• 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.

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 562 other followers

  • PC Blog Archives

  • Advertisements

Flashback Friday: Unfinished Business

Unfinished business

momdadelmhurstWe were screaming at the top of our lungs and yelling his name. There was no way he didn’t hear us, but it didn’t matter. He was focused. He was in the zone. He was in another place and another time. Nothing was going to distract him. On this day, in this race, he would cross the finish line.

He never talked about it before the race. He’s never talked about it since. Anyone who was there, though, saw the unmistakable look of a man facing down a memory that had haunted him for years. It wasn’t simply a matter of finishing a 5K. It was setting the record straight once and for all.

It started for him exactly one year before. He was at that same race and cheered for his grandson, son and wife as they completed the Columbus Marathon relay. He saw the look on his wife’s face as she crossed the finish line. He saw the three of them walking back to the hotel arm in arm. He saw the satisfaction in their eyes. He vowed then to cross the finish line himself the next year.

So he trained for the next 12 months. He began his career as an athlete at 70 years of age, and a heart patient of almost 35 years. He got the clearance from his doctor and started the long, slow process of changing the body that had imprisoned him into the body that would free him from his bondage.

As he would discover, it doesn’t really matter when you start the process of finding yourself. The results are always the same. Parts of who you are make you proud and parts embarrass you. Parts are known only to you, and some parts even you can’t see. But the search is worth the effort; your feet can carry you directly to your soul.

So, day after day, he walked. At first his form was clearly that of an old man held hostage by a heart that had failed him in the prime of his life. He was tentative. He was fearful. He listened carefully to the sound of his own heart beating, as if to make certain it would not let him down.

dad

As the weeks and months passed, the transformation became obvious. No longer content to simply shuffle around the mall or the track, he began to push his pace. Although he intended to walk, every now and then he’d break into a run in spite of himself. Through the spring and summer he added distance and speed. He stuck to his training plan as if it was sacred.

With the coming of autumn, his thoughts turned to his November 3rd date with history. There were shoes to break in, technicalrunning gear to buy and a race strategy to devise. Like a seasoned veteran, he planned for the ideal race day, his probable day and a doomsday scenario. Armed with months of preparation and planning, all that remained was putting his feet to the pavement.

On race day he was calm in a way that surprised us. There was no fear, really… just the deep concentration that comes from knowing exactly what you want to do. Taking the relay handoff, he settled quickly into his pace. Without looking back, he set off to find the finish line and whatever else he was searching for.

My guess is that he found it, although we don’t know for sure. Men of his generation don’t share those personal feelings easily. But I think he answered some old questions and, in doing so, maybe found that there was more strength in his heart and more power in his soul than he ever imagined.

We’re proud of you… Dad.

Waddle on, friends.

Back to The Penguin Chronicles Archive

Advertisements

Sticks and Stones

sticksandstonesRunners, and walkers, seem to be getting lot of attention lately. And not the kind that we want. Or at least it might not seem that way.

First someone wrote about how we were the slowest generation of runners. Of course, that’s not true. World records at nearly every distance are being set all the time. We, the less fast, are not doing anything to prevent the really fast from getting faster.

Then they said we didn’t care about how fast we were. As evidence they pointed out that the “Color Runs” weren’t even timed. Imagine that. A group of healthy, active people get together and run – or walk – just for the FUN of it. What could be WORSE?

Then, a one-time marathoner writes about her experience and passes terrible and possibly deadly advice. They used to say that an expert was someone with a briefcase that was 25 miles from home. These days, an expert is anyone with internet access.

And finally, some guy at the Wall Street Journal is upset because people put 26.2 stickers on their cars. I guess he’s not bothered by the “My Child in an Honor Student” stickers, or the “father, mother, 3 kids, 2 dogs and a cat” stickers, or my personal favorite, the “Child peeing on the Ford logo” sticker. He’s also troubled because people seem to run outside where he can see them. For PETE’S sake.

He’s my response to ALL of them. I was not put on this planet to make you happy, or to make your life easier, or to make sure that I don’t do something that you don’t like. Period. I run. I walk. I run slow. I wear running clothes. I wear a running watch. I do because I know that living an active life is the life I want. And I don’t care what you think.

Nearly everyone knows that I lived a very sedentary life until I was in my early 40’s. In fact, I describe it as sedentary confinement. No one put me inquote-roosevelt-comparison-joy sedentary confinement. I did it to myself. Then I walked a little, and cycled a little, and ran a little. I quit smoking, ate better, drank less and discovered that I was happier than I had ever been.

HAPPIER THAN I HAD EVER BEEN! And do you think I’m going to let some pin-head columnist tell me that I can’t do what makes me happy? And that I can’t be proud of my accomplishments? And that I don’t have to worry about how what makes me happy compares to what makes someone else happy. Do you REALLY think that for one minute I’m going to stop doing what makes me happy because it makes someone else UNhappy. NO WAY.

I don’t have bumper stickers on my car. But, I’m thinking about getting some. I’ve run 45 marathons. That should pretty much cover up the scratches and dents on the back of my car. I think I’m going to start wearing my electric yellow running jacket EVERYWHERE I go. And I think I’m going to try to find the brightest, loudest pair of running shoes that I can find and wear them everywhere.

More than anything else, when I run, or walk, or cycle, I am going to smile until my face hurts. I’m going to show my teeth to every passing car and people that I meet on the street. I am going to show them, in no uncertain terms, that being active makes me happy. And I hope you will too.

Waddle on, friends.

For more Penguin wit and wisdom go to: The Penguin Chronicles Archive

Come Together

You might be surprised what Nietzsche and your running buddies have in common.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche really got a bad rap. Either that or he needed a better publicist. There was that whole “God is dead” business that upset so many people and then there’s the “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” quote that’s attributed to him. I actually read one of my favorite Nietzsche quotes in an Outward Bound handbook. In writing about mountain climbing, our boy Friedrich says, “Exhaustion is the shortest way to equality…” I’ve never climbed a mountain so I can’t attest to his accuracy there, but I can tell you it’s true for runners.

Effort and exhaustion will bring you to your most common human qualities more quickly than anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s difficult to explain to my nonrunning friends (yes, I have a few, but not many) that I have run for years with some people and still haven’t the faintest idea where they live, or what their education or economic situation is. I don’t know because to be honest, I just don’t care.

I don’t care if they’re twice as smart or make twice as much money as me, or live in a house five times the size of my apartment. What they do has nothing to do with who they are to me. I am, they are, and we are together running buddies. We see each other at our best and at our worst. We can be honest and open, because we know that our buddies have, or will, feel exactly what we’re feeling. It’s just a matter of time.

I’ve run with  training programs all over the world and have seen mend and women, young and old,  form the kind of friendships it seems only runners can have. It’s the kind of friendship that permits six of you walking into a nice restaurant on Sunday morning after a sweaty, long run to look with smug satisfaction at other diners who are simply trying to eat their breakfast in peace.

It’s the kind of friendship that allows you to go past age, gender, ethnicity, social status, and all of the initial criteria we normally use to judge people, and accept runners as the foul-smelling, loud-talking people that we are.

I’ve even had this bonding experience while running on a treadmill. The gym I train in has individual television screens at the front of each treadmill, and it’s not uncommon to see six or eight people all watching the same show together. We probably wouldn’t sit with one another and watch television anywhere else, but somehow the act of running gives us permission to share the moment.

In a world that’s quickly becoming so fast-paced that multitasking is a way of life, runners have managed to find a way to do something that’s good for our heads, bodies, and spirits, and that provides wonderful social interaction.

