• 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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Race Relations

Biwott_StanleyFV-Philly13-280x421Defending champion Stanley Biwott of Kenya owned the streets of Philadelphia once again on Sunday morning, winning the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon for the second-straight year in 59 minutes and 36 seconds. The 27-year-old Kenyan ran the fastest half-marathon time on a record-eligible course in the U.S. this year. I didn’t get to see him finish because it took 45 minutes to get the other 22,000 participants across the start line. By the time I walked to the finish line, it was over.

And that’s kinda the point. It’s hard to make a connection with the winner of a race if you’re barely at mile 1 when they break the tape.

In a recent blog [Dumbing Down] Toni Reavis, a well-respected member of the running community, quoted long time sports agent Brendan Reilly, and another well-respected member of the running community, as saying:

“I think we’ve had too many years of the John Bingham (Waddle On, Penguins) philosophy.  John is a nice guy, a very entertaining and eloquent speaker, but there seems to be little in the sport these days to carry the runners that John has gotten off the couch to the next level of aiming to run faster and treat our events like RACES. And without that mentality, it is no wonder so few participants really care of even understand that somebody just ran 4:45 or 5:20 pace to win their race.

It’s true that I couldn’t run a 4:45 pace even if I was dropped from a plane. It just isn’t in me. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that Stanley Biwott couldn’t play bass trombone with the National Symphony in a performance of the Berlioz Requiem as I did. It just isn’t him. I don’t think that means he doesn’t care or understand the talent and dedication required in my profession any more than I don’t care or understand the talent and dedication required in his. It’s just different.

I would also argue that some, if not most, of the folks that have gotten off the couch have, indeed, tried to go to the next level of aiming to run faster. I can’t remember a conversation at any of the clinics or seminars that I’ve given or moderated in which people asked how they could run more slowly than they were. No one asked what to do to finish a marathon in over 5 hours if their marathon best was 4 hours. It’s in our nature, as runners, to want the best of ourselves. It’s just that the BEST is not going to be THE best.

FinishArea-Philly13-631x421So what do we do? What do we do as individuals? What do we do as a community? What do we do as an industry? Here’s what I think. We have to take a page from the NASCAR handbook. We have to find a way to make the BEST in our sport also the most approachable and popular in our sport. It can be done.

When elite runners like Josh Cox or Deena Kastor or Kara Goucher appear at the race expos they pack the house. Why? Because they connect directly with the REST of the participants. The hundreds of people who stand in line to get autographs and have their photo take with these elites runners DO care and understand what it takes. They also care and understand that Josh and Deena and Kara are more than just elite runners. They are spouses and parents and have interesting lives, that they’re willing to share, when they are NOT racing.

I was there to shake the hand of the final finisher on Sunday. Stanley was not. I get emails and Facebook messages thanking me for being there. Stanley does not. But he could.

My advice to ALL the elites out there [and ALL of their managers]. The next time you win a race, bring a change of clothes. Get cleaned up after the awards ceremony and join me at the finish line. I think you will see that these people CAN care and WILL care if you share your success with them and allow THEM to share their success with YOU.

Waddle on, friends.

John

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Afternoon Delight

wakingI am NOT a morning person. And by that I don’t mean that I just don’t enjoy getting up early. I mean I am NOT a morning person at all. The perfect schedule for my natural body clock was the years that I was freelancing as a musician. First thing in the morning was 10am – ish. A little toast and coffee, lunch around 4 or so, go to work at 7pm, dinner around 11, listen to a little music or watch late night television [there were no DVR’s in those days] and get to bed by about 2am. It was perfect.

Of course, I wasn’t a runner back then. But, I did practice every day and often practiced in the early afternoon. I don’t know if it’s just a lingering habit or my circadian rhythm but that’s exactly when I like to run – or walk – or bike. Early afternoon. That’s MY time.

Please don’t email me and tell me how beautiful and peaceful it is in the morning.  Or how it get’s your day started right. I get it. I get that SOME people like it. I don’t.  And, by the way, it’s VERY peaceful at 2 in the morning too. Not if you’re getting up at 2, but if you’re going to bed at 2.

Let me explain why running in the afternoon is better than running in the morning. First off, in the morning you’re never sure what to wear. Will you be cold at the start? Will you be too warm later on. When you run in the afternoon you already know what the temperature is and what it’s going to be. You don’t need to try to figure out what to wear.

Then there’s the whole “what should I eat before I run” conundrum. Do I eat nothing? Do I eat a little? Do I drink coffee? Do I AVOID coffee? Good grief. When you run in the afternoon you don’t have to think about any of that. You’ve been up for hours. You have, at the very least, had breakfast. So, you’re ready to go.

And speaking of being ready to go, the whole being “ready to go” morning concerns are gone by the afternoon. Should I go? Do I have to go? What if I get out there and THEN I have to go. You have to plan your routes around gas stations or public restrooms. It’s a nightmare. When you run in the afternoon you have ALL morning to take care of whatever business you need to take care of. You’ll be much more relaxed.

And speaking of business, one of two things are true if you run in the morning; 1) you check your email and Facebook and Twitter and all your other social media accounts before you snailturtlerun and THINK about what you have to do when you get back from your run, or, 2) you DON’T check your email and social media accounts and WONDER the whole time your running what your Facebook friends are doing that morning or what clever Tweet you might be missing or whether you got an email saying that someone in Nigeria needs to send you $3,000,000 dollars if you’ll only send them your banking information.

When you run in the afternoon you already know what your Facebook friends are doing. [Fluffy got a new cat box, Little Bobby learned to pee standing up, and some high school friend that you didn’t like 40 years ago somehow thinks that you’ve forgotten how lame they were back then and want to reconnect] So, you realize that there’s nothing to think about and especially nothing to worry about. You can just run.

There are other reasons; it’s light out, other people aren’t out walking their dogs, or rushing to work; you get the point. It’s just better. I know that not everyone can run in the afternoon, but, someday when you CAN, give it a shot. I think you’ll find it’s a lot more satisfying than you thought.

Waddle on, friends.

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

Stuck on a Desert Island

islandNormally, at the Rock ‘n’ Roll expos, I do the interviewing. I’ve chatted with many of the greatest runners of all time, from World Record holders, to Olympians, to past, present, and future super stars of our industry. This weekend in at the RnR Seattle Expo, my good friend and colleague Ian Brooks turned the tables on me and I was the one in the hot seat, being interviewed.

Ian Brooks is one of the most experienced and accomplished “voices” in the running industry. More than me, he’s had the chance to question athletes at every point of their careers from budding young high school phenoms to fading icons. Being on stage with him is not to be taken lightly.

After the usual give-and-take, “why do they call you the Penguin?” [I saw a reflection of myself in a store front window and I looked like a penguin, not a gazelle] “what motivated you to change your life at 43 years-old” [there’s no great answer other than that I was successful and miserable] and “how have you managed to come up with new column ideas for 18 years” [nearly every day I encounter someone or something that inspires or interests me and I just try to pass it on] he hit me with the BIG one.  He asked me what music, piece of literature, and person would I want with me on a deserted island.

The music was very easy. I would take a recording of the nine Beethoven Symphonies. If I had a choice, I’d take the Leonard Bernstein recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, but almost any recording would do. The transformation of Beethoven from Classical composer to Romantic giant can be easily traced through the symphonies. I’ve taken walks of 3 to 4 hours and listened to as many of the symphonies as I can.

duck_island_6227The piece of literature would be the Bible. It’s not for religious reasons that I make that choice. I’m not advocating any particular belief system. The Bible, in one form or another, has survived as literature for thousands of years. I think I could spend a long time trying to understand the nuances of the lessons contained in the Bible.

And the person? Steve Jobs. And the first question I’d ask him is what he had planned for the next 20 years or so. When I travel with my iPhone and iPad and MacBook Air I think about how much Steve Jobs changed the world. Or, my world at least. I would like to be able to talk about his dream of a world that we now won’t ever see.

Ian said he was surprised by the answers. I’m not sure why. Maybe he thought I’d come up with a Neil Diamond collection, a Steven King novel, and some historical beauty. Those things might be interesting for a short time, but, what I’ve learned is that for something, or someone, to be interesting for a lifetime they have to a a depth that can never be fully explored.

Which, as it turns out, is why I lace up my running shoes every day. I’m no closer to the answer of the mystery of why it feels so good to move my body with my own two feet than I was the first day I ran.

Waddle on, friends.

John

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UPDATE: I’ve moved through the historical and on to the more entertaining book. Funny thing, I find myself wanting to download more informational – or dare I say – educational books. Good stuff. For more information on Audible Click Here

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…

A Champion: By Definition

rnr team startThe Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon in San Diego is the original, and in many ways is still the signature event of the RnR Series. I’ve been there every year it’s been held so my history and the event’s history run in parallel.

Since it’s in San Diego the stars of the running community tend to come out. This weekend I was on stage with Jim Ryun, Rod Dixon, Steve Scott, Meb Keflezighi, Josh Cox, and Deena Kastor. Talk about an all-star line up.

The Sub-4 Seminar with Jim Ryun, first high-schooler to run a sub-4 marathon and STILL the only high school junior to ever run under 4 minutes, Steve Scott, who has run more sub-4 minute miles [136] than anyone in history, and Rod Dixon, who has run 53 sub-4 minute miles and – oh by the way – later won the New York City Marathon was fascinating.

I asked the each to describe how they would have raced – and beaten – the others if they could have raced at the height of their careers. It turns out that Dixon was a strength runner and would have pushed the pace early to gain an advantage, Ryun had an amazing 400 meter kick and felt that if he was close he could go by on the last lap, and Scott was just really, REALLY good at racing the mile.

Meb is moving back to San Diego, from Mammoth, to be closer to family and to co-own running specialty stores in the city. He also didn’t competely dismiss the idea of another shot at an Olympic team.

Josh is – well – Josh. He is one of the brightest, most affable athletes I have even known. He gives great information in a way that easily understood by the average athlete. It’s always fun to sit on stage with him.

deena_kastor_london

But it was Deena that left me with a thought that will haunt and inspire me for some time. She told the story of  her coach telling her before a big race to simply “define yourself.” Define yourself. What a formidable task, for a runner and for an individual.

How do we define ourselves in small and large ways every day? Are we impatient with people? Are we impatient with ourselves. Are we forgiving? Do we ask more of ourselves than is necessary. Do we care, love, cherish the people who care for, love, and cherish us.

I know that the original context for Deena was that particular race. In talking to her, though, it became obvious that she has reflected on the question on her life as a woman, a wife, a mother, and an athlete.

Too often, I think, we tend to see great athletes like Deena as being only that; an athlete. What I learned from Deena is that whether we are at a starting line, deep into a difficult race, or standing in line at the grocery store, we have the opportunity all day, every day, to define ourselves.

And that knowledge, more than talent and dedication and speed, is what makes Deena Kastor a champion.

Waddle on, friends.

John

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UPDATE: I should have known. As I said, it’s like the first microwave. Now that I have books to listen to, guess what? I listen to them every chance I get. I listened on the plane flying to San Diego – and back. I listen while I was relaxing after the race. I even listened while I was falling asleep – which – is VERY cool to have someone read you a bedtime story when you’re 64 years old.

You can get more information at:  Audible.com

Sweet Caroline

cmm2Sometimes the best that can happen is exactly what happens. At this past weekend’s Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon what should have been an annoyance turned into a spontaneous expression of hope and joy.

As the running community finds its way to healing and recovery from the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon, there will be grand gestures and small remembrances. In Nashville we had some of both.

There were runners who had been in Boston but weren’t able to finish who came to bring closure to their experience. Or, at least something that passes for closure in the dark shadows of such an awful memory. There were hundreds of quiet reflections on the what and whys of Boston. And through all the conversations one thread kept emerging. We were not NOT going to run.

Frank Shorter talked about the 1972 Olympic games in Munich and hearing the gunshots and then, 40 years later, hearing the explosions. He talked about the shock and guilt and anger. And he talked about how, eventually, you just learn to move on.

Just moments before the race was to start, we asked the participants to honor the spirit of Boston with a minute of silence. And, we asked them all to raise their hand and make the “Peace” sign. They did. 20,000 plus runners and wcmm3alkers in dead silence. Yep. I cried.

But then, the race start was delayed. We got the word to play some music. All of a sudden Neil Diamond’s voice was coming loud and clear over the speakers singing Sweet Caroline and a celebration of life, of running, of community, and of hope over terror broke out. We sang. We laughed. We cried.

And in the end we all agreed with Neil Diamond. Good times never seemed so good… so good… so good… so good.

Waddle on, friends.

John

The Morning After

boston_marathon_logo_2013This morning there are things that we know. Things that we don’t know. There are images that we will remember and images that we can’t forget. There are stories of tragedy, stories of courage.

What I still can’t get used to hearing is “the bombing at the Boston Marathon.” I can’t make this make sense. The words just don’t go together.

What I hear most often this morning is “Why?” Why would anyone do this? Why would anyone want to kill and maim innocent wives, husbands, children, friends, and family? We ask this as if there was an answer that would make sense. We ask as though there was an answer that we could understand. There isn’t. There isn’t an answer.

There was a popular ad campaign that said something like: “Runners. Yeah. We’re different”. We’re different. We’re not like everyone else. We do things differently, experience things differently. We are NOT a part of the culture at large. We are runners. We are different.

What we learned from the New York City Marathon is that runners are not immune to the power of the universe. Hurricanes don’t care how long you’ve trained. They don’t care that running a marathon is a life-list dream. They don’t care that you are a runner.

Yesterday we learned that we, elite runners, charity runners, young, old, male, female, runners are not protected from the dangers, the horrors, and the hatred that are in the world. We aren’t. If we thought we were yesterday morning, THIS morning we know we’re not.

But, as runners and as individuals, it’s not what happens to us that matters. It’s how we react to what happens. What matters is if we allow our life experiences – good or bad – to define us or merely describe us. What we are left with when the smoke clears and the media goes off to the next horrible event is a decision. What do we do now?

I’m going to Nashville. I will stand at the finish line as I have at hundreds of marathons and greet the finishers. I will look into the faces of thousands of people and share their emotions. When they look back they may notice just a small bit of sadness in my eyes.

The sadness is from the knowledge that we – all of us who ever have pinned on a race number – are now and forever a part of the narrative of terror.

John

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