Where Playboy converged with reality

playboylogo.jpgIn the Age of Naked Selfies and hacked celebrity smartphones, it is hard to recall the time when nudity was dispensational, handed out like wafers at a Catholic communion ceremony. For a while, that right was owned by the likes of Playboy and the skin magazines that evolved from it. Penthouse came later. Then Hustler. There were obviously others.

My dad kept his Playboys up on a shelf in his closet. I’d sneak them down and pore through the nude photos. Mostly I wanted to know what women were really about. How did their breasts work underneath those clothes, inside those bras. I was utterly fascinated by all of that.

As a budding artist, I’d take tracing paper and place it over those photos to copy the lines of those women’s bodies. Somehow the act of making those drawings was as great a turn-on for me as looking at the photos on their own. Perhaps it was my way of owning those images, of bringing them into my head.

Then I began to copy the photos in real drawings. Some of these took hours to execute. I’d set the centerfold out on the table and make elaborately detailed pencil drawings of those women. Sometimes I’d have to scramble and put the sketchpad and magazine away if a family member was headed toward my room. I still have a few of those drawings from my early teens. In many ways they were lovingly executed.

I know a woman who modeled for Playboy lingerie editions. It’s a funny thing, but I don’t think about her naked when we meet. She’s smart, funny and behaves like a sister with me. She’s also an extremely talented artist. Her life has been full of challenges that most people can’t imagine, but her having posed nude in her youth has nothing to do with them.

Her modeling career was not that long ago, but things have massively changed since she posed before the Playboy cameras. Now there are women and men who take their own photos and post them on Reddit or other Internet sites. Some of these people have thousands of followers. Some do it for money. Some do it for self-esteem. Some do it because they’re bored, or horny, or drunk, or all of the above.

1960playboy-magazine.jpgSome credit for these freedoms must come from Playboy. One can argue all day about whether the freedom of nude or sexual photos is good for society or for the soul, but let’s face it, things have not really changed that much in the last 60 or even the last 2000 years.

Nakedness and sexual stimulation is chronicled without apology in the bible. In some places it is condemned. In others, it is celebrated. Yet the repressive side of religion says that nudity is only acceptable within the boundaries of marriage, and that sex is reserved for the confines of matrimony. Conservative Christians blame the sexual revolution for the breakdown of marriage as an institution. Others would argue that male discovery of the clitoris is what might save it.

Hugh Hefner came along to challenge all that. But it’s not like he actually invented adultery, sexual promiscuity or the marketing of lust for profit. Yes, he treated women as objects to a degree, and some contend he exploited women as a whole. Those arguments are hard to defend these days as women have either learned or chose to objectify and exploit themselves.

thong bathing suit.jpgI say the process has gone a bit further than that. As this image copped from a Pinterest site illustrates, the sight of buttocks in public is no longer such a shock. They are just buttocks. The clothing women wear now, even athletic wear, is form-fitting and leaves little to the imagination.

But, it’s like this: “Oh look, that woman has an ass. Imagine that.”

Deal with it, in other words. The recent repressive tiffs over the idea of women wearing “yoga pants” in public was based on the idea that men can’t control themselves when confronted by the sight of a shapely woman. Our repressive Vice President Mike Pence will not even allow himself to dine with a woman alone. It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing. It matters that she’s a woman, and somehow he is threatened by his own weakness.

That’s a sickness of the mind. A far healthier mind should be able to deal with women dressing in almost nothing, like they do at the beach, and not lose control of the emotions or succumb to wanton lust. Learning to be discreet and respectful is a sign of maturity. Apparently some men never gain that skill.

MIke PenceAnd that’s a problem, for sure. But as the Mike Pence issue illustrates, it’s not what a woman wears or does not wear that is the problem. It is the repressive need to control male insecurities and fears that religion affirms in men. Even the Genesis story in which Eve leads Adam to temptation is an example of chauvinistic male fears.

By contrast, the honest removal of secrecy and the fear of the taboo from regard of women’s bodies is a healthy thing. It has taken the sexual revolution a while to get there, but the increasingly honest regard for women’s anatomy is a product of breaking down cultural taboos that depend on the dichotomous view that nakedness is naughty and that righteous human beings need to hide from it.

Europe and other nations are far ahead of America in this regard. Our country pumps out titillating imagery, for sure. But in Europe you can actually got to a nude beach and naked bodies are simply not that big a deal. That’s maturity. That’s honesty.

Of course some athletes can get too relaxed about the whole nudity thing. One of the warnings issued by our local bike club about dressing outside the car during criterium weekends is that riders can get tagged for public nudity if the neighbors or the cops see you changing your bike shorts and displaying those white ass cheeks for all to see. The Velominati Rules don’t really cover that issue, do they? Be discreet.

IMG_4123Athletes in endurance sports get used to the sight of the female nipple popping out from a running top or an ass cheek protruding from shorts. So, what! We bear witness to asses and crotches in all sorts of gear. A little camel toe on a gal or an outline of a dick in bike shorts just isn’t a problem as long as it isn’t a chronic and therefore distracting condition.

We’re all just bodies trying to go faster, longer, harder. Wait, that sounds a little sexual doesn’t it? So be it. This whole idea that we have to hide from our own sexuality is absurd. Sex is frankly one of the drivers of the human spirit. Nudity is the natural condition of the human body. And the United States of America is still in the grips of uptight people who deny all that on grounds that they’re small minds are too hard to control.

Now that 99% of the population (even those who won’t admit it) has a naked selfie hiding on their smartphone, it’s time to admit that Hugh Hefner was never really the problem he was made out to be. That problem is prurient curiosity. Hugh Hefner somehow knew that a rabbit was a good symbol for that. And he pulled the rabbit out of the hat.

Playboy has now converged with reality. It is no longer the provocateur it once was. In fact it seems tame in some ways. But along with normalizing sexual orientation and the existence of transgender people, reality has a way of sneaking up even on those who cover their eyes and yell NO NO NO at the top of their lungs.

It never works. But it sure keeps the world from being honest about itself.




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Not the retiring type

Unincorporated MeIn the middle of the first mile of a 4.5 mile run the other morning, my body was not exactly cooperating. Everything felt sluggish and slow. In fact I was trundling along at 11:00 per mile pace. Things eventually improved, but not by much. In the meantime, I was wondering to myself, “Will I always do this?”

It’s hard to look ahead ten years and know what your body and mind will give you. I do know that my competitive instincts have morphed quite a bit from those days in my early 20s when I could not stand losing to anyone. I still lost at times, but not without putting up the grandest fight that I could.

Working it

Frankly those athletic instincts have transferred over to cultural and civic debates. And sometimes I make enemies or get Unfriended for opinions that are competitive toward lazy thinking and opinions borrowed from false or overly safe spaces. I don’t think I’ll ever retire or withdraw from that type of debate. I’m not the retiring type. I’m writing a book titled Sustainable Faith that follows up on a booked titled The Genesis Fix, A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age. That was published ten years ago in 2007.

Nor will I likely stop working for a living. In 2013 I did take a “break” of sorts from the 8 to 5 world. My late wife had just passed away and several months later, the copywriting gig that I’d landed with an Internet marketing firm was withdrawn. So I launched my own little company and won some more contract work. In some respects, it was much like being “retired” in the sense that I worked from home and did not have to commute, or visit an office every day. Nor did I have to or engage in eight-hour teambuilding exercises that made you want to run from people at any cost.

False and true inspirations

Sorry to be a little cynical, but much of the corporate world is a tryst with inanity. Take a long look at your feed on LinkedIn some day. All those phony damned inspirational quotes and pre-produced memes about teamwork make me want to gag.

Having spent years in competitive athletics and many more years collaborating in the corporate and non-profit world, I know a few things about teamwork. It’s no more complex than getting along with others (which is not always easy) and asking their opinions before making plans. Then you come to a consensus agreement on the right course of action and put things in motion. And if that fails, or people fall down on their end of the bargain, or the committee idea turns out to be just BAD, you goddamned do it yourself so that it gets done. That’s called initiative. I don’t think anyone should have to apologize for that. One should never retire from getting things done.

Individual grades

Because it all still comes down to individual initiative. I recall an afternoon training with cross country teammates in college. We were doing quarter mile hill repeats on a 7% grade in preparation for a hilly meet up at St. Olaf, where the course climbs a big hill on campus. During one of the rest breaks between intervals one of my teammates trotted over to say, “Cud, you really need to be ready for this weekend. I’m hurt and we need you to be the leader.”

His toe was aching from a nagging running injury, you see. He knew that he might not be in top form, and I was running well in the early season, usually second man on the team. Yes, my teammate was putting pressure on me. That’s also what teammates do. Push you when you need a push.



My teammate’s green spike is visible just behind my right thigh. We combined to help conquer.

As it happened, that teammate and I wound up placing sixth and seventh overall in that meet. We teamed up at 3.5 miles and started passing people. With 300 meters to go we spied the third man for the team most likely to compete for the title and my teammate turned to me and said, “Let’s go.”

There was not a question in that moment. We both sprinted past him, one on one side, one the other. Then we closed the gap between us and finished the sprint to the chute. Our team won the invitational.

There is a symbolism to that kind of effort that lasts your whole life. I’m sixty years old, and I’ve long come to realize there are choices in life to be made. One can settle for whatever you see just ahead of you, or you can make up your mind to finish with all you’ve got. This is what I learned during those couple years of ‘semi-retirement’ while recovering from life events that were hard and long. I kept doing the things I love. The writing. The painting. The running and riding. And the loving. My children. My friends. My faith. And I found love again with a woman who respects all of that, and more.

I’m not the retiring type. Never have been. Never will be.

And that is all.

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Drawing on years of experience

Mountain Runners.jpg

Drawing of mountain runners by Christopher Cudworth

I’ve been a runner basically since I was born. Skinny. Energetic. Can’t sit still. Love to run.

I’ve also always been obsessed with art all my life. Sketching. Painting. Love to draw.

Along the way in life, these two interests converged. I love to draw runners.

Often it is in moments of idle time that an idea comes to mind. Such was the case yesterday during a meeting. I clandestinely drew a pair of runners up in the foothills of a mountain range.

That image draws on experiences of running in the mountains of Colorado during a pre-season cross country training trip. The next year we traveled to Wyoming to train in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park.

The romance of those trips exceeded the relative comfort. Without altitude acclimation, I well recall training with a thick headache those first couple days in the mountains. We never ran easy either. It was hard hard hard up the hills and hard hard hard down them. That’s how we ran all the time. Even in the mountains.

18 mile journey

At one point we left from Jenny Lake in the Grand Tetons to run up the trail to Lake Solitude. That was 6000 to 9000 feet. Thus it was a 3000 foot climb during a climb of nine miles, and a 3000 foot drop coming down. I don’t know which was harder. I think the latter.

At Jenny Lake, we all paused a bit, stuck our toes in the frighteningly cold water and turned around to run back down.

We had no water to drink the entire way. That’s how we did it back then. And we knew better than to drink from a stream. There were signs that warned of giardia, the microbe that can make you deathly sick, on all the trailheads.

Eighteen miles at altitude with nothing to drink is a pretty rough run. Yet the mountain air carried us through with its clarity. The excitement of running those trails through deep green woods never really faded. Well, actually I cried a little with about two miles to go. My thighs were locked tight and killing me after seven curling miles of descent.

I was so glad to get back to camp that day.

Waiting for you

My wife and I are headed out to Colorado for a long weekend coming up in October after her Ironman. This is a bit like a little honeymoon, so we are not going to do any hard trail running together. That’s not our goal. But I may find an hour to give it a go with a couple friends who live there when she’s finishing up a work project near Denver. The locals always know the best places to run.

It’s also true that the mountains are always waiting for you. Sure, they don’t really care whether you live or die, so you have to be smart and careful out there. But even mountains aren’t eternal. They are either pushed into being by giant tectonic movements or shoved into the sky by deep volcanic forces. Their fate from then on is to weather and crumble and deteriorate. The earth will somehow absorb or replace them.

It is ours to encounter mountains in their present state, and absorb their power for all we’re worth. Then we draw on those experiences to understand humility and wonder in our real lives.


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Doritos patriotism makes its stand

Two weeks ago while grocery shopping at Woodman’s, the Employee Owned megastore with enough space to land a B-52 in the meat section, I turned the corner after picking up some La Croix water to find an entire aisle stacked near to the ceiling with Doritos and snack chips. The sign at the end of the aisle said, “See you on Sunday.”

Dorito Lane

The allusion was clear. Doritos are the Food of Choice for watching NFL football games. And what does watching football games involve? Mostly sitting on the couch. Eating. Drinking. Yelling at the screen. Watching powerful men mash into each other as if life itself depended on it.

Supposedly, this is America’s Game, a part of its traditions. And as such, the typical NFL game starts with a rendition of the National Anthem. But here’s a dirty little secret about those displays of patriotism. They have been long sponsored by the US Government. 

Brought to you by the military-industrial complex

As documented on ThinkProgress,org, a progressive fact-finding website, “As recently as 2015, the Department of Defense was doling out millions to the NFL for such things as military flyovers, flag unfurlings, emotional color guard ceremonies, enlistment campaigns, and — interestingly enough — national anthem performances. Additionally, according to Vice, the NFL’s policy on players standing for the national anthem also changed in 2009, with athletes “encouraged” thereafter to participate. Prior to that, teams were not given any specific instructions on the matter; some chose to remain in the locker room until after opening ceremonies were completed. (It’s unclear whether the policy change was implemented as a direct result of any Defense Department contracts.)”

All those NFL pregame antics are part of a marketing scheme for the military-industrial complex. In that context, the playing of the National Anthem is no different than a blasting out a commercial for bags of Doritos. The NFL is the most commodified enterprise on earth. What else explains the fact that Super Bowl commercials are more popular to millions of viewers than the game itself?

Doritos Patriotism

doritos-nacho-cheeseWe live in the age of Doritos Patriotism. The entire national dialogue about what matters has been commodified. People can’t tell real food from overprocessed junk any more than they can tell the practice of free speech from jingoistic patriotism

But when NFL players “take a knee” during the opening game ceremonies, they are doing something real and honest. They are kneeling in protest of the brand of patriotism manufactured for American consumption with no more thought than plunging a hammy fist into a bag of Doritos.


NFL players are learning the hard way they are part of the consumable goods the league is all too happy to chew up and spit out when their usefulness to a team or a league is expended. Sure, there is wealth to be earned as a pro football player. Potential fame and glory to be gleaned from a stint in the NFL. But appearances are deceiving, and the price of participation can be massive. In fact, three out of four players who make it to the NFL do not profit from the experience. Instead, they wind up broke. The Doritos bag of pro sports is notoriously quick to empty.

 “According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 78% of National Football League (NFL) players are either bankrupt or are under financial stress within two years of retirement and an estimated 60% of National Basketball Association players go bankrupt within five years after leaving their sport.”



Not so fast

So it is absurd that people including the President of the United States are griping about “wealthy” pro football players kneeling during the national anthem in protest over cultural injustice. In fact player gripes may be far more legitimate than surface issues such as criticism of the protest movement started by Colin Kaepernick. When we consider the often ephemeral nature of football wealth and the physical and mental costs of the game to its participants, one could logically draw a line between NFL football and the original definition of indentured servitude:

An indentured servant or indentured labor is an employee (indenturee) within a system of unfree labor who is bound by a contract (indenture) to work for a particular employer for a fixed time period. The employer is often permitted to assign the labor of an indenturee to a third party.

Wow, that sounds a lot like the NFL Draft, where players are marched out like chattel on a slave-trading platform to be ogled by owners, coveted by team managers and tossed into hordes of chortling fans eager for the services of another young stud to push the ball up and down the gridiron.

Then, when the players are assessed by value, they are traded almost without approval from one team to another. That almost exactly mimics the assignment of labor of an indenturee to a third party.

“The consensus view among economic historians and economists is that indentured servitude occurred largely as “an institutional response to a capital market imperfection.”[1]

DoritoSociety further reflects the commodification of NFL players with its fixation on so-called Fantasy Football leagues, in which millions of ‘third-party’ owners trade upon the performance of pro athletes to compete with other “team owners” doing the same thing. The players themselves no longer matter, nor the teams. It’s all about numbers, statistics and the commodification of the NFL to raw impulses anchored in gambling. This is the junk food of the economy, the Doritos of ‘sin tax’ revenue from gambling and Internet-fueling fixes of porn. It’s all very addictive yet fills the American gut with a weird sense of guilt wrought by the bloated feeling that one can never be truly sated. Like bloated diners at a Roman vomitorium, the American populace keeps feeding itself on BaseballFootballHockeyBasketball in a never-ending bag of Sports Doritos that never empties yet never quite satisfies.

See You On Sunday. It is the religion of consumption. More important than family, God and country to some. And that’s why so many people can’t stand the idea of actual football players wrecking their Dorito House of Cards.

Dehumanizing influences

The corruption at the heart of all this is not just racial, it is the dehumanization of entire populations of individuals. That’s why Colin Kaepernick kneeled in the first place, because mistreatment of black Americans in American culture is deeply ingrained. It is bound together with America’s long (yet recent) arc of history that includes slavery, indentured servitude, Jim Crow laws, the KKK, lynchings, workplace discrimination and outright theft of black culture by whites determined to leverage ownership of black contributions for their own profit.

It was fifty years ago…

Tommie SmithThat’s why black track and field athletes Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in protest while the national anthem played during the Mexico City Olympic Games back in 1968. They were directly protesting an indentured servitude of black athletes to a largely white-dominated culture that did not accord equal rights to black citizens back home. They were pointing out the hypocrisy of a nation that calls itself the bed of freedom when for many who lived there, it was profoundly false.

A lot of Americans seem to want to forget the origins and outcomes of the civil rights movement. They want to go backwards instead of forward. These are the same people who blame President Obama for “dividing the nation” when it was nothing but stubborn racial prejudice that did so.

So when the President of the United States threatens NFL football players by calling them “son of a bitches” in a public threat claiming that they should be fired for their ‘lack of patriotism,’ he fans the flames of  people who either choose to ignore, oppose or generally fear what true equality means in America. Trump is commodifying the NFL protests to make ugly political points with people unwilling to consider the idea that America is far from perfect. It has never been perfect from its inception, but the process of perfecting America often has required protests the likes of which see football players kneeling on the side of the gridiron while the national anthem plays.

Matters of respect

As for Donald Trump’s brand of patriotism, it is colorful perhaps, but fake. Tasty to his base, but poison to the system.

Of course none of this should come as a surprise from the man who once made his living bullying people on his Apprentice Plantation by whipping them into submission with the words, “You’re fired.” That’s about as un-American as you can get. But somehow half of America seems to think that this Dorito president knows something the rest of us don’t.



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Spoken and unspoken words

Riding One.jpgWe headed out into the humid, hot weather on bikes this past Saturday. At 6:45 a.m. the surface of our sunglasses fogged over with moisture. The day was clear but the road ahead looked hazy.

We gathered momentum in any case, and were trekking along at 20 mph when my rear wheel made a strange “THUNK” noise and I rolled to a stop. Broken spoke. Second this summer. Sue spun around after I called out to her, but she still had 96 miles to ride that day. So she rode north and I sat down in the grass to wait for her daughter to come pick me up.

Thank God for cell phones. I tagged my location and she drove right to the spot. “You guys came a long way,” she observed. “It took me twenty minutes to get here.” That’s because we were exactly twenty miles from home.

I was disappointed because my plan was to support Sue on a 112 mile ride by joining her for 80 miles. So I sat there in the shade with my bike leaned up against the town sign for Troxel, an unincorporated farm village that forms the juncture of two country roads on the Illinois landscape.

Riding TwoA work crew in that grove of trees was toppling a big old willow while I sat there waiting for the ride home. The saws tore into the trunk with a loud whine and the tree finally cracked and fell.

That is just one of many trees I’ve heard hit the ground over the years. One was a massive oak in a savanna habitat near my home. I was birdwatching on a footpath in a burr oak woodland when a familiar old oak tree that I knew suddenly split at the base. The entire enterprise of bark and wood and limbs lurched over and fell to the ground. The loud rush of wind through the leaves made a weird roar. Then the tree bounced once, and it was over. A field of debris had whooshed out from beneath the canopy, and then the woods were silent again. I stood there considering that tree’s history. At 150-180 years old, it likely sprouted somewhere back before the area was settled. Before farming eliminated the prairie. Before white colonization had even started. It grew through fires when natives burned the grasslands and when lightning cleared them also. It built thick bark from the get-go, and grew tall and wide over more than a 100 years of sunshine, rain, snow and drought.

Now its functional life was over, yet it’s next stage in the journey was still to come. It would slow rot, and holes would show. Ground creatures large and tiny would take over. And after another 50-100 years, that tree would be soil again. A perfect end. And somehow worth emulating.

But for now, I wanted to keep moving.

Spoken words

Back at the bike shop that morning, I discussed the problem of my breaking spokes. The mechanics at the first shop did not have a replacement. But my best friend and mechanic that I contacted by phone that morning had a different warning. “The wheels may be worn out,” he said.

Two seasons? That happens? So I asked for a second opinion with the bike shop where I stopped to check on their spoke supply.

“How much do you ride?” the bike shop wanted to know. “I suppose six thousand miles in two seasons,” I said. They shook their heads resolutely. “It can happen with these higher end bikes,” they agreed. But my wife was having none of that when I texted with her during a break in her ride. “They just want to sell you wheels,” she warned.

Back ordered in black

So I called a different shop and the sales guy there said, “We probably have that spoke here somewhere.” I asked if he could check because I was 15 miles away and did not want to drive over for no reason.

280MM j-spoke in black. Not bladed. He checked as I waited on the phone for three minutes. He came back on and said, “Nope, we don’t have it.”

I was running out of Specialized dealers that carry Fulcrum wheels. There was still one local shop left to check. So I drove three miles upriver to the bike shop named Sammy’s, but it was not yet open. That meant spending a bit of time at the Arcedium coffee shop while the 20 minutes until opening whiled away. Then I called over. The mechanic there quickly checked his stock and said, “Yup. Got it.”

I hauled the whole bike into the store and the mechanic snagged my Specialized Venge without a word. He took a look at the spoke and nodded. His mechanic buddy kept working on the new Colnago he was putting together. Neither said much the entire time. Doesn’t take much talking to wrench bikes. The conversation takes place between the mind and the parts going together.


Sammy's bike shop.jpgI tried making some polite conversation that first minute, but the mechanic was completely focused on fixing my wheel. He popped out the old spoke and stuck in the new one. Threw it on the apparatus to true the wheel and worked his way around tightening the spokes. Then he slid the wheel back on the bike and spun it into motion. Perfect.

While I was waiting on the work, another rider with a tri-bike clacked into the shop under a sheen of sweat and an air of eagerness about him. My mechanic walked over to look at his bike, patiently listened to his story about rubbing brakes, and told the guy to set his bike against the wall. This rider was obviously a regular customer who competes for the store team by the looks of his kit. The mechanic nodded and said, “Let me finish this and I’ll get to yours.”

The life of a bike mechanic is full of such interactions.

Same-day service

I was somewhat surprised by the entire scene. Honestly I anticipated leaving my bike to come back the next day if necessary. I do not expect immediate or same-day service under any conditions. Yet it happens with some regularity. It is nothing to take for granted.

I do business with a number of local bikes shops. I try to spread my dollars around. The Bike Rack in St. Charles did a fitting for me recently. Their guy Lance did an excellent job, and my riding this summer has improved as a result. My friend Jack also works at that store. His cycling knowledge is encyclopedic after 40 years of competition and training. But recently he’s been moved by collaborating with the Creative Mobility side of the business, working with the Wounded Warrior Project and Project Mobility, for whom The Bike Rack recently conducted a fund-raising ride.

Riding FourMy point here is simple: bike mechanics aren’t just automatons who wrench your bike and go to sleep sucking on grease-soaked thumbs to dream about the perfect thread of a brake or drive train cable through a frame. They are, just like physician’s assistants or nurses in the medical world, some of the most knowledgeable and concerned people you will ever meet. They are the doctors for your bike. Don’t take them for granted.

Spoken with a tip

So I pulled out $15 from my wallet as the mechanic walked the bike back up to the counter to enter the charges. I slipped him the money and said, “Here, this is for you.”

The actual charge was $27. Yet even with the tip on top of it, that was a bargain for his services, especially on such short notice. But honestly, this has happened on many occasions in my nearly two decades of riding. As a frequently mechanically challenged rider, I am appreciative of those who work hard and can diagnose problems or fix them on the spot.

Kudos to our local bi,e shops at Prairie Path Cycles, Pedal and Spoke and All Spoked Up. Mill Race Cyclery , Spokes, and Performance to name just a few. All of these stores as well as bike shops across the country do so much to make riding a better experience. Sure you can buy stuff cheaper online but I still believe in the value of supporting local bike shops any way that I can. So I paid for a couple pairs of bike shorts, other kit gear and arm sleeves. I buy fuel and food and drink mix at these shops. And of course, I bought my bike through a local dealer who got me a very good value on a top-level ride.

Favors repaid

But now that I think about it, I owe a few other mechanics a few bucks for service. One even restored my Waterford to riding condition. That was no easy task. Another solved my wife’s drivetrain issues. So I’m going to slip by with some unexpected dough for their services. Maybe just slide it to them with a smile, and no real spoken words if you catch my drift. Just a “thanks for your help this summer” and a President on a $20 bill.

It’s worth it because the conversation and relationship you have with your bike is a product of respect shown and received.

Yet there are some spoken words to be said when riding. There’s the “goddamnit!” when something a spoke breaks far from home. But there’s also the “Thank you God” when you’re back out on the road as I was yesterday, riding 30 miles after a five-mile morning run and averaged 18mph despite some difficult winds. All thanks to a bike mechanic who takes his job seriously and did one helluva favor fixing the spoke on short notice.

Unspoken. And spoken. It’s all we really have to say thanks. 


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How do you view yourself as a runner?

Recently I did a little sketch of a male and female runner together. While drawing it, I was thinking about the runners I know that have the best form, at full speed. As a lifelong artist, I have always enjoyed doing sketches of runners, and can recreate good running form through all phases of the running stride.


I envisioned these two runners finishing a race at full stride. Both exhibit a slight forward body lean. Both are using their arms in constructive fashion, bent 90 degrees at the elbow and depending on the relative physique and strength of the runner involved, slightly different arm carriage as the wrist reaches the midline of the body at times.

While I’ve coached some runners over the years on form, I’ve also watched certified run coaches put their proteges through running drills to teach them “better” running form. Sometimes these runners get a little too mechanical in their form. They are taught not to vary it too much from what their coach might consider the “ideal form.”

That’s both good and bad. Sometimes running conditions, especially when competing on hills or trails or roads with a steep camber can require you to adapt your form to conditions that basically throw your form out of whack. There’s nothing wrong with that! You don’t have to hold picture-perfect form when you’re trying to deal with odd conditions or even the elements.

There are times, for example, when it truly pays to cut your stride length down. Cold conditions can require that, especially if you’re caught out there in shorts with a cold wind or chilling rain. Trying to use your full stride in those conditions can result in cramping of calf or hamstring muscles. So you compress your stride, increase the stride rate and go into a speedy shuffle. Make do with what you have.

But you still need to understand the basic mechanics of your ideal stride in order to know what variations are acceptable, or correct.

When you run past a full-length reflection of yourself in a window next to a city sidewalk, do you take that opportunity to glance at your form? You should. Because it’s not vanity. It’s practical feedback.

  • It can be enormously helpful to watch your stride in real time for 25 meters. Study how you plant your feet, what your knee lift is like (or not) and how you carry your arms.
  • Look to see if your arm carriage is “even.” Is one arm coming up higher than the other? That can indicate a leg-length discrepancy (one side longer than the other) or conditions related to hip weakness or imbalance.
  • Also, take the time to find a window you can approach directly while running. Look for indicators in arm carriage. Does one arm swing out from your body? That can be a sign of leg-length differences or hip/pelvis imbalance.

Of course, some of this can be done as well using a smartphone to record your running motion. If you have never seen a video of yourself in motion, it is high time. It’s quite revealing.

The end goal, however, is to build a “vision” of yourself that is both instructive in how to run and confidence-building when you need it most. A runner that knows how to get into the most economical and efficient form when fatigued is a far more confident runner over the long haul.

It’s not vain to study yourself in a reflection or to make a video of yourself running. It’s quite the opposite, because most of the time the first time you see a running video of yourself in motion it is humbling, not some ego trip.

In any case, don’t be shy about it. Learning what you look like in motion can help you run more efficiently, identify quirks that indicate body flaws or running mechanics issues, and help you think all the way through the process of finishing strong.




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Knowing what’s really “good for you”

RobinI suppose we all go through a weepy teenage stage of sorts. That period in life when we feel like wounded birds bleeding complaint and laziness from our ears. Then we retreat into music of one type or another, and it takes over our lives. Nothing else matters but hearing the darkest tune we can find. The one that seems to express our hormonal lamentations or lusts.

Teenage angst is not exactly the brand of remorse and dread that adults suffer when the bills are due and the paychecks are short. But that does not mean that teenage thoughts are not legitimate. Nor do they necessarily lack insight.

“Good for you”

Even before my son became a teenager, he shared some potent insights on what he’d already learned about life. At one point, probably ten years old, my son turned to me and said, “Dad, did you ever notice that when people say “Good for you,” they’re usually being condescending?”

Yes, my ten-year-old said that. He’s largely correct. The world is full of patently facetious, largely inattentive people who can barely manage to acknowledge real achievement or engage in meaningful dialogue.

I felt that pattern at fourteen or fifteen years old. The draft of insincerity was all around me. Even amongst your friends, there are little competitions for approval going on. One-upsmanship. Jealousies. Control issues. 

Half-wheeling and one-stepping

FROOME-Christopher001p-630x420In cycling, we call that one-upsmanship half-wheeling, the practice of pushing the pace by riding half a wheel ahead of all others.

In running, we call it one-stepping, the habit of pushing the pace by refusing to run next to someone, but always one step ahead.

Even Chris Froome pulled the ultimate Half Wheel when he sprinted on the final stage to bump out a Green Jersey points competitor in the Vuelta Espana. Stage races have a tradition of not attacking in GC category on the final day, but Froome stole a potential honor from a fellow competitor in the last 100 meters of that race. That was a prick move, if you ask me. He’s hardly a sandbagger, but it seemed petty and small. As if Team Sky had not gotten enough attention. Winning the points jersey might have meant millions to that second place finisher. But Froome snatched it from him, for what reason?

As my son long ago pointed out, stuff like this happens in conversation every day. If someone doesn’t really want to reveal their own insecurity or grant you the favor of a genuine compliment, they are likely to extend faint praise, including that seemingly nice compliment “Good for you.” It’s their way of putting you in your place so they can feel like they’re staying one step ahead of you. This is a socially acceptable way of dismissing someone without going to the effort of actually inquiring about what they’re talking about.

There’s not really much we can do in this world to change that brand of insincerity. After all, people aren’t necessarily trying to be offensive. And these days, it has all taken on a different form. If you bring up a topic in conversation, or share some nice thing that happened to you, someone might is just as likely to smile brightly and blurt, “That’s great!” Then bury their eyes back in their smartphone.

This is the digitized form of the condescending term “Good for you.”

Slights and angers

At the age of fifteen there were also obvious insults and social slights going on all the time. When I was fifteen, if a girl didn’t grant you the time of day even when you were being nice, or turned her head away to talk to a real jerk rather than acknowledge you, the world seemed unjust. Rather than figure out it was just people being jerks, I took all that very personally. It made me angry, and combined with some not-so-good-for-you issues at home, it felt like teenage hell.

Yet over the years, I’ve gathered that being a young woman from the age of about 10 to the age of about, oh, let’s say 27 years old… is pretty much a sucky proposition. Guys can be idiots to each other, but Tina Fey was right: Girls really are mean to each other.

meaniesGuys just used to just pop zits, jerk off and play basketball. But being fifteen as a girl is patently more difficult than being a young man of the same age. The slights and offenses committed by girls toward each equal a Battle Royale of bodies, brains and appropriate accessories.

Beyond the cliches

Perhaps the world is starting to change. Browsing the Cosmo magazines (my stepdaughter has a subscription) that show up at our house each month has been an exercise in realizing that the world pretty much centers around vaginas. Everything else moves out from there. Even my own daughter shared with me recently that her gynecologist is her primary doctor. This is a wise strategy for any woman. For one thing, that’s were 90% of the difficulties in a woman’s life seem to begin. Why not focus medical care where it can have the best effects? That’s good for you.

I’m the one who chased my late wife to a gynecologist when she was experiencing all sorts of menstrual problems. She didn’t want to go. Yet that visit saved her life when ovarian cancer was detected. The two weren’t necessarily related, yet that visit led to eight more years of survival for her. Otherwise she might have died within the year. That’s what happens to 80% of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. They catch it too late to treat it.

Beyond taboos

Much of society is trying to move beyond the cliches and taboos of what women’s health is all about. It’s terrifically sad that so many ignorant, selfish and chauvinistic male (and female) politicians still refuse to get the fact that health care is not cookie cutter stuff in comparison between women and men.

It is stunning and sick that we’re still stuck with repressive attitudes and age-old religious cliches governing the American health care system. “Defund Planned Parenthood” is another term for “don’t talk to me about vaginas.” It’s the ugly product of the fact that 40% of America still believes in a literal interpretation of the bible, and that bottles of Viagra are covered under health care, while birth control is not. That’s the real sickness in our society.

Blowing it all away

Sue 52But many women have begun to quietly resist such stupidity. Which is why it seems so good to see girls, young women, moms and menopausal gals out running and cycling and swimming. It’s a space they own for themselves. They don’t need a “Good for you” pat on the head from anyone to do what they like to do.

Running, cycling and swimming might be hard at times to do, particularly given the fact that so many women still share an unequal burden of tasks in relationships and marriage. But getting out there and away from obligations wicks away the billions of otherwise painful slights waiting for women at every turn. And every day. They’re blowing it all away.

Beware of Darkness

As for my dark little brain in the teenage years, I got through the summer before my sophomore year listening to the All Things Must Pass album by the former Beatle George Harrison. This morning on the way into work, the song Beware of Darkness came on. I so recall lying with my head between the big stereo speakers in the living room of our giant house in Elburn, Illinois. My parents perhaps should have recognized the near symptoms of depression in me, but maybe not. Teenagers just did that stuff in in the 70s.

But what I now realize is how much the song Beware of Darkness was predictive of a long arc of learning how to cope not just with teenage angst, but depression and anxiety in life. Just this passage is something I’ve seen in so many others. The danger of ruminative thought and how it can take over your mind…

Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night

Then this stanza, which deals with grief and one’s sense of purpose in life…

Beware of sadness
It can hit you
It can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for

And leave it to George Harrison to put the ugly side of the world’s business into context:

Watch out now, take care
Beware of soft shoe shufflers
Dancing down the sidewalks
As each unconscious sufferer
Wanders aimlessly
Beware of Maya

And finally, Mr. Harrison issues a warning about material greed and political ambition. He closes with a wonderfully abstract image of “Weeping Atlas Cedars” that symbolizes the natural world.

Watch out now, take care
Beware of greedy leaders
They take you where you should not go
While Weeping Atlas Cedars
They just want to grow, grow and grow
Beware of darkness (beware of darkness)

That’s my life in a song that deals with the patent pain of existence. It got me through a long, hot summer along with the other inspiring tracks that only George Harrison could write.

That fall, I ran right out of my teenage angst and into a leadership role on the team. It’s funny how progress can come from what seems like aimless pain.

And you know, that’s really good for you.

Posted in cycling, cycling the midwest, healthy aging, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On hazing and being caught up in the moment

CloudsYesterday on one of my other blogs (Genesisfix) I posted a commentary on the case of some Wheaton College football players accused of violently hazing a fellow student. The account published in the Chicago Tribune was harrowing. The football players kidnapped a freshman from his dorm room, strapped him up with duct tape and carried him to a vehicle where they sexually assaulted him while making reference to the Muslim religion. When he resisted, they beat him physically and then dumped him on a dirty softball field with few clothes on in forty-five degree weather. They also stole his cell phone, and then returned with another student they’d abducted. The kidnapped freshman has required surgery to repair to tears to his shoulders.

Close to home

This all happened 10 miles from where I live. It took place at a Christian college that prides itself on a no-drinking, no-smoking, no-anything-but-root beer (apparently sugar is an acceptable vice) white-bread campus in the suburbs of Chicago.

In other words, these were not hillbilly rubes getting crazy in some tossed out section of North America where people have nothing better to do than rape and beat up people they consider different. These football players participate in the nation’s fourth-ranked Division III program in the country.

I know. Just another football scandal. One more bad scene on a college campus. It’s everywhere these days thanks to the rapidity with which media and social media report on violent behavior. Sometimes, the rush to compete for story precedence gets overheated, such as the Rolling Stone magazine University of Virginia rape case story, an article that was ultimately retracted and has led to lawsuits being filed against the publication.

Playing out in the media

So the story of the Wheaton College football players could still turn out to be something different than what has appeared in the media. But the prosecutors in this case took their time digging up details, conducting interviews with victims and witnesses over a period of nearly a year. The incident happened in 2016. So it’s likely much of the story is well corroborated, and will stick. Which means these students may well be punished more severely than the 50 hours of community service and eight-page paper they had to write as dictated by the authorities at Wheaton College. If that sounds a bit soft for the crime, you are likely correct.

Hazing is obviously prohibited at the college, and students take a particular oath at Wheaton, where moral values are a high priority based on the school’s Christian tradition. Despite these strong convictions, these students breached the Code of Conduct and went whole-hog tying up this kid and abusing the heck out of him.

True confessions

So let’s all engage in some confession here. Many of us reading that story have been either perpetrators of hazing or victims thereof. I can personally attest to being on both sides of hazing rituals. In high school cross country we administered team justice for those who were too mouthy or obnoxious by ‘hog-tying’ them with athletic or duct tape. We’d set the appointed day, bring along the supplies and do the deed quickly and with stern warnings about why the act was being conducted. It often involved dropping the shorts of the targeted victim so that their “moon” was exposed. Then we’d leave them and finish the rest of the workout.

Typically this ritual was designed to correct some sort of continuing transgression going on within the squad. Someone constantly being negative, or simply blabbing on for days in some annoying fashion could result in the prescribed treatment.

It happened to only two runners my senior year in the high school program. One we left on the yard of an elementary school and another we tied to a tree in a forest preserve where the cross country workouts were held.

That guy was so incensed and so strong he broke free of the tape within minutes. He ran hard and literally beat us back to the school. We were shocked. And as I recall, that was the last of the hog-tying rituals. Something about that guy’s determination snapped the ritual in two.

The Short Ride and Long Ride

It can take that sort of incident to demonstrate how wrong certain traditions can be. Yet many of us went on to experience hazing rituals in college. I joined a fraternity at Luther and one of the rituals was a quasi-kidnapping routine called the Short Ride and the Long Ride. For the Short Ride, fraternity members would show up at your dorm door, blindfold you without warning, and drive you 10 or 12 miles into the country outside Decorah, Iowa. They’d leave you in your underwear with a 12-pack and dare you to get back home.

But the Short Ride backfired with us when my college roommate and I were dumped by the roadside. We had our running shoes on and knew exactly where we were thanks to our long experience training on Decorah’s roads. So we stashed the 12-pack in the ditch and started running back home. Both of us were fit as hell from doing 80-90 mile weeks. And while we’d already done two workouts that day, we slid into a running grove and were back in the dorm in just over an hour. In fact, we slipped back into our dorm room before the rest of the fraternity boys got back from the bars. They pounded on our door and we laughed at them. “Tough luck, boys,” we yelled back.

When the time came to take us on the Long Ride, my roommate and I got serious. “You are not taking us 20 miles out in the country,” we both answered when they showed up on a Friday night. “We have a meet tomorrow, and it’s an important one. So you will not mess with us.”

And they left us alone. They weren’t happy about it, and some grumbled they’d be back to get us. That never happened.

The rest of the class being hazed was ceremoniously driven into darkness and distraction far from the college campus. I don’t recall how they got back. Some of them got very drunk while others kept their wits and navigated to a farm house to beg a ride back home. Probably farmers around college campuses see all sorts of things over the years.

Leaving it behind

I stuck out membership in that frat for another year. But by the time I was a senior it all seemed too juvenile and mean. The humor had leached from the fraternity anyway. The rituals seemed tired and strained. Perhaps the times were changing. In any case, I was largely glad to be done with the whole thing. We grow up. We move on. If we are healthy…

Those Wheaton College football players will likely regret this mistake in their lives for a very long time. It is hard to find a legitimate way to explain away such stains on our curriculum vitae. Many of us are probably fortunate to have avoided such public shaming. But when you bring it upon yourself, there is a price to pay.

The hazing tradition

In the article I published on my other blog, I make the case that the Christian religion on which Wheaton College bases it tradition has a bit of a “hazing” tradition of its own. The most extreme expressions of the Christian faith have a long history of imposing horrific penalties on those who oppose it. These include acts of genocide on cultures that won’t submit to conversion. The Old Testament rather frankly documents the mass murder of entire peoples right down to scrawling babes.

Is God the ultimate hazer?

That anger and abuse carried through to the implicit philosophy of Manifest Destiny in America, the belief that white European settlers had a God-given right to the lands and resources of the continent. A genocide of Native Americans took place even as black slaves were carted over from Africa to serve as free labor. All were supported by twisted versions of Christian scripture that were used to justify the racist, imperialist approach of cultural domination.

Traces of history

Is there a trace of that history coming through those Wheaton football players who issued threats against Muslim people while carrying out their hazing? It is hard to separate some of this from childish stupidity. That’s the problem with hazing and rape and racist protests. People can too quickly hide or excuse their actions behind a crowd dynamic supported by people who insist “there are bad people on both sides.”

There is no more convenient way to garner devoted, loyal followers than to cover their sins with power. There are rumors that the Skull and Bones Society employs such embarrassing hazing rituals that they can forever hold members to account. Pun intended.

Such secrecy can play out on a broad scale when unleashed on the world. A similar method may be used in the practice of Scientology, where it is rumored the deep secrets of practitioners are held against them if they seek to leave the cult. Ask John Travolta. Tom Cruise. And Beck? That’s depressing.

Rite of passage

It’s all confusing when some sort of rite of passage is common to societies all around the world. Even the normal, everyday gathering of distance runners on a college campus typically involves a bit of teasing that can border on hazing. And who can say that a twenty-mile run in intense heat on a Sunday morning in September is not a punishing ritual in which to engage?

But the line is drawn where people come away with permanent harm. This is true among both the victims and the perpetrators. Those who commit violence are in some ways as viciously scarred as those who are targeted. Those scars and the pain they cause may not be so readily visible. But they are there. Think of the Catholic Church and its Inquisitions. Think of the German people and the Nazis who took over the country. Think of South Africa with apartheid, the Middle East with Islamic fatwa and the United States and the torture and death it imposed upon Iraq.

All of it is a brand of hazing. And as those Wheaton College kids demonstrated, everyone is capable of it when caught up in some false cause that seems so important in the moment.

And all of time, we might remind you, is just a moment.

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Embracing the unincorporated you

Unincorporated Hickory.jpgFall can be such a conflicted season. With the weather changing from warm to cool, there are still hot days in September that fool you into thinking the weather is not really going to change. Just yesterday while starting out on a run, I encountered a woman walking her dog who turned to me and said “It can stay like this all winter and then just turn to spring.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? 68 degrees. Dew on the grass. Forever. Perhaps it’s like that down in South Carolina all winter. But probably not.

Here in Illinois we’ll still get six more weeks of pretty decent weather before the dank arrival of November. It’s like the Groundhog Day Reversal.

But that’s fine. By then we’ve been through the shiningly shorter days of October. The leaves have flared brightly and fallen. We crunch through piles of them and the season progresses. We brace ourselves for winter.

Cottonwood leaves.jpgChange is a constant. Yet for some reason we also love to embrace the thought that some things never change. We love small little towns where the storefronts are still occupied with locally owned businesses. We cherish the discovery of a restaurant that seems like it remains locked in time. We have one like that here in Batavia, Illinois. It’s called Daddio’s. It’s a diner that’s a real throwback in time. And damned good food.

While driving around we love those little sections of landscape where the farmers rotate crops and there are no FOR SALE signs on the roadside beckoning developers. We cherish the hollyhocks growing by the mailbox. The farm cat that sits on the stump. The barking dog that will secretly stop and wag its tail if you talk nicely.

These are the places where things don’t change because no one is really trying to change them. These are the unincorporated sections of America.

There is a section of road behind our house that cuts through an unincorporated section of Batavia Township. The Welcome to North Aurora sign marks the end of that town’s grip on the landscape, and immediately the homes on that street go from cookie-cutter to eclectic. Old, low-slung ranches and half updated Colonials. Even a roughly treated former farmhouse being slapped with modern accoutrements. Because it’s unincorporated. People play by different, somewhat looser rules.

Unincorporated 1.jpg

The road itself is some sort of calm black asphalt with no apparent relative roads anywhere in our county. It holds up well under plowing in winter, and isn’t bad for footing even when the snows and ice make other roads slippery. The few driveways that peel off the main road are typically black as well.

Frog 1This past summer though, the road was splattered with the carcasses of frogs run over by passing cars. There was a massive migration of young bullfrogs from the local wetland. They headed out in all directions after a particularly heavy rain and many wound up smangulated on the unincorporated strip of Hickory Lane.

My wife and I were headed out for a run and I mentioned going up Hickory. “Ugh,” she chuckled. “It’s still covered with frogs.”

She was right. From a frog’s standpoint, it looked like crucifixion row leading into the City of Jerusalem after the Romans quelled a Jewish rebellion. But there’s no accounting for the ways and means of evolution. For every frog we spotted on the road, there were likely ten or twenty that made it into some wet ditch. Life is a numbers game. It is also a pre-existing condition.

So the unincorporated area near our home is not without its reminders of mortality and life passing us by. There are days when I run that road and it feels like I’m 80 years old. Then there are days when I feel good and race along at 6:30-7:00 pace and I could be 30 or 40 years old again. Instead I’m somewhere in the middle of all that. Grateful for the good days and respectful of those when I feel creaky, strange or old.

Sometimes I take the unincorporated path back from a bike ride and the smooth surface of Hickory Lane welcomes the thin black tires of my Specialized Venge. There are no tarsnakes on Hickory. No patches of black tar or long strips of rubbery, warmed up goo to make the rider anxious when bike tires sink into the grooves.

Unincorporated MeI’ve gotten to know some of the people along that stretch of road. I’m now “that runner guy” to many. I am happy to play that role. They wave and I wave back. Their dogs give a cautious yip or a bark, but I am no longer the odd threat I once was to the canines protecting their home turf.

One day there was an actual herd of goats wandering the roadside. They’d gotten out of their cage at a farmhouse somehow, so I yanked up some grass and placed it before their munching mouths. They happily chewed up the grass and nudged me for more. They smelled lightly of hay and dirt, because they’re goats. That’s what goats smell like. They have weird eyes, and I don’t trust them entirely. But that’s the beauty of unincorporated areas.

Down another unincorporated road near home there is a horse farm where I stop sometimes on a run or a ride to yank grass and feed the steeds and fillies. I didn’t used to care one whit about horses. But I visited a barn a few years back and one of the horses in the stalls seemed to adopt me. That big soft muzzle won me over. Now appreciate the look and feel of a nice horse. They are the ultimate unincorporated animal.

These sensations appeal to the unincorporated me. There’s a person in me that was raised on a farm in upstate New York. Who knew the smell of cow manure and did not find it offensive. Who caught frogs with bare hands and marveled at the sight of young barn swallows with yellow mouths begging parents for food.

The unincorporated you is the person who feels alive at such sensations. Who can forget the supposed sophistications of the phone and the news feed. Who watches the sun for a minute as it rises above a bank of gray clouds at dawn.

Embrace the unincorporated you. The one who rides without a bike computer now and then. Who lets the Strava fall away for the day. Who swims without counting laps, and takes a long shower outside if the occasion arises, and stands naked in a prairie when there’s no one else around.

The unincorporated you is alive within. Embrace the feeling, that mildly untamed nature of who you want to be. In control, but not absolutely under control. There’s a freedom of spirit there. Unincorporated.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, Tarsnakes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons, werunandride | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The TriSherpa’s role

Sue Running 3.pngThere are four weeks until my wife’s Ironman in Louisville. Her training is going well. That is not to say it is going easily.

Fifteen miles of running on a mid-September day with temps in the 80s is a sweaty slog. We set up shop out on the Virgil Gilman Trail, a bike and running path that traces an old rail line from Aurora out to Waubonsee Community College. It is happily occupied by dozens of runners, cyclists and recreational walkers on weekends. That means it is safe but not overly occupied. A good training location.

But it is linear, so the plan was to park our vehicles at opposite ends of a five-mile segment and have her run out and back and out again.

I ran east to meet her, but she had a head start as I was filling water bottles and hitting the potty at my end of the bargain. She was 30 minutes into the run coming west and I was 20 minutes into the run going east when we met up on the trail.

Coming off 100

She was also coming off a 100-mile ride the day before. I pedaled 55 or so miles with her on Saturday. She finished off the rest on her own. We were joined on the ride by one of my best friends. That offers good company for the ride because it gets a bit boring doing all that training by yourself. So we trucked the back roads together, a merry little band of three cutting through the crosswinds.

Sue leads most of the way on the rides. It doesn’t really help her to draft on me when the Ironman bans such behavior in competition. So I wheel suck and lightly converse at corners and keep her company when the wind doesn’t blow the words away.

Speedway rendezvous

A few weeks ago one of her wheels blew when a shard of glass sliced her rear tire. We stopped to replace the tube next to the Bob Jo Speedway between Virgil and Sycamore, and set out to ride again.  PFfoooom! It blew again. The tire was damaged and the tube popped right away.

I’d already had a pinch flat that day so we ran out of tubes. So we coordinated a rescue with her son while I rode the 20 miles back to St. Charles to pick up our vehicle. Her son drove out to bring her home and they stopped on the way back to buy new tubes and a tire. Then she finished up the last fifty miles on her own.

Before, during and after

Such are the trials of training for a triathlon. Not everything is going to go as planned. She has a three more 100+ rides to do. I plan to be there with her during significant portions of the rides and the runs. That’s the role of a TriSherpa, to support the racer before, during and after the events.

I actually talked another TriSherpa this summer who is performing TriSherpa duties for his wife in her goal of doing Ironman Wisconsin. The pair hail from Minnesota and were down for a weekend in Wisconsin doing the Madison Open Water Swim and riding the Ironman Course, which has added a brutal ass hill known as Barlow to its retinue of climbs this year. It’s a wise idea to practice and gain some confidence or at least a plan for the hilly course.

“I’ve done Ironman three times,” the TriSherpa told me. “But this is her summer. I asked what she needed most from me and she told me, ‘I need your support so I can do this.’ So I’m not really racing this year. I didn’t want my goals to compete with hers. So I’m training with her and we’re focusing on getting her ready for the Madison Ironman. It’s going pretty well. Not easy for her, but it’s going well.”

Mental space

Later that day we saw them parked in the shade of a pine tree after riding their first loop of the 40-mile loop from Verona out to Mt. Horeb and back around to Cross Plains. That is the head and heart of the Madison Ironman bike course. There are some soul-sucking hills out there. They were heading back out after a fuel break and a chance to mop up some sweat. I gave him a quick nod and he smiled as she sat gazing into the distance, her thoughts occupied on the job ahead.

That is the TriSherpa’s job: giving the athlete the support they need… and the chance to think it through.

But foot rubs help too. 

We’re headed for Louisville in mid-October.



Posted in IRONMAN, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment