• 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 Recess Bell

Photo of Children Running and PlayingBefore I had written my first word for Runner’s World magazine the only other writing I had done was my dissertation “The Innovative Uses of the Trombone in Selected Compositions of Vinko Globokar.” If the title sounds pedantic, trust me, the text is even worse. If you are a chronic insomniac, get in touch with me. I’ll send you a copy. You’ll start reading and sleep like a baby.

I had been, however, writing a column for a year or so called “The Recess Bell” with a colleague for a monthly “give away” tabloid in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. My co-writer, Lee Allsbrook, was a professor of physical education at Middle Tennessee State University. He had also run 70 plus marathons and completed 4 Ironman triathlons.

We shared an enthusiasm for activity. His was life-long and both personal and professional. When he wasn’t teaching university students he would often work with local elementary school physical education teachers. And he had for years. We couldn’t go to a restaurant in town without someone recognizing him.

As the title suggests, we wrote about recess. Not recess for children, but, recess for adults. We wrote about the joy of play, the need for play, and – in fact – the absolute necessity of play. We knew it as children. We forgot it as adults.

It occurs to me that some of you may not even know what a Recess Bell is. Well, it’s a bell – an actual giant bell – that rang at the beginning of, and at the end of, recess in schools in the 50’s. When the bell rang we ran out of the classrooms. When it rang again, we lined up to go back inside. We had morning recess, time at lunch, and afternoon recess. In between recesses we had class.recess-bell

We didn’t have kids with ADD, or ADHD. We would chase each other around at recess with such intensity that we looked forward to sitting still and recovering in class. Plus, a game – or a fight – that started in morning recess would be finished in the afternoon. So, when we were in class, we rested and paid attention.

Looking back, I think recess also gave the teachers a break. Some would be recess monitors, but that rotated. The others would hide in the teacher’s lounge and many of them – in those days – had a cigarette. The net result was that ALL of us, teachers and students, came back from recess with better attitudes.

I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was Sputnik [Google it] or the moon race but at some point the people who know best decided that recess was a waste of time. They were wrong then. They’re wrong now.

Academic studies are important. But, most of the important life lessons I learned I learned at recess. I learned to get along with people I didn’t like if that meant I could play with them. I learned to share. I learned that hitting someone could hurt me more than him or her hitting me. And I learned how to say, “I’m sorry.”

If you’re an adult, stop working out and start playing. If you have children, or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, insist that they have time to play every day. Not organized, uniformed, coached, teams. PLAY. Disorganized, loud, dirty, play.

I promise you that if you play, and they play, all of your lives will be more pleasant.

Waddle on, friends.

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Life is Short: Vacation Actively: CLICK FOR INFO

Flashback Friday: White Line Fever

Since I’ve spent so much time riding in the past couple of weeks, this old column has been on my mind.

Believe it or not, the human machine can equal the power of a Harley.

Until I discovered running, I had only two passions in life: music and motorcycles. Each fueled the other, and employment in one usually meant greater opportunities to pursue the other.

For many years, this combination was perfect – I worked long enough as a freelance musician to build a financial base, then rode long enough to need the next gig.

Maintaining the balance between time and money was tricky, but with care and a willingness to consume nothing more than peanut butter and beer, it was possible.

Most of my friewith jimnds didn’t understand my consuming passion for motorcycles. It wasn’t my love of bikes that astounded them; it was my intense need to ride. As I tried to explain to them, riding wasn’t about transportation. For me, riding was about transformation. Watching the world pass beneath my feet stirred my spirit. The blur of the broken white line that ran down the center of the old U.S. highways was completely hypnotic. A classic (and terminal) case of “white line fever.”

Then one day I discovered that same feeling, the same sense of moving over and through the world, the instant I laced on a pair of running shoes and felt the asphalt under my feet. I had no idea that moving slowly across the ground would feel as satisfying as moving fast on a bike. But it did. The motion, not the rate of speed, was what felt so good.

This must be why I can’t remember ever having a bad ride – or a bad run. As a runner and a biker, I’ve been hotter, colder, wetter, and more tired than I’ve ever wanted to be. I’ve been ready to stop hours before I could. I’ve ridden roads and run courses that I swear I’ll never travel again. But none of these times were bad.

I’m not really sure how they could be bad. I suppose if comfort is your sole criterion for happiness, then being soaked to the skin and knowing you still have 200 miles to ride or 10 miles to run would be bad. If being so cold you can barely grip the handlebars or so hot you can feel your brain turning to soufflé makes you unhappy, then you may have had some bad rides or runs. But not me.

Countless stories testify to the limitless physical reserves of the human body. Men and women routinely endure hardships that make the most difficult run seem like a walk in the pjust gsark.

As runners, we have the extraordinary capacity to detach ourselves from the discomfort we feel. At extreme levels, this can almost become schizophrenic: We tell ourselves that we should stop what we’re doing, yet we continue to enjoy every minute of it.

But running is certainly not all about extremes. Somewhere between those runs that tax our reserves and those that are simply too easy are the countless runs that are just right. These are the runs when we’ve read our bodies and spirits accurately, and have found the place where we can simply go along for the ride. It’s in that place where we catch the fever. And, take it from me: Once you’ve caught the fever, and felt the heat of that passion, there is no cure.

I’m not sure exactly when liking to run became longing to run, when wanting to run became needing to run. I only know that, as there once were roads that had to be ridden, there are now roads and trails and courses that must be run. There are miles and moments and memories that only converge when the shoe strikes the ground. And, in that white-hot instant, the world makes sense.

Waddle on, friends.

Back to The Penguin Chronicles Archive

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.

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…

The Soul of the Planet

penguins_cut I suppose all of us have a place where we feel most at peace. I know I spent a lot of years looking for that one spot on earth where my rhythms and the rhythms of the universe were in synch.

I found moments when there was harmony; literally and figuratively. Once, while performing the Berlioz Requiem with the National Symphony, as part of the antiphonal brass choir, I felt as though I had been transported to some magical place. The music around me combined with my own music, was transcendent. They were also ephemeral. When the final chord faded, so did the feeling.

Once, on a deserted two-lane road late on a pitch-black night, I felt as though the motorcycle that I was riding had become an extension of my being. I was traveling much faster that should have, I was focused on nothing else but the outer edge of the beam from the headlight, and the deadly silence was disturbed only by sound of the engine. Slowing down as I approached the next town, though, the moment ended.

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Then, there’s Antarctica. And, in my case, the Antarctica Marathon and Half Marathon. If I posted 100 photos of Antarctica I could never capture the vastness. I couldn’t capture it even knowing that I’ve only seen a tiny fraction of that vastness. Antarctica is, without question, the most humbling place on earth. In 7 trips to the lost continent I’ve never known anyone to come away untouched.

For some it’s the stark and endless beauty. For others it’s the wildlife. It’s being followed by the legendary Wandering Albatross, or watching hundreds of penguins being – well – penguins, or having a giant Humpback whale stick his head out of the water just feet in front of your kayak. None of it, not one minute of it, is normal. Every second is extraordinary.

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I’ve never been to Mount Everest. Never will. But, I understand the draw to the highest place on earth. Standing on the summit you are as close to the heavens as you can get. In Antarctica, for me at least, you are standing at the center of the soul of the planet. For all the danger, for all the unforgiving elements, there is – for me – an eerie sense of being absolutely safe.

When I am there I am connected to something much greater than I can comprehend. It is a higher power beyond my understanding. And the message I hear is that despite all my worrying and fretting and planning and disappointment, everything is OK.

Waddle on, friends.

Unplugged

unpluggedIt’s hard to remember a time when I wasn’t connected electronically to almost everything almost all of the time. I’ve had one email address or another for almost 30 years. I didn’t get a cell phone – or car phones as we called them back then – as early as my cousin did. His was about the size of a small suitcase and required professional installation. I can still recall the first time he called me from his car. I thought I was on an episode of Star Trek.

I was so excited when they replaced the 1200 baud “Gandalf” box in my office with a 2400 baud box that I was ready to throw a party. And, at one point, I had a whole box of modems. The thought of wireless access wasn’t even a fantasy in my world.

