I know a few things about you, America

IMG_2943.jpgI’ve covered something close to 100,000 miles during 40+ years of running and riding on the roads of America. That time of the road has allowed me to see a few things that others never witness. During a pause during a long run, I’ve waited on a corner only to find a Volkswagen flying through the air in my direction. It landed on the curb where I had been standing next to an older man that I pulled out of the way.  We tumbled onto some wide steps where he lay dazed and I lay amazed at the sight of a vehicle on its side with wheels still spinning above me. Then he got up and crawled into a car whose driver had called his name. Then he rode off without saying a word of thanks, or anything.

And I’ve been chased by an angry, angry man who took offense at the fact that I’d jumped over his feet when he tried to trip me up in front of the town theater. When he could not catch me on foot, he jumped into a car and tried to run me down. Then he jumped out of the car and heaved a knife at me.

Thongs and dongs 

The miles have provided plenty of time for contemplation as well. I’ve seen the sad tales of discarded panties lying on road shoulders and down in ditches. There are condoms, too. Sunday mornings take on an entirely different feel when the detritus of Saturday night is all you see.

For many years, the roadside ditches were the catchall for a wide variety of pornography. The requisite repository of print publications ranging from Playboy to Hustler. Gay pornography was rare, and women’s magazines featuring photos of naked men, nonexistent. Apparently, gays and women either do not litter with their lust, or find their indulgences are too valuable to discard.

The era of printed porn has all but disappeared, but one still notices the occasional porn DVD tossed into a ditch. The titles are legible even as you speed past on a bike. But mostly, the access to porn on the Internet has been cleaned up America’s roadside ditches, literally and figuratively.

Butts and Buds

Despite all the warnings of cancer and rotted lungs, the butts of cigarettes have not diminished all that much in number. I once made a count of cigarette butts in a thirty-yard section of county highway where it intersects with a busy local road. There were no less than 1000 cigarette butts pressed into the road shoulder. Smokers must figure their habit is the world’s problem, not their own.

Alcohol bottles and cans know no season at all. One is just as likely to find a case of discarded Busch Light cans in the middle of winter as one might expect them on a hot summer night. Drinking and driving is a year-round hobby. That’s why a typical cyclist has to be doubly aware on an early Sunday morning ride. That’s when the most drunks are headed home.

But people don’t need to be drunk to qualify as terrible drivers. Which brings us to the behavior and skills of American motorists in general. I’ve spent more than 8,000 hours training by bike or running along America’s roads. That’s a lot of time to observe the driving capabilities of the average American driver. And based on this admittedly non-scientific survey, the most I’d give America’s driver’s is a C+ when it comes to driving skills and obeying the rules of the road.

IMG_1833Let’s face it: Nearly everyone speeds on roads of all kinds. When speeding becomes a habit, it is also true that people are loathsome toward the idea that they might have to slow down or actually separate hazards as they are encountered on the road. The more common reaction is to simply speed up even more in an attempt to bypass whatever person, object or other vehicles might be in their perceived path. And more often than not, the driver approaching from the other direction has the same idea. That means two speeding cars have now arrived at the exact point on the road where the cyclists or runners they hoped to avoid are now in critical peril of being knocked off their bike or into the ditch.

Can you relate? 

Until you’ve actually been caught in that circumstance as a runner or cyclist, you cannot imagine the shock and terror it can bring.  Mirrors pass within inches of your shoulder. The rush of wind and the vacuum it creates can throw a cyclist completely off their line. There is the roadside gravel to consider as well along with the risk of tarsnakes or cracks in the road that lead one to wobble into the path of the rushing vehicles. All that must be processed in a slice of a second lest you get struck by a 2,000 lb vehicle moving 30-70 mph.

Three feet is the margin a vehicle is supposed to give when passing a cyclist. Whether or not that is now taught in driving school is a good question to ponder. Perhaps 80% of the vehicles I’ve encountered over the year at least attempt to separate hazards to avoid affecting cyclists or runners along the road. That doesn’t mean all of them do a good job, just that they have some semblance of the need in their cranium. Another 10% don’t give an inch and the final 10% does everything possible to intimidate runners and cyclists with their vehicle. That is because courtesy is considered a great affront to some of America’s drivers. Hundreds of times over the years I’ve heard them, gun their engines, hit the gas in frustration and nearly lose control going around a cyclist or group of riders. Then they flip the requisite bird only to get caught behind a line of cars at the stop sign. Sometimes, if we are feeling calm by then, we ride up next to the recently crazed driver and just stand there on our bikes looking in at the selfish nutcase inside.

That is because common courtesy is considered a great affront to some of America’s drivers. Hundreds of times over the years I’ve heard them, gun their engines, hit the gas in frustration and nearly lose control going around a cyclist or group of riders. Then they flip the requisite bird only to get caught behind a line of cars at the stop sign. Sometimes, if we are feeling calm by then, we ride up next to the recently crazed driver and just stand there on our bikes looking in at the selfish nutcase inside. The silence is thick and that is our ultimate revenge. All the rage and rush has gotten him nowhere. And what a perfect symbol for where America is right now.

Selfish natures

IMG_2953.jpgThe presumption on the part of the Rush and Rage drivers seems to be that the roads are suited for one thing and one person’s priority. When someone yells “Get off the road!” they mean “Get off MY road.”

And when someone yells “Get on the bike path” they have revealed a massive ignorance on both the availability and length of bike paths in America. Their personal notion of what constitutes a bike ride is a 10MPH ride of about four to five miles. They simply cannot conceive that it is both legal and logical to ride 70-80 miles at speeds of 18-20 MPH.

These are likely the same people who cannot conceive that evolution is real or that manmade climate change is happening before our very eyes. Their frame of reference is confined to the cab of a pickup truck, a child-cluttered minivan or spotless Lexus and a Jesus Fish on the back bumper. We know this because we have raving videos of these people raving at the world from within their vehicles.

Over the last forty years, the presidents have changed from Nixon to Ford to Carter to Reagan to Bush to Clinton and back to Bush again. Things were not all that good for runners back when Richard Nixon was President. Steve Prefontaine roared and raved at the AAU that was run by a bunch of controlling assholes that would not let runners earn pay for their talents.

IMG_4125The treatment of everyday runners was not all that good at the time either. I’ve lived through people throwing things out the window while hollering obscenities. running (or jogging) was in its infancy as a popular sport.

Now that millions and especially women have embraced running as a healthy activity, there is greater civility on the roads toward runners in general. Yet women still get harassed with catcalls and sexual comments. Becuase jerks in cars think they have the right to do so. I’ve heard you America. This is nothing to be proud about. Yet the apologetics for such behavior dominated the recent election, and the harasser in chief now sits in office. What does that say about hope for the common man?

 

Oh, I’ve seen it all America. The road kill, the porn and the panties in the ditches. I’ve picked up Christian rock CDs from ditches and put them in my car stereo, then torn them out when the obliviously banal lyrics come through my speakers. I have a faith, but so much of what constitutes religion is a sickness of mind that never rises above feckless platitudes. And Christian rock celebrates the worst of if.

Detritus

The lack of depth in Christian music symbolizes the low level of patience for actual policy and consideration. The shallow speech of selfish populism has spread. If the book was literal, these are the same vain, bickering and secretly profane people that God wiped out in the Great Flood. They are the again the same clan dispersed by God for narcissistic idol worship and overreaching self-righteousness at the Tower of Babel. Should anyone question the idea that the encroaching figure of the anti-Christ lurks right around the corner? Present events are making the Book of Revelation look like the Chicago Tribune than a pre-millennial prediction that empires must fall in order for new orders to come in.

I’m no literalist or reverse literalist on these matters. I’m completely unwilling to predict the end of the world. I’ll leave that to the blind zealots and deaf propagandists spewing sycophantic praise to a True Leader who can’t speak the truth for the life of him. To survive his own fears, he must be fed the complimentary lies of others in order to feel whole, real and trusted.

Yes, forty years on the roads can teach you quite a bit about the character of a place such as America. This is one fucked up place, and the only way to keep it from turning into a living hell is to recognize the worst tendencies of human nature and take steps to prevent them from taking over the national narrative. But some people have made up their minds that the roads and everything else are their personal property.

But some people have made up their minds that the roads and everything else in their sight are their personal property, and the rest of the public be damned. They’ve decided that privatization is the perfect means of justification for selfish whims. They claim to like it that way, and show it every time they turn their key in the ignition and drive around looking for opportunities to show they own the road. Yes indeed, I know a few things about you, America. Things you don’t even know about yourself.

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Some strong impressions from a triathlon

Tri Porta Potties.jpg

This weekend in Madison we arrived at the starting line for the Half Ironman at 5:30 am. As I stood around watching athletes get ready and waiting for my wife Sue to emerge from checking her stuff into transition, I took a look around at the way in which people almost seemed to be posing for a painting by Georges Seurat.

You may know his work. His most famous painting hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s titled A Sunday in La Grande Jatte. It looks like this:

Seurat

Working Title/Artist: Study for A Sunday on La Grande JatteDepartment: Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary ArtCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1884 photography by mma, Digital File DT1026.tif retouched by film and media (jnc) 9_29_11

Seurat was one of the painters known as Neo-Impressionists. The version of the painting shown here is actually a study piece he did before engaging in the far more finicky final version done in a style call pointillism. That is, he executed the massive work in a system of finely painted dots that when seen while standing back from the painting are no longer distinguishable.

Here’s an interesting kicker: This method anticipated the manner in which modern photography now works. When people use their camera phones, they snap an image that is captured in an increasingly dense set of digital color representations called pixels. What we’re actually seeing even in the finest grade of digital photography is a virtually seamless cloud of these pixels that make up each and every photo.

Of course we take this artistic miracle for granted. We’re so obsessed with the look of our bodies in the mirror or the angle of our face in that recent shot from a party we don’t stop to think that we’re the beneficiaries of an amazing brand of Neo-impressionism that just 15 years ago was unimaginable to the average person.

Amazing tasks

And to make things even more interesting, our smartphones can handle some amazing tasks as well. Which is why I stood facing the crowd (photo above) who were waiting to use the Porta Potties. Then I performed a panoramic scan of all those people. A few of them moved a bit while I was scanning. That results in a fascinating twist on the human form.

A few minutes later I turned to face the crowd gathering for the start of the race. This also produced an interesting study of the human condition. All those people served as an interesting statement on the human condition.

Tri Back From Lake

It got even more interesting when I moved closer to the starting line. There were hundreds of athletes wrapped in neoprene. Their forms were reduced to the simplest statement of shape and gender while swim caps wrapped heads and highlight faces.

Tri Facing Lake

Finally I moved close to the gates where athletes were funneling down to the water. Some of the fastest swimmers were perched here. Many of them sat on the grassy hill together. This formed a bit of a perceived performance roadblock. “If you’re going to Seurat 2ease past this queue,” their quiet protest seemed to say. “You had better be a much better swimmer than all of us.”

Their stolid posture made me think of another Seurat painting in which bathers are perched on the banks of a river. The summer haze is visible and the skin of those sitting by the shore seems ripe for a sunburn. Everyone seems lost in their own space either daydreaming or half asleep in the sun.

The same held true with all those swimmers lost in their own concentration. I reasoned this mood was best captured in the solemnity of black and white photography. In the photo below you can feel the pre-race focus of the athlete as he broods a bit. Race management had canceled the swim warmup for medical reasons when the ambulance failed to show up until 7:00 am. But look at this guy. He’s ready to go.

Swimmer Black and White.jpg

First out of the water

It can be intimidating to hang around in the company of the most elite swimmers in the race. Yet one 19-year-old kid had the genuine daring to walk to the front of the queue and stay there. His name was Billy Barth. By casual conversation at the check-in station the day before, I’d chanced to meet his father Ed who shared that Billy is a swimmer for the University of Notre Dame. His son’s broad shoulders explained the strength behind his confidence in winning the swim. He was first out of the water in just over 26 minutes for the mile distance. Then he ran up the hill to face the bike segment and then the long run in the heat.

Billy Barth

Billy Barth, as he predicted, is first out of the water at the Madison Half Ironman

That’s how the triathlon is for many people. They do the best they can in the event where they have the most experience and build on it from there. Some like Billy are excellent swimmers and count on that leg to give them a head start. Others hammer the bike leg while the best runners count on closing fast.

But the wonders of the sport are its confusing ups and downs, triumphs and failures. Even on the best of days, there can be things that go comically wrong. Testimony to that fact were the pile of water bottles gathered by volunteers just after the race course crossed a set of diagonal railroad tracks not 400 meters into the race. There was nutrition of every type that bounced out of carefully assembled packs and pockets. It seemed no one turned around to pick up their valuable stash. The world is chaos at times. Such is life so often that we go looking for solace in natural places.

Lily.jpgWhich explains why I took the longer route back to the car during the day to walk. That afforded a closer view of the bright white and lily blossoms were in bloom. I stopped to take some photos of those too, thinking of course about the work of Claude Monet, one of the leading Impressionist painters.

Lily Pads

I love sports like triathlon. But I also love the unstructured world in which the eye can do the lazy work of taking it all in. It’s a wonderful thing that so many people convene to participate and cheer at a triathlon. In some respects it is representative of the best of the human condition.

Yet we also know that our celebrations of life are almost always a ruse of sorts. As athletes were are the pixels in a grand pastiche that we call sports. Because beyond that realm, there is the broader world where the pixels of the human race all seem to be in chaos.

Indeed, some people seem to thrive on scrambling the order of things, and laugh out loud at their ability to muck things up like a hand in the mud of a deep clear pool.  Their efforts raise clouds of silt and makes things harder to see, but this makes them feel bold and expressive like the bully in a grade school art class. “Look what I can do! Isn’t this genius!”

The untalented and deeply disturbed always seem to call their cloying, egotistical tendencies great art. Nero. Hitler. Mao. Trump. Then there are those that celebrate this dark-hearted ugliness through self-absorbed literature. Ayn Rand comes to mind.

But the so-called work of the self-absorbed ultimately leaves a void. People suffer as a result of their careless brush with responsibility and alternately sloppy and narrow visions of what constitutes great leadership.

When this brand of dispassionate rule is enabled by society, we are left not with people catching moments of clarity on a grassy hillside next to a river, but with broken, abandoned souls reduced to lying on the ground with no explanation for their presence except that they can go no farther.

Homeless man.png

This is also what I found during a day in Madison under a hot sun. The man shown in the photo above lay on the grass near the Alliant Center for the entire afternoon. He had found some shade and laid his shirt on the ground to protect his face from the grass. There could not have been a stronger contrast between that man and the steady stream of athletes returning to their vehicles from park where the race was staged a half mile away.

The world is dichotomous. It always has been, and always will be. But now I am kicking myself for not stopping to check on that man. He left a strong impression on me, and raised the question about where true reality lies. All of life is a series of impressions. It’s what they ultimately make of you, and you of them, that truly matters.

 

 

 

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Annual brush with disaster

Shoes.jpgEvery summer something comes along to make life more interesting on the bike, the run or in the pool. I even had a sense yesterday things were not quite right in the universe with me. There are days when the bike feels like a blunt instrument in my hands.

AS I rode out from the Geneva train station where I’d left the car for my wife to use coming home from her commute, I rode north past my former house in Geneva thinking about how much goddamned time has passed in my life.

That’s probably not the best use of mind while tooling along on the bike at 18-20 mph. But I’ve gotten to know the dangers of absentmindedness. My crash into a downed tree several years ago was the product of riding with my head down thinking about a book cover I was designing. The trail should have been safe, but a tree had blown down during a storm the night before. I looked up to see the obstacle too late to avoid a crash. So I turned slightly to ‘save face’ in a literal fashion, and slammed into a thick branch with my back. It bent the iPhone in my kit pocket and caused a bruise and scar tissue that lasted two years.

Last night I was aware that my brain was drifting quite a bit. Then I noticed that my front tire was rubbing on a brake pad making the climb up Dean Street a bit difficult. So I stopped, and as I was fixing the wheel I flipped the bike over to make sure that I did it right. But when it was finished, the lever was still sticking out at a 90 degree angle from the wheel. I said “F it” and rolled on.

Not thirty seconds later a white truck pulled off the road in front of me. I looked at the truck with its tail lights on. So I knew it was there. Then it moved a bit and somehow I assumed it would be leaving. Don’t ask why. I told you there was something wrong with me and the universe last night.

Rash.jpgWhen I looked up, the truck was right there in the parking lane with the guy sitting in the driver’s seat.  I avoided colliding with the rear bumper and gave the wheel a shunt to the side of the truck. That sent me skidding across the handlebars a bit, which are wrapped in grippy tape. That explains the stripedy rash on my arm. And not much else was hurt. No dinged knees. No bang of the head. Nothing much happened.

But I had yelled “What the fuck?” So the driver obviously heard that as well as the thud of my something-or-other striking the back of his truck bumper. He clambered out to check on me and was dumbfounded how anything like that might happen. “This was my fault dude,” I told him. “Not yours.”

There was no shortage of irony in my mind having rammed into the back end of a stolid pickup truck. More than once on the open roads, trucks like those have buzzed too close while hogging the road, or roared their engines in a furious attempt to express some sort of hate for a cyclist. But this time, the guy in the truck was apologetic for something he did not even cause.

Perhaps he did not expect to hear that I was not somehow pissed. And maybe it was so strange to see me extricating limbs from my bike that he did not know what to say. “I was parked here to pick up my daughter from the sitter,” he stammered.

I replied most sincerely, “Seriously. Not your fault. I just wasn’t paying attention.”

A woman had pulled her vehicle over to the curb upon seeing me run smack into the back of the truck. “Do you want me to call 9-1-1?” she asked.

“Nope! No need,” I told her. Then I popped my cleats back in my pedals and rode gave her a short wave, and a smile. There were miles to cover. I was all okay.

IMG_1833.jpgThe rest of the ride was mercifully uneventful. In fact it was downright lovely. I took a turn up a section of road called the Burr Road Rollers and recorded my second best time on Strava for the segment. Then I turned west all the way to a road called Meredith, The sun was hidden by some popcorn clouds, but its late afternoon rays could not be contained. As I approached the intersection of Beith and Meredith, I was reminded of that scene in the movie Castaway in which the character played by Tom Hanks comes to a lonely junction of roads somewhere out in the fields of Texas. He stands there and looks both ways. After what he’d been through as a castaway on an ocean island and living through the jolt of returning to modern life, life felt strange. He’d reconciled to his lost wife and realized that the life she’d found was right and proper given the circumstance of his supposed death. It was a new life he had to consider.  And in that moment, there was a feeling of both loss and liberation.

Riding south I passed a high school in the cornfields where I’d been a top runner before my dad moved us to another nearby town. That had been a jolt for a fifteen-year-old trying to make a place in the world. And yet looking back perhaps it was all for the better. The party scene at that little school might have consumed me.

Approaching home at 7:30 in the evening, I looked down to see that the chronometer on my watch showed 2:30, a good solid ride. Forget the sting on my arm from the rash crash two hours before. Shit like that’s going to happen if you spend enough time on a bike. That’s how I look at it. It was my annual brush with disaster.

After all, a close friend broke his thumb in a slow-moving crash this past year, so I consider myself lucky not to have snapped a collarbone or busted my sacrum like another friend had done years ago. These stolen moments don’t always turn out so benign.

It’s just a wake up call that the universe is watching. Not over me. Just watching. I’m a great source of casual entertainment for the universe. I can hear it laughing every time I run into something or fall over. Life’s a joke if you look at it right.

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

No animals on the pool deck

No Animals.jpgIt’s funny how we human beings, though highly evolved in areas of intelligence and self-awareness in comparison with other living things, still resort to comparisons with animals to generate ideas about the merit of individuals or teams. We name our organizations after LIONS and TIGERS and BEARS to symbolize some set of virtues with which are supposed to be inspiring.

Meanwhile, endurance athletes use the term “animal” to describe someone that is strong in training or competition. To say about someone that “She’s an animal” is a compliment of perhaps the highest order. It suggests that an athlete is both physically strong and mentally tough.

Motherly love

I’ve seen some animals do inspiring things. A few years back, the nest of a squirrel family blew out of our big pine tree during a windstorm. The mother squirrel carried each of her young out of the ruined nest and buried them in a temporary nest she burrowed in the pine needles by the trunk, then built a makeshift nest as fast as she could up in the tree. Then one by one she retrieved her young and carried them back up to the nest. The naked, pink babies were unharmed during the entire process. And that was pretty inspiring. It took focus, planning and to some degree, endurance for that mother squirrel to make all that happen.

Exhausted pursuit

Earlier that year, I also watched a male squirrel pursue what might have been the female squirrel all over our maple tree. The male tried and tried to catch the female in hopes of winning her over for copulation. But finally, after twenty minutes of exhausting pursuit, he gave up and laid flat on a limb with all four legs hanging down past the branch. It was hard to tell what was more inspiring, the male’s ardor or the female’s selectivity.

Ardor is harder 

Pepe'_Le_Pew.gifThat reminded me of that cartoon Pepe Le Pew. If you haven’t seen the cartoon(s), Pepe is actually a skunk with a poor ability to distinguish between creatures of his own kind and a black and white female feline who becomes the locus of his attention. She cannot stand the smell of him, but it is his assumptive personality that drives her away just as much. Ardor is harder to take when it is not aligned with some mutual attraction.

No animals in the pool

Perhaps that cartoon is one of the reasons why there are no animals allowed on the pool deck at the natatorium where we swim. It would not do for the women swimmers to have Pepe Le Pew types prowling the pool deck in search of love. It’s hard enough for women to get in a good swim workout without having to push away some guy in a black and white Speedo who smells like something worse than chlorine.

No animals on the pool deck indeed.

 

 

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Living off the fat of the land

“And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Say unto thy brethren, This do ye: lade your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan; And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.”

American is apparently some sort of grossly exaggerated extension of the land Canaan, a Holy Land blown out of proportion by the scale and scope of our own appetites. According to the Center for Disease Control: “two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. The average American is 23 pounds heavier than his or her ideal body weight. If we equate “normal” with average, it’s not much of a stretch to say it’s normal to be fat.”

 

But I can hear it now. People who hate fat-shaming saying: “Fuck the CDC.”

Amy

At least that’s what comedian Amy Schumer might say. I really like Amy Schumer. She’s smart and honest and takes on social issues with panache. Her movie Trainwreck was both comedic and pointedly sensitive. She’s the Queen of Fuck It If You Can’t Take a Joke. 

Recently Amy has taken to Instagram to fight back at fat-shaming. To shame the shamers, she ran a bunch of photos of her taken in her bathing suit. She looks like many other women you’d see at the beach. Not perfect. But beautiful. And more power to her. The expectations placed on how women should look in a bathing suit are pretty crazy. Amy’s got a funky fun body and she is unapologetically honest about both her flaws and her attributes.

Let’s face it: honesty is one of the most attractive features in the world, followed by humor, then perhaps empathy. Fat shaming doesn’t make the Top 100 in terms of admirable characteristics in a person. Yet millions of men seem to revel in it even as their own hairy, fat bodies look more like the entry pen at the hog slaughter house. So Fuck Them Too. And not in a literal way.

So we go back and forth on this subject of what constitutes a reasonable amount of fat on our bodies, and what does not. Each of us has a choice to make, but it comes down to three factors:

  1. What do we want to look like?
  2. How do we feel?
  3. What are the long-term health prospects for our body weight?

We begin with appearance because that’s the shallowest and yet the most pressing issue when it comes to how fat we are, or not. For most of my life, I was painfully skinny. Fat was the farthest thing from my mind. Distance runners were pencil thin and somewhat proud of the fact that we were so fit that fat did not dare hover over our bones. Sure, the hyper scrawny look did not win us any appearance awards in those 70s and 80s clothes that either hung or clung on your body, but we didn’t care. All we cared about was dropping our 10K time another 30 seconds. And fuck that half marathon shit unless there were no other races to run. And marathons? You did them at the end of the season to burn off the last vestiges of hard mileage. Then you drank all December and started over in January. By March, you were lean and mean again.

RECE11797-X2

That formula worked great for 20 years or so. I did not gain any substantial weight past 150 lbs. (at 6’1″) until I hit the mid-forties. Then a small paunch began to develop at my midsection. I wasn’t racing much, so I didn’t train as much. I coached rather than played soccer, and basically spent time being a good dad. No shame in that.

The fat gained… stuck around my middle. Some of that is “age,” people tell me. Well, a slowing metabolism doesn’t help. Nor does that reduced training schedule. But now that I’ve upped the training some the fat still clings. So there’s some other reason why my midsection is soft. I don’t like it. Not the look. Nor the feel.

Which brings us to the long-term health prospects for body weight. In my case, there is a family history of heart disease. One of the signs that a man has potential heart issues is fat around the belly. So whatever fat is being stored OUT THERE is likely having an impact IN THERE.

And from a medical perspective, my cholesterol is up a bit from ten years ago. That’s a sign of heredity factors and possible dietary issues.

My doctor wants me on statins as a result. Yet this past weekend I had a blood test at a health fair and my cholesterol look fine overall. So I’m not rushing into that whole Lipitor thing. There are still too many signs that I’m doing things right. I just ran a 21:00 5K for one thing. My blood pressure is 110 / 78. My heart rate is in the low 50s. And I can still get it up. Ha. The Man Thing. The doctor asked that question. I took it for granted. Guess you shouldn’t after a certain age? Then he jammed his finger up my butt and gave the prostate a hard tweak. Just to keep me honest.

Which still leaves diet as a factor in whether I’m looking, feeling and knowing that I’m as healthy as can be. And that comes down to getting ride of added sugar in my diet.

Chris RunningSo my simple plan is this. I need something manageable to accomplish change. It comes down to replacing about 30% of the foods I eat that are carbo or sugar heavy. The few sodas I drink? They have to go. I lived 20 years without them, and let them back in the door a few years back. Big Mistake. They are fat bombs, those sugary drinks.

I’m finding the fridge here at work and bringing vegetables and fruits. And plan on drinking more water. I’m fat shaming myself so that I’m not stuck in Canaan like an overfed dope.

I want to live better. And shed a little fat. There’s no shame in that.

 

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, we run and ride | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The bloom of fitness

Blooms outside.jpgThe bloom of fitness is a near miraculous feeling. After waking countless mornings fatigued from training, a dawn arrives where one rises rested even after a hard workout. The brain comes alive. The body feels ready to do that next thing. Whatever that is.

This is the bloom of fitness. One almost feels as fresh as a flower with that mysterious fine trace of haze over its leaves that says, “I am working it. I am taking nutrients in and sending life-giving breath into the world.”

When fitness blooms, workouts take on a different flavor entirely. For those that hate the track, it becomes a welcoming place, the zone where empiric data traces every step.

Out on the bike, the wind no longer seems like the enemy. Hills are an interesting challenge rather than a dire or dreaded circumstance.

And in the water, even the bubble seem to sing a happy tune as you carry through every stroke. Ahhhh, fitness.

You’ve worked for it. And you must continue working for it. The bloom of fitness feeds on reinvestment. It can last a long time off this cycle. Just like watering plants in a pot with good soil. Fitness has its season and all it takes is a commitment to hydration and a bit of time in the sunshine and things go great.

There is no need for guilt when the bloom of fitness arrives. No need to apologize for drifting on ahead in the group ride or the weekly run. Shrug your shoulders and smile at the crowd. “I can’t help it. The program’s working. I’m in really good shape right now.”

People might be jealous. A few might even be bitter. They might even try to pick a few flowers off your fitness bouquet. But never you mind those pickers. Another bloom will arise to take its place. They’re the deadheads. Not you.

Then you take that bloom of fitness with you on the road. In the water. Up the hills and through the passage of time. It is hard earned, this beautiful bloom. But it’s your time for a trip in the sun.

 

Posted in half marathon, IRONMAN, track and field, training for a marathon, TRAINING PEAKS, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons, we run and ride | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Slumming it

On Saturday morning our city hosted a simple little 5K. The loop on which it was run is quite familiar to me. I first ran on it back in 1982 when it opened. The visionary guy whose idea it was to convert our riverside railroad beds into fitness trails just passed away. Philip Elfstrom, who saw the potential in converting rails into trails. That’s where all the races take place in our area. The loop that goes from Batavia up to a bridge across the Fox River in Fabyan Forest Preserve and back is 3.1 miles. I’ve certainly no idea how many times I’ve run or walked on trails in that loop. Probably 100 times a year at least for the last 20 years. Do the math. That’s 2000 times.

Race day

So I raced and it was like time out of mind. It was a small enough race, just 185 people. There were not even mile markers set out. Yet the distances are so familiar that I knew I my time was well under 7:00 pace the first two miles. I wanted to run three miles in under 21:00 and kick.  But I likely ran a 6:40 and perhaps a 6:50 next mile, and finished the race in 21:10, or 6:50 per mile. Good for 10th overall. My head was clear and calm. there was never a stage where the legs felt like crumpling or my head wanted to give up. I was running the race I wanted. No Woulda Coulda Shoulda. No slumming it, in other words. I knew where I was. What I wanted to do. And like Nike says, Just Did It.

Udder fun

Sal and AnneThe next day Sue and I rode in an event called the Udder Century. Our entries were gifted to us by friends that had signed up months ago only to move to Beaverton, Oregon where our friend Anne de Traglia has started a new job for the Nike corporation.

Her husband Sal gets to keep his job from back here in Illinois. Now they’re learning to dress in layers and act like they’re from Oregon, whatever that means.

But it was still funny to stand at the registration table pretending to be Sal and Anne de Traglia. The guy looked up at me quizzically and said, “Sal?” I almost burst out laughing. I am perhaps the most un-Sal looking guy in the world. See, Sal is genuinely Italian, and I’m English with a touch of Scottish thrown in. But for Saturday, I would be known as Sal and Sue would be known as Anne. We were the Udder Sal and Anne I guess. And slumming it on the entry fees. Free is good, they say.

Slumming it on her wheel

And when it comes to riding, Sue is in damned fine shape right now. She’s riding like a maniac. Her bike is a Specialized Shiv tri-bike. I ride a Specialized Venge Expert aero road bike. Nothing slum about either bike.

Slumming it with Cow Guy.jpgBut there are times when I’m at an aerodynamic disadvantage because Sue typically rides in full Aero Tuck position and I’m left to slum it on her back wheel. I reason that’s the tradeoff in riding with her. She doesn’t want me to pull anyway. That doesn’t help her become a stronger rider for Ironman. So I slum it in the draft. And even then it’s hard to keep up sometimes.

Perhaps I should have ridden the whole way with the guy who showed up in the disturbingly profane cow outfit. Certainly I could have kept up with him. As it was, I was disturbed by the furry appearance of my own legs most of the way. It is definitely time to give the gams a go with the razor. Being hairy makes me feel slow, old and un-bikerly. That has to go.

 

When the temps rose into the nineties, Sue still felt strong so I let her go ahead. She wound up averaging close to 19mph for the entire trip which was 77% of her FTP.  I was closer to 18 mph and my FTP is an unknown number somewhere between 150 and 200. So by the time we were at the rest station at 36 miles, fifty miles seemed like enough for the day.

Monday morning swim

Slumdog-Millionaire-0194.jpgThen came Monday Morning after the previous evening’s encounter with the movie Slumdog Millionaire. I’d seen it before, but forgotten how it worked. You likely know the plot. Two low-caste Indian kids with a terrifically tough childhoods wend their way through a long series of experiences bordering on death. These prepare the one kid to answer questions that lead him to win a million dollars.

I’m not so sure the movie had a moral so much as it demonstrated that morality is sometimes all that’s left after someone is stripped and beaten of everything else in their lives. Ask Jesus.

This morning as we reached the pool I glanced around to notice that all around me  was cool blue water emanating chlorine and cleanliness. I could not help thinking about a scene in Slumdog Millionaire when one of the kids jumps down into a pit of pure human shit in order to get out of the wooden toilet where his brother locked him in for costing him a paying customer.

So he jumped feet first into a deep hole filled with human waste still holding the picture aloft that he wants to have signed by a famous Bollywood star. Now that’s commitment. And he does get his picture signed by waltzing through the crowd in literal shit condition. And you think you’ve had bad days?

Wipeout

Things get worse. The Slumdog kid loses his family when their entire village within Mumbai is wiped out by gangs of vicious people bent on killing Muslims. Stuff like that makes me disgusted religions and the zealots that inevitably emerge from every faith.

It also made me think how stupid and narrow-minded Americans sound when bitching about Muslim terrorists around the world.  Here in America we not long ago committed outright genocide on millions of Native Americans. Those we didn’t kill were forced into camps or indoctrinated through Christian schools. The American regime did everything it could to wipe out Native American religion. Our version of Indians were not perfect. They were flawed human beings just like us. But they tried to negotiate honestly and were dumped in the shit time and again.

So stop with the preachy bullshit about how Christians never persecuted or killed anyone. The same dynamic ran through our Civil War as so-called Christians tried to defend slavery as biblical.  And that only evolved into the KKK, the American terrorist group that exists to this day. Nothing’s changed. We have our own caste system here in America. Only liars deny it.

Drowning in it

slumdog-millionaire-autograph-poo.jpgThere so much ignorance and denial. We’re almost drowning in it. Up to our necks in it even when it isn’t our shit we’re dealing with. And sometimes, out of sheer desperation or motivation, we must dive all the way and hold the picture of our desires aloft. That may be Jesus or our favorite Hollywood star. Whatever keeps you from sinking all the way into the shit, keep your arm up and your fingers pinched tightly together. And raise yourself above that shit however you can.

Keep swimming

Swimming whether it is in a pool of water or through the complexities of theology, politics and culture is nothing more not allowing yourself to drown. Sure, we keep track of how fast we can do it, but the fact remains, everyone is drowning in one way or another. Our only hope is to keep swimming.

So I spent the entire middle portion of the swim session working on my ‘catch’ and trying to manage the right angle of hand entry. This set off a chain reaction. Suddenly I was swimming faster or at least drowning much slower, or less. Or whatever.

Even my breathing changed and my stroke smoothed out. I was rotating my body in the water and kicking with real force. I could feel that someday I would actually be able to swim in a respectable fashion. It’s still a ways away, but I could feel it. There was no confetti. No million dollar reward for my efforts.

But at least I was no longer slumming it.

 

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One of the most inspiring cyclists I barely know

Cyclist One.jpgI started this blog in the fall of 2012. Within a week or two of posting the first piece, I noticed a woman riding up the block where I lived in Batavia at the time. She wore a visor, no helmet, a sweatshirt and some 3/4 length pants. Her bike was a simple mint green affair. She wore no clips on her shoes and pedaled at a steady, even rate.

Over a couple week period I noticed her passing the house several times, then realized she lived a block away.

One day I stepped out on the street and waved. She stopped. We talked. I learned that she rides up to 25 miles a day on that bike.

As the weather changed that fall and got colder, I kept waiting to see how she’d change with the season. But seriously, she kept her routine almost religiously. Down my street she’d go, pedaling with that same efficient method. Not fast. Not slow. She’d just go.

It got colder. She kept riding. Then it got really cold, and I was shocked to see her now pedaling that bike in conditions that would put me into full protective gear. Gloves, shoe covers, the like. She may have had some boots on. She wore an earcover. But she kept on pedaling.

Then the snows came and the streets were covered with slush. But when they melted in a few weeks, there she went again. Tempatures were in the low thirties. The wind was harsh. Yet she pedaled on by in a warmer coat and pants that covered her whole legs.

Cyclist TwoShe told me later that spring that it was a tough winter for riding. You think? “I cut it down to ten miles some days,” she admitted.

Yesterday at twilight when I was walking out of Kiss the Sky Records in downtown Batavia, there she came up the street. No lights on her bike. No helmet either. She’s both unconventional and conservative at the same time. I didn’t bother her as she rode past. Instead snapped these two quiet photos and smiled at her as she rode past. She smiled back.

Sometimes that’s all the inspiration you need.

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A little advice from my Mini-Me

Mini Me CudworthAs fans of the Austin Powers series well know, the character Dr. Evil was very fond of his Mini-Me dressed in a little gray matching outfit. Perhaps it had something to do with his controverted ego and his creepily suppressed sexual desires, whatever those were. It was hard to tell given his association with characters such as Goldmember, whose apparently shiny tool and propensity for eating flakes of his own skin were so distracting it made Dr. Evil seem normal.

goldmemberTrumpmemberWhich could be the game plan for a certain golden-haired politician, if you think about it. We haven’t yet seen him eating his own skin, but perhaps that is what got in the way of his fingers while typing ‘coverage’ so that it came out ‘cofveve.’ You have to admit there’s a striking similarity between The Donald and Goldmember. Think about it.

Yes, these are creepy times in America. It’s almost like we’re all immersed in an Austin Powers movie. Perhaps Chris Christie could play the role of Fat Bastard. Seriously.

600full-courtney-frielBut it’s a fact that every character in the Austin Powers series seems to be grappling with some sort of deep inner conflict, usually sexual. Even Austin Powers lost his Mojo and couldn’t shag anymore. And those Fembots with the machine gun nipples? The NRA would love them. So would Fox News.

My own Mini-Me

So it is with some trepidation that I opened a conversation with my own Mini-Me. This morning when I opened the closet door he was sitting there with a weird smile between his helmet face and his Day-Glo shoes. As you will note, Mini-Me is fluorescent just like me, the Human Highlighter. Only he’s much shorter. There’s very little There…there. But that’s how it is with Mini-Mes.

It doesn’t stop them from having their own opinions. In fact, my Mini-Me has some interesting advice for all of you. Here’s a Listicle of what my Mini-Me has to share with all you cyclists, triathletes, runners and swimmers.

  1. Stop your Frickin’ Worrying. As you can see, Mini-Me doesn’t have much of a brain to get in the way of whatever he’s trying to do. And he wants you to know that the best thing most of you can do is get your head out of the way when it comes to training, racing and recovery. After all, real brains seem to be highly overrated in the endurance world. Take a listen to one of those elite athletes being interviewed after a race. They’re typically not all that smart. “Well, first I swam fast. Then I biked fast. And then, well, I ran fast too.” Apparently it call comes down to being dumb enough to do this shit fast, and do it well. That’s what Mini-Me thinks.
  2. Success is Not About the Sharks With Laser Beams. Sure, having the latest laser sculpted bike is impressive when you’re walking into Transition or waiting to roll on the Saturday group ride. But guess what, no one notices your frickin’ bike once things get into high gear. It’s all about using the fins to get to the finish line fastest. And the same thing goes for runners. Find the shoes that make you go faster, not the ones that look like they will. And you swimmers? The only time anyone sees your wetsuit is when you’re actually out of the water. What matters is  not how you look in the thing, but how strong you are in the water. Get a frickin’ clue.
  3. Give me a Frickin Break here. The worst athlete on earth is the one that is overtrained. When your throat is scratchy and your hair lays flat on your scalp because it’s too tired to frickin’ stand up, that might be a hint that skipping a workout (or two) will do you a helluva lot more good than trying to Shag the Sheep. That’s what happens when you are even too tired to give a fuck, or what you fuck, or WTF? Take a Frickin’ Break now and then. Or wind up a loser.
  4. You Won’t Turn Into Fat Bastard Overnight. Good nutrition is certainly important to better performance. But one bad meal is not going to turn you into that sweaty, greasy, overweight Fat Bastard. Not overnight at least. So if you see a photo of yourself where you look a little heavy, don’t let it grind your gears, baby. Loosen up and rolllll with it. Tomorrow’s another day. That’s Fuel to Burned. Yeah–aehhh Baby!
  5. Somebody Loves You. Behind all that longing to Rule the World, Dr. Evil was actually in search of love from someone, anyone. That’s why he loved his Mini-Me so much. There’s a Mini-You inside you as well. And you have to love them or they won’t love you. Which is confusing, except it’s not. Finding some form of s'[elf love is why we do all this shit. Your Mini-You wants you to know that.

minimeAnd if all that fails, you can simply follow the model of Dr. Evil himself, who sums up his life history and philosophy in this highly compelling quote:

Dr. Evil: The details of my life are quite inconsequential… very well, where do I begin? My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low grade narcolepsy and a penchant for buggery. My mother was a fifteen year old French prostitute named Chloe with webbed feet. My father would womanize, he would drink. He would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Sometimes he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy. The sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament. My childhood was typical. Summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring we’d make meat helmets. When I was insolent I was placed in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds- pretty standard really. At the age of twelve I received my first scribe. At the age of fourteen a Zoroastrian named Vilma ritualistically shaved my testicles. There really is nothing like a shorn scrotum… it’s breathtaking- I highly suggest you try it.

And don’t forget, we all need a Mini-Me.

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What do you want from your summer?

Summer list.jpgThe last morning in May 2017 delivered a sunny day with a fresh northerly breeze. A four-mile run sounded good to me. Just enough time to think things through about the summer.

Because summer starts the first day of June in my mind. If we wait until June 21st, the longest day of the year, it is akin to giving up before the official season even starts. Why wait for a summer mindset until the calendar decides that it’s best to go downhill in terms of daylight? That’s the seasonal solstice, and the problem with that scenario is that it’s also the time when summer begins is kind of where it already starts to end.

That’s a depressing as all fuck fact if you think about it. So I decided to do some summer thinking before the calendar page actually flipped to June. So I came home from the run this morning and mentioned to Sue that it might be good for us to list out some of the plans we both have. As so often happens between us, she was thinking the same thing.

Summer calendar

As you can see from the photo above, there are a ton of things on our summer calendar. This weekend I run in the Race to Market 5K here in downtown Batavia. Then on Sunday we ride in the Udder Century, a 65-miler through cow country in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Sue has a 70.3 race in two weeks in Madison, Wisconsin.

On June 16 we’re going to hit Blues On the Fox in Aurora. We both love live music. The third week in June on the 24th brings a wedding for the son of some of my best friends. And then the 4th of July weekend brings a trip to Kentucky to ride the Ironman course in Louisville that Sue will engage this October.

JULY

Then comes my first triathlon on July 9, the Lake Zurich Olympic. The following weekend on July 15 is the Crystal Lake Open Water Swim. Then on July 20th we’ve going to see Steve Miller Band and Peter Frampton in Aurora as well.

On July 22nd there’s a big Cocktails in the Park party here in downtown Batavia. But I might find another race in which I can run, ride or swim, or all three.

Then I turn 60 years old on July 26, 1957.

AUGUST

The first weekend in August I play host to the Road Runner’s Club of America Certification course at the Vaughn Center in North Aurora, Illinois (Right now the course is full.) But, Finally! I’ll be certified to coach other runners. Last year I was scheduled to attend and got thunderstormed out on my way to Michigan.

On August 13, Sue is doing the Steelhead Half Ironman, so that’s a weekend away. Then she does a Madison One-Day Ironman training camp with her coach. I may or may not head up there with her.

SEPTEMBER

We’ll likely go to Madison on the 10th of September to watch the full Ironman.

OCTOBER

And then in October Sue will do her race in Louisville. That’s a pretty big event.

Of course, none of that includes the daily running, riding or swimming we’ll be doing. We’ll fit that in somehow.

sand_kirchmeier

A sandhill crane sporting interesting tan lines. 

Perhaps we’ll drink some wine, grill some burgers and maybe swat some mosquitoes after this wet spring. It’s all part of summer along with swaths of sunscreen and glimpses of white flesh beside the tan lines. There should be some weird tanlines this summer with all the ins and outs of training and racing and swimming and running and cycling under the sun.

What do you want from summer? Perhaps the best answer I can give is the chance once in a while, to just sit down and read or write and do next to nothing. I think I’ll try to make that happen too.

 

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