It may even be why today’s runners run more slowly. We may simply want to go slow enough so we can talk to each other. For us, pounding out eight miles while gasping for breath doesn’t make sense. It would deprive us of one of the most important reasons we run: the ability to connect with another person.

By the way, Nietzsche and that “God is dead” controversy is more complicated than it seems on the surface. It really had more to do with the power of the human spirit than some theological death sentence. Come out for a run with me sometime, we’ll talk all about it.

Waddle on, friends.

Back to The Penguin Chronicles Archive

Flashback Friday: City of Hope

NYCM1A few things that New York City Marathon runners – and spectators – can teach the world.

One of the biggest thrills of my former life as a trombonist was working with Frank Sinatra. And one of the biggest thrills of working with Sinatra was performing “New York, New York” – it just doesn’t get any better than that. So standing with more than 35,000 runners on the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge at the start of last year’s ING New York City Marathon and listening to Frank blasting through the speakers made me more than a little emotional. It is, after all, New York. Gotham City. The Big Apple. It’s the site of some of America’s greatest moments. It has been the gateway for generations of immigrants and the welcome mat that is set out for the rest of the world. It’s also the city that brought us all together in its grief and taught us all a lesson in heroics. It is what it is. It is New York.

Unlike many of my marathons (this was number 37), I ended up running this one on my own. I started with a couple of friends, but by mile six it was clear that in order for me to soak up and savor all that the event had to offer, I’d have to go it alone – which is a relative term when you’re in the throngs of racers and more than two million spectators. I told my friends to meet me at our designated after-race spot. By running without them, I wouldn’t diminish my own experience by trying to see it through someone else’s eyes.

Maybe it sounds simplistic, but the New York City Marathon could only occur in New York. There are other great big-city marathons – Chicago (my hometown) and London come to mind. But as great as they are, they aren’t equal to New York. It isn’t just the course. It isn’t even just the city. New Yorkers themselves make this event what it is.

It’s the old woman in a beat-up coat in Brooklyn handing out aspirin and seltzer water; the woman in Queens with a coffee urn filled with espresso; the woman in Manhattan passing out bananas; and the young man in Harlem offering us his Halloween candy. The joy, the encouragement, and the pride may have presented themselves differently in each neighborhood, but the excitement was the same. Cheering for us, an international mass of humanity running within feet of their homes, brought out the very best in everyone.

On that day, we seemed to achieve what generations of politicians and philosophers have failed to do. With nothing more than our NYCM2running shoes, we accomplished what all the wars and weapons have failed to do. We were, for a few hours anyway, a community of people whose sameness was more important than our differences.

I’m not saying running could solve all of the world’s problems, but I think it would be a good start. On that day in New York, people of different religions, colors, and ethnic backgrounds supported and encouraged one another. For at least one day, the most important race was the human race. At least that was my experience.

Could that happen anywhere other than New York? Maybe, but I don’t think so. It is, after all, New York. It is where everyone – from a very fast woman from Kenya to a very slow man from Chicago – are given the keys to the city. And on marathon day in that city of cities, all that matters is that we are runners.

Waddle on, friends.

Back to The Penguin Chronicles Archive

Flashback Friday: Doing Your Best

THE PENGUIN CHRONICLES :: JUNE 1995 :: DOING YOUR BEST

bestDoing one’s best–sounds like an easy enough concept. “Just do your best, that will be fine,” we are told by teachers and parents. But we quickly discover that doing one’s personal best is not enough. If you were like me, you found out at an early age that simply doing YOUR best wasn’t fine.

At least it wasn’t fine if there was someone else who’s best was better than yours. If someone else could say their alphabet or color inside the lines or sing a melody or hit a ball better, then suddenly it became a matter of your being able to do not YOUR best, but THEIR best. For many of us, an activity that had been great fun up until then–singing, playing ball, reading–suddenly became an opportunity for us to be “not as good as”.

Unless, of course, you were the one who’s best set the standard. If you were the one who could do more, throw farther, or run faster, it was different. If you were the one upon whom puberty descended first and changed your body from a boy’s to a man’s or a girl’s to a woman’s while the rest of us suffered the indignity of being stuck in a child’s body, you may not understand.

But many of us learned as children that OUR best was not good enough. We learned that there was always some goal just beyond our reach, that someone else had accomplished already, which we could reach if we REALLY did our best. And when our best fell short, as it most often did, we were consoled by the cruelest of comments. “Well, at least you tried.” We were Penguins even then.

Most of us have grown up now. Well, we have at least gotten older. Many of us have gone on to be successful in our best2careers, in our families, and in our lives. But when it comes to physical activity–say running, for example–the memories of our best not being good enough still haunt us.

What has changed, or what can change, is that we can now say to ourselves that our best IS good enough. Our best. OUR BEST, not the world’s best, or the group’s best, or the family’s best, but OUR best is good enough.

I can remember vividly the joy of finishing a 10K in under an hour for the first time. It was, on that day, absolutely my best. I needed to make no apologies, no comparisons. I crossed the finish line secure in the knowledge that I had done MY best. I remember seeing the clock at the Columbus Marathon. 4:57:58!! I had done it. I had run, waddled, stumbled, shuffled, and walked a marathon in under 5 hours. That moment will be MY moment forever. MY best.

Coca Cola wanted to “teach the world to sing.” I would like to teach the world to run. But I want to teach them to run for the right reasons. I want them to know that there can still be a place in our lives every day where we can know that we’ve done our best. I want them to know the joy that comes from being absolutely sure that you have done your best. Mostly, I want them to understand that the best part is that no one can take that feeling away from you.

The miracle of running, from a Penguin’s point of view, is that the lessons we learn about ourselves can carry over into our real life. Just as I have come to understand the running eagles and sparrows, I have come to see eagles and sparrows in other parts of my life. I’ve seen the ones for whom life seems easy. I’ve seen the ones who want so much from themselves that they are chronically emotionally overtrained.

Then, I have come to see and understand the Penguins and myself. I understand that I have no more to offer than my best. It will be better than some, not as good as others. I’ve come to stop comparing my ability to run, to think, to love, with the people around me. And I’ve come to understand that my life, like my marathon, is for me to get through anyway that I can.

Waddle on, friends.

More Classic Chronicles: Click Here

Frost on the Pumpkin

101028pumpkinfrostThis morning, like most mornings when I’m home, I made my way downstairs to get a cup of coffee. I know that the computer was a great invention, and there have probably been other significant inventions in my lifetime, but for my money the BEST invention is the automatic coffee maker. Waking up to the smell of coffee already brewed is magical. But I digress.

As I looked out onto the deck there was frost on the railing. Real frost. Honest to goodness frost. FROST. When you live in Chicago, or any location that has four actual seasons, that first sign of frost can only mean one thing. Winter is packing its bags and preparing to come for a visit.

For me that means that soon I’ll have to spend a day prepping the motorcycles for the winter. I’ll have to decide which of the bikes will go to “winter camp” to be stored and which ones I’ll keep in the garage for that one day when the weather is beautiful and it’s warm enough to ride. It means moving the bicycles to the basement to make room for the shifting of “stuff” to make room for a second car. It means putting just enough gas in the snowblower to make sure it starts and then hoping I’ll never need it again.

There are lots of great things that happen once winter finally settles in. I love the snow. I love to walk in it, snow shoe in it, and just be out in it. It’s just that this morning I wasn’t ready for it. The leaves are still very green around us and the trees are still full. But I know, as of this morning, that’s all going to change soon.

winter-woods-110661299720364QHn

It means that I’ll head inside for much of my running and walking. I’ll dust off the treadmill, check the batteries in the TV remote control, strap a watch to the hand grips and get ready to do most of my workouts in the safety, security, and warmth of “Coach Jenny’s” gym. That’s not all bad. I’m not quite ready yet.

In part it’s because once the winter fully sets in I know I’ll have to reflect back on the year that I had planned. I’ll have to look back at the goals and ambitions that I set out LAST winter. I’ll have to look at the successes and failures of this year and see if, on balance, it was the year i wanted. Did I run as much as I intended? Did I discover new things about myself as an athlete, as a husband, father, grandfather, man, and human being? Is my soul in better shape now?

I’m not ready to answer those questions yet. So, I’m going to sit inside by the fire and hope that there’s going to be another warm spell. Later, a little later, I’ll get around to figuring out whether or not this was a year to remember or a year to forget.

Waddle on, friends.

John

For more wit and wisdom, go to www.johnbingham.com

Flashback Friday: The Metamorphosis

im slowI wasn’t always as slow as I am now. I used to be much slower!

I wasn’t always a Penguin. I wasn’t always as slow as I am now. I used to be much slower! It took 40 years to become so overweight and out of shape that running a mile and running a marathon were equally unthinkable.

For most of those 40 years, I looked at runners as if they were some mutant sub-species of the human race. I looked not with awe nor with envy as runners in my neighborhood trudged through rain, heat, cold and wind. I looked at them with suspicion. What motivated them? What was missing in their lives that they had to punish themselves on a regular basis?

And then it happened. It wasn’t the epiphany that some folks describe. It was simply a matter of looking down at a body that was becoming my enemy and deciding that enough was enough.

Those early days and weeks were a time of awakening. I bought a pair of running shoes, tied them on much too tightly and headed for the streets. Remembering the last time I had run, in high school gym class, I bolted down the driveway and into the future. That lasted about twenty steps.

It was at that instant that I realized I had the legs of an old person. Those youthful appendages that had served me well in Little League and at the Prom were now unwilling to run longer than thirty seconds. So I walked.

My guess is that my first humble attempt at running/walking/shuffling/panting lasted not even 600 yards and took nearly 5 minutes. I turned back, convinced that I had covered so much ground I would have a hard time finding my way home – only to discover that I’d barely made it down the block. But I had started.

The next step toward Penguinhood was one of blissful naivete. I was amazed that my body was actually beginning to cooperate. That first “run” turned into a half-mile, a mile, then more. I was shocked at how quickly my body adapted to the new stresses. I was ready, or so I thought, for any challenge. Time to race!

Standing at the start of my first race, a local 5-K, I barely noticed the other runners. Filled with the confidence that only abject ignorance can produce, I wondered how many of them had noticed me and if they were worried about my presence. After all, I knew how slow I had been and how much I had improved.

At the start command, everybody bolted as if they had been blasted from a howitzer. I stood there like I was tied to a tree. Oh, I was running; I was running as hard as I had ever run. It was just that I was running very, very slowly.

I watched in stunned amazement as men and women, young and old, short and tall, ran away from me as though I had some medieval plague. The 70-year old man I had been chatting with before the start dropped me like a bad habit. The woman behind me nearly knocked me over. It was my moment of enlightenment.

I began laughing out loud at them and at myself. Off I ran, shaking my head. By the first mile marker, I was running nearly alone. I had run the fastest mile (a 10:30) of my life, and I could barely see the person ahead of me! But the smile on my face never faded.

I knew then that running was going to be something I did mostly for the joy it brought me. Watching the other runners move away, I realized that I could not undo the physical effects of 40 years of indulgence in a matter of weeks or months. It had taken all my life to get to where I was; it was going to take the rest of my life to get to where I wanted to be.

I went on to finish… and to keep a promise to myself. By finishing that first race, I began undoing four decades of unkept promises and doomed diets and quitting in general. Crossing the finish line, I knew that in my running, and in my life, the difference between success and failure would sometimes come down to a single step.

Waddle on, friends.

Back to The Penguin Chronicles Archive

%d bloggers like this: