• 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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Special Report: Why JBR never hired elite runners

CDCSTARTIn 2002, with nothing more than audacity and hope, David Babner and I created John Bingham Racing [JBR] and purchased the Chicago Distance Classic. We went on to create the Capital City Half Marathon [Columbus, Ohio] and the Arizona Distance Classic in Oro Valley, Arizona – just outside of Tucson. We also had a few smaller races in Columbus.

We had only one corporate philosophy: treat everyone’s accomplishment as meaningful to them. Not to US, not to OTHERS, but to THEM. And being a back-of-the-packer who has finished last – or nearly last – in races I vowed that no one in the pack would be humiliated. To that end, we had volunteers – the “Balloon Cuties” – who walked behind the final finisher. It was impossible to finish last in a JBR event.

I’m a Chicago kid. The race was a Chicago running tradition. It’s the oldest continuously held race in the city limits. What I wanted, what WE wanted, was an event that celebrated the Chicago running community. We wanted a race that honored the achievement of Chicago’s best runners, provided a vehicle for local charities to raise money, and helped the entire Chicago community at large celebrate an active lifestyle.

The best runners in any community know each other. In many cases they’ve been racing against each other since high school or before. We wanted the BEST runners in OUR community to race against each other. We did NOT want OUR best runners to finish 11th because we hired 10 elites to finish in front of them.

How can it possibly be motivating to think that the BEST you can hope to do is finish 11th? We wanted OUR runners to win and build their confidence and running resume’s. We wanted the man or woman who came in 3rd one year to know that they could come back and take a shot at winning the next year. It was OUR race. OUR running community.

cutiesWe handed out free entries to the running specialty stores because we knew that many of their employees wanted to compete. We gave free entries to private running coaches to encourage them to bring out the best in their stables. We didn’t PAY anyone to race, but, we went out of our way to make sure that anyone who wanted to race at the front could toe the line.

Who made that possible? Not just JBR. It was made possible by the thousands of runners and walkers who paid their entry fee.

What we tried to do, and what I think we successfully did, was provide an opportunity for everyone to take the risk of finding out what their best was on race day. For some it was finishing in a little over an hour. For others it was finishing in a little over 4 hours.

I’m proud of what we accomplished with the Chicago Distance Classic. We went from 2,400 registrants to over 10.000 in the years we produced the race. When Competitor Group bought the race and changed the name to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago” I was happy for the running community. A small group of part-time employees can only do so much. What CGI did very well was take a good local race and make it a destination event.

There was nothing sinister about our decision not to hire elites. It wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about not supporting elite runners. The decision was TO support the running community to which we all belonged.

John

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Woolly Worms

In case you don’t recognize the photo, it’s the larval stage of the Isabella tiger moth, Pyrrharctia Isabella, also known as woolly worm. I spotted one yesterday on the trail during my walk.

Legend has it that the woolly worm, a tiger moth caterpillar, can portend what weather winter will bring. According to folk wisdom, when the brown bands on fall woolly bears are narrow, it means a harsh winter is coming. The wider the brown band, the milder the winter will be.

I’m no expert, but it looks to me like the brown band is pretty wide which would suggest a milder winter. I live in Chicago so what I consider mild might be awful somewhere else. There may be better ways to predict the winter weather but for now, I’m going with the Woolly Worm Effect.

What this really means is that it’s time to start rotating my running and walking gear. It’s time to dig out the tights – loose fitting, thank you. I’m not interested in going out looking like a kielbasa with glasses. I’ll dig around and find some of my heavier long-sleeved shirts, a light-weight fleece or two, and search for where I put my gloves and stocking caps last spring – when I told myself I would forget where I was putting them.

I’ll also find a couple of my favorite running jackets. I’ll have to sort through about 20 or so that are no LONGER my favorites, but I’ll do it gladly. Even the jackets that never get worn anymore hold memories so I can’t make myself get rid of them. So, they just hang there, unworn but not forgotten.

We’re lucky these days to have such great fabrics. Even in a climate like Chicago there are very few days when the weather makes it impossible for me to get outside. I’m careful to say that if I stay inside it will be by choice, not because I don’t have what I need to be safe outdoors.

More importantly, I’m going to get out as much as I can in the next few weeks. My world is changing every day. Of course, it’s always changing every day but it’s so much more obvious in the fall. I don’t want to miss anything in the fall. I don’t want to have skipped what turns out to be the most beautiful day of the season.

And I’ll take that as a reminder that every day – no matter what time of year it is – it’s important to get out there and live life.

Waddle on, friends.

John

An Accidental Athlete is available now. BUY THE BOOK

Here’s the direct link to the Amazon Kindle version

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Review An Accidental Athlete on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

What others are saying: Because of runners like John, the wall of intimidation has crumbled, and tens of thousands of Americans are now believing in themselves. John has helped raise self-esteem and self-confidence in people all over the world. Nothing is more important to a person’s well-being.– Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon race director

John “the Penguin” Bingham, Competitor Magazine columnist
Author, The Courage to Start,No Need for Speed, Marathoning for Mortals and Running for Mortals.

Order your copy of John’s NEW book An Accidental Athlete today.

Have a question for John? Write him.

Summer in the City

It’s gonna hit 100 degrees here in Chicago today. That’s the air temperature. That temperature, and the humidity, makes it feel like it’s, I think, 136 degrees out. I don’t care what anybody says, that’s hot.

But, I want to run or walk or do something active today. I’ve gotten out that last two days into the 100 acre wood and could probably do that again today. There’s shade on most of the path. And the temperature drops to, I think, 127 degrees in the shade. Look, you know it’s hot when the deer are standing neck deep in the small ponds.

What am I going to do? As soon as I finish this blog I’m going downstairs to Jenny’s Gym and walk/run on the treadmill. You read that right. I’m giving in. I’m conceding. I’m wimping out. I’m using my head. We say that there are old motorcyclists and bold motorcyclists but there are no OLD, BOLD motorcyclists. I think it’s true for runners too.

We runners and walkers tend to be a little obsessive about our activity. At least I am. And this year, now that I’ve hit the 200 day mark, I am especially obsessive. And cautious. I am not going to do anything today that risks my not being able to do something tomorrow. So, I’m heading downstairs and inside.

There will be people running along the lakefront today. There always are. Maybe they don’t have a choice. More likely they think they don’t have a choice. Their training schedule calls for a 5 mile tempo run today and – no matter what – they’re going to get it in. I get their commitment but question their judgement. It’s fine to be disciplined. It’s fine to have a schedule and sticking to it. But it’s not fine to ignore the truth about what’s going on around you.

The truth is that no matter what your training schedule calls for just getting out and walking is better than not doing anything at all. If, like me, you have access to a treadmill then you can adjust your schedule to something you feel comfortable doing on a treadmill.

Or, you can just take a day – or a couple of days – off. OFF.

You can’t finish if you don’t start. Please folks, let’s be careful out there.

John

John “the Penguin” Bingham, Competitor Magazine columnist
Author, An Accidental AthleteThe Courage to Start, No Need for Speed, Marathoning for Mortals and Running for Mortals.

Order your EARLY copy of John’s NEW book An Accidental Athlete today.

Have a question for John? Write him.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago 5K interview

Competitor Group Inc. put on the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago 5K Sunday, June 19. I was interviewed by ABC7’s resident runner John Garcia: http://abclocal.go.com/wls/video?id=8199393

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