held at midnight at North Central College. Only the purists in the running community were still there running that late at night, but there were plenty of us. Some twenty-five runners lined up and I can still recall the sensation of cool air flowing over my bare shoulders in the featherlight Nike kit. We knew how to dress to run then. The less, the better. Flying along at 4:40 per mile pace on an early May evening. The experience of running does not get any better than that in this world.
Just Do It
In a world where so much else is the product of relativism, group approvals and decisions made by committee, the choice to Just Do It your own way and live with the outcomes is a pure one indeed. There is no room for compromise when it’s just you and your feet on the ground. At one point after the big surge of running was over, I observed in the presence of my mother that perhaps I’d been a bit self-indulgent. She corrected me: “No. I liked your intensity,” she told me.
There’s a lesson in that.So it’s no apologies and no regrets when it comes to how it all turned out during my phase of Just Do It. That brand of drive still lives within me. I just finished writing a book about the effects of hypocrisy in religion. It’s called Sustainable Faith. It has taken a year-and-a-half to write, plus thirty years of study in matters of theology. Much of the book was formulated and even written in my head while out running or riding. Sometimes I’d have to stop and blurt an idea into my phone so that it would not be forgotten.
The writing process for a book is much the same as it is for training and racing in running. You put in the bulk effort to build up a base. Refine the base with some reorganization and editing. Throw in a few bursts of creativity to shake things up. Find the voice that’s trying to emerge. Re-write and re-edit. Then fine tune with some speed reading to see how it all holds together.
And suddenly, you’ve just done it. Now I’m sending the book out into the world for some feedback. You have to have as much courage to Just Say It as it takes to Just Do It. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. But the process is always worth it. Always.
Christopher Cudworth, 2018
Here’s an excerpt from my new book titled Sustainable Faith. It opens with a glimpse of what John the Baptist brought to the world of faith…
Sparks of rebellion
While John’s approach to preaching and prophecy was remote by nature, it certainly didn’t cease its influence outside the city limits. Like all good prophets, he made sure his voice resounded within the temple walls. He railed against the hypocrisy of their country club lifestyle while people suffered in the streets. He branded the religious authorities a “brood of vipers” for lashing out like a den of snakes when questioned about their legalistic ways. Thus John used what we might call ‘guerrilla tactics’ to “make straight the way for the Lord.”
Of course, his accusations earned anger and scorn from the religious authorities he targeted. His criticisms were taken as a threat to their reputation and job security. Some likely feared that a full-blown rebellion could spring from John’s wilderness movement. Yet all that was part of the plan. John’s assigned task was to make the self-righteous and entitled feel anxious over the falsehood of their authority. It worked because there is nothing more daunting to the self-acclaimed elite than a truth-telling prophet with seemingly nothing to lose.
Then along came Jesus.
If you’d like a chance to preview this book and give feedback, write me with your email address at email@example.com