Sometimes it pays not to follow your original instincts

I no longer have these shoes or these compression socks, but hey the photo fits the theme today.

Last Sunday I planned to run a seven mile loop along the river path. It was windy as heck from the northwest, so it made sense to tuck down in the valley and avoid the worst of the bluster.

My wife Sue had a 1:50 run on the schedule, but I’ve only been doing 6-8 milers the last few weeks. I generally believe in building up a mile or two over a period of weeks.

A quarter mile into the run my legs felt decent enough that my planned seven-miler started to change. We ran together through three miles after a potty break and she turned to me at the typical turnaround point and said, “Okay honey, see you back…”

But I turned to her and said, “Nope, I’m going further today.”

At four miles I decided to pick up the pace, gave her an air kiss, and took off ahead. The turnaround point is at 4.5 miles but I forgot to start my watch after the potty break and cut out some mileage, so it read only 4.3. But I knew better.

Running back south with the wind at my back felt really great. I glanced down at the watch and it read 7:35 pace. Why not? Let it roll.

At eight miles my hips did start to tighten a bit because I haven’t built up those proprioception muscles with longer runs as yet. The way I looked at it last Sunday, it made sense to uncork a little longer run. “Ya gotta start sometime…”

Give yourself a break though, sometimes. I stopped for thirty seconds at nine miles to pet a really cute dog named Violet. That let my hips relax a little and the rest of the run went smoothly. I averaged 9:00 per mile with several under that pace in the last four miles. A good tuneup for things to come and races to run.

Let’s go for it. Sometimes it pays not to follow your own instincts.

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The opposite of March Madness

Our dog Lucy playing with another type of big dog, a friendly Newfoundland

Last week at the dog park, our pup Lucy was running around socializing with other dogs when a pair of giant brindled animals entered the field. It turned out they were a mix of Rhodesian Ridgeback and Argentinian Mastiff. Big dogs! Yet they were clearly puppies based on their cautious demeanor and oversized paws relative to their overall size.

Their own was a big man. He stood a full seven feet tall. Not wanting to ask the obvious question too soon, I focused on his dogs in conversation. He clearly enjoys his pets. When his big boys got a bit intimidated by a forceful husky pushing them around, he watched them carefully but quietly observed, “They need to learn how the dog world works.”

Eventually the dogs started coming out of their shell of nervous puppyhood. It was their second time at the dog park, and if you’ve ever taken your dog to socialized, you know how it goes. They play and retreat, sometimes growl a bit or go submissive and lie down. It’s not much different than a child entering kindergarten. You want to protect them but they also have to learn how to interact on their own.

As we watched the pups work it all out, I chatted with my big new friend. He is one of those genuous human beings whose humility belies an inner strength. Finally after talking a while about ourselves, I asked the question, “So you clearly didn’t play small forward…” and I laughed.

“I played wherever they put me,” he chuckled. I learned that he played in a pre-eminent Chicago-area high school basketball program. That earned him a full ride at a major college basketball school, where he starred and played in the NCAA tournament. We left it at that because I didn’t feel it was my need to pry into the man’s whole life.

I did learn his first name, which was rather unique. At home I entered his first name and his college program in a Google search and photos from his playing days popped up. Then I discovered that he’d played in the pros as well. In other words, he was once a really great basketball player.

As a kid that’s all I wanted to be. I modeled my game after Pistol Pete Maravich and earned starting spots on the middle school and high school teams before switching schools, where my career lasted one more year before starting to run full time. The summer between my junior and senior year, I didn’t attend basketball camp and that was the death knell for any interest the coaches might have had in me.

Plus I weighed a mere 135 lbs as a senior in high school. In our conference in those days, that was a pretty slight frame. Granted, I had quickness on my side, endurance to last the whole game and a great jump shot, but the most important aspect of any basketball player is a grasp of the overall game. Coachability. Fitting into the offense.

