• 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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Two For the Road

John and JimThere are days when everything comes together. You feel good, the weather’s good, and planets are all aligned. It’s what Frank Shorter calls a “no excuses” day. And when that day happens on a goal race day you just know something special is going to happen. Yesterday, March 24, 2012, was that kind of day for me. It was one that I will remember for the rest of my life.

A little recap. In January of 2010 I did something to my sacroiliac joint. It’s a plate joint, not a ball joint and it was out of alignment. 6 months and weeks of physical therapy and two injections later the pain was manageable. It was about that time that the pain in my foot became really obvious. In September, when I was finally diagnosed with a dislocated cuboid joint the year was officially a write off.

In January of 2011 I started the 100 Days Challenge of moving, intentionally, for at least 30 minutes a day every day for the first 100 days. Turns out I kept going and walked at least 30 minutes every day for the entire year.

In January of 2012 I committed to getting back to training. I know enough to know that I had to start with reasonable goals and achievable results. With that in mind I chose the Penguin in the Park 5K as the race for which I would train. I had a very reasonable goal of finishing in 45 minutes. Not world record pace, but for me it was a serious goal.

As I spent the first few weeks of the year assessing my fitness and making my training plan it became clear that 45 minutes would not be easy. I couldn’t run for more than one minute and needed plenty of walking for recovery. I had a goal, though, and that’s what mattered.

What is sometimes misunderstood about those of us farther back in the pack is that to perform at OUR best we have to do the very same kinds of workouts as those in the front. So, I did long runs and tempo runs and speed work and race-pace runs. I calculated and recalculated. I figured out what it was going to take to finish in 45 minutes and worked hard to get there.

Race morning was cool and dry. My buddy Jim Welsh had agreed to pace me. As you can see from the photo, Jim’s a lot taller than me. His walk pace is much faster than mine. As it turns out, my run pace was a bit of a push for him. So, together we set out in search of that 45 minute finish.

At mile one I was surprised to see our pace. Something around 12:45. I looked up at Jim but didn’t say anything. When we hit mile 2 in about 25 minutes looked at Jim and told him that I hated him. It was clear that not only were we on a sub 45 pace, we were – if we kept at it – on a sub 40 minute pace.

It was pretty quiet that last mile. I was at my limit. Maybe Jim was too. Whatever we were feeling we had a monster finish in sight. I came across in 38:45. Jim a second later. We hugged like a Gold Medal relay team. We’d done it. We’d BOTH gotten PR’s. It was magic.

What’s the next goal? I’m not sure. I know that I’m going to run/walk the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach on Labor Day weekend. But I’ve got a feeling there’s gonna be a few 5 and 10K’s before then.

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: Because of runners like John, the wall of intimidation has crumbled, and tens of thousands of Americans are now believing in themselves. John has helped raise self-esteem and self-confidence in people all over the world. Nothing is more important to a person’s well-being.Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon race director

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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.

Anzio

The father of a very good friend of mine, let’s call him Bob, was a great guy, and a World War II Army veteran. We joked that he lived his life just 3 beers from Anzio. Anzio was the site of an Allied forces landing (Operation Shingle) and ensuing battle (known as the Battle of Anzio) during World War II. American forces (5th Army) were surrounded by Germans in the caves of Pozzoli in February 1944 for a week, suffering heavy casualties. We knew that when he popped the top off the fourth Pabst Blue Ribbon we were going to start hearing war stories.

I don’t know how old he was then. I was 18 or 19. My guess is, though, that he was then a lot younger than I am now. And I’m beginning to understand. Although I don’t drink Pabst Blue Ribbon [I did drink more than my share] I’ve become aware now that I’m well into my 60’s that I am often tempted to start telling personal war stories or stories about the good old days.

It starts innocently enough. Someone mentions a place, or an event, or a situation and it triggers some memory. I do my best to quietly listen while my mind races around my own experience. I doesn’t matter if it was a pleasant or unpleasant experience. Once my mind goes into that cave there’s no getting it back.

I see this most often around my grandchildren. Even though they are only 5 and 6 years old I somehow believe that I need to bring them up-to-date on the historical nuances of my life. Sentences that begin with “Did grandpa ever tell you about” are already met with rolling eyes. It’s only going to get worse as they, and I, get older.

There’s a t-shirt that reads “The older I get, the better I used to be”. For runners it should read “The older I get, the faster I used to be”. For the most part, it’s true. For most of us the fastest years of our running lives were the youngest years. Even if, like me, you didn’t start until you were a bit older you were still younger than you are now.

And maybe it’s OK. Maybe as we get older the stories that stay in the front of our minds are the ones we want to remember that most and the ones that we want to tell most often.

So the next time you start telling a story that no one seems to want to hear, think about Bob. In the end he wasn’t telling us about Anzio, he was telling us about himself.

Waddle on,

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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