50 Years of Running: Emotional Intelligence in the Face of Corporate and Community Politics

At about the same time that I won the position of Promotions and Creative Services Manager for the Kane County Chronicle in 1990, my activity in the city of Batavia led to a rise in responsibilities in the local Chamber of Commerce. I’d served as an advertising salesperson for three years, calling on all sorts of businesses, including retail stores, banks, furniture stores, hair and beauty salons, fitness centers, travel agencies, education centers, and restaurants. I also managed Real Estate and automotive accounts. Calling on these businesses led me to get involved as a Board Member on the Chamber of Commerce.

Building relationships in the community was an important part of the job in ad sales. But when I moved to Promotions I was no longer serving only Batavia, but the cities of St. Charles, Geneva, and the Village of Elburn too. Still, when the invitation to become Chamber President came along, I accepted.

I thought that decision would be welcomed at the Chronicle because other company leadership was involved in the Tri-Cities. But the head advertising manager offered not encouragement, but a warning. “Don’t let it interfere with your job here.”

He was the same guy that told me “Anything that you earn in salary will come out of your overall marketing budget.” So he wasn’t the most visionary manager. In fact, he was a bit of a self-centered prick that ultimately divorced his wife and left her with his special needs son. Sometimes you have to believe people when they tell try to you who they really are, and how they think.

So my work in the Chamber was something that I kept to myself back at work. That led to something of a dual life trying to balance increasing obligations on both ends. And yet, the kickoff to my position in promotions was a huge one. I conceived an Open House for our new building, inviting the public to tour the building and learn more about the business of putting a newspaper together. To increase the allure, I also recruited third-party vendors to provide additional interest in the event. One of those vendors was an A&E movie producer and historical re-enactor named Gary Foreman. We took a liking to each other during the event planning. His work in film was fascinating, and his knowledge would help illuminate the 120-year history of the Chronicle newspaper business that reached back in the 1800s.

We pulled 100-year-old issues from the basement archives to frame and display. Gary would appear in full pioneer costume to talk about the settlement of the Midwest. The more we talked, the more we had in common, so Gary accompanied me to Batavia because he’d learned that the inventor of Flag Day, Bernard Cigrand, had roots in Batavia. Gary was keen on Big Ideas, and he talked up the idea of developing a National Flag Museum in Batavia. “It would be a fantastic tourism draw,” he enthused. “Batavia’s right off I-88. They could put it right downtown and create an entire cottage industry and a retail community focused on history. They’ve got the windmills too…” He was right. Batavia was once known as the Windmill Capitol of the World.

But when Gary and I pitched the idea around town, people were less than enthused. “We don’t want tour buses blocking our business,” one leader of a dental practice and a council member told us.

“Talk about small thinking,” Gary sputtered. We were both a bit disgusted by the treatment we were receiving. No one seemed to understand the potential of the idea, and how it could raise Batavia’s profile on a local, regional, national, and even international level. “They basically own Flag Day,” he mused. “Why not use that?”

The final straw came during a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce leadership. One woman, in particular, showed a small-minded disdain for the Big Idea of a Flag Museum. “She should go back to organizing bowling leagues where she belongs,” Gary spat.

So we gave up on the Flag Museum idea and focused on the Open House. Thirty-two years later, Batavia will be building a flag monument next to its City Hall. That’s proof the idea had merit from the beginning. It just took three decades to realize it.

Back then, I turned my attention away from that effort and focused on the Chronicle Open House. I ordered food through a local restaurant and 800 sugar cookies glazed with Chronicle Blue and a big circle C on them. More than a thousand people attended the event, and as the night wrapped up, I walked over to the cookie table and saw the final one picked up by one of the last visitors leaving the event. “That rocks,” I smiled at the Circulation Manager. He was happy because he’d sold or extended a number of subscriptions that night.

Not long after the Open House I sat in a Batavia Chamber meeting with nineteen other people parked in a large ring of chairs around the City Council room. I thought to myself, “This is absurd, there are far too many people on this board.” I vowed to shrink it down if ever the opportunity presented itself.


By 1991 I was the father of two children and busy as heck doing work for both the Chronicle and Chamber. Yet when I was nominated to be the President-Elect, the Executive Director branded me a “carpetbagger” because I didn’t own a business or live in the community. The claim was that I only cared about getting ad revenue for the newspaper. No credit was given for four years of service on various Chamber committees. I’d also pushed to change the name of the annual retail festival from the archaic “Boo Boo Days,” a term describing retail purchasing mistakes… to a more positive Windmill City Festival that featured both retail sales and community events. Truth be told, Batavia had a terminal reputation for backward thinking. I thought a more modern take on its annual festival would be beneficial, so I designed a new logo for the event and the name was changed.

Ignoring the snarky comments about “carpetbagging,” I started a term as President-Elect behind John Clark, whose family owned a Chevy dealership in town. I liked John because he was a straightforward guy, as opposed to some other Chamber members that insisted on talking through back channels and engaging in community gossip. When I slapped back at some of the comments, I was told, “If you think you are so smart, why don’t you run the Chamber?”

“Okay,” I told them. “I will.” And that’s how it all transpired. I put my name in for nomination and it took hold. But halfway through the year as President-Elect, President John Clark had a bad stroke. He was disabled for the short term, and I assumed full leadership. When the half-term ended, I began preparing for the full term in office. On the night of my installation, the Executive Director met my wife in the restroom at the Lincoln Inn where the annual dinner to change officers was held. “Well, you’re not going to see your husband much this year,” the director told her.

My wife offered an instant retort, “Then you don’t know my husband.”

And sure enough, I cut the Board from twenty people to nine Board Members, also recruiting representatives from the City, Park District, and School District to increase communication between the three government bodies and the Chamber. I planned meetings for one hour and kept the promise. It was also required that all Chamber committees have an advance budget and provide a report on profit and loss. I was no financial wizard, but I could look at a spreadsheet and see whether it had a – or + in front of the final number. Up to that point, people too often conducted events and left the Chamber to mop up the difference. Under my direction (as I recall…) the Chamber finished in black for the first time in years. Yet someone complained, “We’re a non-profit. We’re not supposed to have money left over.”

It was that kind of thinking that drove me crazy. I can’t say that I was the most popular Chamber President as a result. I didn’t mince words, and that pissed some people off. Admittedly, I also sometimes failed in the organization department due to the multiple obligations I was juggling. That said, I still pushed to have all new collateral produced, and Board Members took that on and produced all-new brochures that looked great. To them goes all the credit.

At year’s end, I gladly handed over the reins to the next President, who was a community favorite on many fronts. From my perspective, I’d done the job of bringing the Chamber into some degree of compliance in keeping with its charter. Membership grew a bit thanks to a guarantee of services that we put together.

During those years of tight involvement with Batavia, I’d sometimes go for a run during the noon hour to clear my mind and assess, to the best of my ability and emotional intelligence, what was really going on in life and business. I’d run those few miles on the Fox River trail out of sight from anyone but the other people trying to reclaim some sanity from a hectic world. Sometimes I’d change clothes downstairs at Foltos Tonsorial Parlor, where my friend Craig seemed to understand my need to work off the frustrations caused by trying to exercise emotional intelligence in the face of Corporate and Community Politics. He also had a hot tub down there, and I’d park my carcass in the warm water for ten minutes and try to figure out who the hell I really was. I was a young father with a one-year-old girl and a four-year-old son just trying to get ahead somehow. But was the formula?

I’d start to learn about that from another Batavia organization of which I was a member. The Rotary Club.

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

50 Years of Running: Transfer of Excellence

During my early thirties, I came up with a personal motivational concept called “transfer of excellence.” The idea centered around taking the best things you’ve learned from doing one thing and applying it to another. I wanted to carry over the experience I’d gained from years of running from the age of twelve through the age of twenty-eight. That’s about when I “retired” from competitive racing to focus on my work and family life. The goal I had in mind was simple: What can I take from all that training and competition?

I’d already learned early in life how to transfer experiences from one sport to another. My baseball career started at the age of nine when I tried out for the Local 285 club but didn’t quite make the cut. I played for a less prestigious team that summer and gained the motivation to try out again that following spring. I practiced hard on my own in advance of the tryout. I made the team and even pitched in the crucial second game of the region’s top baseball competition, the Lancaster New Era tournament. We won that contest and the final game as well. We became champions, and I was a part of that.

So I learned early on that I had a powerful capacity for persistence in competition. That continued through middle school years with the sports of baseball, then basketball, and finally track and field in eighth grade, where I was the top 880-yard runner for the Kaneland Junior High team, setting a school record of 2:25 on the cinder track.

Our basketball team also won the conference that year. I was a starting guard along with a top athlete named Ron Ackerman. But it was the bucket I made from half-court in the final game of the season that fulfilled a fantasy held by every kid that ever played the sport. 3…2…1…!!

Through high school, I led the distance squads in the cross country and track programs at both Kaneland and St. Charles high schools. Yet I also learned that while I was a good runner, I was not a sensational one. The pursuit of excellence also involves learning the limitations of one’s talent. Sometimes even hard work can’t fulfill all your dreams. For example, I never made it downstate in either cross country or track. Some of that was context. We competed in some of the toughest district and sectional meets in Illinois. But there’s no value in woulda-coulda-shoulda claims, because they mean nothing. So one learns to move on in life.

The writing life

While I was trying hard in sports to be among the best, there were other pursuits claiming my attention during those formative years of high school. One of those ventures was writing. I joined the English and Writing club called “Circus” at St. Charles. Getting my first short story published in “A Journal of Creative Writing” felt just as good as winning any cross-country race.

My story was titled “The Hunter’s Loss.” It was based on a friend I knew back at Kaneland high school who hunted the fields east of Elburn where we lived. I imagined what it might mean if he took to hunting a snowy owl in the fields of Illinois.

The story began, “It had been a calm winter until January, when moist southern had crept into the area, causing a heavy blizzard. From that storm until now there had been a perpetual covering of snow on the ground. Each new snow made while the facing sides of the trees and the evergreen shrubs held icicles aloft ’til they stretched to the ground. Cardinals searched longingly and silently in the naked limbs for a seed or two. The rabbits had pared the bark and dying berries from every bush, leaving their droppings and shuffling tracks as a testimony to their harried search for food. Some deciduous leaves still hung stubbornly to the oak’s cold twigs, their chatter and flutter interrupted only by the sibilant call of a migrating lark that had come to light on the windswept giant of a tree in the yard of the farm.

Now, I’ll admit that story could have used some editing. But here’s the point: life itself is a series of hard edits. We all seem to do a little more than we should. From that bulk of experience we learn what matters and counts most. We learn to edit ourselves.

The Hemingway Factor

Consider what Cliff’s Notes observes about Ernest Hemingway’s writing style: “From the beginning of his writing career in the 1920s, Hemingway’s writing style occasioned a great deal of comment and controversy. Basically, a typical Hemingway novel or short story is written in simple, direct, unadorned prose. Possibly, the style developed because of his early journalistic training. The reality, however, is this: Before Hemingway began publishing his short stories and sketches, American writers affected British mannerisms. Adjectives piled on top of one another; adverbs tripped over each other. Colons clogged the flow of even short paragraphs, and the plethora of semicolons often caused readers to throw up their hands in exasperation. And then came Hemingway.”

What a wonderful metaphor Hemingway makes about my prized belief in the “transfer of excellence.” Good writing is all about learning to cut out the excess and arrive at our best efforts. There’s a parallel there in words written by Olympic marathoner Kenny Moore, who once stated, “Running is hard, clean, and severe.” I strive for that. It’s hard work, but I love it.

Ethics and values

As my story about the hunter and the snowy owl evolved in my mind back then, I thought about the values at work in the pursuit of such prey. What might be the goal of bagging such a bird? Was the hunter aware of the illegality of shooting a protected bird? Would it matter? Here’s what I wrote about the moment the hunt concluded:

“The white giant sat nervously on a post by the pond. Mark could feel it watching him as he stood erect on the ridge. He felt alien to this perfect predator; his gun was brutal and primitive in his hands. Mark felt the compulsion to get closer. He lowered his binoculars and crept carefully from post to post on the wire fence. He was a hundred yards away now, and again he stood erect to see the bird through magnifying glasses. The owl crouched low on the post now, fearing Mark in his human form. Its feathers quivered in the wind. Again the bird lifted its wings to fly, but Mark gave it several great strokes of leeway and fired at the great owl. The bird stuttered in its flight with the pain of the lead. It flapped higher against the wind before its wings collapsed in poison death. The owl hung limp and heavy in the air and fluttered down into the wet, gray lake. Mark sat in a slump in the deep snow and watched through the glasses as the owl’s white feathers soaked through with the dirty water of the pond. The rabbit it caught was still clutched in its once powerful talons. Mark had lost the only fruits of his hunt to a hungry bird, and they sank with the owl to the bottom of the pond.”


I wrote that passage nearly fifty years ago, and the pathos is still recognizable. I was writing to process feelings about the world, especially how greed and the acquisitive need to conquer seemed to overwhelm justice, social and otherwise. I saw nature as a pure form of existential reality and hated the idea that some people felt the need to destroy it in order to satisfy their sense of worth or fulfill some notion of biblical dominion over the earth.

Those values of justice and nature’s worth remain consistent in my life. Along with trying to do my best at whatever I tried to accomplish, those truths remain at the core of my being.

The artist’s life

Through college I kept pumping out poems and stories, writing and producing cartoons for the College Chips newspaper. I also dove into my artwork. While my interests were somewhat provincial with a focus on painting birds, I kept taking risks, both competitive and otherwise, to “push the envelope” as people say. And life keeps handing you challenges.

I once fell in love with a girl who was given the advice (while I was listening, no less) to “never marry an artist.” She ultimately married someone else but confessed in a moment of doubt that she regretted it. Well, I don’t begrudge her. She was better off with the other man. Life with me would not have been as predictable as she would have liked. That much I do know.

Paper thin

Yes, I’ve spread myself too thin on many occasions in life, and that artist’s life is filled with cycles of wins and losses, some as thin as the paper on which that reality plays out. Yet at sixty-five years of age, I believe that my work is better than ever, and the best is yet to come. That’s as it should be. And I can still give credit to that seventeen-year-old kid for writing and painting his heart out. For better or worse, on that part, I’ve been consistent.

Perhaps I’ve been clear enough in these explanations of motivation that you grasp the broader meaning of “transfer of excellence.” It’s not a claim to superiority. But I’ll also not apologize for pursuing whatever talent I possess to the fullest of my ability. That said, we all seem to make mistakes and harbor regrets that can never be reconciled. Time calls us to an honest accounting. If we’ve tried to transfer whatever level of excellence we can achieve from one part of life to another, that is a life well-lived.

Posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, Christopher Cudworth, college, competition, cross country, death, healthy aging, healthy senior, life and death, nature, running | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

50 Years of Running: Our own little Field of Dreams

Illustration of Christopher Cudworth by Christopher Cudworth

At some point either when I worked at the Chronicle or not long after that, the editor Dave Heun recruited a bunch of his buddies to form a softball team and join the Leisure League in St. Charles. Dave wasn’t the most talented player on the team, but his passion for sports (he was a former sportswriter and editor) had its own gravity.

Now, the Leisure League wasn’t as soft as it sounds. The dominating team during the first year that we joined was a big pack of loudmouth muscleheads that specialized in hitting home run balls. Their defense was acceptably good, but the way that they won games was mostly pounding the ball so far that no outfielders could catch them.

Our team changed all of that. Nearly every guy on the Chronicle softball team had played either high school or college baseball. Hardball, that is. Two of the guys on the team, the Horlock boys, played shortstop and centerfield. They both had 90 mph arms, and their brother Scott was not far behind. That trio of brothers gave our club an electric feel. Not only could they field, all were great percentage hitters as well.

I was already friends with their father, Bob Horlock, who was my high school biology teacher and a birding buddy from the early 70s. I’d seen the Horlock boys grow up from toddlers into competitive men about to start families. I think it was Scott’s children that later had my late wife as their preschool teacher.

Beyond the Horlock Boys our team had a full complement of solid baseball players. Every position on the field was solid defensively, and many of us had enough speed to make baserunning a big part of our success.

Our home run hitter was a big man named Joel Crafton. I worked with his wife at the Chronicle, and thus the connection to the team. He always hit fourth or fifth in the lineup because we’d put three guys on base and Joel would crush one deep enough to allow at least a couple runs to score. Often enough he clobbered a home run or two as well. We had a couple other big hitters but most of us specialized in placing well-hit line drives in the outfield gaps, then we’d run the bases like mad. In eight years of softball seasons I only had one home run. Once that ball soared over the gap in right center, I knew that I had a homer in the making. It still felt good to tear around the bases at full speed, kicking up dust under the summer sun.

We played in a “limited arc” league in which the pitcher was not allowed to loft the ball more than twelve feet in the air. The balls themselves were unlimited flight, which meant they flew as far as you could hit them, versus “limited flight” balls that muted the game for reasons of safety or space. I could never stand those unlimited arc games where the softball came straight down from the sky.

Nor did I ever want to play 16″ softball without mitts, like my late wife did. She played first base during her teens and early twenties paid for her 16″ softball career with a couple of bent fingers. I’d gone to see her team play a few times when we were first dating. They were a tough team of factory girls and hard drinkers, that gang, with a few motor-cycling lesbians to round out the lineup. They won plenty of games and had some pretty spiff uniforms in all blue with orange accents. But my wife left that all behind once we were married.

A gang of misfits

But guys have a harder time giving up the sports thing, cause we still liked to play. We all still liked banging our bats on our cleats and driving softballs past the infield. But we looked like shit. The amusing thing about our team was that while most teams wore matching softball uniforms, our gang of talented misfits wore no matching uniforms at all. We wore what felt best each weekend, and let our talent do the talking.

We’d show up on Sundays in our favorite gear of whatever we could find that day to fit our needs. My chosen uniform was a set of slim gray sweatpants with a tight drawstring and an old Luther College football jersey that I’d copped from the locker room before graduating. The football jersey (number 85) was thick and absorbed sweat on hot summer days. I cut off the sleeves to increase the breathability and that opened up the arm space as well, so that I could throw and catch easier. My chosen headgear was a collection of dusty baseball caps with various logos or an Oakley running cap because it was light on my bald head and wicked away sweat on hot summer afternoons. My baseball glove was large Spalding given to me by my in-laws. I wore a set of running shoes or a set of old soccer cleats as footwear.

I played right field still had plenty of running speed. I’d give away some distance along the first baseline and dare hitters to plant a ball in that space. Many times I robbed guys of what they thought was an easy hit. Others tried but hitting to the opposite field was hard. They often fouled the ball off trying to squeeze out an easy hit, and I’d shag down their soft popups in foul territory. I loved that chess match because most teams put their least capable player out in right field. I turned the position into a chess match and an art form.

League dynamics

That first year in the league we were winning regularly until we came against a band of Big Boys with large muscles and a macho demeanor. They were a bombastic crew, yelling boisterously to create an atmosphere of total dominance. Perhaps in that first game, it worked. They pounded out runs against us, cheering and chortling as they ran the bases. But then our outfield learned their lineup and their hitting preferences. We started to adjust and knew where the ball was going. We closed down the runs on their side and started banging out singles and doubles off their pitcher, who got rattled. He walked a guy or two, and the tone of the hollering from the other team started to change from bombastic to a tinge of fear. We kept up the pressure beat them. The next year, we took the championship away from them as well, and never looked back.

They’d always start with the same loud attempt to intimidate us. But all it took was a couple runs from our side to shift their voices from that macho tone to one of anxious desperation. We “had their number” once we’d beaten them soundly a couple times. After winning six years in a row, we gathered around home plate to accept our league championship trophies and one of their players wryly noted, “Just another one to gather dust.” And he was right. But for us, it was never about the trophies anyway. While the core of the team remained year to year, there were shifts in personnel depending on work schedules and family commitments. We kept finding ways to win through it all. That was the satisfying part of those competitive years in softball.

I kept up my running during all those summers as well, putting in weeks of 20-40 miles depending on the weather and such. That kept me lean and fast, and I relished the feeling of showing up for softball games on the weekend. My wife wasn’t always keen on the schedule. “We could do other stuff on Sunday’s,” she sometimes complained. And we did on occasion forego my softball stuff for family priorities. I was never a jerk about it. It was just enjoyable to spend time with the guys with the sounds of softball to fill the senses.

One summer the neighbor next door called me over to the fence and asked, “You play softball, right?”

“Yes,” I told her. “Every Sunday. Why?”

“My husband is a good athlete,” she offered. “Can he join your team and play? He was a football player in high school.”

“Well, sure,” I replied. Then I talked to her husband and told him to show up for that week’s game. When he walked up to the field I told him, “Let’s play catch!”

He pulled on his glove and I threw him the ball. We stood about ten yards apart. He tried throwing the ball back and it made it about halfway. I trotted to fetch it and tossed it underhand to him, and ran back to my spot. He tried throwing it again and it popped up above his head. I stood there in shock, thinking, “This guy can’t throw a ball.”

My teammates had heard that I’d be bringing a possible new player. I glanced around and felt the stares as my protege smacked the ball in his mitt, admittedly embarrassed. “I guess I’m out of practice,” he offered.

I decided not to pussyfoot around. “Yeah, well. Softball’s not for everybody. Thanks for coming out.” He rolled the ball on the ground back in my direction. I never talked to his wife about that day. I think he told her to forget about it.

Big Arms

By contrast, I had to be careful around a couple of teammates, especially in the outfield if they came up throwing the ball back to the infield. The youngest Horlock boy was a kid named Brett, a lefty with a cannon arm. He played right center and I ran over to catch a ball but he called me off. I stood there as he whipped the ball past my ear, and was glad it didn’t catch me flush in the face.

His brother Jim was just as fast with his throwing arm. At shortstop, he’d field a grounder and stand there a minute watching a guy tear down to first base. Then he’d cock and throw and zip the ball over the infield to grab another out. It tore the heart out of many a team to realize that anything he caught was a sure out.

But when his brother Scott played outfield, there was always a chance that they’d collide with any ball hit between short and Left. A couple times they crashed into each other and we wondered aloud if one of them was dead. I had my own collision with other fielders a couple times, because we hated letting anything get through the gap. After getting completely flipped in mid-air by a fellow fielder, I lay on the ground laughing. The rest of the team joined in, but I felt around my body to see if everything was still okay.

One Final Year

As the years wound on, and we’d won multiple championships (eight total) with our core group, many of us by had kids by then. Their activities were taking bites out of our schedule and softball had begun to feel a little selfish. We’d lost a few important guys to parenthood duty and a couple moved away fro work purposes. So we talked among the team and agreed that we’d had a good run and it was time to retire from softball after one final season.

But that summer there was a hard drought. The softball fields turned brown by mid-July and the dirt grew hard as rock. Fly balls to the outfield bounced high in the air, forcing us to adjust our outfield tactics. It proved to be a difficult season to win. Still, we made it to the championship game after advancing through the playoffs. That set up one more encounter with the Big Boys. On the weekend that the game was supposed to be played in the first week of September, a massive rainstorm swept through the area. The rain soaked the fields and washed out ruts that had to be repaired. A week went by and there were rumors that the championship game wouldn’t be played at all.

Finally the park district got the fields back in shape. There was even a tinge of green in the grass again by late September. We stepped on the field with a tinge of autumn chill in the air and scudding clouds rolling low overhead. We won the first game as the afternoon sky darkened even more. With a 1-0 game lead, we pushed to score runs, but the Big Boys hung tough and caught up. With an inning to play and home field advantage, we led by just two runs. The Big Boys smelled blood and were yelling like crazy for one of their home run hitters to crush one with two outs down and a man on first.

At that moment the sun popped through the clouds. Then our pitcher tossed the ball and I heard the bat smack it hard, and it was coming my way. I watched it rise high in the sky toward my position in right field. The ball seemed to shrink in the heights and it looked no bigger than an aspirin against the dark clouds above. But that burst of afternoon sun shone on the ball like it was the face of the moon. I got under the arc of the fly ball and waited.

“Squeeze it!” one of my teammates yelled out from the infield.

As the ball came down out of the sky I realized it would be the last catch that our team ever made on the field. Fortunately, I didn’t drop the ball in some tragic consequence of misattention. I caught it cleanly in my Spalding and raised my glove in victory. Then I opened the mitt took a look at the ball sitting there. “And that,” I said quietly to myself, “Is the end of an era.”

Those eight years of softball served as our own little Field of Dreams. We’d emerge from the respective cornfields of our lives to play softball two hours and go back to wherever we came from. Perhaps it was crazy to care as we listened to the voice in our own heads telling us to play. But we all have to be crazy about something.

Beyond the games

After that last game we all headed home and on to the rest of our lives. Over the years I have seen a few of those guys since we played ball together. One runs the local public golf course. The Horlock Boys pop into my life now and then. We lost their father and my birding buddy to a heart attack back in 1993. He passed away while burning a prairie in April of that year. That’s thirty years ago now.

It’s still fun to see someone and share a memory or two. But playing for that team was never about being the closest of friends. We were never the kind of softball team that went drinking after our games or spent any time together outside the ballfield. We lived for the competition, and that was that. There was a purity to our efforts, showing up each week to play catch before the games and then running out on the field or standing in the dust waiting to bat. Perhaps it was all an echo of youth sustained, but we made the most of it. That is not to say that everything was perfect. There were a few temper tantrums among us when guys couldn’t get a base hit. In fact, one of our it teammates was a genuine hothead who consistently protested calls, screaming at the umpire and throwing gloves in anger. We all knew his anger was mostly a release from the frustrations of his work life.

The simple truth is that we came to play the best we could and that was the entire focus of our being together.

Gathering memories

Years later after I moved our family moved to Batavia, we lived next to Memorial Park where a set of three softball fields hosted many games. I walked our dog on the path circling the park and watched softball and hardball games being played at many levels from youth up to men’s and women’s adult leagues.

Often when the games were through for the day, I’d find lost baseballs or softballs in the grass. Over time I collected quite a few. Lifting those hardballs brought back my pitching days, when facing batters was the most important thing to me in the world. I’d grip each hardball I found in the familiar feel that a pitcher never loses. I well remember positioning the seams for a curveball or a sinker, and think back to my father teaching me how to throw a knuckleball. I love that scene in Field of Dreams where Shoeless Joe catches the doctor before he leaves the field and tells him, “Hey kid. You were good.”

Or something like that. I was good competitor, that much I do know. And had a mean curve.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, running | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

50 Years of Running: Lessons learned

Photo from the Twin-Cities Marathon in1985. I’m second from right. Olympian Don Kardong is at center, the tall (6’4″) figure with the Nike long-sleeved top on.

I can think of several big mistakes that I made during my competitive running career. The biggest blunder of all was running a 20-mile final training run the week before I was scheduled to compete in the Twin Cities Marathon. That race would actually be my first attempt at running the 26.2 mile distance, and I was eager to squeeze in one last bit of fitness before the big race. Big. Mistake.

The year was 1985. I’d just gotten married and started a new job with the Boy Scouts of America that June. I hated the job, and all the planning for the wedding and the honeymoon trip in August interrupted much of my training. Thus, my racing was up and down all spring and summer as a result. But I ran an early September ten-mile race in 54:00 at the Park Forest Scenic 10 Mile. That gave me some confidence. I signed up for Twin Cities and kept plugging away at the mileage.

The “up and down” nature of my racing results in 1985. Some fast times and some struggles due to life changes.

Marathon racing was not our priority back in the early 1980s. Most sub-elite runners like me raced a ton of 5Ks and 10ks. We’d do an occasional 15K, ten-miler, or half-marathon, but most of our racing was short and fast. That’s how we rolled.

On the way back from our honeymoon in Glacier National Park in 1985, we stopped in the Twin Cities where I went for a run with my former Luther teammates and roommates Dani Fjelstad and Paul Mullen.

In 1984 I’d raced a 25K (15.5 miles) with great success, placing third overall in a time of 1:24:24, or around 5:20 per mile. All I’d have had to do on that day if I was running a full marathon to run a sub 2:25 marathon was complete the next ten miles at 6:00 pace. That would have been quite a nice race. I’m quite certain that was possible.

After all, I was not even going to race the weekend of the Deerbrook 25K because I was invited to serve as the event escort of world-class marathoner Bill Rodgers. Thinking that Sunday would be a day off, I’d done training runs totaling 35 miles (15-10-10) in the three days leading up to that event.


But in 1985 I was no so confident in my base, and like a dope, I went out for a 20-miler on the Sunday prior to the Twin Cities marathon. Okay, no one does that. It was an idiotic mistake. And like most distance runners in those days, I’d made no plans for hydration along the way. Thirsty and dried out, I bonked at around fifteen miles. It was a five-mile crawl-from-hell home.

All that week I felt drained and weak. But sticking with my plan, I flew to Minneapolis to stay with my college friend Paul Mullen and went to bed hoping to feel better the next morning.

Mercifully, I actually did wake up feeling better. I’d rallied to some degree. But then the day dawned cold in early October. It was only thirty-two degrees outside, with a stiff breeze to boot. I lined up near the front of the race, and when the starting gun went off I found a group of guys running in the company of Don Kardong, the Olympic marathoner and well-known running writer. They were clipping along at the 5:20 pace. “This is my group,” I told myself.

The cold is evident on my face by this point.

We passed through ten miles right on pace at 5:20 per mile. I was running strong and confident, but was also getting colder as we circled the lakes in the Twin-Cities. The breeze coming off the water was beyond bracing. I was only wearing only a tee shirt under my racing singlet and was starting to freeze up. My body fat was only 6-8% in those days. Like it or not, I was on the way to hypothermia.

My other college teammate Dani Fjelstad saw me at sixteen miles. Standing on the side of the road, he took a look at me and his expression changed as if he’d just seen a dead man walking. My lips were turning blue. I was also aware of my compromised condition as my feet were numb with cold. He called me off the course for a second. I stood there shivering in place. “C’mon, Cud,” he told me. “It’s too cold.”

Cold realities

So many things in life are like that. Our best-laid plans get undermined by our miscalculations. All the work we put in to find success can blow away in an instant. I pulled out of the race sad that I’d failed at the one marathon I ever tried.

I share that story about the marathon because there have been other moments in life when a few wrong words or a bit of miscalculated behavior cost me big time. As a person with ADHD and anxiety, my worst habits are speaking too quickly or worse yet, sometimes saying what’s really on my mind.

So it was in 1993 when I overhead some political bickering at a local chamber of commerce over the competition between newspapers to earn the rights to sell and publish a lucrative special section. In a moment of unguarded conversation, I turned to one of my cohorts and said, “I don’t know if our paper’s at war with the chamber what, but I wish we could just figure out a way to work this out.”

Well, the worst portion of that statement… “I don’t know if your paper’s at war with this organization” wound its way back to the Publisher. He was irate that I’d said something like that in public, and he had a right to be angry. No doubt about it. As Promotions Manager, I had no business talking like.my emotional intelligence in some situations was not up to par.

And so, in many respects, I’d just “bonked” in public. It would soon cost me the job at the newspaper.

However, before I was dismissed from my position as Promotions manager, I promised to fulfill some duties and held a meeting with a pair of high-profile sponsors of a program I’d developed. The Publisher attended the meeting and was impressed with how I handled our discussion. He pulled me aside and said, “You know it’s funny, I seem to have a problem with you, but our clients love you…”

Over time, I’d heard many people complain about his overwrought concern about his image in the community, and often defended him, because that was my job. Perhaps I’d just grown tired of doing that, and the truth leaked out of me. Such is life. The one weird thing that keeps reminding of the past is that the Publisher’s Linkedin profile was never taken down. He passed away several years back, but every year time his birthday rolls around, I get another notification. I always wish him a happy one. We actually had many good associations despite our occasional differences.

But he did wind up firing me back then. Then he turned around and offered to hire me back on a contract basis, just not as an employee. I guess he felt he had to make a point somehow, if only for his own satisfaction. From that point forward, I continued with me previous duties as a contractor. And building on that business base, I added a few more clients and wound up with a total yearly income of $100,000. I never told him, but one of my other clients was the Daily Herald, a much larger newspaper for whom I produced their principal marketing brochure. That newspaper would soon enter the Chronicle market as a prime competitor for ad revenue. No one at the Chronicle knew I was working for a major competitor. I’d turned a big mistake into an opportunity of sorts, and six years later would later leverage that experience into a full-time position with the Daily Herald.

Running my own business was also full of hard-won lessons, including what it means to bring in $100,000 in revenue and how much stays in the business versus what goes to pay taxes and other expenses. Only then do you get to determine how much take-home pay you actually earn. That was all a shock to me. It was also a consistent frustration to my wife, who took on the job of keeping the books.

It was all part of the larger lessons learned from that period in time. I’d been having much success up to that point, and it was tragic to blow what I’d built at the newspaper by saying something off-handed and stupid. That verbal blunder was just as dumb as doing a 20-mile run the week before a marathon race.

I couldn’t help thinking that about some Dan Fogelberg lyrics:

“Lessons learned are like bridges burned…

You only need to cross them but once…

Is the knowledge gained worth the price of the pain…

Are the spoils worth the cost of the hunt?”

So yes, I’ve learned some lessons over time. We all do. Perhaps you can think of a few lessons you learned the hard way? Feel free to share them at cudworthfix@gmail.com. I don’t want to feel alone in all this.

Posted in 10K, 13.1, 5K, adhd, anxiety, Christopher Cudworth, competition, half marathon, marathon, marathon training, mental health, race pace, running | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

50 Years of Running: Confronting misogyny and other inequities

While I grew up in the world of sports and had the talent and good fortune to win in many arenas, I also grew up in an era when women’s sports and equality were at the forefront of cultural determination and conflict. The first two women that ever ran cross country at my college started during my freshman year. But thanks to a Title IX ruling the women’s track team at Luther was given equal funding for a much smaller squad. A number of men grumbled about that seeming inequity, but such were the variegations of cultural adjustment in the late 70s and early 80s. Affirmative action for racial inequity was just getting going as well, and the American Disabilities Act was not passed until 1990, the same year that I was starting my job as a Promotions manager with the Kane County Chronicle.

For all my supposed jockish instincts, I was never much of a “Bro’s Bro.” Forcibly macho behavior and the dumbing down of social dialogue to “get along” just never appealed to me. For certain, I engaged in plenty of misogynistic commentary during my teen years, like most boys do. At the same time, I was also evolving some sensibilities that would turn out valuable in life.

For one thing, I started to notice how girls and women reacted when they were hurt by rude comments about their appearance, and to that, I could definitely relate. That’s when I realized it was time to change. From an early age in life, something in me always leaned toward fairness and social justice, and I valued my female friends.

Yet lacking sisters, it took me longer to understand building equal relationships with women. I was shy for one thing. That’s not necessarily a trait that women like in men when it comes to social engagement. But by the time I hit early middle school and then high school, I’d begun to develop a form of self-confidence through sports and other activities, and was able to build actual friendships with girls in my class, and I liked that.

During high school, I had girlfriends and fulfilled some of those Night Moves fantasies with my dates, even a cheerleader or two. Yet my genuine friendships with girls also remained valuable to me. Looking back, I realize it was all a competition for attention.


That continued into college, but the dynamics became more complex. On many occasions, my male teammates or colleagues would push me to have sex with women friends. There I was, a still-naive college kid that just glad to talk with women friends. Did I have to sleep with them to prove myself somehow? That was the competitive call in those days.

While I admittedly lusted for women even without such urging, I also found conversations with women much more nuanced and considerate. As a person with anxiety that sometimes lacked confidence on the broader social scale, I found that talking with women enormously helpful. Most often, that type of dialogue happened most in art and English classes where I’d found solace from misogynistic pressures in high school as well. As an avid jock, I still wrote poems for the Circus literary publications, interacting with women much smarter and more mature than me. I recall the knowing laughter from some of the sophisticated young women a bit older than me who saw the potential in a young man, but knew that it was years down the road.

Married state

Yet once I got married, there were new boundaries to learn with respect to relationships with women and especially to my wife’s best concern. She’d put up with my naive dalliances often enough, and was tired of trying to make the point on her own. So my brother ultimately confronted me with advice to be less consumed with talking about women friends in front of her. I took that advice.

That balance led to more equitable relationships with women at work. I even found myself defending women friends from misogyny and unwanted comments from male co-workers. I particularly recall a moment when three attractive women in our sales group had gotten out of their vehicles in the parking lot and were walking toward the building when a few of my male co-workers began making comments about the bounce of their breasts in summer blouses and the look of their legs in short skirts. I said, “Hey guys, come on. We work with them.”

That’s about all I could come up with at the moment, and it wasn’t all that much of a defense. But it also wasn’t well-received from the Bro perspective. “Yeah, whatever,” I recall one of them saying. A couple of them even rolled their eyes and moved away.

Around that time, I also learned that some of the men in our office group were acting on their desires. I found out about an affair or two. None of it was pretty, and being forced to keep it a secret and act like there was nothing going on between two people messing around outside of work was awkward as hell. At some point, one of those women gave a co-worker a sexually-transmitted disease. The rumor zoomed around the office and it certainly changed people’s perspective of them both.

Competition in reverse

Those kinds of social dynamics are a form of reverse social competition, as in, “How long are we supposed to keep this stuff a secret?”

That kind of behavior only magnifies with time. It becomes a competition of self-control. Eventually, a male friend came to me in confidence to confess a sexual affair that he’d been having for months. “What do you think I should do?” he asked.

“Well,” I told him. “When you’re married, there’s a kind of roadmap that you follow. When you’re on that road, you try to enjoy the scenery along the way. But once you take a side road, then all the other roads look inviting too and it’s hard to stay on the right road. You should end the affair, and get back on the right road.”

I don’t know if that was good advice or not, but he did end the affair.

I faced some of those temptations myself. One day as I was driving back from an appointment with a female co-worker, she began to confess that her marriage was dull. “He doesn’t know how to make me happy…” she observed. She turned to me and smiled. “But I know how to make men happy. In fact, I know how to make men scream. Do you want a blow job?”

Now, up to that point, I liked this woman as a friend. I knew her husband. He was a bit dull in personality. By contrast, his wife had a bubbly, anything-goes personality. I looked over at her and said, “I’m sure you do know how to make men scream. But I’m married, and I’m faithful to my wife. I think you ought should get counseling before having sex outside of marriage.”

“Boo,” she pouted. Then she settled back in her seat in that offhand way that told me nothing was different in her head. “Well, if you change your mind, you know where to find me!” She later left our company and took a job with another firm where she was ultimately fired for getting caught giving oral sex to a man in a supply closet. A closed-circuit camera had caught it all on tape.

Navigating dangerous waters

There were other hijinks going on at the Chronicle in those days. One of the circulation saleswomen was dismissed after several incidents of luring men into the basement where she exposed herself to them. Another reportedly had a “job for life” because she’d slept with one of the higher-ups. Sometimes it’s difficult to know whether to admire that kind of achievement or not. We all crave job security, but most don’t achieve it that way.

It seemed that temptation could be found almost anywhere. I had to keep my own urges in check. Once while paired with a pretty fellow salesperson on a golf outing, I couldn’t tell if her open-ended smile and slightly unbuttoned blouse were intentional or not. The sight of a pretty bra beneath a simple white shirt can almost kill a man on a hot summer afternoon. While I survived the day in good conscience, it admittedly wasn’t easy. It is true that while some women have no real intention of acting on their allure, they don’t exactly ignore the attention either. That’s where men have to learn to navigate dangerous waters.

Editorial judgment

Most of the lustier adventures at the Chronicle occurred in the sales and circulation side of our newspaper business. The editorial staff seemed far more serious-minded about their work. I never heard anything about sexual affairs among the writers or editors. If there were adulterous affairs, those folks were just better at protecting information and sources. Such are the benefits of J school, perhaps.

Over time, some of the best women salespeople in our firm began looking for employment elsewhere. They’d earned enough experience to take their talents elsewhere. Some openly admitted to me that it was the misogynistic culture at the newspaper that made them want to leave. “It’s hard to advance here,” one of them told me. “It’s sort of a Good Old Boys Club.”

So they left to join other companies. One of those new opportunities was with a creative new magazine group called Sampler Publications that had started up a classy new regional magazine called Fox Valley Living. That publication competed for the same ad revenue as our newspaper, and it drove our Publisher nuts. He railed about them in our weekly meetings. But FVL thrived because it offered something far different than a weekly newspaper. It was slick, for one thing.

A secret life of another sort

I tried to get a job there myself, and interviewed with the Ad Director that had previously worked at Playboy Magazine. I thought the interview went well, but they hired someone else. Instead, I wound up writing articles for Fox Valley Living under a pen name, Stuart Nichols. My nom de plume combined a different spelling of my father’s first name with my mother’s maiden last name. In March of 1990, not long after I’d assumed the role of Promotions Manager at the Chronicle, I secretly authored their entire Bike Trail Guide.

At the same time, I was also writing many articles under my real name for the Chronicle. That was a bit unusual because it broke the supposed firewall between editorial and advertising. But as Promotions Manager, I was in a world between the two, and I wasn’t going to be confined in my writing.

For the next four years between 1990 and 1994, I published dozens of articles on a wide spectrum of subjects for the newspaper. I covered cross country in the fall, wrote about the arts and entertainment all winter, and produced dozens of articles about nature and the environment. The Managing Editor Dave Heun alternately approved and questioned my involvement, but the Our Towns editor Shirley Calby loved working with me. Truth be told, I adored having a byline.

That newspaper is now a shadow of what it once was. I was glad to work in the newspaper business before it suffered revenue blows from the Internet that stole the recruitment, Classifieds, auto, Real Estate and Retail dollars that kept the print world alive.

Friendships have endured

I’d go on to work another seven years at a different newspaper while the good times lasted. But I also missed my women friends once they emigrated over to Sampler. I’d grown to value and trust their advice and we shared many friendly social occasions together. They all knew my wife Linda and watched us raise our two children in those early years. My friend Sally’s son Glenn even had Linda as a preschool teacher. To this day, my wife Sue and I have met up with Sally out in Tucson, and we hosted her for a dinner here at our house in Illinois.

Okay, so here’s the confession. I also wasn’t totally immune to their charms. I loved the soft voice and insightful comments of my friend Sally. I lived for the infectious laugh of the effervescent Rose. My heart lifted with the wry and lovely observations of Renee, who I’m sure found me a bit inane at times, but I think it broadened her horizons as well. They all moved on at once it seemed, but I’d still see them around town during my work in promotions. We’ve kept up light forms of friendship for many years, and I’m grateful for that. I even met up with Renee a year ago while we were both substitute teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic, and a few years back I saw Rose at the Sycamore Pumpkinfest 10K over which her Chamber of Commerce presides. She still has the same infectious laugh and twinkling eyes.

Those years of youthful experience in sales were formative in many ways, but the thing that I appreciate most is that they also produced lasting friendships. Despite all the craziness of this world, there is proof in times like these that we can live better than what the world sometimes dishes out.

Posted in competition, friendship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

50 years of running: building on success

During years of competitive running from the age of twelve through post-collegiate success on the roads and track, the most important lessons learned were how to set goals and plan the process to achieve them. After being coached through high school and college, I was on my own setting up training programs. So I read books and articles about the best training methods. I made gains by training with other runners as well. My 10K times dropped from 33 minutes to 32 minutes to 31 minutes and from a 5K PR of 15:20 down to 14:45 on the track and 14:57 on the road. Those weren’t world-beating times, but they represented progress for me.

Along the way, I kept journals and studied the “ROI” on monthly training volumes. Most significantly, I won many races in the “open market” of road racing. After all, you never know who might show up at a race. The best you can do is get as fit as possible and meet the day head-on.

Winning a race with three thousand people in it was a wonderful feeling. That meant the weeks of training and hard sessions on the track paid off. That’s called building on success.

Real-world experience

Translating that hard-won education in sports to the work world was challenging. The factors leading to success in the work world… and the possible distractions along the way are manifold. But once I earned a spot to control some of my own destiny, by taking on the Promotions job at the Kane County Chronicle, I set up my system and worked hard to make things happen.

One of the big goals for the newspaper was generating circulation increases. I looked at our circulation numbers in a new light, like a race goal, and figured that there was more than one path to success. The typical way to generate circulation sales was the evening phone bank where a group of workers made direct phone calls. I decided to step outside that world and create partnerships to help us sell the value of the newspaper as a commodity.

My idea involved getting banks to offer subscriptions as incentives for opening new savings or checking accounts. By law, the banks couldn’t offer a value of more than $10. That was our value limit. So I met with the circulation manager to see how many weeks of home delivery $10 would buy, and we came up with a ten-week offer.

Having met the legal standards of the banks and the revenue goals of the circulation department, the advertising program kicked into gear. I took it live with house ads and radio promotions. Within a week more than 100 new subscriptions were sold. Rather than hail the program’s success, the circulation manager panicked. Apparently, he didn’t think the program would generate that many sales. In the first manager’s meeting after the program began, his eyes flickered with worry as he said, “We need to shut this thing down.”

I was exasperated by his response after the work I’d put in to organize the sales program with more than ten local banks, all of who loved the program. So I had to go out and tell them we’d achieved our goal and were shutting it down after ten days of business. I felt good that I’d come up with a winning program.

Hitting a Roundtripper

I kept looking for ways to drive circulation and brand awareness and came up with the idea of partnering with local libraries to support summer reading programs. That would put the newspaper in front of thousands of families. There was a new minor league baseball team in town, the Kane County Cougars, who were also looking for ways to reach the public. I conceived the Roundtripper Reading Program and recruited a juice beverage company called Everfresh to serve as one of the sponsors, along with Pheasant Run Resort and Schwinn bicycles. The program was a massive success for the libraries, who saw completion rates in youth reading programs soar to 75%. Circulation for the newspaper increased with the special offers we made.

The kids completing the program all received a free ticket to attend a Cougars game and get a free hot dog, chips, and Everfresh beverage on game day. I arrived at the game to find a long line of people stretched across two parking lots. In a panic, I ran inside the stadium to find the general manager Bill Larson, with whom I’d worked to build the program. “Bill,” I asked him urgently. “What’s the holdup?”

“What do you mean?” he replied.

“How many hot dogs are you cooking?” I asked.

“Why?” he replied.”We’ll have enough…”

“Come with me,” I told him. We walked outside and Bill’s face fell at the sight of the enormous line of people waiting to get into the game. “Those kids have all earned their way here. You better get more hot dogs cooking….”

“I’m on it,” he muttered. And while jogging away, he turned his head and laughed. “Nice work!”

At that point, I walked the line to assure people that the Cougars were hustling things up. About halfway along, I saw a child sitting on a curb next to a parking lot light pole reading a book. “Whatcha got there?” I asked the boy.

He looked up at me when his mother chimed in. “I made him promise to finish the last book before he gets into the park.” She smiled. “He needs to understand what it means to complete a goal.”

Other parents smiled as well. Some said thanks for hosting the program. I profusely apologized for the delay but people seemed to understand “They didn’t know how many kids would finish,” I told them.

I had called ahead the week before to inform the Cougars that several thousand had qualified, but could not predict how many would plan to attend that night. I guess they thought a couple hundred hot dogs would cover the need. It all turned out fine, with many of the children wearing the Roundtripper tee-shirts that I’d designed for the libraries to hand out for every kid that completed their summer reading. The Everfresh guys were happily handing out drinks at the game as the kids and parents left the hot dog line. The whole thing was a huge success.

Crazier days

A few weeks earlier I’d attended a Cougars game and met up with Bill Larson. By then he was getting famous in the area for his promotional abilities, and that night the main entertainment was a talent night. The third act stepped out on top of the dugout to a famous striptease song, and a pair of men started ripping off clothes to reveal a set of black bra and panties underneath.

I turned to Larson and said, “What’s the craziest routine you’ve ever seen in the minor leagues?”

“You’re looking at it,” he groaned, and started toward the dugout to call off the act in case it went any further.

Day Game, Night Game

A few years later, on my own volition, I worked with the Cougars to create a set of posters featuring my artistic renderings of the park. For the first, I sat in the right field bleachers during a day game looking in at home plate, and painted a live rendition of a game in action.

The second image was a painting from the third-base side facing left field, also painted live, but at night. A pair of drunk dudes in front of me begged to be in the painting. “If you can hold still long enough for me to draw you, it’s a deal,” I told them. It was challenging, but they stayed in position a bit.

I sold the first sponsorship of the Day Game poster to a local law firm. The Night Game poster I pitched to the manager of Torco Dodge, whose sign was visible in the painting. I made my pitch and sat back to wait for the manager’s decision. I’d learned in sales training at the Chronicle that when making a sales pitch, you state your value proposition and then shut up and wait for the client to make the next move. “The first person to talk, loses,” the sales trainer told me.

So I sat, and sat, while the manager looked over the painting and finally said, “And where would my logo go on the poster?” The deal was sealed.

I’ve never been a major sort of business guy, or made tons of money, but I did sell those sponsorships for $7000. Over the years, I learned to build on that type of success, with plenty of mistakes along the way. It was the same way with running. Like they say, you win some, you lose some. When it came to those posters, I won some.

But the key is to keep building on whatever success you can achieve. Few things are more important in life than that.

One note: one of the lessons I learned in publishing those posters was about quality. A few years before, I’d printed a fine art print on matte finish paper. The image didn’t do justice to the painting. It looked faded.

For the Cougars poster, I found a high-level printer than cost a few thousand dollars to produce the works. But they didn’t NEED to be that high quality for promotional purposes. I could have printed them cheaper and made even more money.

But I framed one up nicely with a local frame shop that donated the work valued at $250. The naive assistant manager called me up that night and said, “I sold the poster!”

“It was for display only!” I reminded him. “What did you charge?”

$25!” he said enthusiastically. I was outraged, but there was nothing I could do. Such are the vagaries of business life.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, college, competition, mental health, running, training, TRAINING PEAKS | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

50 Years of Running: On anger, forgiveness, and those voices in your head

Three years into selling ads for what became the Kane County Chronicle after the company was sold to Shaw Newspapers out of Dixon, Illinois, our newspaper announced its plans to build a new corporate headquarters on Randall Road on the west side of Geneva. At the time, the building was a pioneer structure along the four-lane corridor between Aurora and Crystal Lake, Illinois, where a sister newspaper called the Northwest Herald was located.

Photo below: the former Kane County Chronicle building is now an eye clinic

There was little traffic and few buildings along Randall Road in 1989. Farm fields alternating corn and beans dominated from Main Street in Batavia all the way up through Elgin, Illinois, and beyond. As the footings for our new building were set into place, I took a run parallel to Randall during the winter months to cement what it looked like before development took over. Trotting across the spring fields in a set of adidas running shoes, I covered several miles on rolling ground.

That turf is now covered with miles of retail operations. All the big box stores are there, including Best Buy and Target, Kohl’s, and Home Depot. Now there are Starbucks too, McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King and Panera. The agriculture and little wetlands that formed in spring are all gone. The wetland I once used to explore to find black terns and Virginia rails was channelized. The view from the high point along Randall over the railroad tracks is now a sea of lights. Progress won, as this recent Google image from Best Buy’s website illustrates. The Chronicle building is that far top and right side of this image.

As the brick walls rose in the new Chronicle building, an idea percolated in my head. I snuck into the raw structure and walked the stairs to the second floor to gaze south over the still-open fields. Though I’d been successful in sales despite my persistent grapples with anxiety and ADHD, my goal was to start marketing the paper. My second child Emily was due to be born in April of 1990, and I wanted to start climbing the corporate ladder.

With that in mind, I submitted a proposal to become the Promotions and Creative Services Manager for the newspaper. The idea was received well, and as we moved into the new building that became my title. There was just one problem. Along with those changes, my former boss in ad sales would be my direct report.

I liked the guy well enough, and we’d been through some things together over the previous three years. During one of the annual advertising reviews with the Venture retail chain, he panicked a bit upon hearing there was a new review process. Our paper claimed a circulation of 20,000 at the time, but most of us knew that was an exaggeration. At a rate of $34 per thousand inserts, our weekly revenue was $680 for $35,360 per year. That was a decent account at our local newspaper, and my boss had originally met with Venture to plan the deal, so it was his call to handle it. “You let me do the talking,” he instructed me on the way there.

Things were clearly going to be different once we entered their offices and sat down with their representatives. “It says here you claim 20,000 circulation…” the discussion began, and that’s when my boss jumped right in and said, “We’ve done a recent audit and found that we’re at 17,000,” he confessed. And that was that. We walked out of there with about $100 less revenue per week, but he was happy. “I’ll get you another account to make up for that. Let’s not say anything about this. It’s good we kept the business.”

Perhaps it was negotiations of that nature that got my boss demoted from sales manager to some sort of nebulous middle manager when we moved to the new building. But having to report to him did not make me happy. He came to me the first week and said, “If you put all your work through me, I’ll take care of you.”

Now, I’d worked hard to earn my promotion and did not want to submit to his direction or have him take credit for my ideas or my work. He walked away from my desk and I could barely contain the rage I felt at his attempted manipulation. I kept my head down the rest of the day, but the rage I felt did not subside. Already I’d faced a dismissive take on my new position from the new Advertising Manager, a guy named Sam that told me, “Every dollar you make in salary takes away from your total marketing budget.”

Was that backward thinking? You’re damn right it was. I felt betrayed by the promise to let me take on the promotional goals of the company only to be yanked back and told to play by a weird set of rules that seemed anchored in small thinking.

That night, I drove home from work and arrived at our little house in Geneva still feeling angry at the treatment that day. I told my wife Linda, “I need to go out for a run.” She immediately understood. So I changed clothes and headed out the door.

There have been times in my life when emotions run so deep and my head is so laced with thoughts that it becomes impossible even to run. This was one of those nights. I’d also taken out my contact lenses that evening to rest my eyes, so I wasn’t all that much in the mood to run. I trotted a bit and then walked sullenly over to the Geneva High School track where I’d done my speed training for many years. Along the way, I angrily fantasized about putting my fist right through the face of a couple people at the Chronicle. I was seriously angry at the day’s events, and fighting mad.

Arriving at the track, I walked half a lap and lay down in the pole vault pit. The sky was getting dark with a low ceiling of scudding nimbus clouds sliding overhead. I took off my glasses and the lack of clear vision made the clouds feel even closer as if I could reach up and touch them. At that moment, a voice came into my head that said, loud and clear, “Forgiveness.”

I sat up and looked around because I thought someone had snuck up on me. No one was around. I sat there stock still with my glasses off for a minute or two, wondering how and why that word came into my head. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. “Forgiveness,” I said out loud. And while walking back home, I repeated it. It took several more repetitions for the commitment to fully sink in. “Forgiveness,” I said one more time while walking the sidewalk back home.

I headed inside our house to meet my wife, and gave her a hug. My son wrapped his arms around my legs with a cheer, “Daddeee!” I touched my wife’s pregnant belly, and felt at peace.

The next day at work I forgave everyone with whom I’d been angry the day before. I forgave my new boss for his proposal to funnel all my work through him, and let that happen. I forgave the new Ad Sales Manager for his transactional interpretation of my role at the paper. “He has to think in terms of numbers,” I said to myself. “That’s his job.”

And strangely, but this is true, a few weeks later my new/old boss was released from the company. I felt bad for him at the time, but he immediately landed a role at a competing newspaper, where he worked for another twenty years. The new Ad Manager lasted a few years but moved on as well.

And that’s how I learned the native power of forgiveness. The lesson in that experience was learning not to make things worse by reacting badly to seemingly negative circumstances. And paying attention to those voices in your head, wherever they come from.

Posted in anxiety, blood on the highway, Christopher Cudworth, competition, foregiveness, God, mental health, running, running shoes | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

50 Years of Running: Gamesmanship and sandbagging

As an advertising salesperson, I not only competed against the previous year’s sales numbers in my territory. The daily game included competing with other salespeople and also other print publications and radio stations in the Fox Valley.

The towns we served were St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia, and Elburn. All had their own sales zones. Mine also added Aurora and North Aurora, a larger city and its humble twin sister that sat downstream from Batavia. The challenge in selling to businesses in those communities was heightened by a healthy competitor, the Aurora Beacon News, with a far larger total circulation and thus, the main source of spending for most Aurora businesses. We also had a lowbrow competitor called the Bonnie-Buy’rr that was an all-advertising, no-editorial rag delivered by mail every week to every damned household in the area. We hated that thing.

My Jan Ulrich

I’d followed a really good salesperson named Curt that was previously in my position. He was a handsome, charming guy loved by every advertiser, especially the ladies in boring jobs where they sat behind desks all day until a welcome visit from a stud-looking guy broke up their routine.

Curt sold really well. He was self-confident and had a smooth voice that complemented his overall gig. He went into selling spirits after ad sales.

So in my new role, I was competing against Curt’s strong appeal. He was the Jan Ulrich to my Lance Armstrong, and it all came down to the power numbers. To that end, the company provided all the previous year’s sales figures, and I kept a running chart of how I did against his performance year-to-year. Those numbers were a topic of discussion in our weekly sales meetings managed by our collective boss, a Sales Manager named Bob. He was in turn managed by Roger, the Big Boss, who was Publisher of the newspaper group.

Bob’s obvious goal was to hit the total weekly sales numbers for the group. If we kept pace with or exceeded the previous years’ numbers, Bob’s job was safe. Then he could hang around town enjoying martini lunches. Sometimes he’d come back to work a little snockered. Such was life in the newspaper business in the late 1980s.

Happy Slackers

I eventually learned that my fellow advertising account executives had their own tactics for dealing with the pressures. One of them lived in Batavia, the primary zone of sales in my territory, so he invited me to stop by his house one morning during my sales calls. I walked into the house and found my golf buddies Corey, Jim, and Joe all parked on his couch drinking sodas and munching on donuts or somesuch. “What are you guys doing?” I asked.

“What we do every day,” Joe piped up. “Watching Mayberry R.F.D. and the Dick Van Dyke show. Sometimes I Dream of Jeannie or Bewitched, too. ”

“You’re kidding,” I muttered, astounded, looking around at their coats and ties hanging on the dining room chairs.

“No, for real! You should join us!” Joe replied. They all laughed.

They were serious. Almost daily they took a break before doing any sales work to watch TV. I couldn’t imagine that luxury. I was having trouble hitting my sales quotas while using every minute in the day. It made me think, “What am I doing wrong?”

The difference between our respective territories had much to do with the work involved. Both St. Charles and Geneva had healthy downtowns. Batavia kind of sputtered along. There was a True Value Hardware store and a Coast-to-Coast, but both of them advertised primarily through fliers or “inserts” as we called them, and none of them ran in our papers often. I also called on some Batavia travel agencies, a few banks, a savings and loan, some hair salons and a tonsorial parlor, a fitness business, and a little collective of antique stores. Then I had some Real Estate advertisers and a few car ads to pick up. That was my weekly routine.

There was one high-end furniture store in Batavia called Hubbard’s Ethan Allen. It was run by a family whose lead manager Bob became a friend over the years. Bob’s main concern was the positioning of his ads in the paper. His ads all looked great, being produced by the Ethan Allen company. But if his ad ran in the Sports section or flirted with the back end of the paper where the Classified ads began, I’d get a call. Then I’d have to apologize to Bob and promise to get better “placement” next time.

Control Issues

Salespeople had little control over where ads appeared. That was determined by the total volume of ads placed in that week’s paper, and when we went daily, each issue was a battle for position among advertisers. Every one of them wanted to appear in the first four to five pages if possible. That competition reminded me of the jostling to get up front in cross-country races. If you were too far back by the time the first turn came around, it was easy to get stuck in the pack where you had to fight back through the crowd to make up lost time.

The people in charge of laying out the paper were merciless in their claim of objectivity toward one advertiser over another. But that’s where gamesmanship entered the picture. The layout people had their favorites among the salespeople, and working to preserve whatever status you maintained among them was key to keeping your own advertisers happy.

It could get to be an ugly scene at times with the layout people, especially if you were guilty of bringing in any “late ads,” or space placed near to or after the deadline. My struggle to keep the numbers up meant I was often out selling until the last minute. Then I’d race back to the office and start writing up work orders in quadruplicate with white, yellow, pink and blue sheets all shuttled to their respective pins. Each order had to have the right rate code, instructions for section placement ( a wish list in many ways) any Velux or printed ad material to submit, and sometimes a long list of pricing or other information critical to the content of the ad.

We lived in fear of inaccurate ads in the paper. My main horror show was the advertising for a Standard station that sold tires. The type of tire by size and its corresponding price had to be correct or the ad was deemed “wrong” by the station manager, a man named Stan that I really liked. But when his ad was misprinted, the disappointment was evident on his face. He’d carefully point out the error, write it out in clarity and ask for both a correction and a credit. Then I had to crawl back to the sales manager, explain what the error was, and ask permission to issue a credit, which went against my sales numbers for the day and the week, and try not to get angry at the typesetters if they’d blown it somehow.

The typesetters and layout people all worked in a dark space back by the printing plant. We’d come back to find them banging away with their faces lit by the computer screens. If an ad was late, it was a salesperson’s chore to convince the folks in charge of that day’s paper to allow an “extra” ad to be included. If the paper was already composed, that meant moving things around, and the editorial department did not like to be informed that they’d lost part of their “news hole” either.

Native anxiety

So the rolling impact of trying to get our advertisers into good position and getting late ads posted was stressful business. With native anxiety always clawing at my soul and an unrecognized case of attention-deficit disorder affecting my attention to detail, I’d typically collapse intp my chair at the end of each sales day if everything finally got done and into the paper.

We’d sit around and chatter as salespeople do once the day’s deadline was passed. We’d also try not to breathe the thick smoke floating toward us from the editorial side of the office. At least half the writers were smokers, and cigarettes burned in their ashtrays from dawn to well-past dusk. As a runner, I worried about my lungs when breathing that smoke. The bad news about secondhand smoke as a health hazard to everyone was not yet public knowledge. We’d complain some days if the smoke got too thick, but the editorial department was “god” in those days, so nothing much was said.

Losing it

But one day I got so frustrated by the whole scene that I basically “lost it.” I’d been called by the sales manager late that afternoon and told that it was my job to find an ad to fill a full page space on the back of one of our entertainment sections. Full-page ads didn’t just fall out of the sky. So I rushed to one of my bank clients and basically begged him to fill the space. He asked for a discount and I called in to get that approved, then rushed back with the ad copy to get it place. Traffic was heavy on the way back to the office and I missed the 5:00 deadline. When I walked back to the layout room with the ad in my hand, I was greeted by a bunch of suspicious, and not-too-kind eyes peering out at me from the dark room. At that moment, a woman named JoAnne that I did not like blurted, “What do you want?”

“Bob told me to get this ad in for Our Towns,” I explained.

“We’re running a house ad because you’re too late.”

“I have the full-page Velux,” I told her. “I’m sure Roger and Bob would prefer paid over unpaid space.”

That clearly ticked her off. She grumbled, snatched the plastic ad folder out of my hand, and blurted, “We’ll make no guarantees…”

I spun around to head back to the sales department. On my way I kicked at the swinging door and my foot went right straight through it. “CRACK!” the noise resounded through the room.

That set off a series of shouts and the next thing I knew I was in the Publisher’s being asked to apologize or be fired. First, I tried to explain why the ad was late. That didn’t matter. Then, I explained a basic reality. “That door is cheap,” I offered. “I was only kicking it open to get through.”

Those types of explanations don’t always (hardly ever) help a situation. The larger world has many such examples. I think back to when Lance Armstrong first using drugs in his cycling. His internal story probably went something like this, “Here I’m breaking down doors to do good things for you people, and all you do is criticize me and act suspicious.” On one hand, Lance was absolutely right. That whole Livestrong thing was amazing. So was winning multiple tours. He was genuinely “breaking down doors” in perception and reality.

But while he was doing great things, he was also breaking the rules. Those have to matter at some point. And it did catch up with him. He was also wrong in how he treated some people in his life.

These days, he admits that he was never perfect, and confesses that he certainly isn’t perfect today. Some life lessons only come with age.

It seems that for all of us, there are times in life when you feel truly alone. The day that I plunged my foot through that door was one of them. It shocked everyone. My fellow salespeople, both men and women, kept their distance because they didn’t know what was going on, or why I looked so dour. No one knew at first what that meeting in the Publisher’s office was about. So everyone stayed away.

Call it the Dead Meat syndrome. People are smart. They keep their distance when there’s blood in the water and fear in the air.

The managers warned me about having anger issues, and they were correct. I did have anger issues going on. They stemmed from a number of incidents growing up as a child and beyond. My brothers had long called me The Mink for my habit of engaging in angry outbursts. Most of those were in defense of what I considered justice in the moment. Sometimes I was right. Sometimes not.

But this time it almost cost me big time in the workplace. I apologized for my behavior on the spot, promised it wouldn’t happen again, and didn’t lose my job.

Yet I was still seething inside. Justice had not actually been served. I’d only followed the instructions of my direct boss to place that ad. The fact that it was late was not totally my fault. That didn’t turn out to be a solid piece of defense in my case. That incident reminded me that there isn’t always justice in the workplace. Things aren’t always fair. In fact, more often, they’re not.

Trying to get a leg up

Knowing that things aren’t always fair should have told me to be wiser when it came time to compete for one of the biggest prizes in the sales department. We were publishing the Progress Edition, a major revenue producer into which we sold as many advertisers as possible. There was a big fat commission check waiting for the top salesperson, so I set out hard and fast to earn it.

That’s how I often raced back in my high school days. Take out the pace fast and dare them to catch you. Sometimes it worked. Other times I got caught. But I was looking like the big leader going into the last week. I’d come back from a day of sales and post my ad counts (sold by column inches) that represented real dollars for the company. I thought I was earning the respect of my peers, too. Each week in the sales meeting my leadership was on full display, and the ad manager made a point out of holding me up as an example, even admitting, “He’s got one of the toughest territories, yet here he is, leading the pack.”

Then the last day of the sales content deadline came around. That day, one of my fellow salespeople dumped a huge stack of orders in the In Box and sat back down. He ran the biggest sales territory of all, and he was sandbagging all along. His numbers rolled past me that afternoon, and I was out of gas.

I knew from running that being the lead and losing it at the last minute is the worst feeling in the world. And again, I was angry at the sneaky tactic of saving all those ads for last-minute placement rather than honestly posting his total progress on the daily leaderboard. I considered it a cheap stunt. But he still took home the check and got the big kudos for being the highest-grossing salesperson

Because life’s not fair. Gamesmanship and sandbagging are part of the deal. Even the great cyclist Lance Armstrong once sandbagged during a Tour de France stage to make Jan Ulrich feel like he was going to win the day. Then Lance burst from behind the pack and roared to a stage win. Gamesmanship. Sandbagging.

And lessons learned all around.

Posted in adhd, anxiety, Christopher Cudworth, competition, cross country, cycling, cycling threats | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

50 Years of Running: Chasing career options

By the time I’d turned 27 years old, the decision to stop racing and training so hard was well-established in my mind. With a child to raise and a wife to please, I focused on work-life as the central priority. I kept running for fitness and mental health, but the commitment to serious racing took a back seat.

That didn’t remove competitive instincts from the forefront of my existence. As an advertising salesperson for a small group of local newspapers, my daily “numbers” were critical to achieving higher commissions and what I ultimately earned. Like so many salespeople, I drew a “base” salary and earned a percentage of sales from the ads I placed in what was then a weekly newspaper. There were four of publications in the group; the St. Charles Chronicle was the oldest and most established. Its roots dated back to the late 1800s. There were ancient copies of that newspaper stored in the archives of the publishing company. It was originally called the Valley Chronicle.

As the tri-cities grew, so did the group of local “Chronicles.” Geneva came next. Then Batavia. Yet every ad placed in the group ran in all the newspapers, including the Elburn Chronicle, a newly formed publication when I joined the company.

I quickly made friends with the other staff. We played golf together some afternoons, with Jim, Corey, Joe, and I making up our typical foursome. Sometimes the Publisher Roger would ask us to join him, but I quickly learned that he was not the most ethical golfer I’d ever met. On several occasions I watched him use the foot wedge to move a ball into play along a fence line. He often fudged his scores after every hole by refusing to take penalties for balls lost or out of bounds. We ignored these infractions because he was our boss. We dared not question him. From a competitive standpoint, that drove me nuts. Having come from an athletic tradition such as running, where it’s really hard to cheat, I found his antics despicable. I hated losing to a cheater.

Vain pursuits

Part of his behavior stemmed from core vanity that knew almost no limits. On every front, he was immensely protective of his public image. That showed up in his physical appearance with a perpetually dark tan and carefully coiffed salt-and-pepper hair. Beyond that, he was ardently defensive when it came to any discussion of his business acumen or accomplishments.

That became known in the greater community. Once, while having lunch with a group of Rotary buddies where were some of the leading businesspeople in the valley, they directed a question my way. “Why your boss is such a tight-ass?” they inquired with a wry chuckle.

I burst out laughing because it was certainly true. But in professional loyalty, I told them he had to manage a business with a ton of angles. The group nodded knowingly and one of them said, “Well done.”

Trickle-down effects

The slightly corrupt and uptight nature of the boss had trickle-down effects within our organization. At one point, a reader wrote a Letter to the Editor identifying the fact that our boss was seen driving a long way down the shoulder of the road approaching our office in order to access the turn lane. The writer questioned whether our boss respected the law, or thought himself above it?

That sent Roger into a rage during our weekly manager meeting, at which he typically “held court” on whatever subjects without or outside of the newspaper. Whatever caught his attention was the subject of the day. Once, during a period when the newspaper was consolidating into a single Kane County edition from four newspapers, he wrote a company memo with a title that said, “The Truth and The Light…The Chronicle Way.”

Some people in the organization were offended by his use of Christian language in a corporate communication. One of them sent a letter of complaint to the CEO of the Shaw family that by then had purchased and owned the Chronicle. The next week in our leadership meeting, Roger went off on the subject, “No one can question my Christian faith!” he protested. “I go to church every week!”

Little did he know that I’d recently visited his church. I’d taken the youth group that I led from our Lutheran church to see what other church traditions were like. During the priest’s homily, I was shocked to hear him state that while the parish was in a largely wealthy area, it was not necessary to apologize or feel overly compelled to go out of the way to help the poor. He locked his fingers together in an act of isometric symbolism and said, “As long as you feel the tension, that’s okay.”

I was shocked to hear the call to service in the Christian tradition dismissed so easily. But it helped explain (in part) why our boss seemed to possess half a conscience over cheating or using Christian language to control those under his management.

A price to pay

Because I was one of the few people willing to raise issues of conscience in our weekly group meetings, Roger figured that I’d been the one to write the letter to the CEO of the Shaw family. He pulled me into his office in a rage, and then brandishing the letter containing a copy of the company newsletter, he asked, “Why did you write this?”

I pointed out that the writing on the letter was clearly not mine, and affirmed that I’d never seen the letter before. He eventually relented in his accusation toward me, and then demanded, “Who do you think did write this?”

“I honestly have no idea,” I told him. I didn’t. Of course, I did agree with the intent of that letter but said nothing at the moment. He likely would have fired me on the spot. As it was, a few months later he found a different reason to fire me. I’m certain that the former incident had plenty to do with the latter. Sadly, all of that happened following seven years of largely happy employment with the newspaper group. I made many great friends with whom I keep in contact to this day and got to chase some early career goals in the process.

New meanings for “competition”

I was rapidly learning what it meant to “compete” in the working world. Rather than the ‘clean, hard, and severe’ world of which my favorite running writer Kenny Moore once spoke, I was experiencing the nuanced, foggy, and often cynical side of competition where emotional intelligence played such an important part of life. Admittedly, I struggled with some of that. As a person with anxiety (and even depression at times) I often worried about all the wrong things and imagined problems into reality that weren’t there at all. All while failing to recognize the genuine threats posed by sales sandbaggers, conflicted bosses and people that cheated at golf.

To process all this, I kept on running, going out almost daily as my son grew and the birth of my daughter approached. On some days, those runs were the only way to preserve my sanity.

Posted in anxiety, Christopher Cudworth, competition, Depression, God, mental health, mental illness, race pace, racing peak | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Racing along with ease and joy

Yesterday on October 16, I competed in the Frank Lloyd Wright Races in Oak Park, Illinois. This was a return adventure to an event I won twice back in ’83 and ’84. That was 39 years ago. I ran 32:00 to win that first year on a rainy, cool day in October.

I recall the feeling of ease that day as I raced along at 5:10 pace. The roads were wet with rain and puddles, but I wore my Nike Elites, a set of racing shoes with a decent heel and waffle soles. I took the lead early and ran the angular course rife with young strength and speed.

The victor during those years received a beautiful silver cup large enough to store champagne, and I’ve used my two cups on many occasions. It’s been a few years since I polished the genuine silver on them to make them shine, but now I’m inspired again to do so. Those cups are one of the few awards retained from years of running and earning medals, ribbons, trophies and other such rip-rap from races.

One of the Frank Lloyd Wright winner’s cups from the 1980s

My interest in racing this weekend was more about the experience than earning awards. Plus the race was priced reasonably, just $48 for an entry fee in an age when you seldom get to compete for less than $100. I get that races are expensive to conduct. The costs of insurance and police, tee-shirts and awards adds up quickly. So many races are fundraisers for non-profit causes it can be tough to keep any share of the profits.

This year, I made a $1 contribution on top of the entry fee, which I admit was cheap. I was in a hurry and eager to get the entry through in case they suddenly closed down according to some unannounced timeline. I had that happen several weeks ago while I was attempting to sign up for a triathlon. I went away to get some information needed to sign up and when I came back to refresh the site said ENTRIES FOR 2022 NOW CLOSED.

All you can do is laugh at that point. So I didn’t fool around. I sent my entry in and gratefully received confirmation. Then I looked at the course map again to see if the course followed some of the streets I raced almost forty years ago. Indeed, they did.

Race prep

I was excited to race because my pre-race time trial on a local track went fairly well. I warmed up two miles and ran a 7:03 without terrible strain. That meant I could probably run 7:30 pace without crashing. Years of experience time-trialing and racing taught me that thirty seconds is a consistent buffer for me to race above a time-trial pace. Imagine the confidence I had back when I planned to run a 15K and raced a 4:22 mile in an All-Comers meet a few days ahead of the race. I made my friend swear that he’d not reveal the type of race fitness I had before running against a bunch of college teammates and some other Luther grads in the 9.3 mile Elvelopet race on a hilly course in Decorah, Iowa that year. Toward the finish it was just me and a talented runner named Mark Glessner together with a mile to go. I knew that he’d run a 10K in the low 30:00 range that year, but I tried to take the sting out of his speed from a ways out. But he caught me with just 100 meters to go as we both finished just over 50:00.

Those experiences fuel my more casual racing these days. The one race I ran this summer was a triathlon that ended on a massively hilly run course in Wauconda, Illinois. I’d run 8:00 pace on the flats and get reduced to a crawl on the hills on a hot day.

Bright prospects

Yesterday dawned chilly and sunny. I drove down early and found one of the first two parking spaces on Lake Street, picked up my registration packet, pinned the number on my Zoot racing shirt and settled in for a half-nap in the reclined front seat of my Subaru.

At 7:00 a.m. I got up and ran a few short laps around the soft surface of the artificial turf field in Oak Park. My legs felt alive after the previous day’s easy 30-mile cycling journey with my wife Sue. I was happy to feel my legs responding. I was so relaxed it was fun to spend time chatting with other runners and stopped to pet a few cute puppies too.

The Nike Vaporfly shoes I’d purchased on sale at Dick’s Sporting Goods felt good on my feet. It took a few runs to get used to the squishy feeling of those shoes even though I’ve been training in a set of Nike carbon-fiber plate shoes the last few months. The Vaporfly’s are good for forefoot striking but I’ve also learned to shift from midfoot to heel for a bit to change up and prevent muscle fatigue.

I arrived at the Start line right as the siren sounded to start the race. It took a bit of dodging to get into the 7:00-7:30 pace group but once I was there, and glanced at my watch to see 7:02 on the pace indicator, I eased back a bit and ran through the first mile in 7:33, right where I wanted to be.

Then I concentrated on relaxing at that pace, practicing some of my own advice to carry my arms in the “Spindle Swing” that I’d taught to a running group this past summer. It involves putting an imaginary “spindle” about eight inches in front of your chest and pretending to pull a string back and forth with your hands.

I also thought about the P.A.W.S sessions conducted this summer to teach people running efficiency. That stands for Pushing Along With Speed, or ‘pawing’ your way with the heel and forefoot to cruise over the ground rather than raw, hard heel-striking or running so high on your toes that you stop yourself.

The second mile passed in 7:36, just a touch slower than the first. There were many turns in that section of the race, and I kept to the corners the best I could, but ultimately saw that I’d run 6.26 miles according to Garmin and Strava. You have to run the tangents to be most effective in a race.

The third mile passed in 7:35, and I felt really great. The thought passed through my head that I should test a faster pace. I ran the next mile in 7:28. Still good.

Right at that point, I noticed a guy about my age on my left. I thought I’d left him behind in the first mile but apparently, he’d either been tracking me or just plain caught up. “Hey,” I called over to him. “How old are you?”

“62,” he replied.

“Good,” I responded.

He retorted: “How old are you?”

“65,” I chuckled. Then I said, “We’re safe in our age groups. Now we don’t have to suffer unnecessarily.”

Meaning, he could focus on his race and I could focus on mine. So that’s what we did. He pulled ahead and wound up with about 100 yards on me by the time we finished.

The fifth mile had a couple turns that slowed my pace a bit. I passed that mile in 7:36. The sixth mile had some inclines and I managed a 7:49. But with .2 of a mile to go, the road turned down a slight downhill. I raised the pace in a kick. In all, I ran 47:25 according to the race clock, but my Garmin showed 47:04. I’d also started a bit back from the starting line and noticed that my times and distances were slightly off from the mile markers along the way. My Garmin congratulated me for the fastest 5K (I think it was 23:45 or something like that) and third-fastest 10K.

Now, I didn’t run as fast as I did a few years back at Sycamore (43:50) where my pace per mile was closer to 7:00. But neither do I feel like that’s impossible to reach that again. I had the best racing experience feeling good the entire way even though my gut flirted with some heaviness and side stitch possibilities at the first mile. I willed that away, breathed from the belly and kept it rolling. I said out loud, “This is fun!”

I also thought to myself. “You’re Christopher Cudworth. You’ve been doing this a long time. Yes, you’re sixty-five years old now. That’s a senior athlete for sure. But you’re in the top 100 in this race for sure.” Indeed, I finished in 77th.

I was so happy and satisfied with the day that I didn’t really care about awards. There wasn’t a ceremony anyway. I guess they’ll be available at Fleet Feet Sports in Oak Park. I’ll decide if it’s worth the drive to pick that up or not. My real reward was the feeling of smooth running on a bright fall morning. It’s not always that easy. But there’s really nothing like it when it comes to feeling young again. I felt a definite joy in that.

I called Sue and we talked on Facetime. She was out riding her bike 70 miles in training for two upcoming races. 70.3 Worlds in St. George and the Arizona Ironman in November. She wanted to come watch me race in Oak Park since she’d lived there for many years, but she also needed to get her racing bike over to the Trek store for shipment to Worlds.

That’s the life of competitive athletes at any level. It takes flexibility along with dedication to enjoy success of any kind. Come to think of it, that’s a good approach to everything in life. Be dedicated, but also be flexible because you don’t always know what life is going to throw your way. Then race along with ease and joy the best that you can manage.

Posted in 10K, aging, anxiety, Christopher Cudworth, competition, cycling, cycling the midwest, healthy aging, healthy senior, race pace, racing peak, running, running shoes, track and field, training, TRAINING PEAKS, triathlon, we run and ride | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment