• 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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Worst Parade Ever

925_1 Of all the signs I’ve seen while running marathons and half marathons my favorite has to be “Worst Parade Ever.” That just seems to sum up what it must look like to someone standing on the sidelines watching thousands of people – young, old, tall, short, thin, not-so-thin – running and walking for hours on end. Even if you’re waiting for a friend or love one to pass by it has to be mind-numbing to see so many people pounding the pavement.

One of my favorite signs, which I saw many years ago at the Portland [OR] Marathon was “GO GAMMY GO.” My guess is that the young girl that was holding that sign is probably a runner herself by now. After all, if Gammy can run a marathon then she was almost certainly inspired to do one herself.

Of course, we’ve all heard the never helpful “You’re almost there.” This is especially not helpful at, say, mile 15 of a marathon. And then there’s the almost always incorrect “You’re looking good.” I’m not being critical. I know that people are just trying to be nice.

Once, at about the 6K mark of an 8K along the Chicago lakefront, a passer-by yelled out to me “PICK IT UP.” What they didn’t know, and couldn’t have known was that I WAS picking it up. I had already begun my blistering finishing kick. It’s just that when picking it up means going from a 12 minute pace to an 11:45 pace it may not be all that obvious.

Races look very different when you’re on the course. What may seem to the casual observer as an unhurried jog may be – in fact – a dual to the death. I’ve spent miles with a laser focus on a person in lime-green shorts because I absolutely did not want to look at those shorts anymore. Passing them became the single most important thing in my life.

925_2As a run/walker I’ve often been in a leap-frog battle with someone who insists on “running” the whole way – even if their running is mostly just moving their arms in a running motion while they walk. I’ll pass them when i run. They’ll pass me when I walk. And this can go on for miles until i either move far enough ahead during a run interval that they don’t catch me or THEY move far enough ahead during my walk interval that I don’t catch them.

Either way, I sure that anyone watching us go past would have no idea what was going on. And that’s OK. In the long run – pun intended – what matters most is what’s happening between and among those of us on the course, whether that’s an elaborate winning strategy or simply trying to get past the guy wearing the lobster hat.

Once we cross the start line we are in our own world. What matters most is – for many of us – what matters least. We know that once we cross the finish line we will have to go back to our real responsibilities: as husbands, fathers, employees, students, or one of a hundred other identities that we have. When we cross the finish line we go back to being who we are.

But out on the course we are who we want to be. We are heroes. and champions, and warriors. We are strong. We are prepared. We are ready to battle the course, the day, the runners around us, and ourselves.

They may be the worst parades ever, but there’s no place in the world I’d rather be.

Waddle on, friends.

John

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FLashback Friday: My Hero. Bob Dolphin

What’s even MORE amazing is that I want back to celebrate Bob’s 500th in 2012.

The transformative powers of running apply at any age.

bobdolphinLast April, I went to the Yakima River Canyon Marathon, a point-to-point race from Ellensburg to Selah, Washington. I was there to help 77-year-old Bob Dolphin celebrate the completion of his 400th marathon.

You read that right. A 77-year-old doing his 400th marathon, with Yakima being the 24th marathon Bob had run in the past 12 months. Perhaps even more amazing is that Bob didn’t run his first marathon until he was in his mid-50s.

Joining me in the celebration were members of the 50 States and DC Marathon Club, the 100-Marathon Club, the Marathon Maniacs, and Bob’s local running friends from the Hard Core Runners Club – clearly not your average group of midpackers. To put this particular gathering into perspective, at one table at the pasta party there were six men who had run a combined total of almost 2,000 marathons. You read that right, too. One table. Six men. Nearly 2,000 marathons.

Even though I’ve run 30 to 40 marathons, I didn’t really fit in with the celebrants. And these folks don’t just run marathons either. As often as not, they hit the lap button on their watches at 26.2 miles and continue on to complete 50-, 60-, or 100-mile distances – every few weeks. No, these men and women are at the far edges of our sport. And they all came to honor Bob for the way he’s lived his life both on and off the roads.

A high school dropout turned Marine officer, Bob has never let age or hardship deter him from anything. The same week his daughter graduated from high school, Bob received his college diploma after years of part-time study while working and raising his family. Still eager to learn, Bob ultimately earned a Ph.D. in entomology.

As with his studies, Bob couldn’t get enough of running once he got started. Like many adult-onset athletes, he initially viewed running simply as something to try. But then he found he could continue to redefine himself through running. For Bob, and I’d bet for many of his multimarathoning compatriots as well, every mile answered questions about courage, strength, hopes, and limits, but others remained that could only be answered with another mile, and ultimately, another marathon. Even with 399 marathons under his belt, Bob still had more answers to run down.

This became clear when I asked Bob if he thought he’d take some time off to savor his 400th marathon. “No,” he said. “I’ll probably run number 401 next weekend.” He went on to explain that he was hoping to run about 20 marathons per year so that he could run his 500th on this course again in 2012.

If he does, I hope I’m there. I hope I’m there to see him run into the arms of his wife, Lenore (who’s been at the finish line of every one of Bob’s races). And if I am, I’ll know full well that 500, like 400, will be a milepost, not a destination.

Waddle on, Bob.

Back to The Penguin Chronicles Archive

Unintended Consequences

blog-unintended-consequencesUnintended consequences can be roughly grouped into three types:

* A positive, unexpected benefit

 * A negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect 

 * A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (when a solution makes a problem worse)

It may be hard to believe but getting active – running, walking, bicycling – was filled with unintended consequences for me. And, to be honest, there were positive, negative, and even some perverse effects of starting to live a healthy, active lifestyle.

As I’ve written, for me there wasn’t some blinding epiphany. I didn’t have a heart attack, or some other dramatic medical event that convinced me that I needed to change. I wasn’t miserable or depressed or even marginally unhappy. It’s hard to be unhappy when your happiness lies in the next cigarette or beer or cheese danish.

At 43 years-old, my life, like so many other lives, had been a mix of successes and failures in nearly equal measure. I had had, and lost or left, good jobs and bad jobs, good relationships and bad relationships, and moments of pure joy and abject sorrow. You know, a normal life.

All of this was happening in the context of sitting still. Even at my most active, riding the motorcycles that I loved so dearly, I was still sitting still. I sat still when I worked, I sat still when I played, I even sat still on the garden tractor when I mowed the lawn. You see, activity and movement were not a part of my life and when forced to move, say to shovel snow from the driveway, I did it reluctantly and with great complaining.

Unlike many people I meet, I did NOT start running in order to lose weight. I started running to be able to run. I didn’t know how far I wanted to run, or how fast I wanted to run. I just knew that I wanted to run. Being as overweight as I was my desire did not match up with my ability so I did a lot more walking than running. It didn’t matter. The goal was to be able to run and walking was a way to reach that goal.

oops

I figured out pretty quickly that being over-weight and running weren’t especially compatible. I made the decision to lose weight because I wanted to be a better runner. It’s an important distinction because so many people start running in order to lose weight only to discover that they start gaining weight. This is especially true when new runners start a long distance training program, say for a half or full marathon.

I also didn’t quit smoking when I started to run. It was much later that I concluded that I could improve my 5K time by not smoking as much. I eventually quit smoking all together because it no longer provided the pleasure it once did because it had a negative effect on my running.

The intended consequence was to become a runner. The positive unintended consequence was that I became a thinner, non-smoker who made better choices about what – and more importantly – how much I ate.

The negative unintended consequence was overuse injuries. Plantar Faciitis, IT Band Syndrome, inflamed bursa in my hips to name just a few. I thought to get good at running you had to do lots and lots of running. I read books about elite runners putting in over a hundred miles a week. I didn’t expect to be elite, but I thought I could train like one.

And that led to the perverse unintended consequence which was, indeed, contrary to what was originally intended. By running too much I eventually couldn’t run at all.

Becoming an adult-onset athlete is tricky business. At first the movement, any movement, feels awkward and unnatural. It doesn’t feel good but we convince ourselves it’s doing some good. The aches and pains and injuries, we tell ourselves, are the admission price to living as an athlete. It’s only later that we learn that they’re not.

The danger is that in doing what we want to do we will find ourselves not being able to do it.

Waddle on, friends.

Read more at: JohnBingham.com

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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

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