I’m #30 circling the basket in a JV game

So while my youthful dreams of starring in basketball earned some teenage kudos and a few kisses from the girls, my naive notions of playing at a higher level never came about.

That was not true for my younger brother, who earned All-State Honorable Mention status and played at a Division I basketball program. He was really good.

My course into the world of running worked out alright. I wasn’t world class or even national class at a Division 1 level, but I made the national meet several times in track and helped lead our cross country team to a second place at nationals.

In some ways I wrapped up too much of my identity in those efforts and accomplishments. So did many others from that era. Which why I was rather impressed that the basketball player that I met at the dog park wasn’t keen on talking about his pro sports career. Perhaps he’s not that interested in being known “only” as a basketball player. Maybe he’s happy with a quieter life. I would never want to disturb his peace if that is his choice. I know this guy experienced March Madness like few of us ever have. He was in the thick of it. On a cool March afternoon at the dog park, he seemed to want to be as far away from it as he could be.

His dogs never did let me pet them no matter how nice I tried to be. They circled back to their dog daddy whenever I reached out a hand. I accepted that too. Everyone deserves their space.

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Different dimensions than our own

While walking our dog Lucy this morning, we passed through a playground where children made sidewalk drawings in chalk. One of the images attracted my eye. It showed two intertwined rectangles.

Or was it something more?

I’ve just completed a book on theology that an English-savvy associate is now proofreading. The book deals with topics of religion and science, seeking to reconcile the two by avoiding the brands of bad theology that lead to unnecessary divisions.

One of the deeper aspects of such discussions is the notion that there exists a spiritual dimension that many people sense in their lives. Those who doubt such things tend to view that worldview with skepticism. At the same time, I’ve been reading posts in my news feed about scientists exploring the nature of the universe. It appears that there are dimensions of space and time that we’re only beginning to understand.

That’s why the sidewalk drawing caught my eye. What if that space where the two rectangles intersect is a portal between two realities? What if that’s what we’re supposed to find to gain meaning in life?

Years ago I read a series of books by Carlos Castaneda. They focused on the teachings of a shaman and dealt with the idea that there are cracks between the worlds. It made a compelling case that enlightened people can access these mysteries with enough concentration and training. No one knows for sure if those books were entirely fiction or not.

On top of all this mysticism and curiosity, there is the raw fact that space exploration has returned the human race (through our machines) to the planet Mars. Scientists are curious whether there is water on the planet, an indication that there might have been life on Mars at some point in time. These pursuits are evidence of the perpetual human need to seek new worlds, to investigate the benefits of those places. Of course, with some people, there is also a need to claim and conquer.

All these dimensions of time and space and exploration make me dizzy thinking about the future. On one hand, I hardly see the benefit of groping around a wasted planet like Mars that has no suitable atmosphere. I watched a program that shared the fact that the sun’s radiation on Mars would make the surface uninhabitable. People would have to live inside giant holes in the Martian surface. That doesn’t sound inviting to me.

Knowing these extremes, my instinct is to question the wisdom of colonizing a planet such as Mars. Yet there’s a side of me that recognizes the ignorance of such limited perspectives. We don’t yet know what those other dimensions of time and space offer us. We might find portals from one reality to another. We don’t know what technology can achieve at some point in the future.

Well, about that future. The human race is actually engaged in a competition with itself. Our consumption rates on this planet over the last 100 years have compressed time in many respects. We’re pressing the limits of the planet’s ability to sustain so many people. We’ve trashed the atmosphere in some respects, causing planetary climate change. We now live in what scientists call the Anthropogenic Age. The age of human influence on the planet. We might even cause our own mass extinction.

The mass extinctions of the past are evident in the fossil record. Even the Bible recognizes the potential for planetary and climatological catastrophe. The tale of Noah’s Ark is a sobering chronicle of what happens when people grow so consumptive and benign about their earthly circumstance the world itself is threatened. I don’t believe in a literal worldwide flood. The concept is absurd, and there is no evidence that it ever happened. But the transformational metaphor serves an important theological purpose. We have to watch out when human beings grow arrogant to the point of ignoring their own greed, which can lead to natural peril.

It’s interesting that scripture shows God using nature so often to punish or reward the human race. From the plagues in Egypt to the manna from heaven, the dimensions of earth and heavenly activity are often blurred. The ultimate blurring of those lines is the raising of Jesus from the dead. That moment is supposed to present hope of eternal life for all of us. Some people buy that interpretation wholesale. Others view it skeptically along with biblical claims that people once lived 900 years. The mysticism of scripture is what so strongly attracts some people while it repulses others.

I view all of scripture as a metaphorical trip through dimensions of understanding. I love how Jesus breaks the rules of earthly expectations with his teachings. How he challenges cocksure religious authorities by asking them questions they cannot, or refuse, to answer. I like how Jesus talked with everyone, an act of healing all of its own. I believe in the power of breaking social rules to make life better for others rather than allowing stodgy traditions on earth and salvation greed toward heaven rule the day. Believing in miracles isn’t necessary for me to grasp the healing message of a counterculture representation of divinity in this world. I’ve seen enough of love in this world to know its transformative power and grace. Love knows its own reality and dimension in many ways. That’s enough for me.

The world we live in is both large and painfully small. The history of the human race is a battle against perceived limits, and pushing the envelope is what people do: exploring dimensions of existence. We play out these instincts in our athletic endeavors, testing our ability to endure pain, discomfort and suffering. Along the way, we experience enlightenment, sometimes joy, and relief. Some people consider those efforts fruitless, even graceless striving. The training and racing can seem self-indulgent at times.

Yet there is a dimension of reality that people discover through athletic pursuits. There is enlightenment that comes from existing on the precipice of fatigue and awareness. The ‘brain’ part of our awareness shuts off and the internal mind takes over. We’re transported to a different dimension. A sense of wonder. A mind of presence, or of absence. Either way, we’re in a different place.

If you don’t believe it, consider life without the sensations wrought through swimming, riding and running to color your existence. But you can get there other ways as well. By walking. By traveling through an oxygen-infused woods. By staring at a bubbling stream, or the cool depths of still, clear water. That is zen. Moving through time and space at a different pace, faster or slower, forces us to think differently, to leave behind our slovenly thoughts, to be fully present.

That’s why I looked at that chalk drawing and considered what it means to be alive. We’re all seeking new portals of perception to achieve a more enlightened existence. Perhaps that space where the rectangles intersect is far more real and possible than we might imagine. So go there on your own terms. You never know what you’ll find.

Posted in competition, healthy aging, life and death, love, PEAK EXPERIENCES | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Every race is a step in the right direction

I’m at the far right of the field heading into the Sectionals meet in1974.

Following my writeup about the statistics on the 1974 Sectional meet in which I studied the results relative to the dual meet battles that season, I gave more thought to the outcome and determined that while forgiveness is important, so is honesty.

The truth of the matter about that day is this: I choked.

It wasn’t the first time I choked that season. Nor would it be the last time in my career that I’d fail to run up to potential. We all have our ups and downs in endurance running. Earlier that fall I’d gotten a sidestitch in the early stages of a large invitational in Peoria. I went out hard, got the stitch and struggled home in whatever place I was able to manage. Part of it was a poor choice in pre-race meals. It was also nerves.

That lax performance was a disappointment because I’d won an invitational a couple weeks prior. By season’s end, I’d won ten meets and lost eight to one competitor or another. The goal was to earn a trip downstate. Following a solid fourth-place finish at Districts, I felt ready to race in Sectionals.

And yet, a bit of anxiety took hold. It felt weird to train alone the prior week. Things were shaky around home and I had classroom struggles too. I always run best when pressure is not self-inflicted, and our coach did not always recognize that in me. When high expectations dominated the mind, it was always possible to get too ready. Too nervous. That was most likely the case at Sectionals in 1974.

Clearly in a bit of anguish and starting to fade through the field to 25th place.

The type of side stitch I got during that race was not some simple little cramp. I’d run through those many times before. We’re talking a full-on, nearly bent-over type of sidestitch that was probably the diaphragm in full spasm. I never had it in college that I can recall. After college it flared up during the Prairie State Games. I’d raced through two miles in 9:28 during a 5000 meter track race and then it hit me. Pain. I didn’t finish. Again, some poor dietary choices were made.

While I finished in 15:51 that day at Sectionals in 1974, that sidestitch held me back quite a bit. I’d been running times in the low 15:00 range for three miles all season. That time would have put me in the mix with my closest rivals, who all ran up to their potential and made it downstate.

But I choked. Such is life sometimes.

We all learn from disappointments and failures. Later in my career I came through in plenty of big races. But it is important, I think, to engage in honest self-assessment––even years later––to better understand the nature of self and soul.

I think of how Steve Prefontaine must have felt after his epic attempt at running the gas out of his competitors at the Olympics in Munich. He ran a 4:00 last mile if I recall, yet finished in fourth places. His European competitors had his number that day, you know?

Pre was disappointed. In his mind, he likely thought he failed. Yet that race still inspires many runners to this day. The courage of it. Even when we don’t achieve our goals, iEvery race is a step in the right direction if we look at it the right way. That is, with honesty.

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No revisionist history necessary

As a member of the Facebook group Glenn’s, I’m privy to a load of statistics and recollections from runners who excelled in the sports of cross country and track during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Those years produced times and runners that took decades to surpass.

Occasionally, a statistic or race result will pop up that I’d never seen. Such is the case with the results of the 1974 Sectional cross country race. I finished 25th in the race, well out of a chance to advance downstate. It was a tough Sectional, for sure, dominated by the likes of York High School, perennial winners of the Illinois State Cross Country Championships.

I’ll admit to being a bit intimidated by running in that sectional. I’d advanced through Districts as the fourth runner across the line, followed closely by a close rival named John Rath from what was then Burlington Central HS. We’d run together in summer track and he trained with our team in pre-season practices. That made him one of those “keep your enemies close” kind of runners. I beat him at Districts. He beat me at Sectionals and if my math is correct, he got to go downstate. And I didn’t.

My name is listed as Tudworth

Not making State was a disappointment for sure. It hurt a bit more because several runners to whom I’d barely lost in dual meets did qualify. Yet honestly, while I suffered a bit of a sideache at Sectionals, I finished less than a minute behind the winner. All my conference rivals were wedged in between my struggling 25th place finish at 15:51 and the winner from York in 14:58.

While I won ten dual, triangular or invitational races during our 18-meet cross country season, against conference rivals there were close battles and some unfortunate moments. Against Rick Hodapp, who finished sixth at sectionals, I built a lead of 100 meters and with a half mile to go, turned to make a second loop around the west side of the track only to realize that we were supposed to go straight the second time around. I lost that lead and the race.

Against Ken Englert, who finished seventh at sectionals, we traded leads and broke the Elgin course record by a large amount only to crash into the chute at the finish, where Ken was granted the win. He was one of the toughest competitors I ever met.

Jeff McCoy (center left) with John Rath in this double exposure Polaroid by my father. The larger images are Randy Russell of Central and my close friend Paul Morlock. I’m the runner in front of the telephone pole, and caught Rath before the end of the race.

Tom Logue from Marmion, in 11th, was a far better two-miler than I. Paul Vestuto from Wheaton Central, in 15th, beat me in a home dual meet by waiting me out after I took an early lead. John Ciontea from Elgin Larkin was 22nd at Sectionals but whomped me in a dual meet after having their course tour leader zoom us around the course. Our team was all exhausted before the race began. I was panicked, and ran that way.

There was one other impactful factor that senior year in high school. My mother had gotten gravely ill with internal complications wrought from delivering four large boys during her pregnancy years. My brother and I visited her in the hospital and it scared the hell out of me. I came home that day, cried my eyes out, and went on with life. No one ever talked to me about those feelings. Those fears. We were expected to just suck it up and make the best of it in that era. Not the best strategy for young minds.

I was strategically naive in many ways during all those races. Too many times I went out hard without regard to actual race strategy. In some ways, that was brave. In many cases, that was stupid. Savvy and superior competitors know how to run you down.

Then there’s the question of native ability. If you drew lines every fifteen seconds or so between the first runner at 14:58 and the 30th at 15:59 it is likely, adjusting for talented younger runners who move up with age, that you’d likely find the demarcations for Division I, II and III athletes. I was the latter, and the runners up the ladder from me ran at higher divisions. That’s the stratigraphy of running talent.

That’s the reason I think it’s valuable to go back and look at those results, especially after not knowing them for four decades. There is so much they can reveal about your self-image. A lackluster performance at an early age can travel around with you for years, even a lifetime. I told myself many years ago that the Sectional race was a failure, and in some sense it was. But looking at these results, I realize that even with a side stitch that day, what I actually did was run to my relative talent level.

Circa 1974

Some of the athletes I’d face again in college and beyond, on the roads. They all improved with age, as did I. Sometimes I’d beat them. Other times they’d beat me. That’s all any of us can do. Compete in the moment.

The irreversibility of time––to quote an existential principle––does not allow us to go back and improve upon things that we’d like to correct.

The one thing we can do is gain an understanding of the true circumstances of life rather than perennially living with some negative outlook or a nagging sense of grief over lost opportunities. As a runner I earned opportunities to lead teams and thrive in competitive circumstances. That’s valuable experience.

The difference between a positive self-perspective and a life of self-doubt can come down to something as simple as forty seconds. That’s the relative breadth between running in the State meet and what I ran that day in 1974. Forty ticks of the second hand.

Now it’s forty years in the past. It’s fun to look at the results and realize that running 25th in one of the toughest Sectionals in the State was perhaps disappointing, but not the end of things. That’s a lesson worth carrying forward at any age. As we all know, the challenges keep coming whether we plan it or not. There’s no revisionist history necessary if you approach the past honestly and with an eye from what you learned. It’s best to believe you can endure even if things don’t always go your way.

Those are the results that really count.

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This guy almost gave me a heart attack. His.

While working on a mural project this week I was trekking in and out of the restaurant carrying paint and ladders when a fellow stepped out of a garbage truck and gestured to his chest. “I think I’m having a heart attack,” he told me.

He was not wearing a mask, but that was the least of my worries at that moment. His complexion looked fine. He wasn’t sweating up a storm. But his breathing was thin. He bent over as he talked about the fact that he’d been feeling weird in the chest all morning. “It hurts,” he said.

“Have you had a heart attack before?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied. “But I’m diabetic. And I smoke.”

He walked across the alley and leaned against the wall. “I just ate,” he told me. “So that’s good.”

For a moment I thought, “Heartburn.” But his affect looked much worse than that.

“Do you want me to call the EMTs?” I asked.

He stood thinking about that for a moment. “I’m gonna call my wife first,” he said. I stood a few feet away as I’d done from the start. While he was talking with his wife, I texted my wife. “I’m with a guy who’s probably having a heart attack,” I typed. “She texted back: ‘Careful, might be Covid.”

He hung up. “I only have three stops,” he offered. “Maybe I can finish up.”

“Aahhhh, well…” I suggested. “Does your boss know how you’re feeling?”

We talked for a minute. I was eager to call 9-1-1 on his behalf. His condition was not getting better.

“I’m gonna call my boss,” he agreed.

“Do you want me to call 9-1-1?” I asked.

He shook his head yes. I walked up the street to get away from the noise of the garbage truck parked near the curb. On the way I noticed a flat, red line painted on the wall. That’s not what I wanted to see happen to this guy.

I reached the 9-1-1 dispatcher who kept me on the line while she touched base with the EMTs. Within minutes the ambulance pulled up to the intersection I described to the dispatcher. I waved them down and they parked and the team of paramedics climbed out of the vehicle. I’ve watched EMTs in action a few times. These guys walked up to the garbage truck guy with an experienced eye.

My job was done. The dispatcher hung up the phone once we confirmed things were under control. Thanks to HIPPA laws I had nothing more to contribute to the situation. They can’t tell me anything. I can’t really tell them anything. The guy in question nearly gave me a heart attack. His. That’s all I knew or would ever know. I tried not to give it back to him. Got him to think things through for safety.

A few minutes later on another trip back to the car I encountered a police officer at the scene. “I know you can’t tell me much, but I hope he’s going to be okay.”

“They’re taking him to the hospital. That’s all I can tell you,” the officer offered.

“He didn’t want to go,” the policeman continued. “You know, the ‘guy’ thing. No one wants to admit they need help. But thanks for calling this in.”

I’ve known a few folks who went through situations like this. A heart attack or stroke is scary business and often sudden in nature. One minute you’re fine, the next minute the corpuscles are backed up and the heart or brain says “screw this” and seizes up or goes into lockdown.

It is always better to take precautions than to deny the situation or pretend you’re okay when you’re not. The people who care about you and even the people who don’t know you but want to help need your cooperation in those circumstances. That guy on the street almost gave me a heart attack. His. But I handed it off to those who could really help him. That’s what all of us should do in that situation. As fast as we can.

I’m trained in CPR but the jury is still out on how effective once person can be in keeping another alive during a heart attack. This isn’t some game of chicken. Why chance it?

At the end of the day while walking out to throw my stuff back in the car, I noticed a set of gloves lying on the ground. That’s probably all I’d ever see of that fellow again. I doubt he’ll come back to get a set of $5.99 gloves but if he’s going to live to work another day at his job. That’s what counts the most.

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The fabric of life and a sense of home

I’m substitute teaching at the high school a block from our former home in Geneva, Illinois. The streets look the same as they always did. The giant cottonwood tree on the corner of the block was a favorite waiting place with my children as we paused to let traffic clear. We lived there for ten years, then moved to a town five miles down the road. Started life all over again.

Watercolor by Christopher Cudworth

Yet one never leaves a place called home completely. Just past the high school, about a half-mile from our old house, sits the outdoor track. These days it is surrounded by an eight-foot fence to deter unwanted visitors. Many years back a crew of kids built a four-foot-tall BMX dirt mound in the middle of the football field. One has to admire the panache of that act. Surely it was some sort of territorial statement against the traditional domain of jocks.

In any case, that act of defiance led to the tall fence and the end of my using that track for training. I was angry at the time because my history with that oval goes way back, into the early 1980s before I was a father and a homeowner. My rented carriage house was a prized haven for pot-smoking friends. At the age of 23 I was dating a 33-year-old woman who loved getting high. She never understood why I liked running so much. The only time she saw me train was a warm afternoon when my best friend and I ran a set of twelve 400s together while she sat in the stands smoking a joint. After the workout, her main observation was that our legs seemed to move in perfect synchronization. It was true. We’d felt that during the workout.

I also ran plenty of solo workouts on that track, but was not always completely alone. One evening the high school cheer squads were practicing and I covered dozens of laps to the sounds of teen spirit.

On another night I was running a set of five one-mile repeats at 5:00 per mile. After the second mile, a crowd began to gather in the stands and a soccer match startup up soon after. I completed my workout to the initially curious stares of the fans. As the mile repeats continued, a few voices began to be directed toward me. “Way to go,” one woman called out. “Nice pace,” another said. When I was all done running and jogged around the track to cool down, a couple player on the opposite team gave me the lookover. One nodded his head as in, “I can see you were moving.”

I don’t know why I remember these incidents and old haunts so well. They are part of a fabric that seems to move around with me through life. Live in one place long enough and the world around you is a quilt of experience and a tapestry of time. Some of it eventually fades in color or depth––but not all––if one brings the memories alive on occasion.

That track is still surrounded by an eight-foot fence, but it can’t keep out the sense of home I felt while circling that track again and again. A part of me is woven into that space forever, and it into me.

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Changing appetites

Today is March 1st here in the center of the universe, or as close as we can get in Illinois. That means the northern hemisphere of Planet Earth is on its way toward the vernal equinox. Spring. The light is changing.

Staring down at the subtle ring of winter fat around my waist, I realize that sub-zero temperatures have a cost. We stay in more, and eat more. Comfort food. Compensation. Submitting to our immediate appetites.

Spring is all about changing our appetites. This past Saturday the sun shone and temperature crawled toward fifty degrees. I hauled the road bike down, pumped the tires just under 100 psi for safety on possibly wet roads and wrapped in layers of late-winter cycling gear, then rolled out for a twenty-five mile ride.

It was so quiet out in the country that I stopped just to listen. To the solitude. The winds were low and the snow banks were still high. They might well have been piles of sugar. That’s probably what my body was thinking. Ride right past them. Change your appetites.

In any case, the world was in transition. Changing from frozen to free. I was happy just to be riding, especially on the way back with a slight tailwind. I averaged just under 16mph for the day. Base building. Time in the saddle. Breaking in the butt. I’m not much for the indoor trainer, you see.

After a few of these rides, the appetite for training kicks in. When that happens, we’re more disciplined with our eating habits and our early morning routines. Changing appetites. It’s the way to go.

Soon the fields to the right and left of the road will be plugged with lines of seed. The first green sprouts show up like a haze across the dirt. We’re riding through spring into summer, when the appetites will change again. Get into the rhythms. Change your perspective. Change your appetites.

And go.

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February thaw and feeling it for real

Today might have been a nice day to get out and play on the roads. The February thaw we’ve been waiting for began in earnest this morning. Temps hit forty-four degrees. The 21″ snowbanks are sagging now. The earth welcomes the moisture or it runs down the gutters into the run off systems. The river two miles away will carry salt for weeks. I always wonder if the fish can taste it.

The cardinals have begun singing in our neighborhood. They like to perch in the morning sun in the most obvious possible spot.A few years back, I painted this image of a cardinal in early spring, one of my favorite times of the year.

Northern Cardinal in Spring by Christopher Cudworth

These days my approach to spring is considerably different than it once was. Two days ago the faint smell of sun in winter air reminded me of doing an indoor track meet in Sterling years ago. It was time to test my state of fitness before the racing season began in March with the Shamrock Shuffle, a five mile road race that kicked off the racing year in the Chicago area. I ran a 9:28 indoor two-mile and felt pretty solid about the effort. But the weather never warmed up that year and we wound up racing five miles in sixteen-degree temperatures in a race that looped around Montrose Point with the freezing winds whipping off Lake Michigan.

I managed to run 26:15 that day. Not fast, but the winds were so fierce and cold all I wanted to do was get the race over. If memory serves, I got about sixteenth place.

These days there are no pressures to race so early in the season. Of course last year, the surge of the pandemic canceled races starting in March. The previous year, we raced in the Champion of Trees 10K t Morton Arboretum. At the mile point, it started snowing like mad. Big, white flakes that melted when they hit your face and eyelids. I love sensations like that. Any more, it’s one of the big reasons I find to race. Being in the moment.

We did race a few times last year, which produced sensations both good and bad. Doing an Olympic distance tri in the heat of Springfield in July? Hmmmm. Racing a Half Ironman on a cool September day in Madison, Wisconsin? That was an “in the moment day” all around. First ever finish at that distance.

The last race was an Olympic over in Muncie. I was grateful for all three safe opportunities to get out there and “feel it” for real. That’s my goal whatever I’m going. What are your goals this year?

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, race pace, racing peak, running, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A diverse kind of workout (Part II)

Going into the mural project this week, I estimated that the main 45-foot wall would take three days to complete. That projection was based on prior projects of relatively similar size. Even so, what I did not anticipate is the energy it took to execute this work. Here’s a video of the first portion. I have a few smaller walls to render early next week.

A postcard-style rendering of the word Chicago, a take admittedly borrowed from mural painters who tour the country doing this type of work. “Beginning artists copy…mature artists steal.” –Unknown

I’m fairly fit right now even in the middle of winter. I recently explained to a middle school gym class where I served as a substitute teacher that my resting heart rate is between 45-50. They had all just taken their own pulse rates that morning. When I asked them what they thought my HR would be, one of them guessed “100”! That’s probably how old they think I am. You know how it is when you’re that age. Anyone with gray hair or a bald head might as well be a thousand years old. Old People are just that: Old.

I’m not that old in terms of relative physical health. My blood pressure is typically 110/78 or so. Sometimes it’s up if I’ve been rushed or stressed going to the doctor’s office, but that’s normal. Our bodies respond to environmental and mental pressures.

Those kids kept guessing my heart rate as I gestured “DOWN” with my thumb as it went from 90 to80 to 70…and 60…then they started getting suspicious. They were all sitting in their assigned spots in the gym and one boy spun around to look at me and said, “Sixty? You’re half dead!”

I said, “Lower!” and gestured again with my thumb.

“Fifty?” one girl quietly asked. I stood still a moment for effect. Then I said, “45. That’s what my heart rate was last night.”

That drew a rolling wave of groans and weird noises from the class. “The lowest it’s ever gotten,” I told them. “Was 38.”

The central part of the mural.

Big eye rolls. I went on to explain. “I’m a runner. And a cyclist. And I swim. So my heart is trained from years of exercise. You can do that too…” That made me stop and think about all the other activity life calls upon us. Walking the dog…in my case, that’s a mile and a half every day. Climbing stairs…my Garmin clocks those trips and gives me a GOAL! when I’ve hit ten per day. And steps…the Garmin also measures that. Usually more than 10,000 a day, far higher when I run.

Who knows if sharing my experience made any sort of positive impression on the kids. I do know that one young girl turned to me and asked, “Are you a sub?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Because our regular teacher is mean,” she informed me. “And you’re nice.” So I guess some sort of impression got through. I guess that’s a message to all the gym teachers out there. Have a heart.

As far as I’m concerned, my little old heart is doing a good job inside my chest. My body also does most of what I ask of it. Granted, I’m about half as fast as I once was as a runner. That’s a natural part of the aging process. None of us stays speedy forever.

That said, I could feel that coming home from the mural project each day resulted in a different kind of “tired.” My wife could see it in me. The effort. The mental concentration. The physicality of climbing up and down ladders, checking my balance and holding the palette on a thumb injured in my bike accident weeks ago. The painting motion itself is a physical task. It all took a bit of measured effort.

Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t sad that I was tired each. Grateful, more like, that I can still do the things I like to do. Happy that while I’ve banged up my body through years of exertion and athletics it still gets the job done. I collapsed on the couch a bit before dinner, soaking in the satisfying sensation of working hard and having something to show for it. I love that feeling. Live for it. I didn’t run or bike or swim all week. But I didn’t really need to. My wife sensed it too.

What I’m telling you is that while our running, riding, and swimming is important to us, it’s not the only thing that should fulfill us either. Having diverse interests is a different kind of workout, but it is healthy in so many respects.

Posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, bike crash, Christopher Cudworth, cycling, running | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment