All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for the daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
Lyrics to Mad World by Tears for Fears, later recorded by Gary Jules
As I continued working hopefully for Trent Richards, we came to the conclusion that we were both essentially disorganized. I’d composed and illustrated a massive document with forty pages of running and fitness theory used in his counsel of One On One Fitness clients. He was paying me fitfully, and not enough for the time involved. But every dollar helped, so I kept on with that work and picked up other freelance jobs along the way, including a design project for Homer Furniture, a longtime Chicago business run by a sweet and kind owner that wanted new sale tags designed.
I’d known Trent since I was thirteen years old when he coached me in Elburn baseball. I got into running at Kaneland, then my dad moved our family to St. Charles where Trent was the combative head coach and I had considerable success as the lead runner. Yet even during my peak as a junior in high school, Trent accurately assessed my abilities after a reporter branded me a “junior sensation” in an article about our season. “Cudworth’s a good runner, but not a sensational one,” Trent said.
He was absolutely right about that, and every time our paths crossed, our longtime association as coach and kid dynamic fell back into place. He was always taking the measure of me, even when I didn’t want him to, or wasn’t seeking his advice. He’d give it. Trent was a force of nature himself. At 5’7″, he’d high jumped 6’5″ in college. That takes determination.
But our tug and pull was not a healthy dynamic in some ways. I needed to grow into my own person and Trent needed to stop twisting my arm to get what he wanted from me. Those were the worn-out faces of our past in conflict, and we both needed to move past them. It would happen eventually because life strained it out of us. We argued some, but not so much that we cut off the relationship. I was still training his clients and had learned a ton of biomechanical analysis techniques from Dr. John Durkin.
At the same time, I’d begun working with another Trent-like coach/character by the name of John Hudetz. He somehow got the gig of coaching one of America’s top marathoners and I met with him one day to discuss a business proposition he wanted me to hear about. We talked a bit about my own training, and he was mildly impressed with the racing I’d done so far that year, but his other running protege was so much better that I don’t think he was keen on taking on another client.
I drove out to his house in the country and we shot some basketball and played a game of HORSE in his yard, and he beat me. I was pissed because he was sort of pedantic about the game. That rankled me but I was curious about what he wanted, so I swallowed my pride and hung in there. But man, I hated losing in HORSE.
It turned out that he’d contrived a points-ranking system for assessing workout values. He wanted someone to collaborate with him in designing what he called an Aerobic Journal. Given my work with Trent and One On One Fitness, I was already in that mode. so I set about designing the pages and it took several weeks to complete. When I was nearly completed with the job, he called me up and said, “Hey, I want to settle up with you on this project. We’re probably not going to go forward with it.”
Disappointed at the news––because I thought it felt like a moneymaker––I told him that he owed me at least $500 for the work. So he cut me a check. I thought that was that. But a year or so later, I learned that he’d indeed gone ahead and published the journal using my designs. His partner or brother or someone else in the business told him that he’d owe me too much money for the design if he didn’t cut me out of the deal. I decided to visit his office to discuss it, and there on the lounge table sat the journal. I stared at it for a moment, and hissed, “Damnit.” I felt so betrayed and naive at the same time.
I confronted him about it, and he told me that he’d gladly pay me 80% on all copies sold. What else could I do? He’d carefully had me sign a document that said the work I’d done was finished, so there was no real recourse. Chalk that one up to “dumb and eager.” Such are the workings of the business world.
As May ’84 came to a close I was excited to race the Elgin Fox Trot, a tough ten-mile race with a rolling course and a killer hill at eight miles. Unfortunately, I did a couple dumb things in advance of the event. I ran a ten-miler two days before the race, “felt fair,” I wrote. Then I ate some fried food the night before, and what, an orange for breakfast? WTF was I thinking? “Side stitch during race,” I wrote. “Out of it before mile 2! Must do pushups and situps again!”
Those side stitches likely had nothing to do with pushups and situps. I’d had an acidic stomach all week, and that was yet another product of the cumulative effect of hard miles, professional and personal stress, and other factors as well. The point here is that runners do not exist in a void. We’re the product of everything going on in our lives, not just the focus on training and racing. That was not the first time I got a sidestitch from the stress of running, and it would not be the last.
In recent years, especially during the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan, and the Winter Games in China, we’ve seen athletes like Simone Biles coming to terms with their own mental state, even stepping out of competition to regroup and rethink the processes going on in the mind. Some shed tears to overcome their fears and trepidation. It’s the right thing to do.
I think it’s important these days for athletes of all ages to assess their relationship with competition as a whole. After all, we maintain relationships with competition just like the rest of the influences in our lives. That holds true with the work we do for a living. We also need to keep personal relationships spinning as well. Then there are relationships with our avocations. In my case, that included writing and painting, and my love of nature too. All these placed demands on my time and occupied portions of my mind. And then, as we move from youth to adulthood, this complex matrix of relationships shifts and changes.
Life tectonics II
When those relationships pile up it can all be difficult to manage. They can even collide, as I wrote in my novel Admission, in what I call life tectonics. Opposing pressures push up barriers to our peace and progress. They can even cause relational earthquakes, eruptions in character and personality, and subduction of whole parts of ourselves if we’re not careful.
Watching time fly
In any case, I managed to fun 54:50 in the ten-mile Elgin Fox Trot race. I got a side stitch early on and never recovered. To rub salt in that wound, part of the course went out a two-lane road for a mile or so and came back again. I could see how far ahead my teammates from Running Unlimited were, one after the other, and watched in envy as the lead runner zoomed past on the way to finishing in the 49:00 range. That illustrated the vast difference between my sub-elite pursuits and the really talented guys at the front.
That’s the crazy thing about distant events and training. When you choose to embark on a running career, you enter a perpetually Mad World where the rules of life and engagement are entirely different from other human beings on this planet. I recall many conversations in which people would ask about my training. Upon hearing about the time and effort invested, they’d shake their heads and say, “That’s crazy.” Part of me agreed. Yet another part of me––that inner dialogue that you share with no one else––would say, “It’s also the only thing keeping me sane.”
A play within a play
Perhaps you’ve seen a drama production in which there’s a “play within a play,” with a main character playing a fictional role. But when you’re the character playing that kind of role––and distance running is like that––it’s hard to determine where the “you” begins and the character you’re playing ends.
This is true because running until your mind and body can go no faster or further is a mad sort of dream, a dance between life and death itself, with heart racing and the mind and body trying to keep up, if not in pace, then at least in appearances.
And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying
Are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it’s a very, very
Mad world, mad world
––Lyrics from Mad World, By Tears for Fears