• 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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Run simply, or simply run

miraculixI’ve known Thom Gilligan, the driving force behind Marathon Tours and Travel [Marathon Tours] since I first went with him to Antarctica in 2001. Since then, I’ve traveled with him as a part of his staff 6 times. Thom is an old-school, hide-bound, Greater Boston Track Club singlet, nylon shorts runner. There’s no doubt that the drive that has made his company so successful was there – and is still there – in his running.

We were chatting at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Expo this past weekend when he said that, if you didn’t know better, you would think that running was a very complicated, technically challenging, equipment dependent, injury producing activity. There were aisles of booths selling everything from the latest shoes and apparel to the newest fad, to the injury prevention devices, recovery tools, and bars, liquids, and creams the promised to make you faster, more beautiful, and smarter.

He’s right. If you didn’t know any better you would think that ALL of those things were necessary in order to be a runner. You’d believe that with the right shoes, the right pre-race drink, the right energy replacement fluid, and the right recovery concoction you can be the runner you want to be – or dream of being.

Well, kids, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. There’s no secret to it. The way to be a better runner – or walker – [or cellist or carpenter or anything else] is to work at being better at it. As one of my education professors explained it in regard to curriculum design, “Children learn what they do, and damn little else.”

I suppose we’d all like to find a short cut to success. After all, when was the last time you dialed the phone number of someone you call often? We live in a world where it’s possible to get things faster, make things better, and live more comfortably with nothing more than the push of a button. Don’t get me wrong. I like this world.

For me, though, one of the real attractions to running was the fact that there were no shortcuts. There were no magic potions. There wasn’t some piece of equipment that I could buy that would suddenly change me from a 12 minute miler to a 6 minute miler.

Runner_-_Cartoon_5For me to accomplish my goals I had to work for them. When I wanted to run a marathon I had to gradually increase my long runs until I was running farther than I ever thought I could. When – for a very short time – I wanted to run faster, I had to go to the track and run intervals and repeats. With time and dedication I was able to run marathons and, for me, run faster.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with all the wonderful products that are out there. I’m a firm believer that if you THINK something works for you, it does. I’ve got my favorite shoes and socks. My favorite workouts and my favorite pieces of equipment. I wouldn’t give them up even if you TOLD me they didn’t help.

But I am saying be honest with yourself. The key – the only key – to whatever your goals are is training.

Waddle on, friends.

John

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The Great Alaskan Running Cruise

Flashback Friday: Survival of the Slowest

Survival of the slowest

john_125x125We. The few, the proud, the plodding.

Steven Pinker, in “The Language Instinct“, suggests that if language didn’t exist, people would be so driven to communicate that they would create a language. So strong is our instinct toward communication that there are almost no recorded instances of groups of people who have not developed a means of talking to one another.

Surely our ancestors had a running instinct as well. It’s hard to imagine a community of humans that would not have included runners. Some, though, then as now, were just a little slower than others.

The evidence of this instinct can be seen in children. Children seem content to simply run. Often they aren’t running to or from anything. They just run. For children, the act of running brings such pleasure that they don’t, or won’t, stop.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a reason why some adults have lost the joy in their instinctive running, look no further than childhood. How many times are children told not to run? In how many paces are they not allowed to run?

Worse yet, for some children running becomes a form of punishment, as it did for me. In my high school, when you misbehaved in gym class, you were sentenced to run laps. Is it any wonder that my running instinct was buried?

When I am asked now why I started running after 40 years of sedentary confinement, I answer that running is in my genes. Somewhere in my genetic makeup is the DNA residue of great hunters and bold warriors and fleet messengers. When I dig deep enough into my soul, I am connected directly to those who ran for their lives.

I’m sure that great runners throughout history were revered for their skill and speed. I’m not convinced, though, that all of my running ancestors were gifted. I’m sure there were Penguins even then!

Had I been alive in prehistoric times, I suspect that the members of my tribe would not have selected me to chase down dinner. Given my ability to run, it’s far more likely that I would have ended up as some other animal’s dinner.

But my limited talent doesn’t mean I can’t, or shouldn’t, run. More importantly, it doesn’t mean that I’m not a runner. My terminal velocity relative to that of others of my age and gender is the result of the decisions I have made over the course of my life.

What is often misunderstood about those of us struggling to reach the front of the back of the pack is that we really are trying. We really are, at whatever our pace, doing the best we can. Some runners, and even well-meaning non-runners, interpret our position in the pack as a measure of our effort. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We – the few, the proud, the plodding – very often train as much as, or more than, faster runners. At a blistering 12-minute pace, a 20-mile week represents a major time commitment. I do speed work and tempo runs. I do long, slow runs. I just do them very slowly.

It’s not a matter of trying. It’s not a matter of motivation. It’s just a matter of speed. A fast runner friend of mine put it succinctly when I asked him what he thought was the limiting factor in my running future. His answer was as insightful as it was concise: “Maybe you’re just slow!”

And slow I may be. But I am the best athlete I know how to be. I am the best runner I know how to be. Every day is an opportunity to improve. Every time I run, I try to be better. I have given in to my running instinct. I have given in to this passion to uncover the primal joy in running. And I hope you will, too.

Waddle on, friends.

Back to The Penguin Chronicles Archive

A Grandfather’s Wisdom

stock-vector-cartoon-grandfather-with-cane-vector-illustration-with-simple-gradients-57321424I grew up in a home shared by my parents and my grandparents. We didn’t know it was an extended family. It was just the way it was. My grandparents were in their 50’s when I was born and, growing up, I thought that they were very, VERY old. And they were.

My grandfather shared his wisdom in short, pithy, statements of fact. His three favorites, and these three covered nearly every imaginable situation were; “things happen”, “people are funny”, and “what’s done is done.”

Examples: Plane crash? Things happen. Man wants to marry his dog? People are funny. I didn’t study for my history test and failed? What’s done is done. He was not a man who wasted time on contemplation and reflection.

Being a grandfather myself I wonder what messages I’m sending to MY grandchildren. I wonder what they will remember when they think about the time we’ve spent together. I wonder what they will learn from me.

What I hope they learn is that life needs to be lived, not feared. When I stood at the starting line of my first race it wasn’t the distance that frightened me. As I’ve written, the miracle wouldn’t be that I finished, the miracle was that I had the courage to start. The fear was that I would be called out as an imposter, as a non-athletic interloper in a field of runners. It wasn’t a fear of failing. It was a fear of being found out.

What I hope they learn is that if you wait for the right moment to do anything you will never do anything. When I stood in a cold lake at the start of my first triathlon I had gone to the pool exactly twice before the race. The funny part  is that even with years of training I never got that much better at swimming than I was then. If I had waited until I got “good enough” I would never have gotten good enough.A_Colorful_Cartoon_Grandpa_Running_a_Race_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_100708-172101-630053

What I hope they learn is that the real joy is NOT in achieving a goal but it setting goals and trying to achieve them. When I decided to run my first marathon I spent months preparing. Every day of anticipation was a good day, whether I was training or not. I had set a goal and with every step I was getting closer to achieving it. The last 26.2 miles were just that; the last 26.2 miles. And when I crossed that first marathon finish line my joy came not from that success but in believing that there were other goals that I could set and achieve.

My most vivid memory of my grandfather is him sitting at a small table in the basement kitchen area eating an Italian sausage and peppers sandwich on my grandmother’s homemade bread. I hope the most vivid memory my grandchildren have of me is not of me sitting still.

What I hope they learn is that the best life is an active life. Being active, whatever that means, is the key to discovering a world beyond ourselves. Whether we walk, run, pedal, or paddle, we can discover all by ourselves what’s just over the horizon.

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: I laughed, I cried, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I could identify with so many of John’s experiences. While some may view slower runners like myself with disdain, John made me proud to be out there. I run for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and I have seen John speak at many of their events. He is a very entertaining speaker as well as writer. John is an inspiration to many people who never thought they could ever step up to a starting line let alone cross a finish line. Lynn Nelson on Amazon.com

The Last Brain to Clarksville

left-brain-right-brainI’ve tried. I have REALLY tried. I studied the shoe reviews. I bought all the latest gizmos. I’ve read all the diet and sport nutrition books. I’ve read all about how I can get faster, how I can run farther, how I can get more efficient, stronger, more flexible, with less injuries. To be honest, especially in the early days, I thought that all the experts were right and I was wrong. I thought that if I was a better runner – whatever that means – I would be a happier runner. I wasn’t.

I wasn’t that much better and I certainly wasn’t that much happier.

Almost from the very beginning I was having fun. FUN. I didn’t have the faintest idea what i was doing, I didn’t have anything like a plan or a schedule or a program. I was just having fun. I’d put on my running shoes, walk out the door and have fun.

What too often happens is that we start doing something – running, walking, cycling, playing the cello – because we think it will be fun only to find out that unless we get good at it we aren’t having fun. When I started playing tennis I thought it would be fun. Tennis looks like fun. It isn’t fun when you or your partner spend 90% of the time chasing after the balls or – worse yet – yelling at people walking past the court and asking them to throw the ball back to you. Tennis is fun if you’re good enough.

My first fitness activity was bicycling. Biking is FUN. Then i started walking and running. Walking and running are fun. If you take away all of your expectations about what you could be doing and concentrate only on what you are doing it’s fun. I’m not talking about the “glass half full” mindset. My glass wasn’t even 10% full. I’m talking about having fun when you are truly no good.

I don’t know for sure if it’s the whole right brain/left brain business. It just seems like the entire running industry is populated by people who are number-crunching, pace-calculating, mileage-recording, “failing to plan is planning to fail” types. I’m not.

I haven’t kept a running log in probably 10 years. Blasphemy, I know. After all, how I will I know what I’ve done and what I need to do ifrunners I don’t keep track. And these days it isn’t enough to simply right it down in a logbook. I would need to chart it and post it and tell my friends and send them the GPS coordinates. Aaarrrggghhh.

What I want from my running or walking or cycling – or any other activity – is the sense of well-being that comes from doing it. ANDand this is an important AND – I want it to be fun. When I’m finished with the activity I want to feel better than I did when I started. I want to be glad I did it. I do NOT want to feel like there was something more I could have done or that I failed in some small or large way.

If you haven’t done it recently, try just going for a run. Leave all the training toys at home. And don’t go on some course where you know the distance. Turn left where you normally turn right. Get it your car and go someplace you’ve never been. Run or walk as much as you want to, then stop. Be done when you’ve done all you want to do not all you’re supposed to do.

You may find, as I have, that the joy is in the doing not in the planning or recording. What makes running fun is the running. It’s just that simple.

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: I laughed, I cried, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I could identify with so many of John’s experiences. While some may view slower runners like myself with disdain, John made me proud to be out there. I run for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and I have seen John speak at many of their events. He is a very entertaining speaker as well as writer. John is an inspiration to many people who never thought they could ever step up to a starting line let alone cross a finish line. Lynn Nelson on Amazon.com

The Last Great Run

Cartoon K92 Trombone copyAs a musician, well, a bass trombone player, I never imagined that my career would be over when I was in my early 30’s. But it was. A condition called thoracic outlet syndrome changed everything. I began playing when I was in the 3rd grade and expected to play forever. It didn’t happen that way.

I can’t remember my last performance. I certainly can’t remember my last great performance. I often wonder if I had known then that it was the last time I would play great music with great musicians if I would have experienced it differently. Probably.

When I asked Steve Scott, who has run more sub-4 minute miles [136] than anyone in history, if he remembers HIS last great mile his answer is yes. But, when I asked him if he KNEW it was his last sub 4 mile his answer was no. I’m certain that if Steve had known that his last sub 4 WAS his last sub 4 he would have felt differently crossing the finish line.

And that, my friends, is life in a nutshell. We just don’t know when that last great moment is going to be.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately since my world seems to be filled with eager-beaver 20 and 30 somethings. They are early in their careers, excited by present, and wrought with anticipation about the future. I’m delighted for them. But I also worry. Life doesn’t always go according to plan.

When I started running – as an overweight, smoking, drinking, middle-aged man, I sucked. Not just a little. I sucked a lot. And while it’s true that with patience and training I did get better – I ran faster and farther – I never really got any good at it. I’m fine with that. I think that I probably got as good as I was going to get. That’s all any of us can ask.tired-runner-cartoon

In the process of trying to get better I sometimes forgot to enjoy how good I was, even if my good was not very good in an absolute sense. The first time I ran under 30 minutes for a 5K is was an Olympic Gold Medal performance for me. I was happy for a little while but then starting thinking about how I could break 29 minutes.

It’s a conundrum all of us face; how do we enjoy what we have when we know we want more? I wish I had a great answer.

What I can tell you with absolute certainty is that somewhere out there – or back there – is your last great race. It may be years from now – or years ago – or it may be tomorrow – or have been yesterday. It’s there. It is a fact of life.

With that in mind, when you lace up your shoes today, please take time to be grateful for what you are about to do. Be grateful that on this day you are willing and able to try once more to find the better in yourself, if not the best. Be grateful that yesterday was not that last day you ran and that you’ve got one more chance to enjoy what you love to do.

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

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

book_the_courage_to_startbook_no_need_for_speedbook_marathoning_for_mortalsbook_running_for_mortalsbook_an_accidental_athlete

Old Dog, New Tricks

books headphoneI’ve never thought of myself as an old-school runner. I’m certainly not as hide-bound as the nylon shorts guys who either run bare chested or wear their washed out club singlet. I haven’t always embraced the newest technology. I didn’t like knowing how far I’d run, or how fast [or slow] so wearing a GPS took some convincing. I never wanted to know my heart-rate because I didn’t have any idea what the numbers meant. And, since listening to my heart for signs of trouble was a full-time task I wasn’t keen to listening to music while I ran.

All of that has changed. Now, twenty years into my running life I find that the act of running – and now walking a fair amount – has become such a natural part of who I am that I’m willing to relax and enjoy the experience in new ways.

I like wearing a GPS watch. The nice folks are Garmin were kind enough to give me an XT310. It’s got a big enough screen for me to see and enough bells and whistles to keep me informed and entertained. It’s also been great for running in strange cities. The ability to find my way back to the hotel has saved me more than once.

Like so many people, my iPhone has become a constant companion. It’s been a little like my first microwave. I didn’t think I’d use it until I started to use it. Now, on my phone, I have access to email and social media and music and a flashlight and alarm clock. If you’ve got one, you know what I mean.

I am a voracious reader. Unfortunately I’ve never figured out a way to read while running. Until now. Last week I was introduced the Audible.com. And I’m hooked.

treadmillWith my travel schedule – and living in Chicago – it’s not unusual for me to be doing half of my weekly workouts on a treadmill. You can only watch so many reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” or listen to your favorite Paul Simon songs before you’re ready for something else. That something else, for me, has been listening to books on Audible.com

Without sounding too 60’s transcendental, there has been an interesting mind/body connection while listening to books. I’m engaged mindfully by listening and engaged physically by walking or running. It’s not that the two are completely separate, but I do find that as I get more deeply involved in the book I am less focused – in a positive way – to the time I’m exercising.

So, I guess it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. Who knew??

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

The Perfect Run

JohnTriathlonYes folks, that’s me. Check the date. May 21, 1995. Nearly exactly 18 years ago today. The race was the Memphis in May Triathlon, and I was “getting it done”. I was also, just for the record, nearly dead last.

I wasn’t much of a swimmer. The swim course was a giant triangle marked by buoys. The buoys were connected by rope. I was such a lousy swimmer that I was actually faster by pulling myself along on the rope than trying to swim. This did not prevent me from being swatted and kicked and nearly drowned by other competitors.

I was a pretty fair bicyclist. That is to say I didn’t suck as badly on the bike as I did on the swim. Once I was on the bike I was able to have fun. I didn’t have a very fancy bike, but I could ride with, and sometime pass, other competitors. To be fair, I wasn’t passing anyone in my age or gender category. No. Most of them were much older.

Then there was the run. Being nearly last at the beginning of the run did not bode well for my finishing position. Despite the look of effort, the flash frozen form, and the very cool sunglasses, in the photo I am probably running flat out at about a 10:30 pace.

Given all that, you’d think that I would have been discouraged. As always, most everyone else had gone home by the time I finished. As always, there was a very small group of friends waiting for me at the finish line. And they were only there because I had the keys to the van.

And, like always, I was as happy as I could be. I had done it. I had finished an Olympic distance triathlon all by myself and was still upright and didn’t need medical attention. No gold medal could have made me feel better.

When people approach me now – I am older, heavier, slower – they incorrectly assume that I have no memories to look back on. I do. I have many. Memphis is May is only one. I have memories of great days, of pure effort, of good planning and execution, and unadulterated satisfaction. I have it all.

The difference for me is that all of those moments, all of those moments are solely and uniquely mine. I didn’t have to share them with anyone else because, in truth, a middle-aged man finishing nearly last in a triathlon isn’t very interesting. Unless, of course, you’re that midde-aged man.

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

The Chicken and the Pig

bacon and eggsMy old buddy Coach Roy Benson had a simple way of explaining the difference between involvement and commitment. He would say that when you think of a breakfast of bacon and eggs, the chicken is involved, the pig is committed. With apologies to my Vegan friends, it certainly sums it up.

I hear lots of talk about how today’s runners aren’t as committed to the sport as were the runners in the 70’s or 80’s. Today’s runners are criticized for not being willing to put in the time and miles.

I hear that they’re only involved in the events and the travel and the social aspects, that they just want to have fun, to enjoy a healthy active lifestyle without paying their dues. Really?

I have exercised in some fashion for over 20 years. I’ve been a runner, a walker, a duathlete, a triathlete, an adventure racer, kayaker, swimmer, and cyclist. And I haven’t been very good at any of them. And – I’ve enjoyed every minute of every day that I’ve been active. To say that I’m not committed, that I’m just involved, is pure poppycock.

Now, it’s true that there were years in my life where I was able to be more committed to competing. Especially in the early years when every race distance and every race experience was new I spent more time planning, training, and racing. I’d spend hours creating elaborate training schedules based on what I viewed as the best of what was available, and I’d commit to getting in the training no matter what.

That “no matter what” often included an ache or a pain or an injury. I was committed. I couldn’t miss a workout or my whole training strategy would fall apart. Or so I thought. In my commitment I was stressed out and often disappointed that I wasn’t improving more quickly.

At some point I began to worry less about my level of commitment and more about my level of joy. It occurred to me that I wouldn’t keep doing the things that I enjoyed if I took all the joy out of the activities.

My commitment never changed. What changed was how I expressed that commitment. What also changed was that I remembered what I got started with all this in the first place; to have fun.

Waddle on, friends.

You can follow me on Twitter: @jjbingham

and on Facebook: @john thepenguin bingham

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

The Well Lubricated Runner

duct tapeYears ago I worked with a crusty, old [like maybe 40!] Scottish motorcycle mechanic named Stewart. His brogue and the fact that he had lost one leg below the knee in a motorcycle accident made him seem more like a pirate than a master mechanic.

He used to fill the junior mechanics, me among them, with his hard-earned words of wisdom. The one that remains with me all these years later was: “If it CAN be lubricated it NEEDS to be lubricated and if it CAN be adjusted it NEEDS to be adjusted.”

He had one other simple explanation for the mysteries of the mechanical world. “If it moves and shouldn’t, use duct tape [DUCT, not duck]. If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40.” You’d be amazed at how often that’s all you need to know.

In some ways life as a runner – or walker or cyclist or any of 100’s of other activities – is almost that simple. If it hurts you’re doing too much. If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing enough. If you think about it, it’s pretty much all you need to know about training. Too much, something hurts. Too little, it doesn’t feel like you’re doing anything at all.wd40

Unlike the mechanic’s dilemma, the athlete’s dilemma is much more nuanced. If a little training feels good then most of us believe that more training will feel even better. If we start seeing progress in our training by doing speed work one day a week then we’re sure we’ll progress twice as fast if we do two sessions a week.

On the other hand, if we’re feeling achy and sore and know we need to take time off we’re never sure exactly how much rest is enough and how much is too much. And nothing that we experienced previously can help us decide. As George Sheehan wrote, “We are all an experiment of one.”

The best we can do is use the time-honored method of trial and error. We’ll get it right sometimes. We’ll get it wrong sometimes. All that matters is that we keep trying to figure it out.

Even Stewart couldn’t argue with that.

Waddle on, friends.

John

An Accidental Athlete is available in print and ebooks versions now. BUY THE BOOK

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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

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