• 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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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

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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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

The Art of Rock ‘n’ Roll

I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure that the photo of the start of the first Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in June of 1998 was not nearly as colorful as the 2012 edition. I know that I was wearing a white singlet, as was just about every else around me.

February 3, 1959 might have been the day the music died, you youngsters can just Google “Buddy Holly” if you don’t understand the reference, but June of 1998 is when the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series started, and with it a whole new generation of runners, walkers, and waddlers.  I know. I was there.

I went to the first RnR marathon as a member of the Runner’s World Magazine Pace Team. I can’t remember everyone who was there since all of them have left the magazine, but I remember that it was a motley crew of editors and writers and one new columnist. Me.

As I recall the fastest pace team was for a 3 hour finish. It went up every 10 minutes through 4 hours, then went to 4:30 and 5:00 hours. I was, of course, the 5 hour pacer. I was new to writing, new to running, and very new to pacing. No one seemed to care. A few hundred of us lined up to run/walk/dance our way through 26.2 miles.

And that’s exactly what we did. We ran some. We walked some. We danced some. And we laughed A LOT. It was sensational. I don’t remember the exact time we finished, but, I certain we missed the 5 hour target. Somehow it didn’t matter. We were having too much fun.

Since that humble beginning the Rock ‘n’ Roll series has grown to over 20 events nationally, and at least 5 international events. The 12,000 of us who lined up in 1998 gave rise to nearly 250,000 finishers of Rock ‘n’ Roll events in 2011. It’s an amazing tribute to the vision of Tim Murphy, then president of Elite Racing, and his capable gang of followers.

I’ve been at every Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon since. In 1999 my son, Terry, and I rode motorcycles from New York City to San Diego and then ran the marathon. In 2,000 I spoke for the first time at the Team in Training Inspiration Dinner, and I’ve been with the Team ever since.

Many of the years run together – pun intended. There were great years, hot years, cool years, fun years, and some that were brutal. The year I finished so exhausted that I sat in my car for nearly an hour before I could find the strength to change clothes. But no matter, it was a rockin’ good time.

This year I interviewed Olympians Jim Ryun, Ryan Hall, Rod Dixon, Deena Kastor and the legendary miler Steve Scott. I sat on stage with these extraordinary athletes and felt right at home. I was humbled to be sitting next to them, but I didn’t feel out of place. I had, like that had, earned the right to be there.

I hope to be there for the 20th, or 25th. It will be fun to see folks running the marathon that weren’t even born when we ran the first one.

Waddle on,

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

Imported from Detroit

What happens when you send a car-crazed gear head to the headquarters of an iconic American car company to talk to the employees about living a healthy, active lifestyle? What happened to me was that I got to spend two fantastic days with people who are as passionate about cars and trucks as I am. And, I learned that there are a lot of similarities between what they do, the way new vehicles and equipment are imagined and created and the way an adult-onset athlete like myself changes their life.

When I was younger, when I was smoking and drinking and working 80 hours a week I couldn’t imagine living a lifestyle any different from that. I didn’t know that there was any other way to live. I didn’t know anyone who lived any differently.

I wasn’t fundamentally a different person back then. My history, my education, my influences and influencers were all the same. I didn’t have a personality change when I discovered the joy of being active. The things that I enjoyed when I was locked in sedentary confinement – cars, motorcycles, racing – are the things that I enjoy now.

So it was with great eagerness that I accepted the invitation to go to Auburn Hills, Michigan to speak to the Chrysler folks. All I asked in exchange was the opportunity to learn a little more about the inside workings of a great car company. What I got was that, and a whole lot more.

It would take a book to describe everything that I got to see and do. Even they highlights would be longer than a blog. But, in summary I got to see the “Pilot” area where they cut and chop and glue together new models to see what will work and what won’t. I got to visit the assembly plant where the new Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos are produced. I had a special interest in that since I own a new Durango. All I can say is that the absolute dedication to making a flawless vehicle was palpable. It was impressive.

I got to spend time in the design studios and see how a vehicle goes from concept to showroom. It is a process that is part art, part science, and part pure magic.

And, I got to spend time in the “innovation” department. Think about the weapons room in the movie “Men in Black”. These folks are working on devices, and contemplating improvements to the driver and passenger experience, and the safety of the vehicles that are light years ahead of where we are now. They are not just mad scientist, or engineers. They are wizards who imagine what might be and then make it happen.

What I learned was that it’s impossible to make the perfect car. All it took was a walk through the Chrysler museum to drive that point home. There were cars there that were designed and built by the best minds of the time using the latest techniques and yet today they look antiquated. It’s not that they weren’t great vehicles in their time. They were. And many were ahead of their time. [Think Chrysler Airflow]

What I now realize is that it’s impossible to make the perfect me. And it never was. That person that I used to me was what I thought was the best me possible based on the information I had at the time. I thought smoking made me cool. I thought fat was where it was at. I thought over-indulgence was a right of passage.

Now, though, just like the wonderful folks at Chrysler, I have to be willing to abandon some of my most closely held beliefs. I have to be willing to accept that what is, is not what will always be.

And that the only way I will ever be better than I am is to imagine what I am not.

Waddle on,

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

Two For the Road

John and JimThere are days when everything comes together. You feel good, the weather’s good, and planets are all aligned. It’s what Frank Shorter calls a “no excuses” day. And when that day happens on a goal race day you just know something special is going to happen. Yesterday, March 24, 2012, was that kind of day for me. It was one that I will remember for the rest of my life.

A little recap. In January of 2010 I did something to my sacroiliac joint. It’s a plate joint, not a ball joint and it was out of alignment. 6 months and weeks of physical therapy and two injections later the pain was manageable. It was about that time that the pain in my foot became really obvious. In September, when I was finally diagnosed with a dislocated cuboid joint the year was officially a write off.

In January of 2011 I started the 100 Days Challenge of moving, intentionally, for at least 30 minutes a day every day for the first 100 days. Turns out I kept going and walked at least 30 minutes every day for the entire year.

In January of 2012 I committed to getting back to training. I know enough to know that I had to start with reasonable goals and achievable results. With that in mind I chose the Penguin in the Park 5K as the race for which I would train. I had a very reasonable goal of finishing in 45 minutes. Not world record pace, but for me it was a serious goal.

As I spent the first few weeks of the year assessing my fitness and making my training plan it became clear that 45 minutes would not be easy. I couldn’t run for more than one minute and needed plenty of walking for recovery. I had a goal, though, and that’s what mattered.

What is sometimes misunderstood about those of us farther back in the pack is that to perform at OUR best we have to do the very same kinds of workouts as those in the front. So, I did long runs and tempo runs and speed work and race-pace runs. I calculated and recalculated. I figured out what it was going to take to finish in 45 minutes and worked hard to get there.

Race morning was cool and dry. My buddy Jim Welsh had agreed to pace me. As you can see from the photo, Jim’s a lot taller than me. His walk pace is much faster than mine. As it turns out, my run pace was a bit of a push for him. So, together we set out in search of that 45 minute finish.

At mile one I was surprised to see our pace. Something around 12:45. I looked up at Jim but didn’t say anything. When we hit mile 2 in about 25 minutes looked at Jim and told him that I hated him. It was clear that not only were we on a sub 45 pace, we were – if we kept at it – on a sub 40 minute pace.

It was pretty quiet that last mile. I was at my limit. Maybe Jim was too. Whatever we were feeling we had a monster finish in sight. I came across in 38:45. Jim a second later. We hugged like a Gold Medal relay team. We’d done it. We’d BOTH gotten PR’s. It was magic.

What’s the next goal? I’m not sure. I know that I’m going to run/walk the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach on Labor Day weekend. But I’ve got a feeling there’s gonna be a few 5 and 10K’s before then.

Waddle on,

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: 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

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