• 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 Longest Day

Sometimes we set goals well in advance. We plan for months, or even years. We carefully consider all the requirements to be successful; equipment, training, travel, and support.

Sometimes a goal jumps up and bites us. Yesterday, I was bit.

I’ve spent the better part of that past two weeks on the road. I visited with family, spent time with friends, and worked the RnR VA Beach event. Everything I needed for all of that was packed on a BMW R1200GS. It was my transportation, my office, and my companion.

You don’t have bsauseto know much about me to know that motorcycling has been a life-long passion. From the time I rode a Sears Moped, at 11 or 12 years old, I have been in love with the magic and the motion of motorcycles. The fact that the “older boy neighbor” across the street had a BSA Lighting and wore a leather jacket just made the desire to ride even stronger.

I suppose the “penguin” philosophy started with motorcycling. I didn’t care how far I rode. I didn’t care how fast. And I never cared very much what I was riding. I liked riding big bikes and small bikes. I liked riding on the street and off-road. If it had a motor and two wheels [sometimes three] I wanted to be on it.

But it was being “on the road” that always had the greatest appeal. Maybe it’s just wanderlust, or an insatiable curiosity, I don’t know. What I know is that traveling the highways is where I felt most at home.

A big day for me would be 300 miles or so. That’s about 8 hours in the saddle and that seems about right. Twice in my life, once when Jenny and I did the 1000 miles in 24 hours “Saddle Sore” challenge, and once when my old riding and Army buddy Larry and I decided to ride from Arlington to Chicago, I’ve ridden over 700 miles in a day.

Yesterday’s ride was just a little over 700 miles. And, it was the longest solo day I’ve ever ridden.

I didn’t plan to ride that far, it just happened. They day was nearly perfect, the traffic wjust gsas light, the bike was running well, and I was feeling good. The miles kept adding up. I’d get gas, ride a 125 miles or so, get gas, and do it again. Before I knew it, I was almost to Indiana. At that point, stopping wasn’t an option.

So often, as a runner, I limited myself to what I thought I could do. When I thought that a 5K was a far as I could run I ran a lot of 5K’s. Then it was 10K’s. The half marathons. The fulls. At each new distance I defined the limit of far it was that I could go.

I look back now I think how wrong I was. I look ahead and wonder whether I am still setting limits based on imaginary limitations. To paraphrase Satchel Paige, I wonder how far I could go if I didn’t know how far it was.

It may be too early to start setting goals for 2014, but I’m beginning to think I’m going to have to find out how far too far really is.

Waddle on, friends.

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

The Well Lubricated Runner

duct tapeYears ago I worked with a crusty, old [like maybe 40!] Scottish motorcycle mechanic named Stewart. His brogue and the fact that he had lost one leg below the knee in a motorcycle accident made him seem more like a pirate than a master mechanic.

He used to fill the junior mechanics, me among them, with his hard-earned words of wisdom. The one that remains with me all these years later was: “If it CAN be lubricated it NEEDS to be lubricated and if it CAN be adjusted it NEEDS to be adjusted.”

He had one other simple explanation for the mysteries of the mechanical world. “If it moves and shouldn’t, use duct tape [DUCT, not duck]. If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40.” You’d be amazed at how often that’s all you need to know.

In some ways life as a runner – or walker or cyclist or any of 100’s of other activities – is almost that simple. If it hurts you’re doing too much. If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing enough. If you think about it, it’s pretty much all you need to know about training. Too much, something hurts. Too little, it doesn’t feel like you’re doing anything at all.wd40

Unlike the mechanic’s dilemma, the athlete’s dilemma is much more nuanced. If a little training feels good then most of us believe that more training will feel even better. If we start seeing progress in our training by doing speed work one day a week then we’re sure we’ll progress twice as fast if we do two sessions a week.

On the other hand, if we’re feeling achy and sore and know we need to take time off we’re never sure exactly how much rest is enough and how much is too much. And nothing that we experienced previously can help us decide. As George Sheehan wrote, “We are all an experiment of one.”

The best we can do is use the time-honored method of trial and error. We’ll get it right sometimes. We’ll get it wrong sometimes. All that matters is that we keep trying to figure it out.

Even Stewart couldn’t argue with that.

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

The Art of Rock ‘n’ Roll

I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure that the photo of the start of the first Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in June of 1998 was not nearly as colorful as the 2012 edition. I know that I was wearing a white singlet, as was just about every else around me.

February 3, 1959 might have been the day the music died, you youngsters can just Google “Buddy Holly” if you don’t understand the reference, but June of 1998 is when the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series started, and with it a whole new generation of runners, walkers, and waddlers.  I know. I was there.

I went to the first RnR marathon as a member of the Runner’s World Magazine Pace Team. I can’t remember everyone who was there since all of them have left the magazine, but I remember that it was a motley crew of editors and writers and one new columnist. Me.

As I recall the fastest pace team was for a 3 hour finish. It went up every 10 minutes through 4 hours, then went to 4:30 and 5:00 hours. I was, of course, the 5 hour pacer. I was new to writing, new to running, and very new to pacing. No one seemed to care. A few hundred of us lined up to run/walk/dance our way through 26.2 miles.

And that’s exactly what we did. We ran some. We walked some. We danced some. And we laughed A LOT. It was sensational. I don’t remember the exact time we finished, but, I certain we missed the 5 hour target. Somehow it didn’t matter. We were having too much fun.

Since that humble beginning the Rock ‘n’ Roll series has grown to over 20 events nationally, and at least 5 international events. The 12,000 of us who lined up in 1998 gave rise to nearly 250,000 finishers of Rock ‘n’ Roll events in 2011. It’s an amazing tribute to the vision of Tim Murphy, then president of Elite Racing, and his capable gang of followers.

I’ve been at every Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon since. In 1999 my son, Terry, and I rode motorcycles from New York City to San Diego and then ran the marathon. In 2,000 I spoke for the first time at the Team in Training Inspiration Dinner, and I’ve been with the Team ever since.

Many of the years run together – pun intended. There were great years, hot years, cool years, fun years, and some that were brutal. The year I finished so exhausted that I sat in my car for nearly an hour before I could find the strength to change clothes. But no matter, it was a rockin’ good time.

This year I interviewed Olympians Jim Ryun, Ryan Hall, Rod Dixon, Deena Kastor and the legendary miler Steve Scott. I sat on stage with these extraordinary athletes and felt right at home. I was humbled to be sitting next to them, but I didn’t feel out of place. I had, like that had, earned the right to be there.

I hope to be there for the 20th, or 25th. It will be fun to see folks running the marathon that weren’t even born when we ran the first one.

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 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

Passing the Baton

I’ll tell you up front that this blog has nothing to do with running. Or at least, not much. The beauty of having a blog called “The Penguin Chronicles” – seeing as how I’m the Penguin – is that it doesn’t have to do anything except chronicle. So that’s that.

I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t interested in, and in fact crazy about, motorcycles. The neighbor across the street had a shiny red BSA when I was growing up. He had the leather jacket and everything thing. He was COOL. When he eventually got a Harley-Davidson Sportster I was in awe.

My uncle showed up with a Sears moped when I was about 12 years-old. My cousin and I rode it nearly non stop for days. Then, just as suddenly, it disappeared. I think someone must have worried that we’d get hurt.

A friend had an old Cushman motor scooter. Not one of the cool Cushman Eagles that are still VERY collectible. Nope. This was the base model with a tw0-speed manual transmission with the shifter on the left side of the gas tank. Whenever he let me I’d ride that scooter for hours. No one in my circle of friends was cooler than me. My senior year in high school I  nearly had my parents talked in to my getting a new Triumph Bonneville until a crashed a different friend’s Honda 65.

I bought my first motorcycle, a very used Honda CL77 [305 Scrambler] with my first tax refund. It was the best $300 I ever spent. I won’t bore you with the litany of motorcycles that I’ve owned – well over 60 – but I can tell you that I remember every one of them. I worked for 10 years in a motorcycle dealership and I can remember nearly every motorcycle I ever even sat on.

My son started riding in front of me, sitting on the edge of the seat and gas tank, and hanging on to the handlebars when he was not much older than 2. He went to his first day of school in a BMW sidecar. He got HIS first motorcycle, and Honda Z50, when he was 7. He’s now 40 and that very Z50 is being restored by his step dad. And I’ve got a pretty good idea whose going to be riding it.

The first photo is of my 6 year-old grandson, Hunter, on HIS first ride. Yamaha was offering a “Learn-to-Ride” experience for kids from 2-12 at the MotoGP races at Indianapolis. His “Opa”, Pat, another old-school motorcycle enthusiast and I just looked at each other and KNEW it HAD to be. Hunter HAD to learn to ride THAT day. And ride he did. He bounced off the hay bales once, popped up, and never looked back.

There are hundreds of recreational lifestyles, from fishing and hunting to boating, camping, and more. If we’re lucky we enjoy one of these lifestyles ourselves. If we’re REALLY lucky,we get to pass that interest on from generation to generation.

I now have two recreational passions in my life. Running and motorcycles. The second photo is Hunter running. I am committed to exposes my grandchildren to both of my passions. It’s the only way that I can think of to help them experience the joy that I have.

Waddle on, friends.

John

An Accidental Athlete is available now. BUY THE BOOK

Review An Accidental Athlete on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

What others are saying: Read your book, loved it, it was wonderful. It made me laugh, it made me cry. In it I saw glimpses of myself. I may be old and I may be slow, but I am an Athlete, I am a Competitor, I am a Runner! Wow, thanks John, for enabling me to see that! D W, Senior-Onset Athlete

John “the Penguin” Bingham, Competitor Magazine columnist
Author, The Courage to Start,No Need for Speed, Marathoning for Mortals and Running for Mortals.

Order your copy of John’s NEW book An Accidental Athlete today.

Have a question for John? Write him.

A Historic Ride

There’s an old adage that says “You can’t step in the same river twice.” The philosophical position is that a river is always changing. As a life-long motorcyclist I would add that you can’t ride the same road twice. Neither you nor the road are the same.

This is certainly been the case for me. US Rt. 50 runs East-West across the center of the United States from Annapolis to Sacramento. I’ve ridden every mile of it East to West once, and have ridden bits and pieces of it many times over the past 40 years. One of my favorite stretches is from Clarksburg, West Virginia through Romney, West Virginia, on to Winchester, Virginia. Riding that road on a new bike is a form of initiation. If a motorcycles handles well and makes me smile on that part of Rt. 50 then I know the bike’s a keeper.

Before the Interstate Highway System made traveling long distances by car accessible to almost everyone, it was only the brave and adventurous spirits who dared to take off from, say Chicago with the goal of getting to Los Angeles. That road, US Rt. 66 is probably the most famous U.S. highway, but it isn’t the most beautiful or most interesting. Nearly every highway that starts with a U.S. has got a history and nearly all of them are worth riding or driving.

This year Coach Jenny and I set off  headed East from Chicago to meet up with my son and grandchildren for some well-earned vacation time and the celebration of my son’s 40th birthday. Unlike most trips where the “getting there” was the least important element, this trip we made getting there, and getting back, one of the highlights. Heading East we traveled on US 35 and 50. Heading back West we traveled on US 30, known as the Lincoln Highway, US 40, known as the National Road, and US 6, known as  the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. We spent a little time on US 250 which, depending on where you are, is either a North-South highway or an East-West highway. Good luck with the GPS.

There is an entire country of small towns and of people out there living along those roads that you’ll never see from the Interstates. Some of these towns and people are flourishing. Most are not. A few have found ways to keep themselves viable. Most just seem to be waiting for the inevitable. You know the old joke: will the last person leaving town please turn out the lights.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I kept up my streak. I’m at 194 days of moving, intentionally, for 30 minutes or more. And yes, some days it was exactly 30 minutes.

But we moved, intentionally, for hundreds of miles every day for no particular reason except it was what we wanted to be doing. Sounds a lot like what  running and walking or any other activity should be.

Waddle on,

John
John “the Penguin” Bingham, Competitor Magazine columnist
Author, The Courage to Start,No Need for Speed, Marathoning for Mortals and Running for Mortals.

Order your EARLY copy of John’s NEW book An Accidental Athlete today.

Have a question for John? Write him.

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