• 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 Little Book That Could

book_the_courage_to_startI am living proof that your life can change with a single phone call. We all know that our life can change for the worse with a single phone call, but we don’t often think that the most dramatic, and positive, change in your life can start by saying “Hello”. It did for me.

In the Fall of 1995, then editor of Runner’s World Magazine, Amby Burfoot called me in my office as Chair of the Department of Music at Middle Tennessee State University. Marlene Cimons had sent him a few emails that I had sent to the then secret email group “The Dead Runners Society.” Keep in mind that this is 1995. No Facebook or Twitter. He asked me if I’d like to write 8 monthly columns for Runner’s World beginning with May 1996. Without thinking, I said yes.

In the Spring of 1997 I found myself being carted around New York City by Linda Rogaar, a book agent. Through a mutual friend, Sue Flaster, she had connections with some of the biggest publishing houses. The next thing I know, Simon and Schuster, through their Fireside division, is making me an offer to write a book. That book, which they wanted to call “Slow But Steady Wins the Race” became “The Courage to Start.”

Writing that book was the most terrifying experience of my life. The only other thing I’d written was my doctoral dissertation “The Innovative Uses of the Trombone in Selected Compositions of Vinko Globokar” copies of which are available for terminal insomniacs. The writing took months of sitting and staring at a laptop screen hoping that words would magically appear. When they did, I wrote with manic intensity for fear that the flow of words would stop.

I submitted the manuscript to a young editor who only managed to get through the first half before she got married and left. The second editor got through the second half, and then she quit. The third editor shipped the completed manuscipt – the ONLY copy because everything was done on paper in those days – to the wrong address and it took weeks to find it before she quit. And the fourth editor, the one whose job it would be to promote the book had no stake or interest in the project and the book sort of died on the vine.

But, because of you, the readers, the little book started selling. Not “Harry Potter” numbers, but it was selling. Running titles are a niche’ market, and this book didn’t exactly fit into the “read this and get faster” genre. It was part confessional, part life philosophy, part new age psychology, part idle musing. It didn’t fit neatly into any category. In fact, if you look at the cover it’s cataloged as “Self-Help – Motivational”, not running.

This week I heard from Linda Roghaar that this little book that no one seemed to want has sold over 65,000 copies. 65,000. That’s a big threshold to cross. It means that Simon and Schuster now wants to release an “e” version. It means that they think it will continue to tell both in print and digital formats. In means that it won’t go out of print any time soon.

This is a thank you note; to those of you who have bought the book, to those of you who have passed it on to friends, to those of you who keep tattered version in your nightstand, to those of you who have – and continue – to find inspiration in what we believed was simply a story about a middle-aged over-weight, smoker, drinker, over-eater who changed his life with his own two feet.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Read on, friends.

You can find the print version on Amazon or get an autographed version at: Courage to Start

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3 Responses

  1. I can’t begin to imagine how frustrating (and scary!) to have the only copy of something you worked so hard to complete LOST! So grateful that it was found and published.

  2. My copy was inscribed by the author on April 29, 2005 – the day before my own first Half Marathon while his Mother smiled next to him. Pleased to say that author is my friend. Proud to know you John, and your Mom and Jenny!

  3. Congratulations, may you sell many more thousands of copies, and inspire people everywhere.

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