But times change. And I’ve changed. I’ve moved past my early Motorola “flip phone” that had 20 minute talk time – if fully charged – through a series of “brick” phones and Blackberrys until I finally settled on my constant companion iPhone. I think I’m better off for the transition. I am not always convinced that I am. But mostly.

All this doesn’t even take into consideration of the advent of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest and LinkIn and others that I haven’t heard of yet that someone, somewhere, wants me to join. And don’t get me started on the games. I don’t have a farm and don’t want one.

When my son sends photos and videos of himself and grandkids I’m happy that I can see them instantly. When I can take a photo and send it out over Instagram, I’m happy. When I check my Twitter feed, or Facebook for updates, I’m happy. But, I am days away from being completely off-grid for nearly two weeks. For the 7th time I’ll be on a ship, somewhere near the South Shetlands Islands, off the coast of Antarctica. We’ll be so far south that even satellite phones are unreliable.

What’s it like? Well, it’s a bit like living in the 18th century. Time goes more slowly. Conversations wander at a more leisurely pace. A cup of coffee can take up the entire morning and an evening chatting with friends over drinks becomes the greatest entertainment. In other words: it’s wonderful.

Being so connected is a double-edged sword. It can makes us seem closer to people far from us but can also keep us far away from the people closest to us. For the next couple of weeks I won’t have the choice. And I am looking forward to it.

Be well my friends. I’ll be back in time for the beginning of Spring.

John

 

Imported from Detroit

What happens when you send a car-crazed gear head to the headquarters of an iconic American car company to talk to the employees about living a healthy, active lifestyle? What happened to me was that I got to spend two fantastic days with people who are as passionate about cars and trucks as I am. And, I learned that there are a lot of similarities between what they do, the way new vehicles and equipment are imagined and created and the way an adult-onset athlete like myself changes their life.

When I was younger, when I was smoking and drinking and working 80 hours a week I couldn’t imagine living a lifestyle any different from that. I didn’t know that there was any other way to live. I didn’t know anyone who lived any differently.

I wasn’t fundamentally a different person back then. My history, my education, my influences and influencers were all the same. I didn’t have a personality change when I discovered the joy of being active. The things that I enjoyed when I was locked in sedentary confinement – cars, motorcycles, racing – are the things that I enjoy now.

So it was with great eagerness that I accepted the invitation to go to Auburn Hills, Michigan to speak to the Chrysler folks. All I asked in exchange was the opportunity to learn a little more about the inside workings of a great car company. What I got was that, and a whole lot more.

It would take a book to describe everything that I got to see and do. Even they highlights would be longer than a blog. But, in summary I got to see the “Pilot” area where they cut and chop and glue together new models to see what will work and what won’t. I got to visit the assembly plant where the new Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos are produced. I had a special interest in that since I own a new Durango. All I can say is that the absolute dedication to making a flawless vehicle was palpable. It was impressive.

I got to spend time in the design studios and see how a vehicle goes from concept to showroom. It is a process that is part art, part science, and part pure magic.

And, I got to spend time in the “innovation” department. Think about the weapons room in the movie “Men in Black”. These folks are working on devices, and contemplating improvements to the driver and passenger experience, and the safety of the vehicles that are light years ahead of where we are now. They are not just mad scientist, or engineers. They are wizards who imagine what might be and then make it happen.

What I learned was that it’s impossible to make the perfect car. All it took was a walk through the Chrysler museum to drive that point home. There were cars there that were designed and built by the best minds of the time using the latest techniques and yet today they look antiquated. It’s not that they weren’t great vehicles in their time. They were. And many were ahead of their time. [Think Chrysler Airflow]

What I now realize is that it’s impossible to make the perfect me. And it never was. That person that I used to me was what I thought was the best me possible based on the information I had at the time. I thought smoking made me cool. I thought fat was where it was at. I thought over-indulgence was a right of passage.

Now, though, just like the wonderful folks at Chrysler, I have to be willing to abandon some of my most closely held beliefs. I have to be willing to accept that what is, is not what will always be.

And that the only way I will ever be better than I am is to imagine what I am not.

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

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