• 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 faceβ€”and started running.

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The Perfect Run

JohnTriathlonYes folks, that’s me. Check the date. May 21, 1995. Nearly exactly 18 years ago today. The race was the Memphis in May Triathlon, and I was “getting it done”. I was also, just for the record, nearly dead last.

I wasn’t much of a swimmer. The swim course was a giant triangle marked by buoys. The buoys were connected by rope. I was such a lousy swimmer that I was actually faster by pulling myself along on the rope than trying to swim. This did not prevent me from being swatted and kicked and nearly drowned by other competitors.

I was a pretty fair bicyclist. That is to say I didn’t suck as badly on the bike as I did on the swim. Once I was on the bike I was able to have fun. I didn’t have a very fancy bike, but I could ride with, and sometime pass, other competitors. To be fair, I wasn’t passing anyone in my age or gender category. No. Most of them were much older.

Then there was the run. Being nearly last at the beginning of the run did not bode well for my finishing position. Despite the look of effort, the flash frozen form, and the very cool sunglasses, in the photo I am probably running flat out at about a 10:30 pace.

Given all that, you’d think that I would have been discouraged. As always, most everyone else had gone home by the time I finished. As always, there was a very small group of friends waiting for me at the finish line. And they were only there because I had the keys to the van.

And, like always, I was as happy as I could be. I had done it. I had finished an Olympic distance triathlon all by myself and was still upright and didn’t need medical attention. No gold medal could have made me feel better.

When people approach me now – I am older, heavier, slower – they incorrectly assume that I have no memories to look back on. I do. I have many. Memphis is May is only one. I have memories of great days, of pure effort, of good planning and execution, and unadulterated satisfaction. I have it all.

The difference for me is that all of those moments, all of those moments are solely and uniquely mine. I didn’t have to share them with anyone else because, in truth, a middle-aged man finishing nearly last in a triathlon isn’t very interesting. Unless, of course, you’re that midde-aged man.

Waddle on, friends.


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

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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


10 Responses

  1. I love this! I am often the back of the pack and so I don’t post my runs because, it doesn’t sound impressive. But I’m always happy I participated. You were my inspiration to start and still help keep me motivated. However, it’s Jenny who taught me to run smart. πŸ™‚

  2. Second post today I have read on the Memphis May triathlon (the other one was from this years race though)! Love it! I always say, “It’s all about the story!” You have a story to tell = success!

    I posted an old pic of myself on the blog today too. Mine was from 1989, even more dated than yours. The rainy day must bring out a bit of nostalgia for some of us. πŸ™‚


  3. I needed this today. I’m working my way back into shape after foot problems that took two years to find a doc to take seriously. I’m 8 months post surgery and just ran my first 25 minutes straight after doing six weeks of intervals to get back into it. I’m slow, but I’m doing it! And there’s no pain. πŸ™‚ When I read your books and columns, I feel like you get it. Thank you.

  4. This is a great post! Savoring your unique accomplishments makes a race so much more personal and memorable. As you say, the real winners and victories at a race are won by those at the back of the pack.

  5. Great story! As always, inspiring to see your positive attitude and spirit tell the quick-and-done atheletes ‘I’ll get there soon enough” and be 150% ok with it πŸ™‚

  6. a 10:30 pace doesn’t look too bad from here!!! Every time I run I am grateful for “having the courage to start”! Thank YOU!

  7. I just ran my first 10k race this weekend, and I know what you mean about the thrill of the accomplishment regardless of who beat me to the finish line. The photo my husband snapped of me approaching the finish line says it all. I have an enormous grin on my face.

    And I’m 43 and just started running. Your books have been an inspiration.

  8. πŸ™‚ I finished last this year on a 5km but still beat my PR. It was a good day. It’s inspiring to me to hear about other people’s successes, no matter what they are or how they compare to others. We’re ALL amazing!

  9. In 2009, at age 43 and about 240 pounds, I did a half marathon. It took me 4 hours and 16 minutes to complete, but crossing that finish line remains one of my proudest accomplishments and most treasured moments.

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