• 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 563 other followers

  • PC Blog Archives

It’s a Small World After All

BLOGJohn_mickeyI spent most of last week at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. Yep. I know. A weekend is a weekend. Two days. But this weekend is now a week and that’s great.

The first time I went to, what was, the WDW Marathon Weekend was in 1999 as part of the Runner’s World Pace Team. I couldn’t have been more excited. I had only been to Disney World once before, in 1974, when my son was 3 years old. Walt Disney World in 1974 was The Magic Kingdom, at that was about it. You bought packs of tickets that were lettered to indicate what ride you could get on. The BIG rides, like Space Mountain, required an “E” ticket. You still hear people refer to something exciting as an “E” ticket ride. And that’s where it came from.

Being there with the Runner’s World team was magical – if you pardon the expression. The column “The Penguin Chronicles” had only been in the magazine for a couple of years and there were already signs that the “Second Running Boom” was getting traction and that the running event industry was going to change. Gone were the days when only skinny dudes showed up and tried to run marathons in under 3 hours. By 1999 the tide was shifting.

I was leading the 5-hour pace team. 5 hours. That was our goal. It wasn’t an absolute. We kinda wanted to run it in 5 hours, but, a lot depended on how many characters we saw and how often we stopped for photos. My buddy Sid  – a now retired Navy Senior Chief – was there with me then and he was there at the expo this year. I think Sid is as much a part of the WDW Marathon Weekend as Mickey and Minnie.johnmickey4book copy

The event has expanded from a marathon, to a half and a full marathon on the same day, do a half on Saturday and a full on Sunday – the “Goofy Race and a Half Challenge” to the “Dopey” challenge of running a 5K on Thursday, 10K on Friday, half-marathon on Saturday, and full marathon on Sunday. Not everyone does every event, but this year some 7,000 of the total of 65,000 participants took on the Dopey challenge.

And that’s how the weekend turned into a week. And that’s how the singular challenge of finishing a marathon in a specific time turned into enjoy 1, 2, 3, or 4 days of running and walking and taking photographs in the theme parks. Even the most visionary of us would never have predicted the number and kinds of participants that are at the WDW Marathon these days.

But I like to think that Sid, and I, and the others that paced with us back in 1999 had a little to do with it. We had a soft goal, of finishing in 5 hours, and a hard goal, of having the most fun we could possibly have on a marathon course in the happiest place on earth. We accomplished both goals that day.

So to everyone who was there – to everyone who wanted to be there – and to everyone who is thinking about being there in 2015 – all I can say is that the experience is unlike anything else on earth. It is the best “E” ticket ride that there’s ever been.

Waddle on,

Read this month’s Penguin Chronicle in Competitor Digital. READ THE COLUMN

Get “The Penguin Chronicles” in your inbox every month. GET THE APP

Flashback Friday: Reason to Run

CartoonMaleRunner1Forget stress. One of the best things about running is that it’s absolutely unnecessary.

I don’t have to run. Very few of us do, really. It’s not like we’re chasing down our food. We don’t have to escape from predators. Heck, most of us don’t have to run to catch a bus. But we run. The question then becomes why?

My own survey of thousands of runners has convinced me that the number one reason most people start to run is to lose weight. When the diameter of your waist is more than one-and-a-half times the length of your inseam – as mine was – running to lose weight seems like a pretty good plan.

We start running because our butts or our bellies are bigger than we want. We start because we’re getting married or going to a high school reunion and we want to look better than we think we do now. We start because we need to lower our cholesterol or blood pressure. I know. At one time or another, I’ve started running for all of those reasons.

For all the good or bad reasons we come up with for starting to run, most of us can come up with many more reasons for stopping. We don’t have the time or the energy. We don’t feel motivated or inspired. And so many of us continue to cycle through our lives running only until we decide to stop. The day that I woke up and went for a run because I didn’t have to was my first step to becoming a runner. Every day I run now is a day that I don’t have to run.

There are very few things in my life that I have to do that I truly like to do. I don’t mind brushing and flossing my teeth. But it isn’t as if I look forward to it. I don’t mind being careful about food choices and trying to make better decisions about what I put into my body, but I don’t really like it.

Even when I’m running I smile because I know that I don’t have to. I could stop. I don’t have to go so far or so fast. I don’t have to meet some imaginary goal of pace or distance. That’s not to say I don’t set goals. I do. I spend endless hours playing with training schedules. I spend days, weeks, and months preparing for a specific event. I work myself into a frenzy about the shoes I’m going to wear, what the weather might be, and whether or not I should try to sneak in another hard workout. I write dates on my shoes and numbers on my socks so I’ll know exactly which combination works best. I have a pair of running underwear with the word “London” written on the label with a permanent marker because that is the marathon pair.

