I have a confession to make. Last fall in late September I jumped into a criterium race held by our local bike club and was totally unprepared for the outcome. I got pushed toward the curve on the first major turn, crashed into the grass and lay there wondering what possessed me to enter the race with zero practice all fall. I was fit. Just not ready.
In the past I’ve raced plenty of criterium bike races. But bike racing is ironically not like “riding a bike.” You do forget how to do it right when it’s been a while since you lined up and gunned it from the get-go.
It pays to practice going really fast if you plan on going four to six miles faster per hour than you typically ride your bike day-to-day. The sensations of actually racing your bike are completely different from daily riding. For one thing, there is the presence of multiple other riders going fast or faster than you to consider. One must ride in tandem and not get rattled. I’ve done that plenty. Just not lately.
It doesn’t take much effort to crash a bike. Just a rut in the road and down you go. I was lucky. I know how to land. Found some grass and just laid ‘er down. My body was none the worse even though my arm sleeves were greasy with grass and mud.
Racing my bike in triathlons is completely different. For one thing, there is no big group start. Typically you ride out on the course all alone, find your rhythm and then get down into a tuck and give it all you’ve got. Once in a while you have to swerve to avoid slower riders. You’re also left to fight the wind all on your own. Unlike bike criteriums where drafting and staying with the pack is critical to success, there is no drafting allowed in a typical local triathlon.
Not unless it is “draft legal.” Someday my bike racing skills may come in handy if I ride in a tri where drafting is allowed. But for now, it’s just me and my body parts trying to make the bike go fast. But not so fast that I can’t run when the ride is over.
Experience is a helpful guide in that process. Every tri we race is different. Some courses are hilly while others are flat. Weather conditions can completely alter the circumstances from year to year.
Still, I’m choosing triathlons more because there’s less chance of crashing than those frenetic bike criterium races. If that means I’m chicken, well so be it. I may still do a crit now and then, but the randomness of it all has me second-guessing it’s value versus finding a groove and getting it done in aero on my own.
In either case it’s tuck and go. That’s all I know.
Over the years I’ve read that journaling your emotions is a positive way to get a grip on your feelings. Way back in high school I kept a running journal that recorded results and thoughts about the races in which I participated. In those days, we ran a ton of races in cross country, usually competing Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday every week for weeks on end.
That led to some burned out legs on occasion. I recall an invitational race out in Oregon, Illinois on a hilly golf course. We’d already raced twice that week and during the weekend race I hit a wall of fatigue at 1.5 miles. There was nothing left. I was just fourteen years old and running on the varsity level on three-mile courses. Our assistant coach found me kneeling on the smooth grass with an exhausted body and a guilty conscience tearing at my soul. He assured me that it was fine to fall out sometimes. “You’re doing a great job,” he assured me. Oh that more people in this world understood the merits of trying so hard that you sooner or later have to fail. The benefits of failing faster. It takes courage, but it’s worth it to find out the truth within you.
There would be many more races to come over the years. Each built character in its own way. I was fortunate to enjoy much success and win many races. But during my senior year in high school cross country season, my mother fell ill with the after effects of having given birth to four large boys. Seeing her so sick undermined my mental strength and I lost a series of races through a combination of blind effort and distraction.
The competitive struggle of living day-to-day in a maelstrom of competitive fury continued through college. There were times when I desperately wanted to let down or take it a little easier. Actually my instincts were correct on that front. We were chronically overtrained.
Post college I turned into a road runner and was largely self-coached. That meant motivation and planning had to come entirely from within. But the rewards were astounding. Winning a race with 3000 people behind you is an intense feeling.
By my late 20s I retired from competitive running and such hard training. But the lessons learned were well-entrenched. Thus when the time came to serve as a caregiver for my late wife, my high school coach called and said, “Your whole life has been a preparation for this.”
His words of advice in that crucial moment reached deep within me. It’s likely you also cherish the experiences gained through endurance sports and how they help you cope with other challenges in life.
Recently we also lost that longtime coach to lung cancer. I can tell you that he lived the example of his own words. And Life rolls on.
It will be six years since March 26, 2013 when my late wife passed away from ovarian cancer in her mid-50s. While there is happiness and love in my life thanks to family and marriage to my wonderful wife Sue, I will never forget the strength shown by Linda Mues Cudworth over those eight years of treatment. She ran a reverse race against time in many respects. She was a woman of faith who loved her garden as much as life itself. It is right and good to honor her memory. Those are positive takeaways.
I think about that as it rains in mid-March. She never liked this month all that much, but I have always liked the raw signs of anticipation of spring. The skunk cabbage pushing through nearly frozen soil. The chorus frogs already singing in ice cold water in the wetland behind our house. But the anticipation is now tempered by a date that all of us experience in different ways. So I’ll say: God Bless Her.
I’ve been watching the cartoon Bigmouth on Netflix with my daughter the last few days. It’s a ribald look at life between childhood and becoming a teenager. That means its full of what many would consider profane references to sex and body issues. The last episode we watched had several hilarious moments where young boys learn that girls get horny too. Their heads explode at the thought.
The show demonstrate that sex and the anatomy of the opposite gender can be quite a mystery to most of us. For me it was a serious vexation until taking a life drawing class in college. That removed some of the sexual mystery from the female anatomy. Learning to draw women with sensitivity and accuracy took a lot of work. It also built in me a respect for the female body that continues to this day.
That said, it’s hard to imagine growing up in the age of ready-access pornography. I can’t say I know how I’d react to absolute availability of nude females and more in the Internet. Growing up, my buddies and I studied Penthouse and Playboy for all the information we could find about women’s bodies. But here’s what I actually feel about the subject now. I think it’s better to know the workings of human anatomy than it is to walk around ignorant on the subject and perhaps gripped by taboos about what constitutes normality and what doesn’t. So while porn is considered an evil by many, it also provides an interesting solution to a common problem.
This is not to say that pornography is not a vexation for many people. it has been known to ruin relationships and take over lives. That’s true even in the Christian community that loves to rail against its dangers. And just like alcohol, tobacco, guns and explosives, wherever there’s a dash of thrill to the habit, there’s a risk of addiction. One might justly add exercise, especially endurance training to that list of potentially addictive habits. And while we’re at it, eating can be addictive too. The list of human temptations toward the seven deadly sins is pretty much never-ending.
Yet the most potent aspect of conflicted personality is between genders. For millennia, men dominated the “man and woman” issue with patriarchal control. Over the last fifty years, women began to speak out and take control of their own lives on many fronts. That threatened the ever living hell out of some men.
Women’s choice over sexual and reproductive rights has gone all the way to the highest courts in the land. Between the repressive aims of religion and politics, women face a constant battle just to hold the ground they’ve already won in terms of gender independence.
Which is why that moment in Bigmouth is so damned funny. For centuries men have looked at sex as fulfillment of their own needs. Now that Cosmo and other portals have liberated women’s bodies from the sole ownership of men, even women’s masturbation has come out of the shadows.
The world is better for all this despite what repressive geeks like VP Mike Pence have to say about it. The idea that he refuses to meet with a woman alone is a massive confession of personal weakness and a flagrantly flawed religious worldview to boot. It’s also arrogant as hell that he must think all woman are attracted to him, thus he’s at risk of being seduced?
It might be good for Pence to get out on a road bike in the company of some strong, athletic women who could not give a rat’s ass what he looks like in lycra In that context, I know plenty of women who care not what’s between a man’s legs. It’s what’s in his legs that is the real test of character out there. The rest is just man junk.
And lady junk is just as irrelevant when it’s perched on a bike seat. So are boobs, or an ass of any size. It’s how you carry it that counts. Then it’s how you carry yourself that determines what kind of man or woman or something else entirely you are.
Yesterday while running at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, I glanced down to see a simple sign staked in the ground. It said, “Please stay on the garden path.”
The Arb, as many people call it, largely welcomes runners and cyclists to use its roads for training. There’s even a Champion of Trees 10K race going on in April. That will be a challenging course. The Arb has some wicked hills on its grounds.
It also has soft trails that wind their way through the woods and fields. Runners and cyclists are not allowed on those trails. That’s a good policy in my opinion. The largest percentage of people who visit The Arb are not endurance athletes. They’re folks seeking peace and solace in a somewhat natural environment.
I say “somewhat” because much of The Arboretum is essentially a tree garden. There are plants from all over the world growing there. The park is therefore a combination of native plant communities and carefully tended trees and shrubs from around the globe.
The asphalt roads make a loop of 7.5 miles total. One young woman to whom I spoke had just completed a 16-mile run. Traffic typically moves slowly on those roads, so it’s much safer than running on public streets.
The Arb deserves credit for being open-minded enough to encourage runners to use the property. They also deserve credit for reserving walking trails for that approach to a natural encounter. There is nothing so jarring as walking along in peace when a runner or cyclist comes huffing along and charging by. I wholeheartedly support separation of the two interests.
It might be nice if Morton built a perimeter running trail out of soft surface materials. There are some nice hills and runners could move along at a brisker pace without pounding their legs to bits on the roads.
But all told, we’re grateful to be able to run there at all. Our job as endurance athletes is actually to stay off the Garden Path. That’s both a literal and symbolic statement in many ways. But we’ll see you out there one way or another.
Our Friday morning indoor track workouts sometimes run against the grain. The traditional direction in which one runs on any track is counterclockwise. Our 200-meter indoor track facility has a Monday-Wednesday-Friday clockwise rule while the Tuesday-Thursday direction is counterclockwise.
That means we need to adapt to the situation depending on which day we choose to workout. Typically at 6:00 a.m. there is a girls elite program running, and they almost always run in the traditional counterclockwise direction. Sometimes there are University or college athletes as well. They always train counterclockwise. Both of these groups are much faster than we are. Whatever direction they are training, we do the same.
Still, there are some days that we arrive and everyone’s obeying the clockwise direction on that day of the week. We typically to do the same. Running in the “wrong” direction on a track still feels a little weird to me. But on the other hand, changing directions helps keep repetition injuries at bay.
The rules are established to keep total chaos from taking place any day of the week. Yet we’re not afraid on some days to “go against the grain” when there are few other people using the track.
Most people who are using the track to walk will gravitate to the outer lanes and allow faster runners to use the inside lanes. That’s the etiquette on virtually every track around the world. Back when I managed an indoor track facility I posted a sign documenting the number of laps needed to cover a mile in each of the lanes. That way people of all speeds could accurately calculate their mileage. It worked wonderfully, and fifteen years after I managed that facility I returned to find that same sign still standing in the display case where I’d originally posted it. The sign was somewhat faded and a little worse for wear.
This past Friday morning we arrived to do our track workout as the basketball games were ending and all the other runners had completed their workouts. The facility staff even raised the curtains so the entire facility was free and clear. As we did our warmup, there were still a couple guys walking in the clockwise direction as indicated by the facility signage. They were occupying the two inside lanes.
Habits and agendas
That’s always going to be the case at a public facility of any kind. People arrive with their own habits and agendas in mind. Some even arrive with prejudices locked in place. Do walkers find runners threatening? Do fast runners find slower people insufferable?
As we passed the walkers during our warmup, I overhead them discussing the distance they wanted to cover. They probably knew how many laps they needed to walk in order to cover a few miles. It was clear they weren’t about to budge from that objective.
As we finished our warmup, we discussed whether we should switch and run in the same direction the walkers were moving. That would be in line with the rules posted on the wall.
But that would also have meant swooping up behind them every lap or so. Many times people react badly when approached from behind. There is a natural reaction to jump to one side or the other when you hear someone approaching. We didn’t want to cause a collision.
There was a partial solution that evolved during our warmup. One of the walkers began swerving out from the inside lanes as we approached them. He’ move out to lane four as we approached. So we ran between them in the gap he provided. That’s also how it went through a series of 8 X 200 meters. The guy on the inside had a bit of a resolute expression on his face. He seemed to be sending the message that he and his partner were walking in the “right” direction and he was not going to budge from the rules.
It all worked out okay. The outside guy swerved and the inside guy stuck to his guns. We all completed our workout and no one ran into each other.
The situation shows that sometimes there’s a conflict between etiquette and actual rules in this world. All it takes to resolve the situation is a little tolerance from both sides of the situation. That instinct toward tolerance seems to be a rare commodity on some fronts.
Which explains why even nations struggle to be on the right track by going in the wrong direction. Or being on the wrong track and pushing for the right direction. Well, you get the picture. Just don’t dare color outside the lines. Some people really hate that.
On a cold and snowy February morning, a tall, lean distance runner named Mike Behr is running back and forth between a lead pack of runners and a much slower group bringing up the rear. The occasion is a Sunday morning five-miler in the Chicago suburb of Aurora. The group meets to run at The Labs, a multisport training facility on the western outskirts of Naperville.
Behr and his wife Kerry are the ad hoc organizers of the run. As each workout begins, they confer on how to keep track of the varied pace groups that form. When a half-inch layer of snow coats the streets and sidewalks in a dawn snowstorm, the logistics get a little more difficult.
The lead group holds a sub-8:00 pace for the scheduled five miles. The following bunch runs closer to 10:00 per mile. Behr runs back and forth between the groups checking on everyone’s condition and progress. These are labors of love for the longtime runner. His own career is a series of stops and starts as well. In college he jumped in and out of the cross country and track programs at Iowa State and then DePaul University as his studies in engineering demanded full attention.
He kept running after college and finished his first marathon in 1997. Then in 2007, he attempted to run the Chicago Marathon with a bad case of achilles tendonitis. “That didn’t go well,” he says in a typically understated fashion. In 2011 at the age of 35 he finally ran a race that satisfied him: a 2:41 marathon. In 2019 he’s now forty-two years old and just completed a 2:37 marathon in the 2018 Indianapolis Marathon. That pace is just above six-minutes per miles for 26.2 miles. The stats don’t lie: Mike Behr is actually getting faster with age.
His training consists of 60-mile training weeks with long runs on weekends and one solid tempo, fartlek, or threshold interval workout during the week. He’s not so keen on track training. Instead he finds ways to go fast on the roads. “For one thing, there aren’t any tracks open anymore,” he lamented. Yet the time he puts in running fast on the roads may be one of the keys to his marathon success.
Pay it forward
Behr’s Indianapolis PR was in part the product of his association with a Chicago-area runner named Francesco Arato, against whom he had raced in an early spring half-marathon. But it was Arato’s unselfish recommendation of Behr to the Indy organizers that brought his fellow competitor to the Indiana race. “He was a top place finisher in the Master’s Division at Indy the last couple of years. When the Elite coordinator saw that I finished close to Arato in that Spring race, they gave me anElite corral for seeding.”
Behr found it a little tough to sort out who as racing who. “Early in the race, it was a little confusing trying to figure out who was running the marathon versus the half,” Behr admits. “It was pretty cold and I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at bibs.”
Eventually he spotted course personnel on bikes and quickly realized he was close to the two women’s marathon leaders. Behr wound up running in the company of the second place female at the time. They chatted and worked together throughout much of the race. He went on to place (2nd) in the Master’s Division, and the female runner with whom he’d run was the overall female winner in a new course record.
Beyond the world of running and marathons, Behr is also a highly credible triathlete who will be competing in a 70.3 Half Ironman in Grand Rapids in June of 2019. His wife Kerri is a high-level performer as well. Nearly twenty athletes from The Labs will be participating in the same race. Behr will no doubt find a way to cheer them on during the event.
The Behr family now has young athletes coming up through the ranks as well. Their daughter Keeley, a freshman in high school, already has a mile time below 6:00. Son Nathan loves the triathlon world best.
Suffice to say that things are always hopping around the Behr residence. Yet balance is a keen priority for everyone. Both mom and dad see to that while encouraging but not pressuring their kids, or themselves, to overdo it.
Between work and family and running and triathlons, that balance is not always easy to sustain. Yet throughout his life, Mike Behr has made rational choices about priorities and motivations. That balance has led to his steady improvement well into his forties. It’s an approach unique to his character and one he likes to share through encouragement of others.
In other words, Mike Behr is a really good guy who happens to be a really good endurance athlete. That’s a great combination.
This morning after an indoor track workout with my wife, I arrived back home to change and shower before heading off to work. Most of the layers peel off quick, but as I turned on the shower to wait for the water to heat up, I looked own at the biggest dread of the day. Getting the compression socks off.
So #11 is the Taking off compression socks or sleeves dread.
#10 is finding missing pieces of gear. You the know drill. You’re dressed and ready to ride and somehow the cycling gloves are missing. Or the shades got lost somewhere in the house. Maybe even a helmet cannot be found. Searching for missing gear is a total buzz killer. Plus it makes you late, stresses you out and sets the stage for a bad workout.
#9… is applying sunscreen. Who doesn’t dread the cold spray of sunscreen on your warm skin at 4:45 in the morning? Or spreading that white gook all over you so that you look like side of greasy pork? It’s the worst. Dread that too.
#8 …thing we secretly dread is that long-ass walk to the Swim In. Everyone pretends to be all chatty and happy, but truth be told, it’s a pain in the ass to be half-bundled up in a wetsuit looking like one of 1000 seals migrating to a forlorn chunk of beach. Dread really kicks in if the water’s too cold or too hot as well. Do I have to wear a wetsuit? Do I get to wear my wetsuit? Walk it off…
#7 ….Dread is crowded transition racks. Most triathletes try to be respectful about alternating bike directions so that everyone can get in or out safely. Most multisport athletes also understand that an organized gear space is an efficient gear space. But when racks get overcrowded it’s everyone for themselves, and things can get nasty, ugly and fussy. Dread the bike tangles. The worst.
#6… Dread is the unfunny, somewhat random and generally unhelpful pre-race directions talk. If the joker up there giving pre-race instructions thinks they should be working the Comedy Cellar and spends all their time (and yours) making idiotic side comments and weirdly awkward inside jokes, a sense of dread takes over that this race might not be as well organized as you’d hope. Dread City.
#5… is the Sketchy Weather Dread. You know the feeling…Those mornings where the low, grey clouds sit on the horizon and the weather radar is cluttered with bright red clusters heading your way. You get your wetsuit on and take it off again after the first delay. They keep on coming. Finally the race directors cancel the swim altogether. The Sketchy Weather Dread just sucks.
#4… is the Full Colon Dread. Nothing worse than wondering if somewhere along the way you’ll be forced to pull over or else crap your pants. Dread that much?
#3… is the Undertrained Dread. Going into a triathlon of any length when you’re undertrained is a sure source of dread. Of course the longer the race, the worse the feeling of dread.
#2… is the Overtrained Dread. Heading into a big race when you’re clearly overtrained, stale and overheating just by getting in and out of the car is a dread of maximal level.
#1… is the This Race is Going to Go Great Dread. Being sure about your fitness and at the same time experiencing fear that you’ll have to live up to whatever thing you achieve is the worst kind of dread known to any triathlete. But you know, that’s a good kind of dread to have.
The seemingly fragile state of traditional retail in the United States and around the world has people wondering what our cities, towns and villages will look like in fifty years. The back and forth between digital sales and brick-and-mortar outlets has everyone guessing, but no one has real answers.
I’ve lived in all three of the “tri-cities” along the Fox River here in Illinois. They are St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia. In all those years I’ve also cycled and run a ton of miles past the storefronts in these communities. Some of the businesses in these buildings have been here for forty or fifty years. Others have come and gone as businesses do.
Even the newspaper building where I once worked is now an office for an eye doctor clinic. I recall the pride and money that went into that building. I also recall climbing up the bare stares inside the half-constructed frame to look south from the second floor. The farm fields were stripped of crops and the land to the south looked brown and flat. I was excited to be moving to that new building and starting a new position as well.
The corridor of land along Randall Road north and south of that building soon filled in with retail stores and big box merchandisers. These were deemed a bonanza in terms of tax dollars for the tri-cities. But there was a downside as well. The smaller downtown retailers saw their sales drop. Empty storefronts began to appear. Peope panicked a little.
Then came the Internet, and the newspaper(s) where I worked for fifteen years lost revenue as entire industries migrated to the Internet. First the Employment revenue left. Then Real Estate too. Much of the Automotive followed. The one relatively solid category that remained has been obituaries. Beyond that, newspapers have their loyal customers that depend on print. Thus they survive.
That seems symbolic in so many ways. Is it only the dead or dying that want to advertise in a vehicle that kills trees for a living. That said, I remain a huge fan of newspapers. I still subscribe to our regional publications. I also work with print journalists on news stories and public relations programs in my current communications job. Newspapers may be depleted in numbers and size, but the Fourth Estate is critical to our society’s honesty and balance. For that reason, I hope they never leave. We need credible institutions to stand up to the daily menu of lies and distortions of truth that infest the commerce of politics while claiming “fake news” all the while.
Journalism is the most critical form of commerce on earth. It some form it drives even scripture and our Constitution.
So even if “newspapers” do finally cease to exist in the print editions, which I do not think will happen, the value they bring to this world is tangible. I’ve watched the content of the Chicago Tribune that I used to deliver door-to-door swing toward far more balanced reporting than it did forty years ago when its owners and editors were staunchly Republican. Even my now-favorite columnist Steve Chapman, a devout Libertarian for decades, has evolved in his thinking and consideration of what constitutes practical truth.
So we can’t always see into the future or predict where things will go. But we also can’t always assume the worst for society either. The businesses that once occupied those empty storefronts may have run their course, but nature and business both abhor a vacuum. Those digital stores seem to realize that sooner or later need to reach people, in person. We’re even realizing the limits of social media to connect people. That’s why there are still group runs and rides and swims among us triathletes. Data and apps only go so far. They are storefronts of a sort, but we need to fill them with human relationships too.
We’re all creatures of habit in the end. Like the edge-seeking mouse that walks close to the wall in order to feel secure, our instincts push us around the block. We cover some of the same running and riding routes even though we could go anywhere we like. Even when swimming in open water, we appreciate how the cones guide us.
I think of all that time passing by those storefronts during workouts… and all the money spent buying things I’ve liked or needed over the years. I think of all those footsteps and thoughts that carried me up and down those streets and sidewalks. I try to assess what has been learned along the way. I remember the relationships with some of those business owners, and even working within some of those walls. Talking. Selling. Being part of it all.
It makes me realize an empty storefront is never as empty as it seems. It only looks that way because we can’t imagine what comes next.
But I’m proud of these towns along the Fox River because each has taken on the challenge of relevancy in different ways. Rather than remain stuck in the literalism of what once was, they have built or are planning to build new foundations for the future. One can respect the past and relish the old days without getting stuck there.
I was once a millennial. The year was 1980. I’d just graduated from college and was working my first job as an Admissions counselor for my alma mater. The job involved driving more than 1500 miles a week to recruit prospective students from the City of Chicago and most of the rest of Illinois. The first grind extended from September through November. That was followed by another recruiting drive from February through May.
Despite how little I knew about college admissions in my first year on the job, I hit my quota of 70 students. Times were tough in some respects. The economy was not yet rebounded from the gas shortages and international turmoil of the late 1970s. That daft Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan was President. It all seemed pretty shallow and messed up to me.
Figuring shit out
On one hand I realized that I knew little about the real world. On the other hand my instincts in recruiting prospective students were clear and practical. Explore through conversation. Find common ground and interests. Establish a relationship. Appeal to the goals of both student and parent. Get them to visit campus. Invite them to enroll. Turn in the application. Call and welcome them college.
That part was simple. It was dealing with the conflicted ideals and pressures of the people managing the Admissions department that was tough. The process back then was haphazard at best. Our “database” consisted of postcards filled out by students in our territories. Many of these cards were filled out months prior to when I ever saw them. Then you mailed them an invitation and (hoped) tried to meet up with them during school visits or college nights.
The prior counselor had lived in the territory for ten years. He knew all the guidance counselors, pastors and Luther alumni in the recruiting network. I tried resourcing with him but the college had given him the bum’s rush in a massive effort to refresh the recruiting process. I was his replacement. How would you feel about giving up all your contacts and relationships to a new guy under those circumstances?
The entire scenario was further complicated by the fact that I was deeply in love with the woman that I’d met heading into my senior year in college. We’d kept up our relationship during the summer after my senior year and she was finishing up one last semester that fall. Then she moved to Minneapolis to take on her first job in the real world.
Things we do for love
That meant I’d get back from driving around Illinois all week and sleep the night in my second story apartment on Friday. Then I’d pop up at dawn if I was not working in the Admissions office that weekend and drive to Richfield, Minnesota to spend the day and night with her. Then I’d drive back to Decorah, gather up my admissions materials for the week and take off driving to Chicago or some other zone of the state.
It was insane. It made me wonder what the hell I was doing with my life. As an art major with an English minor, I’d not mapped out a clear career path, but reasoned that time would tell about that. So I hung in there. Painted when I could. And wrote poems and stories longhand on legal pads between college visits. I started work on my first book. It was titled “Admissions,” about a fictitious University of Wisconsin-Dells whose funding was based on tourism. Many things that I wrote about in that book have come true over the last four decades.
And fortunately, Luther College reformed its admissions process and remains one of the most respected liberal arts colleges in the Midwest.
Toward late spring of 1981, I received a call from a painting client named Robert Van Kampen. He was starting up his own investment company and wanted to know if I’d like to come work as a graphic designer in marketing. They were putting together a corporate catalog and he wanted my watercolors to be featured in the piece. That little break felt like a triumph of sorts.
Yet I left Luther feeling a bit bitter about how I’d been treated. There was a bit of browbeating from managers concerned that I did not have my “head in the game.” Perhaps they were right. But the context was complex. What reasonable human being thinks it’s a good idea to drive 500 miles in two directions just to start your job? The following year they let the new Chicago and Illinois rep rent an apartment in the territory to avoid burnout from the job. Seemed like a vindication of sorts to me.
That was the first of many proofs in my lifetime that “grownups” often had no real clue or plan about how things are supposed to work. The only thing that kept me sane during all those road trips was my running. Granted, I could not put in the type of miles I’d done in college, and I felt guilty at that. But pulling into a strange town on a dank afternoon, at least one knew that a run could clear your head and make you feel like a normal, functioning human being.
As it turned out, the job with the investment firm lasted a couple years until they moved me out to Philadelphia with the marketing department. Then they closed the whole thing down to head in another direction, handed me a severance check for $7,000 and told me “Good luck.”
So I moved back to Chicago and started running full time to see how good I could get. I figured it was the one time in my life when I could pull that off before real responsibilities got in the way. I worked for a running store while making ends meet, did some freelance work and scraped by as a sub-elite athlete until I got married two years later. Suddenly, I was a grownup too.
I took what I thought was a grownup job working for a non-profit. That organization turned out to be one of the most corrupt organizations in the world, lying about its membership and engaging in corrupt schemes to hide that fact. After two years I quit that job and networked my way into advertising sales and then marketing. My twenties were finally over. But I’d survived and had become a father. We all get there one way or another. I took the long route.
Bitching about millennials
So when I hear people of my generation complaining about how millennials seem so unmotivated or unable to function in the “real world,” I think back to how my mind worked through all those years. I was both dumb as a brick and smart as a whip about the real world. I could see that people were driven as much by fear as by knowledge. I could sense that people were compromising their principles on all sorts of fronts in order to put themselves in positions of seeming security or power. I could see that they were also projecting their own shortcomings on others for the sake of making themselves feel justified in their selfish concerns.
Yes, I was once a millennial disillusioned by the world. And truth be told, I will be one as long as I live. I see millennials balking at the stupid expectations and assumptions of this age and think, “Perhaps there really is hope after all.” Because only by questioning the stupidity of the world is any progress every made.
Never stop questioning. And when the answers don’t seem to come, go out for a run, a ride or a swim. That’s where salvation often lies.
I’ve always been an early riser. As a kid, I took off before dawn to go fishing in nearby creeks and rivers. As an early teen, I took on a paper route that started at 5:30 a.m. During high school and college, I was up for training runs before it got light and made it back before classes that started at 8:00 a.m.
Even in my adult and senior years, I’d get up to birdwatch at ungodly hours. The birding’s best if you arrive when the dawn chorus of migrants begins in spring. Come fall, it is a mysterious pleasure to wander out in the fog-shrouded woods in September light when the pensive chirps of songbird travelers drip down from the trees.
On a daily basis, I get up at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. these days. In the cold winter months that might mean a trip to the pool for swimming or the two-mile drive to the indoor track. We’ve also got our bikes set up in our workout room at home, along with a treadmill, weights and stretch bands for strength training.
My wife is an even more dedicated early-riser than me. She follows her training program with admirable discipline. Most of it is done before she leaves in the morning for work or travel.
But I have also learned to value and respect my sleep needs. My brain functions much better and generalized anxiety disorder is much better managed when rested. Plus taking time to organize and settle the mind is a healthy thing.
Thus this morning I took it slow. After feeding the cat at 5:00 a.m., I plopped back in bed and thought nice thoughts about my wife, who traveled to Texas yesterday with friends to surprise her sister for her birthday. The Facebook video showed a woman both shocked and thrilled that her friends would show up to celebrate her birthday. Plus she’s still walking around with a boot on her foot after foot surgery to correct a bothersome ankle. So she needed a release.
Soon enough I rose to gather my running stuff and check the weather. But our kitty was busy meowing outside the door to my daughter’s room. They have a plant in the room that Bennie loves to chew. He’s obsessed with that plant. Every morning he sits outside like a feline Romeo calling to his Plant Juliet. It’s cute, but it’s also annoying.
So I scooped up Bennie and brought him back into our bedroom and closed our door. He skritched at the door a bit and then rolled around in love’s misery longing to get back out the door to pine for his love in the hallway.
Finally, he settled down and just sat by the door of our bedroom. I had laid down on the floor behind him to make a video to send to my wife and make her laugh. Being down on the floor felt good for some reason. So I put down the phone and turned my head sideways and just lay there.
It was calming. Grounding. The light shag carpet was enough cushion that my face did not feel crunched on a hard surface. I closed my eyes and listened to my own breathing. During yoga class it’s hard to hear that sometimes with the noise of others breathing and the inevitable whirrrr of some fan our outside noise. My body rose and fell with that breathing. My mind slowed and came close to sleeping, but not quite.
Outside the light was starting to increase but I was facing away from the window and loving the fact that I’d left the crack of dawn behind for once. After probably ten minutes the cat stirred again and meowed. He was my feline yoga instructor calling me back to consciousness.
The run that followed was nothing to brag about. Another 3.4 mile rule around the neighborhood across the way. I did vary the route a bit by taking the long decline down Tanner Road to enter the subdivision from the south side. Ran around the muskrat lakes and headed home. It was darned cold with a wind out of the northwest. My planned five miler dropped to three, and I did not care. I can do what I want, be calm about it, and say screw the crack of dawn when the moment’s right.