• 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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Worst Parade Ever

925_1 Of all the signs I’ve seen while running marathons and half marathons my favorite has to be “Worst Parade Ever.” That just seems to sum up what it must look like to someone standing on the sidelines watching thousands of people – young, old, tall, short, thin, not-so-thin – running and walking for hours on end. Even if you’re waiting for a friend or love one to pass by it has to be mind-numbing to see so many people pounding the pavement.

One of my favorite signs, which I saw many years ago at the Portland [OR] Marathon was “GO GAMMY GO.” My guess is that the young girl that was holding that sign is probably a runner herself by now. After all, if Gammy can run a marathon then she was almost certainly inspired to do one herself.

Of course, we’ve all heard the never helpful “You’re almost there.” This is especially not helpful at, say, mile 15 of a marathon. And then there’s the almost always incorrect “You’re looking good.” I’m not being critical. I know that people are just trying to be nice.

Once, at about the 6K mark of an 8K along the Chicago lakefront, a passer-by yelled out to me “PICK IT UP.” What they didn’t know, and couldn’t have known was that I WAS picking it up. I had already begun my blistering finishing kick. It’s just that when picking it up means going from a 12 minute pace to an 11:45 pace it may not be all that obvious.

Races look very different when you’re on the course. What may seem to the casual observer as an unhurried jog may be – in fact – a dual to the death. I’ve spent miles with a laser focus on a person in lime-green shorts because I absolutely did not want to look at those shorts anymore. Passing them became the single most important thing in my life.

925_2As a run/walker I’ve often been in a leap-frog battle with someone who insists on “running” the whole way – even if their running is mostly just moving their arms in a running motion while they walk. I’ll pass them when i run. They’ll pass me when I walk. And this can go on for miles until i either move far enough ahead during a run interval that they don’t catch me or THEY move far enough ahead during my walk interval that I don’t catch them.

Either way, I sure that anyone watching us go past would have no idea what was going on. And that’s OK. In the long run – pun intended – what matters most is what’s happening between and among those of us on the course, whether that’s an elaborate winning strategy or simply trying to get past the guy wearing the lobster hat.

Once we cross the start line we are in our own world. What matters most is – for many of us – what matters least. We know that once we cross the finish line we will have to go back to our real responsibilities: as husbands, fathers, employees, students, or one of a hundred other identities that we have. When we cross the finish line we go back to being who we are.

But out on the course we are who we want to be. We are heroes. and champions, and warriors. We are strong. We are prepared. We are ready to battle the course, the day, the runners around us, and ourselves.

They may be the worst parades ever, but there’s no place in the world I’d rather be.

Waddle on, friends.

John

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Stuck on a Desert Island

islandNormally, at the Rock ‘n’ Roll expos, I do the interviewing. I’ve chatted with many of the greatest runners of all time, from World Record holders, to Olympians, to past, present, and future super stars of our industry. This weekend in at the RnR Seattle Expo, my good friend and colleague Ian Brooks turned the tables on me and I was the one in the hot seat, being interviewed.

Ian Brooks is one of the most experienced and accomplished “voices” in the running industry. More than me, he’s had the chance to question athletes at every point of their careers from budding young high school phenoms to fading icons. Being on stage with him is not to be taken lightly.

After the usual give-and-take, “why do they call you the Penguin?” [I saw a reflection of myself in a store front window and I looked like a penguin, not a gazelle] “what motivated you to change your life at 43 years-old” [there’s no great answer other than that I was successful and miserable] and “how have you managed to come up with new column ideas for 18 years” [nearly every day I encounter someone or something that inspires or interests me and I just try to pass it on] he hit me with the BIG one.  He asked me what music, piece of literature, and person would I want with me on a deserted island.

The music was very easy. I would take a recording of the nine Beethoven Symphonies. If I had a choice, I’d take the Leonard Bernstein recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, but almost any recording would do. The transformation of Beethoven from Classical composer to Romantic giant can be easily traced through the symphonies. I’ve taken walks of 3 to 4 hours and listened to as many of the symphonies as I can.

duck_island_6227The piece of literature would be the Bible. It’s not for religious reasons that I make that choice. I’m not advocating any particular belief system. The Bible, in one form or another, has survived as literature for thousands of years. I think I could spend a long time trying to understand the nuances of the lessons contained in the Bible.

And the person? Steve Jobs. And the first question I’d ask him is what he had planned for the next 20 years or so. When I travel with my iPhone and iPad and MacBook Air I think about how much Steve Jobs changed the world. Or, my world at least. I would like to be able to talk about his dream of a world that we now won’t ever see.

Ian said he was surprised by the answers. I’m not sure why. Maybe he thought I’d come up with a Neil Diamond collection, a Steven King novel, and some historical beauty. Those things might be interesting for a short time, but, what I’ve learned is that for something, or someone, to be interesting for a lifetime they have to a a depth that can never be fully explored.

Which, as it turns out, is why I lace up my running shoes every day. I’m no closer to the answer of the mystery of why it feels so good to move my body with my own two feet than I was the first day I ran.

Waddle on, friends.

John

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UPDATE: I’ve moved through the historical and on to the more entertaining book. Funny thing, I find myself wanting to download more informational – or dare I say – educational books. Good stuff. For more information on Audible Click Here

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