Why do I go to all this trouble? Why, especially given my penchant for playing around on race day? Why bother if I know that at any given moment I’d be willing to give it all up to engage in an interesting conversation? Because I don’t have to run.

I’m afraid the reason so many new runners quit is because they never get past the point of feeling like they have to run. I can’t remember ever meeting a new runner who said they were going to start running just to add another level of stress to their lives. I’ve never met a runner who’s finished a race and said “Wow… I’m so glad I created so much drama about this by having such wildly unrealistic expectations that I sabotaged my running.”

And yet I see it all the time. It makes me sad because I know as long as you think you have to run, you won’t run for very long. Once you get beyond your own expectations, or your brother-in-law’s well-intentioned advice, you’ve got a chance to become a runner. When you finally let go of all the things you should be able to do – how fast you should be, how many miles you should put in – you’ll be a runner. For life.

Waddle on, friends.

Read more Classic Chronicles

Planning to Fail

failing-to-plan-is-planning-to-failThis is the old saying. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Well, the author of that quote didn’t know much about people like me. I did plan. And I did plan to fail.

Whether it was a fitness program, or weight loss, or quitting smoking, I had to fail. No matter how much planning or hoping or dreaming went on in advance, the end was always the same: failure.

If I had succeeded, at any point, my life would have changed. I would have changed. The “ME” that I had spent years cultivating would be a different me. The me I knew was a smoker. The me I knew was an over-eater.  The me I knew never kept is promises to himself, or anyone else. I had to fail to stay ME.

If you’re already struggling with your decision – or hope or dream – to make positive changes in your life, through being more active, or making better choices about food, or being a bit more responsible with what you put in your body, don’t worry. It’s normal to struggle. It’s perfectly normal to have a battle raging inside of you. The YOU that you are and the YOU that you want to be are in conflict.

How could it be any other way?

But you do have a choice. You do. You are who you are in large part because that’s who you’ve been. And, it’s worked. You’ve gotten alongfailing-to-plan2 in your life just fine – or at least I did – being who I’d always been. I wasn’t miserable. I wasn’t feeling as though I was a failure. I was, as far as I could tell, just fine the way I was. Why would I change?

So, for me to be who I was and had always been I had to fail. I had to fail to become something other than what I already was EVEN if that wasn’t who I wanted to be.

It isn’t easy to change your life. It isn’t easy to lose weight, or get more active, or quit smoking. Don’t be fooled by the messages that you get from the very industry that needs you to fail in order for them to survive. It’s hard. It’s very, VERY hard. And that’s why it’s worth it.

You’re worth it.

Waddle on, friends.

John

Read more from “the Penguin”  at Competitor.com

Let the Games Begin

BLOG2014This is it. Day one. The first day of the rest of your life. Today is your first chance to succeed. And your first chance to fail. This is the first day when you can make the choice to be who you’ve always been or who you’ve always wanted to be.

I can’t tell you how many January 1st have come and gone with resolutions that were doomed. I vowed to quit smoking at least 10 times. I was going to start a diet, lose weight, start exercising, learn to speak Spanish, meditate every day, become a better person and on and on. Every January 1st was the first day that I confirmed for myself that I couldn’t keep my promises, even to myself.

No more. It’s not that I’m not going to make commitments. I’d still like to learn to speak Spanish and find a way to do something like meditating every day. I’d like to live a more mindful life, and I’m going to try. What I’m not going to do is kick myself in the butt if I don’t succeed. I know that on December 31, 2014 I’m not going to be everything I want to be. I know that I won’t be writing a Spanish language blog. I know that I won’t be “All Zen All the Time.” I’m going to lose my temper at drivers who do stupid things. I know that I will do stupid and hurtful things myself. On December 31, 2014 I’m still going to be me. I’d just like to be a little bit better me than I am today.

100dayslogo In the language of 12-step programs, I am going to focus on progress, not perfection. Or, as others put it, I’m not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I can be better. I can’t be perfect. The 100 Days Challenge [here’s the Facebook page] is a way to make small change in how you organize your life. It’s simple. It’s clear. It’s possible.

All you need to do is be active, intentionally, for 30 minutes every day for 100 days. Don’t think you can find 30 minutes? Do 15 minutes twice. Can’t find 15 minutes? Do 10 minutes 3 times. What counts as activity? Anything counts. As long as it’s intentional. These days I like to walk. So, I’m going to walk a lot. You can run, or cycle, or swim. You can do Wii games with your children. You can do Zoomba [whatever that is]. It doesn’t matter.

Keep in mind that you’re not trying to get better at anything, although you may get better. You’re not trying to do anything except move, intentionally, for 30 minutes. That’s IT. Don’t over complicate it. Don’t worry about it.

