A heartbreaking sign of the times

If you watch the Tour de France, you’ve likely already seen the results of the horrific crash produced by a woman holding out a cardboard sign to bearing a handwritten message to her relatives. She wanted to gain TV coverage for her family. Instead, the lead cyclists in the peloton smacked into the woman and her sign. That crash up front caused a chain reaction that left dozens of riders crushed and bleeding in their wake. One cyclist broke both his arms.

It’s bad enough when crashes happen because one rider touches the wheel of another. But the fact that this woman in her ignorance stepped in front of cyclists moving at least 25 mph on the road is heartbreaking.

We’ve seen crazy incidents before. Lance Armstrong once got tossed to the ground when he hooked his handlebars on a purse strap of some sort. A few years back a Tour cyclist named Johnny Hoogerland got rammed from the side by a motorbike. He was tossed through the air and landed on a barbed wire fence, tearing his kit and leaving bloody slashes on his buttocks.

The motivation for that woman to hold out that sign might have been innocent enough. Yet think about that: now she’s famous around the world for having wrecked the hopes of dozens of riders who trained all their lives for the chance to race in the Tour de France.

It’s hard to think of an example of a more ignorantly selfish moment in sports. Sure, Chicago Cubs fan blame the gentleman called Bartman for catching a foul ball that might have turned the game in favor for the home team. But he was legitimately parked in his own seat, wearing a baseball glove, doing the one thing fans dream about when they buy a ticket: catching a game ball.

One could argue that woman by the side of the road was doing what Tour fans do. The scene is always manic. Yet when asked if the race was better without fans present last year, cyclist Richie Porte gave a polite and obviously constrained reply that things like this are bound to happen in the Tour.

Porte is a class act for saying that, but I’ll bet that the cyclists at the Tour actually have a far less tolerant view of fans, especially on the mountain climbs where only a small corridor allows them passage up the slopes. I recall when Tour leader Alberto Contador punched a fan in the face to keep him from colliding with his bike, or him.

It’s a fact that people go insane in circumstances where crowds gather. They get caught up in the excitement and imagine themselves an integral part of the event, or even part of history. We’ve seen how crazy that can get in circumstances fueled by political motivations. The insurrection on the United States Capitol saw thousands of people go insane and break into the Capitol to loot and even threaten the lives of elected officials. The confessions of those caught and arrested for their treasonous exercise are telling. Here’s one example:

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: A protester is seen hanging from the balcony in the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. Pro-Trump protesters have entered the U.S. Capitol building after mass demonstrations in the nation’s capital. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

From the KLTA website: “Images of a man hanging from the Senate balcony during last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol were plastered across TV screens and social media feeds with many people wondering who the dangling man might be.

According to CBS 2 in Boise, he’s a resident of Idaho who is now asking for forgiveness and saying he got “caught up in the moment.”

The man, identified by CBS 2 as Josiah Colt, had not been arrested as of Monday morning.

Colt deleted his social media accounts following the events. He then released a statement to CBS 2 that read in part, “I realize now that my actions were in appropriate and I beg for forgiveness from America and my home state of Idaho.”

That is no excuse. Nor should any of the people crushing police and waltzing through the Capitol be shown mercy for their participation. Their ignorance should be no protection for their insolence.

U.S. Capitol Police scuffle with demonstrators after they broke through security fencing outside of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The House and Senate will meet in a joint session today to count the Electoral College votes to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, but not before a sizable group of Republican lawmakers object to the counting of several states’ electors. Photographer: Graeme Sloan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Whether by ignorance, choice. or chance, there are plenty of people who do stupid things in public places when excited by the notion of personal fame or accomplishment. Some aggressively embrace identities such as the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers, the KKK or lately, Antifa or the GOP or Trump…while deriving ugly amusement from the chaos. They feel it somehow empowers them to carry signs, fly flags or pledge loyalty to those who breed chaos for self-interest.

It’s always a heartbreaking sign bearing witness to such moments. Such is also the case with the lives of those cyclists involved in the crash. Their futures were forever changed by the careless and selfish actions of one woman “caught up in the moment” and trying to claim fame for herself and her family at one of the world’s biggest sporting events.

Donald Trump giving the “two thumbs up” sign that Covid is not a threat. We now know he almost died.

Yet there are many kinds of signs. Some are rhetorical. The most potent example is the Make America Great Again signholder who stood in front of America as a pandemic rushed full speed at the nation. All the selfish brute did was stand in front of the crowds to wave and claim, “It’s not real.” He even pretended all was fine when he almost died with oxygen levels in his body dropping to 80%. But he wanted to send a sign to the American people that Covid was not threat.

600,000 people died as a result of his heartbreaking lack of prescience, honesty, or grip on reality. Thousands more still fight the effects of the disease and we’re not even out of trouble yet because some people are still too stubborn and dumb to wear a mask in areas where Covid is still a threat. They refuse to protect themselves and others. They would rather focus on their self-interests than accept any call to be responsible citizens.

Thousands of people were dying every day from Covid-19 and all this man cared about was his haircut.

The woman wielding that sign at the Tour de France proved yet again that selfish interests are often the most damaging of all. But she’s not alone, that’s for sure. And that’s the heartbreaking sign of our age.

While this guy obviously doesn’t care about his haircut, his attire is a heartbreaking sign of cult worship.
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The difference between Cycling and Riding

Today I rode just over forty miles in a rectangular route straight north to the western reaches of South Elgin, cut over to the east side of the Fox River to catch the bike trail, and headed all the way south to North Aurora before wending my way back home.

I was doing what I call riding, not cycling.

To me, cycling is the more serious side of biking on the roads. When I’m cycling, it’s usually with another person or a group of people pedaling at a consistently fast pace, usually between 17-20 mph. When my wife and I head out on tri-bikes and finish 56 miles in under three hours, I consider that “cycling.

By contrast, when I’m riding, the pace is not quite as important as other aspects of the journey, such as taking new routes or accepting the limits of riding a bike on public bike trails. It’s not safe or possible to hammer in some situations, and avoiding traffic just feels right some days.

Today’s “ride” was satisfying because I averaged 15.5 mph on a route that included some solid climbing in the Fox Valley. The bike trail crosses the Fox river at the number 5 on the map shown and then goes up a long incline about a half mile long. There’s a slightly steeper section in the middle of the climb, but the grade as a whole is not much more than three or four degrees in gradient. It’s always fun to test yourself there.

To add some more climbs, I spun down a steeper street and looped around the neighborhood next to the river. Those climbs felt good in my legs too. I didn’t hurry. Just spun and rolled uphill. That’s plain old riding. I’ve always loved that.

Climbing drops your overall average pace, but that’s the point of a ride. Enjoy the process. My top speed on the ride today was 34 mph. I still like going fast downhill and climbing back up while letting the legs do the talking.

Cycling and riding are both good ways to spend time in the saddle. Perhaps it’s only my goofy brain that distinguishes between the two. Yet I find it helpful to get into a mindset of one kind or another. I do the same thing with running in many respects. That’s a topic for another day.

My goal is to do both some cycling and riding this weekend. I plainly need to do more of each. I’ve had no “double ride” weekends this year at all. In other years I never missed a weekend double if I could.

For inspiration, the Tour de France kicks off tomorrow. That usually gets the brain juices flowing and the cycling/riding legs going.

This weekend I’ll write about what I’d like to see happen in the Tour and what I think will actually take place. I’ve heard predictions about who will be on the podium and what teams will dominate. It promises to be an interesting Tour, that’s for sure.

Can I ride all 21 days while the Tour is going on? We’ll see. Sounds like a nice challenge.

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The wrong kind of Tick Tock

The actual tick I pulled off my body yesterday. I squashed it dead. It was tiny. And deadly.

Here’s something I can say without remorse or equivocation. I hate ticks. Regular old dog ticks are bad enough. They find their way onto my socks and pants in the fields and make their way up my body until something tickles my skin and smack: I find a tick right there on my body or up the back of the neck.

You can’t kills the little fuckers easily. Squashing them with a finger doesn’t work. They take the pressure and keep on walking. They look up at you with their little tick-tock eyes and squint back as if to say: Fuck you. I’m a tick. You can’t kill me.

This makes me respect ticks even as much as I hate them. Their ability to grab onto prospective hosts is enormously impressive. Once in Colorado I stepped off a highway to look at some distant mountains while wearing shorts. Within seconds there were ten to twenty ticks crawling on my bare legs. Ticks are the professional magicians of the natural world.

Back in the days of attending Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, I often went running or birding in the woods. One late afternoon I laid down in bed to rest after a training run and felt a bump or two on the top of my head. Four fat dog ticks were embedded in the skin of my scalp. They were already engorged with blood. I trekked to the campus health clinic and a nurse plucked them off with tweezers.

That. Was. Gross. Absolutely gross. I hate ticks.

Look! No ticks here.

Thanks to my rad hairstyle these days, that tick infestation could no longer happen. I buzz my hair so close no tick has a chance to hide long enough to do its dirty work. Being bald has its advantages. Plus I haven’t paid for a haircut in twenty years.

My other gross tick encounter happened back in 2003 or so. I had gone for a run in the morning and started out on an extended bird walk in the fields north of St. Charles. For three hours I wandered through woods and wet fields counting birds for the Audubon Spring Census. I was already dealing with wicked case of poison ivy from an unfortunate brush with a plant rich in oils that spring. My left leg was covered with pink calamine lotion to quell the itching.

That meant I didn’t quite notice that a new source of creepy feeling inflicted my leg when I got home. That afternoon when I peeled off my pants to change for a run I noticed a tiny tick embedded in the skin just below the knee. This was not a fat old regular dog tick. This was a dreaded deer tick. The kind that carries Lyme Disease.

I dug that little bastard out with tweezers and soaked the already itchy leg with a bath of antibiotics. It was too late. Within a couple days there appeared a ring rash, a halo of red inflammation just above the patch of poison ivy infection covering my shin.

I rushed to the doctor and received a prescription for antibiotics to fight off any chance of Lyme Disease. As far as I know, that treatment worked as I don’t have any symptoms that would indicate the disease got hold of my system.

To say that these days I’m super-sensitive and hateful toward ticks is beyond an understatement. I’ve picked them up even while running out at the restored prairie near my home. The little buggers grab onto my shoes even when I’m sticking to the limestone trails. Then they hang on for dear life until I get home. Patient like terrorists about to attack a target, they sit still letting their bloodthirsty little brains work on the idea of sucking my blood. They are as crazy and persistent as horny 20-year-old males lusting after women.

But once things settle down and their target lies still, they start to creep and crawl, sometimes navigating multiple layers of clothing, even passing under a waist belt in search of the perfect soft spot to stick their suckers into the skin.

I hate ticks. They’re too perfect at what they do.

A closeup photo of a deer tick. Watch out for these tiny monsters.

Have I told you that I hate ticks? Hate. Hate. Hate. Nature is merciless in its creation of parasites and pathogens. That is not the result of a Fallen World or Original Sin. Religion has nothing to do with why ticks are so doggone good (and you should always check your dog for ticks) at latching onto bodies of one kind or another. They are highly evolved to do what they do best. Millions of years of trial and error drives ticks to suck your blood. They feed on it. Live on it. Then they drop off leaving you with something horrible if they can.

Nature didn’t need God to create ticks. It is perfectly capable of doing it all on its own. That’s why we also have perfectly awful human beings among us as well. Bloodsuckers and liars. Some of them crawl up the chain of human society to feed on a nation and its citizens.

You know who I’m talking about. So do others.

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Des Moines deserves a day in the sun

On the morning of the Des Moines Certified Piedmontese 70.3 Ironman, the rains thumped the roof of our hotel and race delay notifications buzzed on our phones. The lightning storm was a dire threat to anyone caught out in the open or in the water. The rains also made cycling a difficult proposition at best.

So we sat in our hotel room at 7:00 a.m. with bit of breakfast culled from the offerings at the Fairfield Inn. I brought back eggs and sausage, but one bite from that gray-looking pat of meat was enough to realize that it had no taste and the texture was soft and mushy.

“No thanks,” I thought. I warned other folks at the hotel about the flat-tasting sausage, and word got around. “Did you have the sausage?” people asked with a laugh. Ah well, nothing’s perfect in this world.

Those are sriracha spiced Goldfish

Everything else about the weekend was pretty darn fun. On Friday night we dined at a restaurant called the Angry Goldfish. One of the appetizers served is a bowl of sriracha powdered Goldfish Crackers. They were spicy little mites, so we washed them down with a cold draft of locally brewed beers.

Saturday morning my wife Sue had a pre-race swim-bike-run to do, so I linked up with a friend and former college cross teammate that lives in Des Moines. We’d seen each other a few weeks before at the funeral service in Indianola for our mutual friend Keith Ellingson. I mentioned that we’d be heading back to Iowa for the triathlon and we agreed to meet up for a bike ride if time allowed.

In between, we talked about an artwork that he wanted for his condominium in downtown Des Moines. His favorite bike path goes through a restored covered bridge deep in the woods south of the city. He sent me a photo of his bike leaning inside the structure and I painted an acrylic for a spot he’d identified in their home.

My friend Jeff and I ran cross country together at Luther College

During our 26-mile bike trip we rode through the covered bridge after miles of pleasant riding on shady trails. I’d worked from a photograph to create the painting so it’s always a treat to see the real thing. After the bike ride we unveiled the painting with his wife and it now hangs where they can see it from their living room sofa.

After that fun rendezvous I met up with Sue back at Gray’s Lake, the center of action for the triathlon the next day. We got cleaned up and had brunch at Mullet’s, a great joint overlooking the river south of Des Moines with a fine view of the downtown skyline. The food is excellent (I had chicken and waffles) and the vibe is laid back and welcoming.

You should try this place. It rocks.

Before walking into Mullets I struck up a conversation with a cyclist standing next to the trail. It turned out to be a Des Moines local legend named Carl Voss, for whom a new section of bike trail is named. He’s one of the leading figures in regional recreation for running and cycling, and it was an honor to meet a guy with so much history and influence in the state.

The legendary Carl Voss of Des Moine, Iowa.

The afternoon got warm on Saturday and there was some serious trekking required to check bikes in transition. The participant and spectator parking was a mile from Water Works Park, which itself is a big property, even larger than Central Park in New York. So we hoofed it over there in the heat, but on the way back on the long walk, my wife felt like she was starting to melt, and I was concerned about her experiencing an energy drain after all that training and prep.

The only thing I could think to do as she started to complain was listen and make a few encouraging jokes about how long it was taking to get back. Before we’d left the parking lot, her new Mitsubishi Outlander had rolled slightly backward as I turned off the motor and a warning sign appeared on the dash. “Immobilization…” the words said. I looked up the cause and the Mitsubishi website says…”The electronic immobiliser is designed to reduce significantly the possibility of vehicle theft. The purpose of the system is to immobilise the vehicle if an invalid start is attempted. A valid start attempt can only be achieved by using a key “registered” to the immobiliser system.”

I’d called the Mitsu dealership service department in Des Moines when the problem first happened and the guy had never heard of the immobilization deal. But it had been ten minutes since I’d tried to start the car before calling him so it started right up again when I tried it with the key fob. “See, all you have to do is call me,” he laughed.

Such is life.

The scene half an hour before race start. Rain. Mud. Umbrellas.

That incident symbolized what was about to take place with the race the next morning. The storms caused a series of stops and starts, and the entire Ironman enterprise was immobilized for ninety minutes while the rain pounded Des Moines. It was a much-needed rain, however. The grass in town was all torched and brown from early summer heat. The river is so low the city is concerned about water supply for residents, and Gray’s Lake where the triathlon swim was scheduled to take place had a big dry ring about the edges.

Some kids came prepared for the rainy morning.

Finally the gun went off and the pros came storming out of the Swim out. From there, the race when off well, but the bike segment had to be shortened for logistical reasons. My wife rode fast and came in with a smile on her face. “That was fun…” she said. That was a smile coming out of the water and a smile coming off the bike. We were two-for-two on the day so far.

The race ended in downtown Des Moines where happy crowds of hopefully vaccinated people gathered to cheer on the finishers. The energy of a triathlon finish area is always a bit manic. You have the exhausted Sherpas milling around and looking for their road warriors to finish the run. There are moms and dads with baby strollers and dogs of all breeds panting in the sun or shade. The announcer calls out the names of the bedraggled and the triumphant alike. The same inspirational music that’s been playing at races for the last forty years blares over the loudspeakers.

I stopped for a quick drink at a pub before Sue completed the course. The air inside felt cool and welcoming. A solid Jack and Coke hit the spot.

Sue the last fifty yards of the bike. The sun had come out by then.

Then she came trucking down the block with yet another grin on her face. She’d had a good run to go with her swim and bike. “That was great!” she told me with shining eyes under a bright white Zoot hat to match her can’t-miss-it Zoot triathlon kit.

Fortunately the rain dissipated and the city of Des Moines got to show off for the crowds. The local news channel estimated that the event would bring $6M in revenue to the city. Between its investment in bike trails and the little food and bar joints and cultural attractions, the city has much to offer. “It’s the New York City of Iowa,” my friend offered.

Thanks to my Sherpa instincts, we were parked just a block from my friend’s house so my wife got to shower before we headed home. On the return trip we passed through major storms through eastern Iowa and across most of Illinois. Lightning flashed and heavy rains blasted our windshield. Then we hit a short stint of hail and slowed to 55 mph to avoid hydroplaning on the wet roads.

Somewhere near DeKalb we both happened to look north when a lightning bolt struck something large on the horizon. A massive greenish flash and halo of light rose up from the strike point. What it hit we’ll likely never know, but the weather reports stated that there were more than 263,000 lightning strikes in Illinois as well as a tornado that mowed down houses in Naperville and Woodridge.

These big weather patterns are so accentuated these days. It makes you wonder what it must have been like to live on the prairie before all this civilization planted itself across the Midwest. In any case, it’s here now. Des Moines finally got its day in the sun, and it showed off pretty well. Thanks to all who organized and managed the event. Nice job.

And by the way, those burgers served to athletes at the finish line? My wife grabbed me one and…they really were delicious. I guess Iowa beef is legitimately better.

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On the flip side, I don’t have to prove myself at the family picnic

Yesterday I wrote a short lament about the way sports consumes so much of our lives if we let it. That’s not a total regret. I’ve gained quite a bit from sports, including the aptitudes of perseverance when called upon, and patience too. Those were valuable skills during fifteen years of caregiving for my late mother, late wife and late father.

So it’s not exactly regret that we bring to the table when looking back at athletic endeavors. Many of us would like (or choose) to have a crack at life all over again. Perhaps do things differently. Or more things, anyway.

The fact remains: There’s only so much time to live and only so much carpe diem in all of us.

Leading a pack at a college cross country race.

I’ve analyzed whether I could have done better in sports at certain points in life. Trouble is, that’s a fruitless exercise, pun intended. You either perform in the moment, or you don’t. There is no value in woulda-coulda-shoulda. The only regrets one can legitimately apply are those concerning the choice to hold back on a big performance because of circumstances. If you “take one for the team” and save energy for another event rather than running full steam in a race, then the regret of not blasting it that day is balanced by the character it take to be a good teammate. Life is often a balance between personal and team objectives. It’s true in work, family and the global community.

So those bittersweet regrets must be forgiven and forgotten. If you gave it your best shot as often as you could, you’re in good company. As the lyrics in the musical Hamilton suggest, giving it all in the moment is a highly respected trade:

I’m not giving away my shot…

Marty Liquori one wrote in his book at elite distance running that doing your best (as a runner, for example) when life and age and opportunity presents itself is no small commitment. That feeling of obsession to succeed is strong within many of us. Some work it out at an early age, while others find it later in life. “In the end,” Liquori said (and I paraphrase,) “If you do your best you won’t have to prove yourself at the family picnic.”

We don’t want to find ourselves in a cycle of perpetual regret like Uncle Rico in the movie Napolean Dynamite. Good old Rico was living so far in the past that unfolded glories haunted him every day. Yet even Rico seemed to find love at the end of the movie after so many vainglorious attempts at local success. Sometimes self-forgiveness arrives in the simple gleam of a pair of shining eyes. I hope he’s happy now.

This much I do know. Having stood at the starting line of races with thousands of other people and carving out wins was a challenging and exciting time. That was a once-in-a-lifetime period, and despite the realization that other things could have taken place if time were a parallel universe, I don’t feel there’s much to prove at the family picnic.

That does not mean I don’t still enjoy the feeling of training or participating in races occasionally to test myself in real time. Those actions are good for mental and physical health. I plan to continue that journey.

But if you’re haunted by regrets of any kind, reconcile yourself to them. It’s okay. None of us is perfect. All of us have fallen short. That makes the feeling of achievement all the more better when it comes around. And it will. Just keep trying.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, healthy aging, healthy senior, mental health, running, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons, werunandride | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On sports prowess and worthless skills

My Pistol Pete Maravich look, age 12

At the age of nine years old, I was a big fan of Pistol Pete Maravich, the basketball great who essentially invented the modern game in all its flashy play. While Maravich was a sensation, his talent with a basketball wasn’t enough to lead the teams for which he played to an NBA title.

That’s a criticism often labelled at other players whose greatness fell short of the title-winning standard. Basketball greatness is ultimately measured by the winning records of players such as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, all of whom won multiple NBA championships.

That said, I modeled my basketball style after a player that I much admired for his creativity and innovation. The height (or nadir) of that imitation was learning to spin a basketball on the tip of my finger. It took me a week of practice to get decent at it, but eventually I grasped the need for a level spin on the ball and how to slap it to keep the revolution sufficient to keep the ball up in the air. I was proud of that achievement, and can still spin a basketball on my finger to this day. Recently I showed that skill to a batch of elementary students during a substitute teaching gig. Some of them actually made progress in their first lesson.

I didn’t bother to tell them how useless it was to learn that skill. But that’s the way it is with so many activities in sports. I once won the football Punt-Pass-and Kick Contest in our town and and advanced to a District competition, but that didn’t really equate to being a football player. My father knew that and told me in no uncertain terms that I was going out for cross country that fall. Still, on a cool fall day in college, I once kicked a football field goal from forty yards out. That’s a pretty worthless accomplishment too.

Pitching in Pony League, age 16.

In baseball I pitched all the way through my junior year in high school, going 7-1 in the summer league. That consummated years of playing that sport from the age of five through the age of seventeen. I recall hours spent throwing into a pitching net, calling every ball and strike measured on the string squate woven into the net with as much honesty as I could muster. Then I pitched and won a championship game for a team that won the Lancaster New Era Tournament. That was the peak of youth achievement in that era. Upon moving to Illinois, there was no league for 13-year-olds in the small town of Elburn, so I tried out for the 16+ year-old American Legion team and made it. Traveling to small towns to play summer baseball was a valuable social experience, and I learned plenty of emotional control and how to handle pressure along the way, but as a pure life skill playing baseball isn’t really that valuable.

Come college I signed up for an intramural Superstars competition in which the Softball Throw was one of the events. I tossed the ball over 300 feet but the other competitors insisted, upon seeing my skinny distance-runner frame, that the measurement must have been a mistake. So I threw it even farther the next time. “Fuck you,” I muttered under my breath. I’ve always hated when people doubt me.

Certainly playing sports builds character in one way or another. I once bowled a 283 when my daughter’s high school friend lorded his first game over me at the bowling alley. I rolled multiple strikes in a row before my daughter turned to me and said, “Are you insane?” And I’ll admit, at that moment, I was out of my mind. I never liked to lose to people who were cocky.

Sports prowess is all about competition, and learning to compete in all kinds of circumstances is one good attribute of having been an athlete. These days my competitive instincts are more constrained, but I still like doing a few triathlons a year. Interestingly, the activities of swimming, riding and running actually are useful skills for lifelong health and fitness. They keep me in relatively good shape and wick off stress.

I can’t say the same for spinning a basketball on my finger, but it still does impress the third-graders in this world. So I suppose that’s good for something.

This life in athletics formed a significant part of my personality. But the other day I was chatting with one of my brothers who lamented how much we’d missed by always being tied up in sports of one kind or another. As artists and writers, it would have been great to go on spring break trips to wild locations, or overseas to visit other countries during college. Instead it was the grind calendar of in-season and off-season training for many years.

There were indeed many thrills earned along the way. Those fueled the dopamine and hormone-driven need for approval. I even lived out sports fantasies in real life, such as sinking a last minute shot from half court in basketball, slamming a home run with the bases full in the final inning, and winning races well into my late twenties. These things happened mostly because I wanted to impress the girls in one way or another. Yet even when I did, those moments of adoration were most fleeting.

I did break the sports addiction cycle a few times. During January Term at Luther College, I traveled at the age of nineteen to do an internship at the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. For thirty days I pretty much ignored the need to run and just lived, walking through daily accumulations of new snow to hide out in the back rooms of Sapsucker Woods studying the work of the greatest bird artists in the world. Only at the end of the term did I turn my attention back to running.

But one can’t help wonder what other opportunities were missed over the years by dedicating so much time to developing essentially useless skills. My brother made a comment recently that has me thinking about the years and the world in general.

“Fuck sports,” he said. And to some degree, I do agree.

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A life in newspapers, and long may you run

At the age of thirteen, I took on a paper route in the tiny town of Elburn, Illinois. I think there were 750 residents, but the houses spread across a chunk of the landscape and I covered the north half of town.

I’d rise at 5:30 every day, seven days a week to deliver newspapers. Back then, it was the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, and a few copies of the Chicago Daily News, I think it was.

I prided myself on doing a great job on that paper route. As a freshman in high school, I’d sometimes feel the previous day’s cross-country or track workout in my skinny legs while pedaling a Huffy three-speed around the three-mile paper route. At every home I’d drop the bike, jog up the yard and place the newspaper inside the screen door or just inside the house.

In high school I started writing for the school newspaper. That continued through college and beyond, when I produced a weekly column titled Field Day for the St. Charles Chronicle, the newspaper that had covered my exploits in track and cross country. One of the sportswriters there was Elmore McCornack, a kindly gentleman who traveled to our meets to report on race results. Forty-five years later I’d have the honor of being the officiant at the wedding of his granddaughter Annie Clarrisimeaux, whose older brother Evan was also a runner who turned a 4:07 mile at the University of Iowa.

We’ve been through
Some things together
With trunks of memories
Still to come
We found things to do
In stormy weather
Long may you run.

In my late 20s, I went to work for the Chronicle Newspapers as they consolidated into a single publication called the Kane County Chronicle. While I worked in advertising and marketing, my passion for writing continued as I traveled to cover cross country meets with the two same programs for whom I’d competed at Kaneland and St. Charles. Two years ago in 2019, both of those schools won state championships. It’s nice to be part of that heritage in several ways.

With the St. Charles cross country cheerleaders following a meet.

I worked seven years at the Chronicle and by the year 2000, had joined one of the best newspapers in the state, the Daily Herald. As an editorial writer I didn’t write much about sports except to comment that I didn’t think it was fair for home-schooled kids to compete in public school programs. My reasoning was that home-schooled kids had an unfair advantage in having more opportunity to train and rest if they chose. Despite many protest letters from all over the nation, I still believe that.

After leaving the Daily Herald I started writing nature columns for the Beacon News, a suburban daily in the Chicago region. The sportswriter with whom I collaborated was Bill Kindt, a journalist that had covered my running career as well as the basketball exploits of my younger brother Greg Cudworth.

Well, it was
Back in Blind River in 1962
When I last saw you alive
But we missed that shift
On the long decline
Long may you run.

In between all that, during the 1980s I wrote for publications such as the Illinois Runner, a monthly newspaper published by Rich Elliott, one of Illinois’ finest distance runners in his day. I absolutely loved interviewing runners and producing long-form articles about men such as Al Carius, the North Central College distance coach.

But as we know, newspapers have been struggling for the last decade or more. Even at the time when I joined the Daily Herald in 2000 and moved to the marketing department in 2001, I studied the financials and noted to my boss that with a narrow 8% profit margin, “All it would take is the loss of one category, and we’re hurting.” Sure enough, the recruitment category soon began to migrate online, followed by Real Estate, Automotive and even retail as the Internet took over.

Not only did newspaper advertising shrink, so did circulation. That combination forced many newspapers across the nation to close shop. Even newspapers with supposedly modern approaches and bulletproof formulas of short-form content, such as USA Today have still struggled to retain an advertising base sufficient to compete with other forms of media in this world.

As for the Daily Herald, which once earned the 10 That Do It Right award from Editor & Publisher Magazine, it once had the highest staff-to-circulation ratio of any newspaper in the country. Now, as I understand it, the newspaper is employee-owned and runs much leaner out of necessity. While it no longer boasts 150K in circulation as it once claimed, the newspaper has built online communities and continues producing a great product. While working for the Daily Herald, I built a literacy program with a reach of 375,000 families through 175 libraries across the Chicago market. My goal was to build an entirely self-sufficient “community” based around reading, but perhaps I was a bit ahead of the curve in that respect. The Internet in 2007 was still in its formative stages with how content communities and social media were operating. Then my wife experienced a recurrence of cancer and my focus on the reading program had to stop. I met with representatives of the Chicago Tribune to explore a re-launch a few years back, but the paper had pressing issues of solvency at hand.

There is a cancer now affecting the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper with which I’ve had a relationship for more than forty-five years. After delivering that newspaper in my youth, I’ve been a subscriber since the mid-1980s. But recently the Tribune Publishing enterprise was purchased by Alden, a firm known for gutting newspapers. The vultures at Alden offered buyouts to employees and two of the newspapers best assets, Eric Zorn and Heidi Keibler-Stevens, have announced their departure along with others. Readers of the Tribune feel like they are losing friends in writers such as these. It will be interesting and sad, perhaps, to see how many of those subscriber relationships end.

It is unlikely that we’ll keep our subscription much longer if the Tribune gets gutted. I was already disgusted by the tactics of its former owner Sam Zell years ago, who hired a bunch of radio-industry nutniks to manage the paper. All they did was trash the Tribune Tower and treat the paper like a big game. So much for the wisdom of supposedly wise capitalists like Zell. The only thing he proved by buying the Tribune is that rich assholes are still assholes. True journalism is something entirely different than a pack of shallow bastards looking at spreadsheets. Yet that’s who owns the Tribune now.

The Randy Michaels era of Tribune management did not last long.

Maybe The Beach Boys
Have got you now
With those waves
Singing “Caroline No”
Rollin’ down
That empty ocean road
Gettin’ to the surf on time.

That’s the problem in today’s world. It is devastating to the propagation of honest culture when the world rewards gutless, shallow, and dishonest organizations such as Fox News…a company that hasn’t told the truth for decades except by accident. Yet Fox makes money hand over fist while companies like the Tribune struggle to survive. The only exception to the ghastly Fox formula of despotic opinion cloaked as news were the rare cases when hosts refused to accept the lies anymore and spoke out against the likes of Donald Trump. The amoral truth about Fox is revealed in the many sexual harassment lawsuits against its leadership and personalities. That has proven the feckless nature of its operations, yet the station persists with its “tits above the fold” approach and its blathering panels of talking heads.

Fox News has ruined many lives, but especially those of its followers.

I trust somehow that newspapers will survive in one form or another. But my life in newspapers, both as a writer and consumer, has surely changed. That’s both an honest assessment and a lament.

Though I’ve lost a few prized sports clippings over time, it was that hard copy recognition of your name in print that used to mean so much. As an athlete, I loved printed results, both good and bad, because they told a “real” story. You go out there and do your best, and it gets printed for all to see. There’s a deep honesty in that. Thus as a writer, I have always loved bylines because there is an honesty to actually putting thoughts on paper rather than just copying memes and pretending you have something to say. That’s even a problem on social media networking sites such as Linkedin, where the dog-whistle memes serve as bully pulpits for all kinds of partisan hacks.

I’m proud of my life in newspapers in many ways. But I’m sad that shallow societies fail to see their value, be it in digital or print form. Of course there have always been ratty newspapers as well as good ones, and the industry as a whole had to deal with that.

But even the good ones are suffering now. So, to those now vacating space in the newspaper world, we all wish you well. See you in the PR world or some other realm because that’s where many of us hang out. So long may you run.

Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes
Have come
With your chrome heart shining
In the sun
Long may you run

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Like it or not, I’m a single-speed (18 mph) kind of guy

When most cyclists talking about going “single-speed” on the bike, they’re referring to “fixies,” the type of bicycle with just one gear. No shifting. No hassles. You ride as fast as you pedal.

I’ve seen people riding fixies or single-speed bikes in events where I struggle to handle the climbs or the distance. Such was the case at the Horribly Hilly 100, a group riding event centered around the hilly terrain of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin area. It is as horribly hilly as it sounds. Yet I saw a fixie rider pedal into a rest stop just the same. He looked rather smug. Or maybe that was just a mask of pain on his face.

There’s a bike purist attitude at work with some single-speed riders. It’s a badge of honor to ride around sans gearing. Apparently they view it as a more ‘honest’ form of cycling. You ride with your muscles rather than a sneaky little derailleur.

I’m not a fixie rider, but it does seem like I am sort of a single-speed kind of guy. Recently I rode a series of three separate 24-26 mile rides. These all took me about 1:20 to complete at an average pace between 18.0-18.3 mph. That’s not horrible, but neither is it fast. I’m not slower than I was ten years ago, but I’m also no faster. Hmmm. What does this mean?

Last year I did ride 56 miles with Sue on my tri-bike, and we broke three hours at an average pace just over 19.5. That’s an ideal goal when training for the Half Ironman distance. If you can swim a mile in 35-40:00 and close with a two-hour marathon, that three-hour bike assures a sub-6:00 finish.

In my estimation, that’s a respectable time for a sixty-year plus guy. The swim has been the toughest part of improving in the triathlon. But in many respects, my plateau on the bike is a problem of sorts. Perhaps it’s the fact that I don’t own a true “tri-bike” but have a jury-rigged Felt 4C with aerobars. I’ve been experimenting with fit. With some progress.

In Olympic distance events I have on several occasions averaged 19.5 for the 26-mile distance. So I’m not completely stuck. Yet it is still frustrating to go out on training rides and wrestle around with the same 18 mph pace. Maybe I’m dumb. Maybe just happy.

Truth be told, I’m not riding enough miles these days to improve. I don’t have a real right to bitch until I plug in a bunch more miles and still show no progress. I also found a photo of myself from ten years ago when I weighed 163 lbs. and realized that I’m carrying around twenty more pounds of something on my body. Some muscle, but mostly fat.

That said, on many days, I’m still hitting Strava segments that I set ten years ago.

The other parts of this self-perception, “single-speed kind of guy” equation is the invisible factor of wind conditions that does not show up on Strava data. Today’s ride was the 23.91 effort shown above. There was a northeast wind that helped me a bit on the way west (left) and south from Kaneville. But then it was a crosswind grind and even a full-on headwind during the return trip.

It amuses me that these two rides too similar routes and were just 0.48 difference in length and just one second difference. I recall that the wind was coming from a different direction on the June 2 ride, primarily from the northwest. So the early part of the ride was a struggle and we closed fast the last ten miles.

Such are the vagaries of cycling. In some respects, the average pace we ride doesn’t mean that much in the end. It’s a bad practice to just flail away week after week riding the same damned speed getting the same damned results.

So I’ll be breaking up the training in the coming weeks, and adding some miles to the overall load. Even a “single-speed guy” like me can see the writing on the Strava wall. It’s time to mix it up a bit out there.

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A hot day followed by a false fall

After yesterday’s early run in advancing heat, I accepted that I was not up for completing the last half-mile to reach ten miles… and that taunted me on the Garmin. The 4.85 miles of running out to Waubonsee Community College on the Virgil Gilman Trail from the Fox Valley Park District water park was 85% shady. On the return trip, the sun rose far enough in the sky to turn the trail into a glaring strip of heat.

My mile splits dipped into the mid-8:00 pace during the middle of the run, but the further the sun rose in the sky, the more I felt its heat upon me. That was alright. I wasn’t trying to set any land speed records. Just some base-building.

Back in the car I slipped a shirt under my butt to keep the car seat from getting soaked with sweat. I was headed straight to 7-Eleven to tank up on lemonade once the run was done. But during the run I’d hoped the buildings on the Waubonsee campus would be open so that I could slip inside for a drink of water. No such luck.

The doors were locked tight, so I came up with another scheme. There was a church a mile back along the trail that was now open on Sunday mornings following the worst of the pandemic. It is a mostly Latino congregation so I practiced Spanish phrases in my head in the event I needed to explain my sweaty visage coming through the back door of the church.

“El bano, por favor,” I practiced saying a couple times. “Para agua.”

Yes, I know most people carry water with them on long runs these days. I’m still a bit Old School in those habits. The adventure of finding water when you really need it is still part of that mentality. Makes you tougher.

The bathrooms at the church, a former Boy Scout lodge if I recall correctly, were right inside the door. I nodded to the fellow I met when coming in the side door, who said, “Can I help you?”

“Just here for water,” I said, pointing to the bathroom. At the sink I turned the faucet on full blast and stuck my face into the stream of cold water to suck down as many fluids as I could. By the time I stood up, my stomach was full and gurgling and felt bloated as I started running again after the break. “That should get me back,” I thought to myself.

The sun kept my pace honest on the return trip. The fifth and sixth miles were in the 8:40 range. Then I started to slow as the sun on the hot trail took its toll. Plus I had to climb those two arched bridges over the major roads.

Back at the water park where my car was parked beside the trail, there were lines of people queued up waiting to get in for a day of swimming. The lifeguards were busy getting the gates open in their classic outfits of white shirts and red shorts. Those muscled boys and lean girls with smiles on their faces heralded the start of summer.

These June days are precious that way. Every one of the first twenty-one days of the month are a precursor to “true summer.” Yet the heat we’ve been feeling here in Illinois tells a different story. Thanks to that heat, we had our first real rainstorm yesterday, a much-needed gully-washer arriving on scudding clouds and winds furious enough to strip leaves from the trees. By late afternoon, it was warm all over again.

Yet this morning broke breezy and cool, a false fall you might say. A few yellow cottonwood leaves blown down during the storm were strewn about the green lawns next to the path where I walk the dog. It seems too early to see yellow leaves, yet there they were. They looked out of place on the rich green grass, yet they are reminders not to take these any of these June days for granted. The full berth of summer is yet to arrive, but the inevitable truth of fall peeks at us from every angle until it catches up with us in September, when summer claws to hang on until the 21st of that month. By then it is too late to appreciate what you’ve gained or lost. False fall turns into reality.

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Why I didn’t work out yesterday

Yesterday while driving around I recognized that there was no more avoiding reality. The air conditioning in my car needed a fix, as the freon apparently needed to be ‘recharged.’ After a morning of driving around in the heat of a Subaru toasted by the sun and humidity, I stopped between appointments at a Valvoline oil-change place where the “deal” of the week was a $99 recharge.

The young man running the stall told me a leak test was necessary before doing the recharge. “Then if it’s leaking, you can tell us whether you want to do the recharge now or not. It’s $29.99 if we find a leak, but that price goes away if there’s no leak and we do the recharge.”

I don’t know what actuarial types sit around and figure out these consumer price models, but it didn’t raise my trust level at the station. Still, something had to be done to fix the lack of cool air coming through those vents, because it was so hot inside my vehicle it was hard to concentrate on driving. My temper was flaring at small traffic issues. I wasn’t in a good state of mind.

“Okay, but I have a photo assignment at 1:00 across town,” I told the attendant. “Can we get this done by then?” it was 11:40 in the morning.

“Sure,” he told me.

I sat down in the customer lounge where the door was wide open and there was no air conditioning or breeze inside. “Great,” I muttered while pulling out my camera battery charger to plug it in and make sure that the battery was fully set up for the afternoon photo shoot. I sat there checking emails until the attendant came by and told me, “Good news. No leaks.”

The freon recharge took a while. So I walked next door to a restaurant called Old Republic to buy lunch. The logo has a big old bear on it, which made me wonder if the owners were Russian or such. Apparently the Old Republic name is more about American fair, but then why the bear?

The joint has an outdoor patio with a newly-built music stage created out of railroad shipment containers. However, the music outside was so loud, and I’d spent so much time sweating in the car yesterday with the radio on loud for sanity, that I decided the cool interior of the quieter bar area sounded like a much better choice. I sat down with a menu and ordered a Sloppy Joe along with a Jack and Coke to calm my overheated brain.

The food looked good but the lunchtime prices all started at $15 and all I wanted was something light. I ordered the Sloppy Joe with fries at $10.99 and then the bill came. The drink was $9.50 for about seven ounces of liquid displaced by three large ice cubes. I wrote on the bill: “That drink is awful expensive for what you get. Sorry.” I still tipped the wait staff $2.00.

That drink didn’t do anything to fix my grumpy mood. It only got worse as I walked over to the Valvoline place wondering whether the recharge was done or not. “Almost done,” the attendant told me. I sat down in the hot customer ‘lounge’ again and checked my phone for messages.

Finally the Little Dude taking care of my car came over to talk to me. “The recharge is done but only half your air-conditioning works,” he told me. “It’s only cool on the passenger side. There’s a valve in there that controls the heat and A/C and it must be broken.”

I didn’ t have the time or patience to question his expertise. I needed to be at a family photo shoot across the City of Elgin in 15 minutes. I paid the bill and jumped on Route 20 to reach Route 25 east of the Fox River.

Only when I got there, I realized that the address I was seeking was actually still on the west side. That meant either turning around and going back on 20, which is a hassle, or just cutting through town on routes I used to drive when that city was part of my work territory.

I cut through neighborhoods, crossed the bridge back over the river by the casino and turned on the GIS directions I’d forgotten to use on my phone. It was still so damn hot in the car it was hard to think.

As I approached the client’s address, it dawned on me that I’d left the battery charger and my camera battery back at Valvoline. I stopped to tell the client about the problem and she said, “No worries. The kids aren’t even here yet.”

Back in the car I tried all sorts of combinations opening rear and front windows to circulate the thin breath of cool air so that it would cool down my car. It wasn’t working. The heat of the day came blasting in from every angle. I got angrier as the trip back to Valvoline was irritatingly slow. I hate retracing any kind of steps in this world. That goes for running and riding too. I much prefer loop courses over out and back routes unless I’m in a strange city, where that kind of course is a brand of self-preservation.

The attendant handed me the charger and I got back in the car and followed the Google Directions this time that took me right back where I’d just driven.

The photo shoot fortunately went great. The kids were wonderful and their shady back yard gave plenty of opportunity to take good pictures.

When finished, I gathered my photo bag with the camera and lenses to leave and headed out to the car. The client called out, “Wait, you forgot your tripod!” I chuckled and said, “Yeah, I can’t think today. It’s too hot.”

I headed west back to Randall Road with the idea of cashing the check I’d just been given before it blew out the window or something crazy like that. Those things tend to happen when the day is already scattered. I arrived at the bank and felt for my wallet in my back pocket. It wasn’t there. Then I recalled that I’d pulled my phone out of that pocket back at the client. The wallet must have fallen out.

While looking around in the car for the wallet, I noticed that my computer bag was also missing. That made me recall that I’d taken my Mac inside the house to check the quality of the photos and then left it behind. My regular mental checklist of habits are so ingrained that the act of having the photo gear bag over my shoulder made me think I’d gotten everything.

Much as we try to keep them forever,

all vehicles wind up the same way.

I owned a Plymouth Arrow exactly like

this at one time.

That meant another long, hot drive across town to the client. Along the way, I reminded myself to be grateful for the job that day and not get so fussy about traffic. Just calm down. No sense in hurrying. After I’d reached the house, gathered up my Mac, said thank you again to the kids for being such great subjects, and got my wallet from the man of the house, I walked back to the car. The grandfather that handed it to me was out talking on the phone in his air-conditioned truck. The irony.

Back on Randall Road I yelled at people balking at traffic lights and swerved when one joker slid over into my lane without looking. Again, I was trying to be patient, but the world around me was having none of that.

I picked up our pup at the dog care center, paid the fee and led her out into the car. It was still hot outside and she typically likes to stick her nose out into the breeze. I rolled the rear window down and turned up the half-functional A/C all the way up. Perhaps I could make it home in peace, and in one piece.

At the traffic light I sat as the first car in line at the left turn lane. No one was behind me but the light is notoriously short. When the green arrow came I hit the gas and spun left. That’s when I heard a thumping noise and glanced back to see that our dog Lucy had stumbled completely out the back window.

I hit the brakes, looked at the jangling leash out and leapt out of the car to find her. She’d landed on her feet and ran around behind the car as if this was nothing out of the ordinary. After all, she jumps in and out of the car from the back seat all the time when I open the rear door. This time, she launched out either on her own accord or because the centrifugal force of the turn threw her out.

Two women in the vehicles parked now on the road pointed me toward her and I scooped her fifty-pound body into my arms and loaded her back into the car.

“Oh, my God,” I blurted. Then I gestured “Thank you” to the women and pulled away while looking in the rearview mirror to see if anyone else was coming. Fortunately it all happened so fast the cars back at the stoplight were still parked waiting for the green signal.

At home I shared the incident with my wife who said, “Yes, we probably need to not open the windows.” We’ve had our pup for two years and nothing like this had ever come close to happening. But one close call is all I need to change how things work to protect our dog.

I went upstairs and gave a thought to whether I should go out and run or ride off the stress of the day. But no, I was mentally exhausted and sweaty and wanted only to flop on the bed and absorb some cool air in the house.

We had glasses of white wine with dinner. The chicken I grilled came out great and we sat out back facing the summer sky as the towering clouds calmed my mind. I’m so grateful Lucy was okay. Nothing else about the confusion and heat of the day mattered any more.

And that’s why I didn’t work out yesterday.

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