• 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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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.

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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

Unplugged

unpluggedIt’s hard to remember a time when I wasn’t connected electronically to almost everything almost all of the time. I’ve had one email address or another for almost 30 years. I didn’t get a cell phone – or car phones as we called them back then – as early as my cousin did. His was about the size of a small suitcase and required professional installation. I can still recall the first time he called me from his car. I thought I was on an episode of Star Trek.

I was so excited when they replaced the 1200 baud “Gandalf” box in my office with a 2400 baud box that I was ready to throw a party. And, at one point, I had a whole box of modems. The thought of wireless access wasn’t even a fantasy in my world.

But times change. And I’ve changed. I’ve moved past my early Motorola “flip phone” that had 20 minute talk time – if fully charged – through a series of “brick” phones and Blackberrys until I finally settled on my constant companion iPhone. I think I’m better off for the transition. I am not always convinced that I am. But mostly.

All this doesn’t even take into consideration of the advent of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest and LinkIn and others that I haven’t heard of yet that someone, somewhere, wants me to join. And don’t get me started on the games. I don’t have a farm and don’t want one.

When my son sends photos and videos of himself and grandkids I’m happy that I can see them instantly. When I can take a photo and send it out over Instagram, I’m happy. When I check my Twitter feed, or Facebook for updates, I’m happy. But, I am days away from being completely off-grid for nearly two weeks. For the 7th time I’ll be on a ship, somewhere near the South Shetlands Islands, off the coast of Antarctica. We’ll be so far south that even satellite phones are unreliable.

What’s it like? Well, it’s a bit like living in the 18th century. Time goes more slowly. Conversations wander at a more leisurely pace. A cup of coffee can take up the entire morning and an evening chatting with friends over drinks becomes the greatest entertainment. In other words: it’s wonderful.

Being so connected is a double-edged sword. It can makes us seem closer to people far from us but can also keep us far away from the people closest to us. For the next couple of weeks I won’t have the choice. And I am looking forward to it.

Be well my friends. I’ll be back in time for the beginning of Spring.

John

 

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

For the Love of Running

legends1I suppose a little context for this photo would help. On the left, as you look at the photo, is Frank Shorter. In the center is Steve Scott and on the right – waving his hands – is Rod Dixon. They are all legends in their own right if for no other reason than that they are Olympians. But they are so much more than that. And what they’ve been able to accomplish as athletes is no less astonishing now than it was when they were at the peak of their careers.

Rod, the flying Kiwi, a New Zealander, has been called by some the most complete and versatile runner of all time. He had world records, or competed at the world-class level, at every distance from 800 meters to winning the 1983 New York City Marathon. Steve Scott has run more sub-4 minute miles [136] than anyone in history has – or will. And Frank Shorter is known mostly for his 1972 Gold Medal victory in the Olympic Marathon and bringing long-distance running into the mainstream.

For each of them what they would consider their glory years are far behind. That’s not to take anything away from their great careers and accomplishments, only to suggest that for them – for me – and for most of us it isn’t just about the glory. It’s about the activity. It’s about running and walking. The joy is in the movement, in the finding out, in the surprises that are always lurking in the shadows.

Frank Shorter summed it up. He contends that there is an activity that suits each of us. It could be running, walking, swimming, biking, or any of a hundred other activities. Our challenge is to find that activity that feels best, the one that makes our bodies and our souls feel connected, the one that frees our minds from the constraints of mental aspects of the activity and frees us to simply move.

Even though I started moving later in life, I discovered almost immediately that I liked walking, and running, and cycling.  When I was participating in triathlons I tried to like swimming but it never worked. I understand why people like it. I just don’t.

I feel very lucky to have discovered an activity that I can do for the rest of my life. Frank and Rod won’t win any more Olympic medals. Steve will never run another sub-4 minute mile. For them, for me, for you – I hope  – it doesn’t matter. We can move.

Waddle on, friends.

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

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