• 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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The Last Brain to Clarksville

left-brain-right-brainI’ve tried. I have REALLY tried. I studied the shoe reviews. I bought all the latest gizmos. I’ve read all the diet and sport nutrition books. I’ve read all about how I can get faster, how I can run farther, how I can get more efficient, stronger, more flexible, with less injuries. To be honest, especially in the early days, I thought that all the experts were right and I was wrong. I thought that if I was a better runner – whatever that means – I would be a happier runner. I wasn’t.

I wasn’t that much better and I certainly wasn’t that much happier.

Almost from the very beginning I was having fun. FUN. I didn’t have the faintest idea what i was doing, I didn’t have anything like a plan or a schedule or a program. I was just having fun. I’d put on my running shoes, walk out the door and have fun.

What too often happens is that we start doing something – running, walking, cycling, playing the cello – because we think it will be fun only to find out that unless we get good at it we aren’t having fun. When I started playing tennis I thought it would be fun. Tennis looks like fun. It isn’t fun when you or your partner spend 90% of the time chasing after the balls or – worse yet – yelling at people walking past the court and asking them to throw the ball back to you. Tennis is fun if you’re good enough.

My first fitness activity was bicycling. Biking is FUN. Then i started walking and running. Walking and running are fun. If you take away all of your expectations about what you could be doing and concentrate only on what you are doing it’s fun. I’m not talking about the “glass half full” mindset. My glass wasn’t even 10% full. I’m talking about having fun when you are truly no good.

I don’t know for sure if it’s the whole right brain/left brain business. It just seems like the entire running industry is populated by people who are number-crunching, pace-calculating, mileage-recording, “failing to plan is planning to fail” types. I’m not.

I haven’t kept a running log in probably 10 years. Blasphemy, I know. After all, how I will I know what I’ve done and what I need to do ifrunners I don’t keep track. And these days it isn’t enough to simply right it down in a logbook. I would need to chart it and post it and tell my friends and send them the GPS coordinates. Aaarrrggghhh.

What I want from my running or walking or cycling – or any other activity – is the sense of well-being that comes from doing it. ANDand this is an important AND – I want it to be fun. When I’m finished with the activity I want to feel better than I did when I started. I want to be glad I did it. I do NOT want to feel like there was something more I could have done or that I failed in some small or large way.

If you haven’t done it recently, try just going for a run. Leave all the training toys at home. And don’t go on some course where you know the distance. Turn left where you normally turn right. Get it your car and go someplace you’ve never been. Run or walk as much as you want to, then stop. Be done when you’ve done all you want to do not all you’re supposed to do.

You may find, as I have, that the joy is in the doing not in the planning or recording. What makes running fun is the running. It’s just that simple.

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

The Chicken and the Pig

bacon and eggsMy old buddy Coach Roy Benson had a simple way of explaining the difference between involvement and commitment. He would say that when you think of a breakfast of bacon and eggs, the chicken is involved, the pig is committed. With apologies to my Vegan friends, it certainly sums it up.

I hear lots of talk about how today’s runners aren’t as committed to the sport as were the runners in the 70’s or 80’s. Today’s runners are criticized for not being willing to put in the time and miles.

I hear that they’re only involved in the events and the travel and the social aspects, that they just want to have fun, to enjoy a healthy active lifestyle without paying their dues. Really?

I have exercised in some fashion for over 20 years. I’ve been a runner, a walker, a duathlete, a triathlete, an adventure racer, kayaker, swimmer, and cyclist. And I haven’t been very good at any of them. And – I’ve enjoyed every minute of every day that I’ve been active. To say that I’m not committed, that I’m just involved, is pure poppycock.

Now, it’s true that there were years in my life where I was able to be more committed to competing. Especially in the early years when every race distance and every race experience was new I spent more time planning, training, and racing. I’d spend hours creating elaborate training schedules based on what I viewed as the best of what was available, and I’d commit to getting in the training no matter what.

That “no matter what” often included an ache or a pain or an injury. I was committed. I couldn’t miss a workout or my whole training strategy would fall apart. Or so I thought. In my commitment I was stressed out and often disappointed that I wasn’t improving more quickly.

At some point I began to worry less about my level of commitment and more about my level of joy. It occurred to me that I wouldn’t keep doing the things that I enjoyed if I took all the joy out of the activities.

My commitment never changed. What changed was how I expressed that commitment. What also changed was that I remembered what I got started with all this in the first place; to have fun.

Waddle on, friends.

You can follow me on Twitter: @jjbingham

and on Facebook: @john thepenguin bingham

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

I’m not ignorning you. I just don’t know where your message is.

emailI was a very early adopter to email. In 1984, when I was an administrator at School of Music at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I had an email address. The only other person I knew that had an email address was the Director of Graduate Admissions. His office was one floor above mine. Since we only had each other to email it wasn’t hard to keep up with my messages.

I was also an early adopter to AOL. Yes, I heard it thousands of times: “You’ve got mail.” I thought I was just about the coolest guy on the planet. I had a modem and I could dial in from anywhere. I could even set the modem to automatically pull mail in the middle of the night so that I could sit in front of the computer with my first cup of coffee.

By the early 2000’s I was getting email messages all day every day. And because the internet was global, so were the emails. I remember my mom being surprised that I got emails “over night.” She didn’t grasp that on the internet there is no night and day, just a continuous stream of data.

Then came domain names and email boxes. Then came email services. Suddenly I had messages scattered across several email addresses [thepenguin@johnbingham.com, john@johnbingham.com, jjbingham@earthlink.net to name just three that are still active] In addition to my AOL account [anyone remember RWPenguin@AOL.com?] I had a Yahoo account and others that I can’t even remember. I had Yahoo groups and the Penguin Brigade listserv. And that was before Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

Now, I have messages coming at me from all directions. There are 3 Facebook accounts [jjbingham, johnthepenguinbingham, and 100dayschallenge] that I personally monitor. There are all the event Facebook accounts. There’s the Twitter account. And, of course, the routine emails.

So, if you’ve emailed me, or messaged me, or IM’ed me, or Tweeted me, or anything else I you haven’t heard back from me, please don’t take it personally. I’m not ignoring you. I just don’t know where your message is.

Waddle on, friends.

You can follow me on Twitter: @jjbingham and on Facebook: @johnthepenguinbingham

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

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

100 Chronicles and more

Another from The Penguin Chronicles archive.

How my running life began, and why it’ll never get old.

There was a time when becoming a runner was the farthest thing from my mind. Runners were, or so I thought, a lost group of tortured souls with tortured soles, achy muscles, and creaky knees. They were – as best I could tell from the safe distance I kept from all matters requiring movement – either pain addicts or fools. If they were the former they were to be pitied. If they were the latter, they were to be unmercifully mocked.

At the time, I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois and I knew only one runner. I listened to him describe his latest foray into marathon madness with equal measures of shock and amusement. And as he told in graphic detail the exact place and degree of chafing that occurred on his body, my amusement turned to horror. His stories of blisters were not for the faint of heart.

Somewhere between the black toenails and bleeding nipples I decided that he simply didn’t have the courage to actually kill himself in one fatal act so he was going to accomplish it one mile at a time. Worse, to my way of thinking, he was actually proud of himself. Did he really think that a group of non-runners would applaud this lunacy? We didn’t. We sat in silence. It was madness pure and simple.

In time graduate school, my runner friend, and his stories faded into the shadows of my memories, and I pursued employment and other endeavors. Thoughts of running disappeared for more than a decade. Then, at 43, when I was an associate dean at Oberlin College, I had one colleague who was becoming a runner and another who was an avid cyclist. They seemed to have something I didn’t, although I didn’t know what that was. I couldn’t bring myself to run at first, so I bought a bike. Later, I decided to try to become a runner.

Like most beginning runners, I ran too much too soon. I ran too fast and too far. I discovered almost immediately what I was running from. I was running from where I had been, where I was, and where I was headed. But like so many runners, no matter how far or how fast I ran, I always ended up right where I had started. With myself.

I got what help I could from this magazine. I took what I could understand from Hal Higdon, Joe Henderson, and the late, great running philosopher George Sheehan. I read their words but didn’t really know their meaning. I knew what it was to run, but had no idea what it was to be a runner.

The only way I could make sense out of my running was to write about it. It started simply enough by keeping a logbook. That soon gave way to writing a running journal, and that eventually gave way to writing fervently about running. I discovered early on that it wasn’t the sport of running that attracted me but the act of running. It was in the pounding of my own heart, in the rhythm of my own breathing that the answers began to come. The answers came if, and only if, I kept running.

I had written to a group of runners on the Internet. “Runner’s World” editor Amby Burfoot called me and asked if I would write eight columns. That was the original agreement. One phone call, eight columns. And with that my life changed.

I wrote in one of those first columns that my running shoes had become giant erasers on my feet. Each footstrike wiped away the memory of some earlier indiscretion or failure. Each new pair of running shoes carried the potential of unlocking some secret place. Each pair of worn-out running shoes carried with them the scars of a healing soul.

One hundred columns later I am still here. More importantly you, the readers, are still here. You are, and have always been, the greatest gift that I have gotten from writing. We have dared to share our lives with one another. Together we have seen each other through 100 months of successes and failures.

I’ve seen life as a non-runner and as a runner. I can tell you with complete assurance that I’ve chosen, and will continue to choose, running. Without running there are no runners. And I’ve learned that a runner is everything I hope to be.

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: Because of runners like John, the wall of intimidation has crumbled, and tens of thousands of Americans are now believing in themselves. John has helped raise self-esteem and self-confidence in people all over the world. Nothing is more important to a person’s well-being.- Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon race director

Summer vacations | The Penguin Chronicles

Read about the joy of growing up in the 1950’s.

Summer vacations | The Penguin Chronicles.

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