• 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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Running in the Emerald City

I’ve got to admit I’ve got a soft spot for Seattle, for lots of reason. Seattle was the first place I ever ran outside of the country roads around my home in Oberlin, Ohio. I was there as a part of an admission/recruitment team for the Oberlin Conservatory, staying at a forgotten hotel, and committed to changing my life with my own two feet.

Walking out of the hotel for that first run – or to be honest walk with a little running – I had no idea what would happen that day or, as it turns out, with the rest of my life. All I knew for sure was that I was wearing running shoes, running shorts, and a running shirt. I was, to anyone watching, a runner.

Of course I wasn’t a runner. I wasn’t even a walker. I was a pretender. Sort of. I wasn’t going to pretend to run. You can’t pretend to run. You have to actually run. But on that first day I was pretending that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t. All I knew for sure was that I was standing on a street in Seattle dressed to go for a run.

So I did. I turned right out of the hotel and started running. Uphill. For those of you who don’t know Seattle, it’s hilly. I probably got about 100 yards, uphill, from the hotel before my running plan fell apart. I started walking. Slowly. Uphill.

Eventually the sidewalk did level out some, and then went downhill. It turns out that running downhill isn’t that much easier than running uphill. So I walked downhill. I ran a little on the rare level spots, but, up and down I walked.

When I turned around, knowing then that the road back would be the reverse of the road out, I had to remind myself that I wanted to be doing this. There was a small, quiet voice telling me that this running thing would work. There was a chorus of voices telling me to go back to the hotel, get a giant order of pancakes and eggs with about 8 cups of coffee and give it all up.

I didn’t. I ran every day that week, in Seattle, Los Angeles, La Jolla, and even in the snow in Denver. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how. I did know that, for whatever reason, as wrong as it felt it felt right.

Funny thing, now nearly 20 years later, it still does.

Waddle on, friends.

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.


3 Responses

  1. I was just looking at the list of Top 25 Cities to be a runner (from 2005) and Seattle is #12. Maybe I should visit! Or move!

  2. […] was reading John “The Penguin” Bingham’s account of the morning his life changed – the morning he learned he wanted to be a runner. It probably […]

  3. I can totally relate to this. I’ve only been “running” for about 18 months now. It was this summer when I finally got up the courage to lace up my shoes & run outside on business trips…it was (and still is) strangely scary, yet completely liberating! Here’s hoping I can lace up in Seattle some time.

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