The day my eyelids froze shut

It’s true. I once went running in temperatures of twenty-three below zero. A half mile into the run, my eyelids froze shut. That’s a weird feeling I can assure you. I stopped, covered my face and warmed the area the best I could. Then I turned around and ran back home.

Wind chills were fierce that day as well. But after three days stuck largely inside the house during the cold winter of 1982, I’d had enough. So I went running. Not the wisest decision ever made, but to this day I can still say I did it.

Voices frozen in mid-air

There have been many other extremely cold runs over the years. During one seven-miler we were climbing a hill into stiff north winds with temps at thirteen below. I turned to talk to my running partner Rob Serres and no words came out of my mouth. My vocal cords were too cold to speak. He burst out laughing and pointed at me. “You can’t talk!” he roared.

Waves of terror

While living in Chicago, I went for a run through Lincoln Park up to Montrose Harbor and back from our place at 1764 N. Clark. Temps were six below and a north wind was howling straight down the shores of Lake Michigan. In several places, the lakefront path cuts quite close to the water. As I eased my way along an icy section of trail, a windblown wave slapped into the breakwater and came splashing down on me from straight above. Instantly I was soaked with icy lake water. It was a cold, harsh two mile run back to our apartment.

Cashing it in(side)

These days I don’t feel so compelled to prove myself tough enough to withstand such temperatures or conditions. I’m no fan of the treadmill and not great at riding more than an hour on the indoor trainer, but they’re far superior to freezing my eyelids shut, losing my voice due to thirty-below wind chills or getting doused with water barely above freezing.

Tough young kid

It’s twenty-four below zero here in Illinois this morning. That makes me think back to being a humble little paper boy in the town of Elburn, Illinois in the early 70s. One morning when the temps hit seventeen below my father go up and drove me on the route. I think something in him admired my dedication to that paper route when I was such a slacker in other areas of my life, especially subjects I did not like in school.

In those days the weathermen did their best by using charts and graphs and calculations to predict winter storms. They were still pretty accurate on most accounts. These days with computer modeling the weather folks (ladies included) can predict an almost precise line where rain will turn to snow and vice versa.

Polar Vortex

They also know why the Polar Vortex is splitting far up north in the Arctic and sending massive blocs of freezing cold air down into the Midwest. Climate change is forcing the issue with warming ocean currents and shifting air masses combining to mess with the world’s weather phenomenon. Our ignorant President here in the United States tweeted out some foolishness comparing cold weather to climate change. His lack of understanding of the issue shows how specious the creep can be about anything that confuses him. And that’s everything.

All these experiences build character over the years, including patience with politicians and weathermen alike. But at some point you get to cash in some of that character, stay inside and run on the treadmill or ride the bike until sweat comes streaming off you like the middle of July.

And my eyes will remain wide open and unfrozen. On all issues.

Posted in aging, cycling the midwest, healthy aging, healthy senior, mental health, riding, running, training | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Blood tests

It’s impressive what a doctor can determine about your health from a blood sample. After the physician’s assistant or nurse has sat you down to measure your pulse rate, blood oxygen level and blood pressure, the doctor looks through the numbers on the printout and can check the health of your cardiovascular system, liver and kidneys at a glance. They can also check for signs of diabetes and cancer.

The numbers seldom really lie. There are standards and norms against which our blood levels are measured that are well-defined and proven signs of a body in good health. Like most athletes, I’m as competitive about those numbers as any other in life.

It all starts with pulse rate. I wear my Garmin to sleep and lately it tells me that my overnight resting pulse rate is 45. That’s a pretty good sign.

Today the nurse took my blood pressure and it turned out to be 118/78. Again, pretty good. I was ahead in the blood tests so far. The oxygen level seemed off to her, so she plopped the finger clamp device on the table with a scoff and said, “Thing needs a new battery.”

Then the doctor came in and informed me that my cholesterol is still a little high. “Family history,” he said with a glum grin. He knew both my folks from years of medical treatments at the same family practice.

I take nothing for granted on any of these fronts. Recently some close friends that are also runners have had dramatic and frightening incidents from undetected heart disease. Some had considerable blockages in their arteries. I don’t want to be one of them.

Whenever I spill some blood in a bike crash it provides a bit of morbid fascination watching the oxygen go out of the stuff until it dries brown and lifeless. When I crashed into the downed tree on the bike trail a few years back I was riding at 20 mph with my head down. After running into the tree, I didn’t realize I was even cut on the face until the people who came up behind me stopped to ask if I was okay. I said, “Yes, I think so” as I stood up from the tumble I’d just taken.

“Because,” the woman pointed sheepishly at me with a wiggling finger pointed in my direction, “You’re really bleeding.”

Indeed I was. Blood was pouring out a genuine laceration on my chin. It would require a few stitches to sew shut the cut. The dried blood took days to clean up. And that’s the most we typically see our blood or think about it. By accident. Yet there it goes, everyday coursing around our arteries carrying oxygen and food to our muscles. On its way out and back it gets sticky in spots where plaque builds up. That’s where trouble can happen.

The plant known as bloodroot emits a red fluid from its stem when plucked.

Thus the real “blood test” all of us face is how to deal with personal flaws in our blood level categories. Some might have problems that are lifestyle or diet-driven. Others have hereditary propensities to develop heart disease. Whatever the case, it’s up to us to face the results of every blood test on our own terms. It doesn’t matter what your neighbor or cousin or even brother or sister have experienced. Your blood is your own, and it’s up to you to pass the test on your own terms.

One of the big recommendations made by heart specialists is to get regular exercise. But that’s not a complete safeguard against potential problems inside your body. We’re as much about channels and flow as we are about carbon and dust. Blood is the life source we cannot take for granted, by any means.

Posted in aging, bike accidents, bike crash, blood on the highway, Christopher Cudworth | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two great sources of motivation: “better than” and “better for”

As young athletes, we frequently spend all our time trying to be “better than” others. We train hard to get better times. We race hard to get better places. We take home trophies or medals if we’re lucky. Those serve as reminders that on some days and in some way, we can truly are “better than” others. That’s the nature of competition.

Yet there are other motivations in this athletic life as well. On the long road to self-actualization, many athletes realize their pursuits have the potential to make them “better for” the work they put in. Better for the lessons learned from training and competing, and triumphs and failures.

I’ll admit that at some points in life, I thought myself better than others for being a pretty good athlete. The problem with that approach to life is that a “better than” attitude can be extremely offputting. We’ve all known a cocky jock who thinks he or she is better than everyone.

Some of these we perhaps admire but others we just grow to despise. Those are the jerks who appear ungrateful for their gifts. At that point, they are neither “better than” or “better for” their supposed talents.

By contrast, when we meet or hear about exceptional athletes whose talents are maximized through hard work, and whose reputations are burnished through service to others, share their lives or wealth in humble ways, we almost marvel that it’s possible.

As for the rest of us who seek to achieve at more modest levels, it is helpful to understand there are times when its a healthy thing trying to be “better than” others. That’s why we enter events and race, to measure ourselves against fellow competitors and attempt to meet or surpass our goals.

But there are times when going out to do events to become “better for” the experience is just as important. Those are some of the reasons why people choose events and races dedicated to raising money or charities. Others become race pacers to give back to the support. And what a thrill helping others achieve their goals! Those are some great “better for” moments in this life.

By contrast, there are also moments when triumph just isn’t part of the picture. When we DNF a race that was supposed to go great (because our training was spot on) it’s frustrating to give in and walk off the course. Yet sometimes we’re “better for” the effort when we learn from it. We are also “better for” the experience when we learn how to transfer the will to overcome difficulties in many aspects of life.

It’s nice to know that we actually have two great pools of motivation waiting for us out there if we need them. Whether you set out on a given day to be “better than” or to become “better for” is up to you. Just be grateful for the opportunity in either case, and life will be much more fulfilling.

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The Athlete’s Lament

I didn’t get up and work out at the crack of dawn this morning. In fact, I didn’t get up at all until about 6:24 a.m. That’s late for me. More typically I’m either out the door running, dipped into some pool or down in the cycling room chunking gears to some early morning entertainment.

But sometimes I don’t do any of that. I’m a bit thicker in the middle as a result. I get that. Consuming more calories than you burn off is the Athlete’s Lament in par with Portnoy’s Complaint. If you have not heard of the book by that title, its central character is a highly conflicted character who can’t leave his junk alone to save his life, yet feels massively guilt even as he enjoys the sensations of his erotic distractions:

Wiki version: “Portnoy is “a lust-ridden, mother addicted young Jewish bachelor”,[3]and the narration weaves through time describing scenes from each stage of his life; every recollection in some way touches upon his central dilemma: his inability to enjoy the fruits of his sexual adventures even as his extreme libidinal urges force him to seek release in ever more creative (and, in his mind, degrading and shameful) acts of eroticism.”

A sense of guilt

The same pattern often occurs in athletes. We love our pursuits yet at the same time a sense of guilt builds up if we sense that other aspects of our lives may be suffering as a result of our endurance obsessions. That is the Athlete’s Lament.

At one point in my life I made a massive correction in that category of psychology. Following years of seemingly self-indulgent and obsessed participation in competitive running, I made a semi-clean break and stopped racing and training. I was only 29 at the time, so there were likely a few more years of good results left in my body, but my worldview was complete with what I’d already done. I felt no need to continue trying to prove myself. So I pumped my energies into being a better father and husband.

Some seem to have it all

Some people work out that balance without the need for such dichotomy. They can healthily participate in sports and not have it gut the rest of their existence or undermine their responsibilities. They enjoy the effort without letting it dominate or displace their overall self-image.

Yet I’ve seen behind the scenes even with athletes that seem to have it all together and make it look easy, and that’s just it: they make it LOOK easy but it seldom truly is. Everybody’s got their shit to deal with.

Not the retiring type

Still, it is probably true that every athlete secretly longs for unlimited training time. That seems like such a luxury, doesn’t it? I’ve know a few early retirees who got back into endurance sports in a big way because they have the means and youth to still do it. But those folks are the exception, not the rule. Most of us are not the early retiring type.

Yet allow me to share a bit of insight about having unlimited training time. I’ve been lucky or foolish enough to create that situation for myself at different phases of life. In my 20s, I lived on some savings and trained to get as good as I could get. I’m thankful for that opportunity because it permanently assuaged any questions about how good I could be. I found that out.

During that period I trained 2-3 times a day, had 3% body fat and raced 24 times in a single year, winning or placing high in every single race. While there was a certain amount of fulfillment in those pursuits, I still felt the tug of the Athlete’s Lament. “Should I be doing something else in life?”

Self discovery

At one point I mentioned to my mother that I’d been a bit self-indulgent during that period. She turned to me and said, “I don’t think so. I think you burned brightly.”

Of course I was, to some degree, free at that time to do whatever I wanted outside of the running. I spent whole days writing, for example. On other days, I’d paint all day. Still, the rent had to be paid and I worked in a running shop for some of that cash and did freelance design work when I could find it. The economy wasn’t all that great in the early 80s. To be honest, I was scraping by. But I’m proud of that too.

No complaints

Later in life while working for myself I could train and ride all I wanted as well. But I’d built a governor into my system that keeps me from going bonkers over my own athletic pursuits. For better or worse, I’m at peace with the Athlete’s Lament and no longer guilt myself over what I have or have not done. I still feel motivated to participate, have fun and keep my weight in check, but I’m no Portnoy when it comes to persistent angst and I am certainly not complaining about what I can still do. These days, I race and train for the fun of it.

One has to be grateful for that, or nothing will feel satisfying.

Posted in 10K, 13.1, 5K, aging, competition, mental health, race pace | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A Captain at sea and on land

Mike Czarnik (right) retires after 30+ years of service in the Naval Reserves.

As a Captain the Naval Reserves, Mike Czarnik spent many months at sea over the last thirty years. In an event held at Great Lakes Naval Center in North Chicago, Illinois on January 12, 2019, he completed the second phase of a retirement ceremony that began at the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia. 

The Navy’s retirement traditions focus on sending a shipmate ashore one last time. Thus attired in fully formal Navy dress uniform with a bristle of medals clinking on his chest, Captain Czarnik was celebrated for his many missions and service to country. That included 38 years of total Navy dedication including the training that began in high school and extended through four years at Marquette University in Milwaukee. 

On a day where winds were blowing snow against the east windows of Whitehat training center on the Great Lakes campus, one could hear the roll of waves against the Lake Michigan shore 400 meters east. That roar of surf reflected the significance of life at sea. At one point during his speech about his career, Czarnik related how it felt to be casting off on a naval ship headed for destinations around the world. “Every ship has its own distinct hum,” he shared. “You learn to sleep with the noise, and when you stand on deck and feel the breeze, there is nothing else like it.” 

Czarnik (third from left) is joined by longtime shipmates and peers.

Thus a Navy man explains the lure of the sea and why so many feel drawn to the life of a sailor and shipmate. Sitting still in the face of that pull of the sea is simply not an option. Certainly, those who embrace a sailor on land sense the unique character of Navy life. There’s a sacrifice inherent to the journey. Those that serve know there is no call for apology in that venture. The nobility of the Navy is tied precisely to the fact that one cannot turn around and come back at a minute’s notice. Yet woe to any man or woman unfortunate enough to fall off the back of a ship. The point is this, the risks of life at sea are real. 

In the retirement speech covering his years in the Navy, Czarnik related the character but not necessarily the details of Navy missions around the world. These included missions to danger zones such as Somalia during times of regional crisis. Czarnik also saw many changes in the nature of engagement over the years, for while civil unrest raged on shore, the Marines who departed from his Navy vessel were met with the flash of cameras as journalists covering the story awaited their arrival. In some respects that presumptive presence seemed more unsettling than the nerve-wracking call of duty beyond the shoreline. 

Captain on land

Czarnik’s “other life” beyond the Navy reserves is managing global teams for the telecommunications giant AT&T. As he gave his speech about Navy retirement, he glanced around the audience to compliment his voyageurs in that realm of his life’s journey as well. 

But perhaps there is no more symbolically relevant occupation that Czarnik enjoys more than doing triathlons. The migration from sea to shore is literal and physical, and his multiple full Ironman distance races are testimony to his love of the sport.

Czarnik is a multiple full Ironman distance finisher.

Thus during his speech he also thanked his triathlon friends for their companionship as well. Czarnik’s constitution seems to be that of the Energizer Bunny as he has indeed drummed his way from Navy duties to AT&T to athletic pursuits. Sometimes he seems indomitable, such as the day he completed back-to-back running races at the Gasparilla distance event in Tampa during February 2018. First, he raced the Half Marathon distance in just under 1:45, then turned right around and ran the five-mile race with his partner Julie Dunn. 

Mike Czarnik and his partner and fellow triathlete Julie Dunn.

All the while, Czarnik keeps a running commentary going. The man loves a good joke and even a few bad jokes just to keep things interesting. He admitted that keeping life interesting is part of his persona, relating how he and his shipmates shared life as they traveled from port to port. “And what happens on shore, stays on shore,” he laughed. So did many of shipmates. 

He also related how American Navy policies differ a bit from other naval forces around the world. It seems that the vagaries of life at sea demand tradition not just for the respect and order it accords, but to affirm the knowledge necessary to prepare and protect those who serve.

Naval tradition is rich in significance and ceremony.

The Navy holds to these traditions because they work. Sitting in the chairs below the Whitehat training ship one can study the many ropes, pulleys and implements that Navy trainees must learn before heading out to sea. Knowing your stuff in the Navy, like many other military occupations, is indeed a life or death knowledge base. The tension on a massive rope holding a giant ship at port is dangerous indeed. That’s why Navy personnel train and train again.

Those who rise in the ranks are responsible for helping others put that training to use. In fine Navy tradition, the entire force is considered to be ‘standing watch’ both in literal and rhetorical fashion. Thus when a Captain retires, it is confirmed that those trained by that leader are there to relieve them from duty. 

That is a tremendous statement about the nature of military service. There is a direct commitment to duty that must be fulfilled. Then it must replaced by those who follow.

Those who lose their lives in the process of standing watch are revered for their sacrifice and appreciated for their service. In the Port O Call building where the reception following the retirement ceremony was held, a table sits with a red rose to recall those who lost a loved one. On a plate sits a slice of lemon for the bitterness of death. A black napkin mourns those who are gone. The chair is tipped to indicate those who will not return.

Nearby, a beautiful brass bell sits ready to chime the passage of time and how the lives of sailors and officers ring on. 

As Czarnik saluted his shipmates one last time a solemn sailor piped his passage out of the room. Tears flowed from strong men and there were lumps in the throat of many in attendance.

In a world where so many seem to avoid solemnity at any cost, the Navy knows its importance and celebrates the sound of the wind and the shrug of waves carrying ships on the sea. It is both a solemn and salutary profession. 

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Why I’m equivocal about legalized pot

Wisdom comes from strange places sometimes.

For quite a few years I’ve been a believer in legalizing pot. Not because I want to smoke it these days. Frankly it was fun to smoke a bit in my twenties, but I just don’t want or need it now.

Part of me is Libertarian on the issue. It seems to be hypocritical to sell so much alcohol in America and yet ban some other kind of drug that is no worse and possibly less damaging in some respects. The volumes of booze we consume in this country is daunting. Have you been to a Binnies or any liquor store and actually looked at those shelves? Human beings actually drink all that. Just stare at the whiskey aisle sometime. It will blow your mind.

Lots of booze

All that drinking is a rather daunting practice if you really think about it. I still like to drink for social reasons. I’ve learned to enjoy different types of whiskey, but I’m not expert on the subject. I like varieties of wines as well, particularly the oakier and dry types. But I’m not educated on them by any means. As for the whole craft beer revolution, it’s interesting, but I’m sick of absorbing all those calories. Every 300 calories craft beer I drink is a workout down the drain. And I’m fatter than I’d like as a result.

My go-to wedding drink is Jack and Coke. I know my pacing with that mixed drink and can avoid getting plastered just by having familiarity with it. Plus it’s a nice balance of booze and caffeine. Again the extra calories are never fun, but that’s drinking. It comes with a price in many ways.


One of those prices is, of course, the risk of habituation to alcohol. I use that term with judiciousness. I’ve got many friends whose alcohol habits became problematic. I’ve also had friends that developed addictions. Most eventually emerged knowing their limits and tolerance. It takes discipline for sure.

Then there were a couple friends and former teammates who were not so lucky. One of them was a college teammate whose alcohol consumption was out of control and we all knew it. So was his use of pot. It was a wicked combination. I’ve written about these types of challenges before, so no need for details here. I also watched another teammate go from top runner on the varsity to not even making the team, largely due to pot use. But even at that young age, I recognized the thin line between love and hate when it comes to drugs.

And that one friend and teammate? He died from his addictions.

Delving into pot

After college I got high with pot now and then. I even dated a much older woman who loved the stuff. She knew how to get the strongest mix of pot available. Back then, you’d sometimes get pot that didn’t even get you high. Not her. These days the strains are reportedly much stronger and more refined.

I never tried running while high or doing much of anything else except being young and idiotic just for kicks. That’s exactly why I got high. So I didn’t have to do anything hard.

That’s the problem I see with pot use in general, and why I feel equivocal about legalization of pot here in Illinois and other states. What I saw in close friends who did a lot of the stuff was that it seemed to steal the motivation right out of them. Getting high was an escape for sure.

Sometimes, it seems, it becomes so much of an habituated escape it becomes difficult to return.

Still should be legal

There’s no question there are risks associated with any type of recreational drug use. I still feel it’s better to legalize pot than keep it criminalized. Too many people have been arrested and jailed for the “crime” of possessing a joint or selling pot. It’s hypocritical of our society to pretend one drug is better than the other.

We all eventually have to make choices about what we choose to abide, or not. And as The Stranger in The Big Lebowski says, “The Dude abides. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that, knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.”  – The Stranger

The thing none of us want to see happen is the collapse of any individual to the control of the drug they enjoy, or need. Certainly the opiates “crisis” is an indication that it’s not the source of the drug that matters, it’s the potency and availability.

That’s the battle each and every one of us faces when it comes to drugs. How much can we safely take? For those of you curious about the yin and yang of this issue as it relates to world class athletes, may I suggest the book Duel In the Sun about Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar. Compelling stuff.


So I embrace the legalization of pot, but with a proviso. It’s also time to put some common sense advice about use and management of pot out there for public consumption. Getting advice from your high buddy in the back seat of a Chevy Impala used to constitute some sort of conventional wisdom. But we know better now, especially those of us that train our bodies on a daily basis, and want to know what’s going into them.

I propose that the word “EQUIVOCAL” should be printed right on the label of every pot item made once it is legalized. Getting people to stop and think about what they’re doing is always good. Making them wonder what the fuck you mean is even better.

Posted in cross country, running, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons, We Run and Ride Every Day | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s a Flat Earth and Fast Food world so go for it, you’re going to die anyway

A Los Angeles Times story recorded that the Clemson football team will be served fast food during their ceremonial visit to the White House.

“Clemson’s national championship football team went to the White House to be honored for winning the title, and President Trump had an elaborate feast ready for them:

“The Clemson national championship team will be coming tonight. It will be exciting,” Trump said. “Very great team. An unbelievable team. I think we’re going to serve McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger Kings with some pizza. I really mean it. It will be interesting. I would think that’s their favorite food.”

The President reportedly paid for the food out of his own pocket. The reason this was necessary has something to do with a government shutdown, which the President denies was any of his doing. As reported on Vox,

“A week ago, President Donald Trump said he’d be responsible if the government shut down. Now that a shutdown is imminent, he’s trying to blame it on Democrats.

On Friday morning, with a government shutdown looming as Trump and Congress struggle to agree to a budget deal, Trump tweeted, “The Democrats now own the shutdown!”

Way to Go Coach

One wonders how it work if the Clemson football coach operated by the same standards. “Okay boys, I’m the coach. I’ll call all the plays and you execute them! If we don’t succeed, I’ll own this!”

The team goes out on the field, runs the four plays sent on the field by the coach, and none of them work. They offense runs off the field and the coach berates them. “What are you doing! Why in the hell did you run those plays?”

“You called the plays yourself coach. We did just what you said. It seemed like the other team knew what was coming!”

“Well this isn’t my fault, I can tell you that! Now go eat some junk food and drink a bunch of soda before you got back out for the next set of downs.”

Trump and Triathlon

Or what if the President was a triathlon coach. Every week he’d order you to eat junk food from Wendy’s, McDonalds and Pizza Hut. Then he’d send workouts with instructions such as these: “Now, don’t exert yourself too much. You’ll die sooner if you use up the finite amount of energy in your bodies.”

Yes, truth is stranger than fiction these days when lies and denials and backwards beliefs rule the day. I’d blame it all on the Christian nihilists that are again predicting the End of the World in 2019, which they seem to do every year, but if we all die this year it will more likely be from an asteroid semi-predicted to strike the earth on February 1st. That’s just a day before Groundhog, the morning when Trump makes a statement on whether shadows truly exist or not. “Fake News!” he likely proclaim.

Flat Earth mentality

And the world’s still turning, unless you’re a Flat Earther, in which case you believe that you could literally swim, ride and run until you hit a giant ice wall at the edge of the world.

But that’s still not as strange as the fact that an orange blob who loves fast food and believes that people shouldn’t exercise because it’s killing them is President of the United States.

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Embracing my inner sloth

While watching an Animal Planet program about the impact of island ecology and evolution, we learned about a colony of pygmy sloths that lives on an island no larger than Central Park in New York. Somehow the population of sloths that reside there has managed to survive because the vegetation suits their need for food and shelter

There’s just one problem. The island habitat actually consists of a series of islands. That means when it comes time to find a mate and breed, male pygmy sloths must migrate between mini-islands formed by mangrove trees. Which means they have to swim.

As we all know, sloths are known to take life pretty slow. They move about the trees so little that moss literally grows on their back. This actually helps camouflage them in the jungle, and that’s probably a mark of beauty among sloths.

When a male sloth desires the company of a female on another island, they must crawl down the trees and clamber over mangrove limbs to dunk themselves in the water and swim through ocean waters to another island. It’s all about breeding, you see.

Highly motivated to go below

That is called motivation, you see. There are actually all kinds and types of motivations in this world, but the urge to mate is one of the strongest of all. Thus despite the fact that sloths are built to climb trees with long hooked claws at the end of their toes, they can also use them to swim. That’s what happens when hormones take over and the males venture into the water to cross the gap between islands and find themselves some lady sloth. Because in the end, that’s what life’s about.

So for several reasons I feel a strange kinship with the sloth in this video. It will swim for its life to have sex and it also does a pretty good imitation of the way I probably looked when I first took to the pool for the first few weeks. My arms went far too deep in the water to generate much speed. And until I learned better how to breathe, I kept popping my head out of the water while sucking air. I swam like a sloth.

Swim analysis

Over the period of a couple years, I have grown less slothlike in my approach to swimming. This Thursday I’m going to have a video swim analysis done, and I hope like hell it does not much resemble this video of the sloth paddling its way toward sloth Nirvana and a chance to mate with a lady sloth.

We can only imagine what the mating ritual and conjugal act between two sloths must involve. Seems like that all probably happens in slow motion as well. And having a really mossy back is likely considered hot stuff in the sloth world. The slower you go, the more you know, they always say.

In any case, I admire the sloth in the video for getting its swim on. Nothing like having to engage in a new activity to generate personal growth. And more’s the better if it helps you grow a little more moss on your back.

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The long train ride home

While writing an email to my two children this morning I mentioned how weird it feels to be sixty-one years old. The best analogy I could create was that being sixty-plus is like being a on a long train that is still moving. You can walk back the line of cars to encounter the experiences, memories and friends you’ve made in life, but all the while, you need to remember that the train is still moving.

Some people seem to think it’s possible or wise to park themselves in one car of the train and stay there the rest of their life’s journey. They might fix themselves in 80s music, or some other era, and never change their tastes again.

That’s not how I like to live. While I appreciate how creative and great the artists from Classic Rock truly were, I think it’s inane to turn off the brain to any other kind of music. I try to listen to new stuff all the time, but then Sirius XM stole their best channel for new music, The Loft, and I’ve been reduced to mining the occasional new tune from The Spectrum.

Yet the Classic Rock and Deep Tracks and Classic Rewind stations are all pumping along unquestioned. They must have solid audiences while The Loft, for all its creative energy and eclectic playlist, has been rendered to the dustbin, replaced by single-artist dedication playlists and hosts such as Billy Joel, the Eagles and the like.

It all strikes me as ironic and inevitable at the same time, like the lyrics of Jackson Browne who wrote,

“Make room for my 45s alongside your 78, nothing survives but the way we live our lives…”

Of course, as I write this, the song Good Vibrations in playing over the sound system at the diner called Daddio’s that I frequent one a week or so for lunch. The place is decorated with genuine nostalgia articles from the 60s -80s mostly, with a few chunks of the 50s as well.

Now the song God Only Knows is being sung by Carl Wilson, that Beach Boy with the amazingly clear voice. David Bowie later covered that song in credible fashion, but nothing can touch the Carl version for purity and inspiration.

These songs all fit somewhere in the train of my life. They also often remind me of the things I was doing all those years. If I park myself in the train of the 1970s it brings up a filmstrip of those early years of running cross country and track. Between the running and the music and the girls and birds with whom I was alternately obsessed, there was very little room for absorbing things such as algebra. So I didn’t. And nearly failed the class.

Now that I look back at my life from the ripe age of 61 years old, I’m actually rather proud of that failure in math class. I’m also proud of the stubborn unwillingness to participate in the reading competition where our paper boats moved around the perimeter of the room for every book we read in the SRA program. For some reason at the tender age of seven years old I decided “fuck that” and stopped reading.

That was likely my first DNF in a competition of any sort, but when my mother showed up to consult with the teacher about my lack of progress they both asked why I’d stopped reading. I pointed to the boats of my classmates on the opposite side of the room and told my teacher and mom, “I’m waiting for them to come around to me, then I’ll start again.” What a smart little fucker I could be in a pinch.

I also recall the day that a junior high gym teacher tried to punish me for not wanting to play badminton. “Okay, you can run the whole hour instead,” he threatened. “Good. I’ll do that,” I spit back. And thus, for two weeks straight, I showed up for gym class and ran the whole damned hour. And loved it. The freedom to think and to hurt felt good.

Perhaps these were not signs of a well-adjusted child. Surely there were some attention deficit issues going on, but also some defiance of authority.

As I’ve learned over the years, I was not alone in my inattention to standard classroom fare. Many’s the artist and free thinker that was bored out of their minds by schooling. Certainly, John Lennon ditched a few classes and in some ways, I was as angrily distracted in my life.

Yet by the time he reached forty years old, Lennon was wising up and changing as a person. Then some nutcase jealous of his fame shot him in the head. To me, that’s proof that the supposedly sane world is crazier than any angst I could throw at it. To some, having the right and tools to kill at will is far more important than a well-regulated society. Nutso.

Probably if I’d been thrown in the military in the late 1970s all that obstinant attitude would have been beaten out of me. But then again, I think not. Watch the movie The Thin Red Line. I think I’d have been a lot more like the central character in that movie. Keep your consideration until the enemy surrounds you. Shoot when you must. Then go down in a hail of bullets because your trying to help someone else survive. And what’s the real loss?

Instead of the military, I chose to keep on running, and took that on as disciplined as a goddamn grunt on the war front. That’s how I fought my way through the rolling train and foxholes of my own naivete. We all fight our wars in different ways, and the long train of life keeps on rolling.

Now I stand near the front of life’s long train and think back to all those moments and laugh a little. It is indeed a long train home when you think about it.

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On becoming a grown-ass athlete

Learning to choose your own goals and stick to them is key to becoming a grown-ass athlete.

In one of those social waves that seem to wash over culture now and then, I’ve been hearing the term “grown-ass” thrown around quite a bit lately. Radio talk show hosts are using the term ‘grown-ass’ to describe all sorts of activities where people are either coming of age, or are expected to.

Some of this grown-ass talk is the product of the general frustration with modern life. Thus the term grown-ass seems to mean several things. A person is said to be ‘grown-ass’ in having gone through a few things in life–– and learned from them. It is also ‘grown-ass’ in some respects to be impatient with those who don’t understand what it actually means to become a grown-ass person and deal with some of the crap life throws at you.

Thus the term grown-ass can be used as either a compliment or an insult. It all depends on context.

This teaches us that the process of becoming a grown-ass athlete typically involves both compliments and insults. Once upon a time as a college distance runner, I’d taken to complaining during our winter base training because the pace was way too fast most days. Finally, my roommate turned to me one day in our dorm room and said, without apology, “You know what you need to do, Cud? You need to shut up and run.”

To some degree, he was right about that. My complaining wasn’t really doing much to help the situation improve. So I sucked it up that winter and that spring set all my PRs from 1500 meters to 5000 with the steeplechase in between. I’d gotten my grown-ass attitude in shape.

Yet the very next year my next roommate anticipated the likely madness of winter training. He pulled me aside and said, “We’re not gonna do that. We’ll do base training the way it should be done.” So we trained steady and slow most days, carefully and concertedly building up our base. That winter and spring we both set PRs at all those distances and more. That was some grown-ass decision-making on both our part. Because while I wasn’t grown-ass in the way I complained about the previous year’s egregiously fast training, it was ultimately a grown-ass decision to go it on our own and do it the right way the next time around.

Being a grow-ass athlete means knowing your goals in every situation. Not always easy

That brand of self-confidence proves the value of building grown-ass behavior from mistakes. What you must (most) understand is that many people actually hate the voice and perspectives of people behaving in grown-ass ways. We all know how the subtle politics of group rides or runs can turn into childish one-upsmanship. Some of that is the nature of competition, and people are morbidly afraid of admitting they don’t want to compete every second of their lives. Thus it can take honest and open group discussion to fix what’s broken in terms of communications and the accepted objectives of a group. But if some jerk is one-wheeling or one-stepping the group every week, it pays to speak up. Don’t let one asshole ruin the benefits for everyone.

Instead, a grown-ass leader will find ways to initiate conversations about goals rather than blasting away without engaging the brain week after week. But remember this as well: getting dropped now and then is not necessarily a sign of weakness but of the courage to try. Riding, running and swimming with people better than you is the grown-ass way to improve. And you will eventually get dropped. Dial in and do your best the rest of the way home. Don’t go Dead Frog on yourself. There are still things to be gained while riding on your own.

Also, getting dropped now and then is part of the grown-ass deal of hard training.

To whit: Because athletes can lose perspective so easily, it’s the grown-ass job of every coach to monitor their athlete’s behavior as well as their training.

Everyone wants to be their best and getting there is a great reward and a genuine ego boost. But if ego gets in the way of those achievements, and if an athlete can’t accept the grown ass direction to avoid injury, getting sick or worse, blowing off training day after day and then bitching about why they aren’t improving, then the coach has to kick some grown-ass butt.

Competition brings out the best in all of us. Being out of competition due to injury can bring out the worst in us. Working out a grown-ass plan for return is key to recovery.

Words of wisdom: If indeed you do get injured, it is the grown-ass athlete who learns how to come back from that injury. This must be done under the guidance of good advice. Some of that advice will be medical and some of it must be practical. Trying to come back too fast can result in relapse or re-injury. That definitely is not a grown-ass way to go about things.

In fact, you’re probably not capable of becoming a grown-ass athlete UNTIL you’ve been injured, overtrained to the point of getting sick or failed in some big event. Those are some grown-ass experiences right there. Embrace them. Learn from them. It’s the grown-ass thing to do.

And to be clear, every athlete has the responsibility to respond to the directions of a coach in a grown-ass way. That’s not always easy when life gets in the way. But rather than hide a missed workout or two, hoping the coach doesn’t notice, it is a far more grown-ass approach to own life’s vagaries and admit, “I just couldn’t help it.” No sane coach will blame you for that. Instead, athlete and coach work together to find fitness that works.

Overtraining is perhaps the world’s greatest teacher, if not the best way to learn.

Because frankly, most serious endurance athletes walk around this world a little overtrained and a bit overwrought anyway. Many’s the elite athlete that looks back at their early career and admits, “I could have used a little more rest.”

That’s a grown-ass admission that only comes about through experience. So now that you’ve got some grown-ass perspective you can go out there and do some grown-ass training and racing. You’re certainly wise enough to know the difference if you let motivation and common sense be your balance. You just have to listen to that grown-ass voice in your head more often. And get to it.

Runners complete triathlon

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, cycling, IRONMAN, swimming, track and field, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons, we run and ride, werunandride | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment