• He's been called the Pied Piper of the Second Running Boom. Once an overweight couch potato with a glut of bad habits, including smoking and drinking, at the age of 43 Bingham looked mid-life in the face—and started running.

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Flashback Friday: Unfinished Business

Unfinished business

momdadelmhurstWe were screaming at the top of our lungs and yelling his name. There was no way he didn’t hear us, but it didn’t matter. He was focused. He was in the zone. He was in another place and another time. Nothing was going to distract him. On this day, in this race, he would cross the finish line.

He never talked about it before the race. He’s never talked about it since. Anyone who was there, though, saw the unmistakable look of a man facing down a memory that had haunted him for years. It wasn’t simply a matter of finishing a 5K. It was setting the record straight once and for all.

It started for him exactly one year before. He was at that same race and cheered for his grandson, son and wife as they completed the Columbus Marathon relay. He saw the look on his wife’s face as she crossed the finish line. He saw the three of them walking back to the hotel arm in arm. He saw the satisfaction in their eyes. He vowed then to cross the finish line himself the next year.

So he trained for the next 12 months. He began his career as an athlete at 70 years of age, and a heart patient of almost 35 years. He got the clearance from his doctor and started the long, slow process of changing the body that had imprisoned him into the body that would free him from his bondage.

As he would discover, it doesn’t really matter when you start the process of finding yourself. The results are always the same. Parts of who you are make you proud and parts embarrass you. Parts are known only to you, and some parts even you can’t see. But the search is worth the effort; your feet can carry you directly to your soul.

So, day after day, he walked. At first his form was clearly that of an old man held hostage by a heart that had failed him in the prime of his life. He was tentative. He was fearful. He listened carefully to the sound of his own heart beating, as if to make certain it would not let him down.

dad

As the weeks and months passed, the transformation became obvious. No longer content to simply shuffle around the mall or the track, he began to push his pace. Although he intended to walk, every now and then he’d break into a run in spite of himself. Through the spring and summer he added distance and speed. He stuck to his training plan as if it was sacred.

With the coming of autumn, his thoughts turned to his November 3rd date with history. There were shoes to break in, technicalrunning gear to buy and a race strategy to devise. Like a seasoned veteran, he planned for the ideal race day, his probable day and a doomsday scenario. Armed with months of preparation and planning, all that remained was putting his feet to the pavement.

On race day he was calm in a way that surprised us. There was no fear, really… just the deep concentration that comes from knowing exactly what you want to do. Taking the relay handoff, he settled quickly into his pace. Without looking back, he set off to find the finish line and whatever else he was searching for.

My guess is that he found it, although we don’t know for sure. Men of his generation don’t share those personal feelings easily. But I think he answered some old questions and, in doing so, maybe found that there was more strength in his heart and more power in his soul than he ever imagined.

We’re proud of you… Dad.

Waddle on, friends.

Back to The Penguin Chronicles Archive

A Grandfather’s Wisdom

stock-vector-cartoon-grandfather-with-cane-vector-illustration-with-simple-gradients-57321424I grew up in a home shared by my parents and my grandparents. We didn’t know it was an extended family. It was just the way it was. My grandparents were in their 50’s when I was born and, growing up, I thought that they were very, VERY old. And they were.

My grandfather shared his wisdom in short, pithy, statements of fact. His three favorites, and these three covered nearly every imaginable situation were; “things happen”, “people are funny”, and “what’s done is done.”

Examples: Plane crash? Things happen. Man wants to marry his dog? People are funny. I didn’t study for my history test and failed? What’s done is done. He was not a man who wasted time on contemplation and reflection.

Being a grandfather myself I wonder what messages I’m sending to MY grandchildren. I wonder what they will remember when they think about the time we’ve spent together. I wonder what they will learn from me.

What I hope they learn is that life needs to be lived, not feared. When I stood at the starting line of my first race it wasn’t the distance that frightened me. As I’ve written, the miracle wouldn’t be that I finished, the miracle was that I had the courage to start. The fear was that I would be called out as an imposter, as a non-athletic interloper in a field of runners. It wasn’t a fear of failing. It was a fear of being found out.

What I hope they learn is that if you wait for the right moment to do anything you will never do anything. When I stood in a cold lake at the start of my first triathlon I had gone to the pool exactly twice before the race. The funny part  is that even with years of training I never got that much better at swimming than I was then. If I had waited until I got “good enough” I would never have gotten good enough.A_Colorful_Cartoon_Grandpa_Running_a_Race_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_100708-172101-630053

What I hope they learn is that the real joy is NOT in achieving a goal but it setting goals and trying to achieve them. When I decided to run my first marathon I spent months preparing. Every day of anticipation was a good day, whether I was training or not. I had set a goal and with every step I was getting closer to achieving it. The last 26.2 miles were just that; the last 26.2 miles. And when I crossed that first marathon finish line my joy came not from that success but in believing that there were other goals that I could set and achieve.

My most vivid memory of my grandfather is him sitting at a small table in the basement kitchen area eating an Italian sausage and peppers sandwich on my grandmother’s homemade bread. I hope the most vivid memory my grandchildren have of me is not of me sitting still.

What I hope they learn is that the best life is an active life. Being active, whatever that means, is the key to discovering a world beyond ourselves. Whether we walk, run, pedal, or paddle, we can discover all by ourselves what’s just over the horizon.

Waddle on, friends.

John

An Accidental Athlete is available in print and ebooks versions now. BUY THE BOOK

Review An Accidental Athlete on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

What others are saying: I laughed, I cried, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I could identify with so many of John’s experiences. While some may view slower runners like myself with disdain, John made me proud to be out there. I run for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and I have seen John speak at many of their events. He is a very entertaining speaker as well as writer. John is an inspiration to many people who never thought they could ever step up to a starting line let alone cross a finish line. - Lynn Nelson on Amazon.com

Afternoon Delight

wakingI am NOT a morning person. And by that I don’t mean that I just don’t enjoy getting up early. I mean I am NOT a morning person at all. The perfect schedule for my natural body clock was the years that I was freelancing as a musician. First thing in the morning was 10am – ish. A little toast and coffee, lunch around 4 or so, go to work at 7pm, dinner around 11, listen to a little music or watch late night television [there were no DVR’s in those days] and get to bed by about 2am. It was perfect.

Of course, I wasn’t a runner back then. But, I did practice every day and often practiced in the early afternoon. I don’t know if it’s just a lingering habit or my circadian rhythm but that’s exactly when I like to run – or walk – or bike. Early afternoon. That’s MY time.

Please don’t email me and tell me how beautiful and peaceful it is in the morning.  Or how it get’s your day started right. I get it. I get that SOME people like it. I don’t.  And, by the way, it’s VERY peaceful at 2 in the morning too. Not if you’re getting up at 2, but if you’re going to bed at 2.

Let me explain why running in the afternoon is better than running in the morning. First off, in the morning you’re never sure what to wear. Will you be cold at the start? Will you be too warm later on. When you run in the afternoon you already know what the temperature is and what it’s going to be. You don’t need to try to figure out what to wear.

Then there’s the whole “what should I eat before I run” conundrum. Do I eat nothing? Do I eat a little? Do I drink coffee? Do I AVOID coffee? Good grief. When you run in the afternoon you don’t have to think about any of that. You’ve been up for hours. You have, at the very least, had breakfast. So, you’re ready to go.

And speaking of being ready to go, the whole being “ready to go” morning concerns are gone by the afternoon. Should I go? Do I have to go? What if I get out there and THEN I have to go. You have to plan your routes around gas stations or public restrooms. It’s a nightmare. When you run in the afternoon you have ALL morning to take care of whatever business you need to take care of. You’ll be much more relaxed.

And speaking of business, one of two things are true if you run in the morning; 1) you check your email and Facebook and Twitter and all your other social media accounts before you snailturtlerun and THINK about what you have to do when you get back from your run, or, 2) you DON’T check your email and social media accounts and WONDER the whole time your running what your Facebook friends are doing that morning or what clever Tweet you might be missing or whether you got an email saying that someone in Nigeria needs to send you $3,000,000 dollars if you’ll only send them your banking information.

When you run in the afternoon you already know what your Facebook friends are doing. [Fluffy got a new cat box, Little Bobby learned to pee standing up, and some high school friend that you didn’t like 40 years ago somehow thinks that you’ve forgotten how lame they were back then and want to reconnect] So, you realize that there’s nothing to think about and especially nothing to worry about. You can just run.

There are other reasons; it’s light out, other people aren’t out walking their dogs, or rushing to work; you get the point. It’s just better. I know that not everyone can run in the afternoon, but, someday when you CAN, give it a shot. I think you’ll find it’s a lot more satisfying than you thought.

Waddle on, friends.

John

An Accidental Athlete is available in print and ebooks versions now. BUY THE BOOK

Review An Accidental Athlete on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

What others are saying: Looking for some motivation to start running and improve your fitness? You’re sure to find some inspiration from John Bingham’s new memoir, “An Accidental Athlete.” As an overweight, uninspired pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker, Bingham realized that he had to make some changes in his life and began running at the age of 43. With wit and humor, Bingham recounts his journey from couch potato to self-proclaimed “adult on-set athlete.”- ESPN Gear Guide

Come Sail Away

blog_ketchRunners and walkers want to experience the world with their your own two feet.

Jenny and I have listened to what you want and have created vacations that allow you to get away from it all with a group of friends who understand who you are. Whether you are young or old, a new walker or a life-long runner you will find yourself at home, comfortable, and welcomed.

In Alaska you’ll see the Last Frontier up close. No riding in tour buses and looking out the windows. You will be right there seeing and feeling the REAL Alaska.

The Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise is a once in a lifetime opportunity to share the unique beauty of Alaska. For more detail, check out Will and Sunny’s blog. For more information, or to book the trip: The Alaskan Vacation.

fb_caibgroupLooking for some sunshine, crystal clear water, and white sand beaches in the middle of winter? Want to experience it all with like-minded, active people. We’ve got the trip for you.

An all new itinerary for 2014 will take us to Haiti, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. You’ll explore the Caribbean, you’ll run or walk in some of the most enchanting places on earth, and you’ll do it friends.

For more information, or to book the trip: The Caribbean Vacation

The best part of both of these vacations is that the Ships serve as hotel, restaurant, and transportatiojohncaribn. You unpack ONE time and spend the rest of the week enjoying all that the journey has to offer.

These are truly special trips. If you’ve been on one, you know. If you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to see why these have become some of the most popular active vacations in the world.

For more information, contact Mila at The Cruise Authority or me, John “the Penguin” Bingham

I’ll see you on the Lido Deck…

Looking for Adventure

pc_therigI should mention this at the very beginning. This edition of the Penguin Chronicles has little to do with running – in an absolute sense. It has to do with looking for, and finding, a means of expressing one’s self, one’s joy, one’s desire for some unique experience that defines a moment in one’s life. Come to think of it, maybe it does have something to do with running.

For the past week, Jenny and I have been exploring the Great Smokey Mountains on dual-purpose motorcycles. When my son, Terry, was young he and I did a lot of this kind of riding. The bikes are smallish, the challenges different than those that you find on the roads, and the satisfaction is immense. While Jenny is an accomplished road motorcyclist, this was her first real exposure to dual purpose ridingpc_dan

The plan was simple. Jenny contacted Dan and Debbie of GSM Motorent , arranged to rent a cabin and get some advice on places to ride in the area. What we got was much more than we could have expected. Dan was an old-school motorcyclist that I felt like I had known my entire life, and Debbie made us feel like friends who had stopped by for a visit. It was perfect.

The first afternoon we did a combination of on and off road riding to get a feel for the bikes and the area. The next morning, armed with one of Dan’s route lists we took off to find the checkpoints on the 185 mile route. Our first mistake was forgetting the very detailed maps that Dan had suggested we get. Undaunted, we took on the challenge with nothing but the checkpoints, dead reckoning, a GPS, and our own skills.

Everything went well until we missed a checkpoint and followed a trail that led deeper and deeper into to woods. After about an hour of searchipc_john_smokiesng out every Jeep trail and deer path in the area we did what every experienced navigator does; we went back to the last place where we knew were were right.

We found ourselves back on the course and after a quick lunch we headed back into to mountain. Our navigation was dead on and we were having a great time finding the marked and unmarked trails. And then we came to the creek. Or at least it was supposed to be a creek. It was a raging river. Too deep to cross on foot let alone with motorcycles.

By then is was late afternoon and we knew that we’d be losing the light soon. Under the heavy canopy it was already getting dark. We couldn’t go on. We didn’t have a map to figure out another way around the obstacle. And we were running out of daylight. We had no choice but to backtrack for nearly two hours.jennycrossing cropped

Jenny went in to full “adventure racer” mode and flogged her Yamaha. She rode fast and well. She led with complete confidence. I was hanging on for dear life. After a couple of serious “seat puckering moments” we made it back to the gravel roads and eventually to the pavement, and ultimately to the cabin 12 hours and 225 miles after we had started.

We spent the next two days riding around and through the park, on and off road, experiencing great roads, beautiful scenery, and wonderful people.

In the end I learned a very important lesson. At 64 years-old, I’m too young to not be adventurous. But, at 64, I’m too old to be foolish. That’s not always an easy line to find and too often an easy line to cross. Kind of like a mountain trail in the middle of the Smokies.

Waddle on, friends.

John

An Accidental Athlete is available in print and ebooks versions now. BUY THE BOOK

Review An Accidental Athlete on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

What others are saying: Looking for some motivation to start running and improve your fitness? You’re sure to find some inspiration from John Bingham’s new memoir, “An Accidental Athlete.” As an overweight, uninspired pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker, Bingham realized that he had to make some changes in his life and began running at the age of 43. With wit and humor, Bingham recounts his journey from couch potato to self-proclaimed “adult on-set athlete.”- ESPN Gear Guide

Facebook Friend-see

friendsWhen Facebook first come into the national consciousness I had no idea what it was or what it could do. I couldn’t even figure out how to get an account so I hired a recent college graduate, a 20-something computer whiz, to establish my Facebook presence. He created two pages; a John Bingham page [Facebook/jjbingham] and a “Penguin” page [Facebook/john the penguin bingham] What I didn’t know then was that the personal page, John Bingham, allowed people to “friend” you. The “penguin” page only allowed people to “like” you. And, as you know, you are limited to 5,000 Facebook friends, a threshold I hit pretty early on.

Not, I must confess, because I actually have 5,000 friends. I just didn’t understand how it all worked; when someone send a friend request I eagerly accepted it.

This morning when I opened my Facebook page and saw the collection of “friends” photos I was astonished at what an elegant, if somewhat bizarre, snapshot it was of my life. So, for those of you who are curious, this is who they are: From the top, left to right.

  • Linda Raymond: My son’s mother and my first wife. I met her when I was 17.
  • Nancy Stutsman, AKA “theQueen”: An old motorcycling musician friend. We’ve been friends since I was in my 20’s.
  • Martha Raymond: My son’s stepfather’s sister. We met when I was in my 30’s.
  • Peter Jacob: The service manager at my local BMW dealership. We’ve argued a bunch but share a passion for motorcycles and good Scotch.
  • Pat Raymond: My son’s stepfather and one of my oldest friends. We share a long-standing love of motorcycles and a new-found love of our grandchildren.
  • Jan Loichle: My high-school girlfriend that I haven’t seen or talked to in 45 years. She was the first, and only, girlfriend that convinced me to wear a “steady” sweater.
  • Evan Wert. A newer friend in the running industry. We discovered early on that we’d rather talk about fast cars then about pronation.
  • Howard Gould. My son’s mother’s younger brother. I met him when he was 8 or 9 years old.
  • Michael Sardo: My cousin/nephew. I’ve known him his entire life, through the awkward transition from child to Marine to Chicago Police officer to father. VERY proud of him.

What do all these people in common? Me, I guess. I’m sure, though, that if each of them were to johntriumphdescribe the “me” that they knew they would be very different “me’s”. Jan would remember the high school John the drove his sports car inside the school. [that’s not Jan in the photo]

The “Queen” would remember a pretty decent bass trombone player who could “wheelie” any motorcycle ever made including a full-dress Yamaha XS1100.

johnhondascramblerHoward would remember a Steve McQueen wannabe who showed up at his parent’s home on a Honda 305 Scrambler. I don’t know how cool he thought I was, but I know how cool I THOUGHT I was.

Michael would remember an uncle that took him camping for the first time and explained that the bathroom was a stand of trees. Years later as a young Marine in Desert Shield, I’m sure a nice tree would have been welcomed.

Pat Raymond would remember working together at Cycles Incorporated and a time when indyriding was as important as breathing. He might remember 3 guys sleeping in a two-man tent in the rain. [that’s Pat with our oldest grandson at the MotoGP race at Indianapolis. In the backround is my son and younger grandson with our buddy John]

In the end, though, this snapshot brings more memories to me than to any of them. It is a reminder of how far I’ve come, how difficult that path has been at times, how important certain people have been in my life whether they were there for a few months or 40 years, and of how fortunate I’ve been to have ever been able to call each of them “friend.”

It may be my age speaking, because the theme song from Golden Girls is ringing in my ears. I’d to say to every one of them:  “Thank you for being a friend.”

John

Groundhog Day

If you haven’t seen the movie Groundhog Day, I strongly encourage you to see it. I think it’s Bill Murray’s best work. The movie is funny enough on it’s face, but if you look beyond the gags the allegory is really poignant. I don’t think it gives away the plot to suggest that the point is that until you’re willing to take some risks and take action to change your life you’ll be living the same day over-and-over even if the calendar date changes.

That was certainly the case for me. There were lots of external changes in my life. I went from being in school to being in grad school to being in the Army to being back in school to getting a job and so it went. I was married. I was not married. I was married again. And so it went.

I changed jobs, changed careers, changed the geography of my life and yet, sooner or later, everything that I had been became everything that I was: again. Like so many people I weighed too much, I ate too much, and  I drank too much. So I tried eating less, drinking less, cutting out carbs and fats and protien. I ate nuts and bananas, eggs and cheese, fat free yogurt and low fat peanut butter. For a while.

But who I was always resurfaced. It didn’t matter what I did to the outside of myself the inside of me stayed the same. I was going around in circles. Every day was the same day. It was the movie Groundhog Day and I was the star.

It all changed the day I took my first run. It was more of a walk, or a waddle, or a stumble. It was movement. Forward movement. And even though I ended up where I started out I knew that I had gone somewhere. That experience of moving – slow, steady, relentless moving – was new. Something was changing. Slowly, for sure, but changing. I was changing. With each run I got farther away from who I’d been and closer to who I was becoming.

So when I watch Bill Murray finally come to grips with the truth that the biggest problem in his life was that he was the one living it, I smile. When I remember all the excuses I had for not being active, for not eating better, for not living a life with more purpose, I smile. It was never relationships or bosses or experiences that help me back. It was me.

If your life feels like Groundhog Day, I understand. I’ve been there. I lived there.

But I can tell you that it doesn’t have to stay that way. Life can change. YOU can change. And you can do it with nothing more than your own two feet.

Waddle on,

John

An Accidental Athlete is available in print and ebooks versions now. BUY THE BOOK

Review An Accidental Athlete on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

What others are saying: Looking for some motiviation to start running and improve your fitness? You’re sure to find some inspiration from John Bingham’s new memoir, “An Accidental Athlete.” As an overweight, uninspired pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker, Bingham realized that he had to make some changes in his life and began running at the age of 43. With wit and humor, Bingham recounts his journey from couch potato to self-proclaimed “adult on-set athlete.”- ESPN Gear Guide

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