As Larry the Cable Guy says… just “Get ‘r’ Done”. Make THIS the year…. John

Can YOU do 100 days?

100dayslogoIt’s hard to believe that this is the 4th year of the 100 Days Challenge. For those of you who are new to the party here’s a brief history.  In January of 2010 I threw my back out. It was so bad that I ended up in two different emergency rooms trying to get some relief.

Months went by and the pain, while lessened, never truly went away. I could walk, some, but couldn’t run at all. It was the first time in nearly 20 years of running that I had an injury that prevented me from running. Then, in early May of 2010 I dislocated the cuboid  joint in my foot. Between the back pain and the dislocated joint my running fell off to zero and my walking wasn’t much better.

I needed to do something to get motivated. I knew that by making a public declaration I would be more inclined to stick with it so I challenged myself, and the folks who follow me on Facebook [Twitter wasn’t a factor then] to move intentionally for 30 minutes for the first 100 days of 2011. In no time thousands of people all over the world were taking the challenge.

One thing I learned right away was that I couldn’t run every day. I also learned that with my travel schedule it was going to be much easier to walk than run. So, my activity of choice became walking. And much to my surprise I discovered I really liked to walk. In fact, in 2011, I liked it so much I just kept going and wound up walking every day for an entire year. 365 days. Amazing.

The program is simple. All you have to do is move intentionally for 30 minutes a day. You can run, walk, swim, cycle, dance, shovel snow, play with your dogs, it doesn’t matter. Anything that you do ON PURPOSE counts.

Not feeling like you can commit to the full 100 Days? 30 copyThen try the 30 for 30. Commit to moving for 30 minutes every day for the first 30 days of 2014. Chances are, when you get to January 31, you’ll want to keep going.

For those of you on Facebook, we have a 100 Days Page where you can share your story, inspire others, and be inspired yourself. I’ll be posting more information in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, start making plans to have the greatest year of your life.

It can be done. I know it can because I’ve done it twice. And I’m going to do it again. I invite you to join me.

John

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

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

The Recess Bell

Photo of Children Running and PlayingBefore I had written my first word for Runner’s World magazine the only other writing I had done was my dissertation “The Innovative Uses of the Trombone in Selected Compositions of Vinko Globokar.” If the title sounds pedantic, trust me, the text is even worse. If you are a chronic insomniac, get in touch with me. I’ll send you a copy. You’ll start reading and sleep like a baby.

I had been, however, writing a column for a year or so called “The Recess Bell” with a colleague for a monthly “give away” tabloid in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. My co-writer, Lee Allsbrook, was a professor of physical education at Middle Tennessee State University. He had also run 70 plus marathons and completed 4 Ironman triathlons.

We shared an enthusiasm for activity. His was life-long and both personal and professional. When he wasn’t teaching university students he would often work with local elementary school physical education teachers. And he had for years. We couldn’t go to a restaurant in town without someone recognizing him.

As the title suggests, we wrote about recess. Not recess for children, but, recess for adults. We wrote about the joy of play, the need for play, and – in fact – the absolute necessity of play. We knew it as children. We forgot it as adults.

It occurs to me that some of you may not even know what a Recess Bell is. Well, it’s a bell – an actual giant bell – that rang at the beginning of, and at the end of, recess in schools in the 50’s. When the bell rang we ran out of the classrooms. When it rang again, we lined up to go back inside. We had morning recess, time at lunch, and afternoon recess. In between recesses we had class.recess-bell

We didn’t have kids with ADD, or ADHD. We would chase each other around at recess with such intensity that we looked forward to sitting still and recovering in class. Plus, a game – or a fight – that started in morning recess would be finished in the afternoon. So, when we were in class, we rested and paid attention.

Looking back, I think recess also gave the teachers a break. Some would be recess monitors, but that rotated. The others would hide in the teacher’s lounge and many of them – in those days – had a cigarette. The net result was that ALL of us, teachers and students, came back from recess with better attitudes.

I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was Sputnik [Google it] or the moon race but at some point the people who know best decided that recess was a waste of time. They were wrong then. They’re wrong now.

Academic studies are important. But, most of the important life lessons I learned I learned at recess. I learned to get along with people I didn’t like if that meant I could play with them. I learned to share. I learned that hitting someone could hurt me more than him or her hitting me. And I learned how to say, “I’m sorry.”

If you’re an adult, stop working out and start playing. If you have children, or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, insist that they have time to play every day. Not organized, uniformed, coached, teams. PLAY. Disorganized, loud, dirty, play.

I promise you that if you play, and they play, all of your lives will be more pleasant.

Waddle on, friends.

the-great-alaskan-running-cruise-final

Life is Short: Vacation Actively: CLICK FOR INFO

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

%d bloggers like this: