• 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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Running with the Dolphins: The Sequel

Bob Dolphin is an amazing man. His wife, Lenore, equally so. Together they represent just about everything that’s good about the running community. They are warm. They are giving. They are accepting. And they are indomitable.

A short recap: In March of 2007 I was invited to speak at the dinner before the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. This event is part race, part family reunion, part 12-step meeting. In addition to the regular participants there is always a large gathering of the Marathon Maniacs club, the 50 States Marathon Club, and the 100 Marathons club. You begin to see a theme?

There are always a hand full of first timers but most of the crowd is there because it’s the only place where you can feel normal if this is your 300th marathon. It’s also the only place where when someone says they’ve run 25 marathons in the last year the other folks will ask if they’ve been injured. It’s a strange and wonderfully unique crowd.

The occasion for the 2007 visit was to celebrate Bob Dolphin’s 400th marathon. He was, I think, 78 years old at the time. On race day he came across the finish line strong and looking good. We all cheered. Then Lenore asked me if I’d come back to celebrate Bob’s 500th marathon. I took one look at Bob and thought – no matter how good he looked – there was no way he’d keep going for another 100 marathons. So, I said “OF COURSE”.

I’d bump in to Lenore and Bob at events throughout the year and Lenore would always give me a running count of where Bob was. 2008 came and went and Bob was up to 420 or so. 2009, 2010, 2011 were in the books are so were nearly 100 marathons. Then the phone call came. Lenore reminding me that I had promised to be in Yakima for Bob’s 500th and that I should get my plane ticket.

That’s how it came to be that on March 30, 2012 I was standing at the finish line in near disbelief as Bob walked crisply across the finish line. Bob, a former Marine, looked weary but determined. And, as always, Lenore who has had her own health struggles, was there to greet him along with a host of friends and family.

What now? I don’t know. Bob has 10 more states to go in order to have run a marathon in all 50 states. I’m know that’s a goal he wants to complete. But, I hope he takes his 500 marathon pin and decides that enough is enough.

In song and in scripture there is the advice: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: Ecclesiastes 3:1 It’s a tricky business knowing when the season is over. It’s not easy to accept that the summer sun is gone, that the fall has left the trees bare, and that it is time to accept that the early darkness means that it’s winter.

Whatever he decides, he will take it on with enthusiasm, character, and good humor. And whatever that is, I wish them both the best that life has to offer. They are, without question, the best of all of us.

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 motiviation 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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Viva Las Vegas

I’m a pretty boring guy. I don’t like parties. I’ve never gambled. I worked for years as a professional musician so I’m not all that interested in going to shows. What I’m saying is that all the things that Las Vegas is famous for are lost on me.

But I cannot WAIT to get there.

This is my last Rock ‘n’ Roll event for 2011. It’s not the last for everyone. Some of the staff will be heading to Miami next week, but not me. The year started in Arizona and wandered through New Orleans, Nashville, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, Providence, Virginia Beach, Philadelphia, Savannah, and San Antonio. I think that’s all of them. It’s been a fantastic year. By my calculations I’ve seen nearly 250,000 runners and walkers start a marathon or half marathon this year and welcomed nearly that many to the finish line. I’ve seen young people, old people, thin people, NOT thin people, men and women of every possible description. And every one of them looked great.

It’s hard to describe the emotions of being at the start line and watching 30,000 people take off chasing a dream. We’ve had celebrities and politicians on the announcer’s stage with us and they are always shocked when the crowd goes by for what seems like HOURS. Well, it is an hour or so at some events, but no one seems to care.

This year we’ll start in the evening and be rocking well into the night. This has GOT to be wild. And, since I’m NOT a morning person it seems much more civilized to start at 4pm [for the marathon] and 5:30 [for the half] than it does to start at 7am. More than anything it will be different. I don’t know if anyone knows for sure how it’s going to work but we’re all convinced that it will.

Next year I’ll be at 15 or 16 Rock ‘n’ Roll events including the new ones in St. Petersburg, Washington, DC and Portland. I’ll  also be back at my anchor events in Nashville and Chicago.

I was at the very first Rock ‘n’ Roll event in San Diego in 1998. I was there a part of the Runner’s World Pacing Team. No one could have predicted that the concept of staging event for the REST of us would become so popular. But it has.

So make your plans now. Find a race near you or one as far away as you can. Find a bunch of friends and plan your own break away weekend. But whatever you do, make SURE to register for Las Vegas 2012. I promise you it will be a weekend that you’ll never forget.

Waddle on, friends.

John

An Accidental Athlete is available now. BUY THE BOOK

Here’s the direct link to the Amazon Kindle version

Here’s a link to the Nook version

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.

The Autumn Leaves

Johnny Mercer wrote the words, and many of us hear Nat King Cole singing it, but the classic “Autumn Leaves” has been ringing in my head all week here in Northern Virginia. We had the freakish snow last Saturday which gave way to a chilly Sunday and a stunning Monday and Tuesday. By early November most of the leaves have turned at home in the Chicago area. Out here, though, Fall is extended. It seems to wander leisurely from Summer to Winter.

The romantics like to think of Fall as the most beautiful time of year. They wax eloquently about the beauty of the changing leaves, the robust colors, and the harbingers of Winter. I’m not immune from that kind of rhetoric. I get it. I get the beauty. I experienced it. I embrace it.

But I don’t do so as naively as I once did. I know longer embrace the coming of Winter with the same reckless enthusiasm that I did when I was younger. Maybe it’s because I have the sense of being in the Fall of my own life that I can’t willingly accept the necessary death and renewal cycle that this season represents. I can’t as easily view the mask of color that hides the truth about what is happening.

What has happened, for me, is that I find myself more deeply engaged in the sights of the season. I stopped and watched a squirrel nibble on a fallen acorn knowing that he’d soon be finding places to bury his winter stash. I stopped and watch a single leaf float aimlessly towards the ground knowing that soon enough the last leaf would fall. I stood and stared at the slow moving Four Mile Run and the reflection of the trees in the water.

I’ve been on this path many times. In the past twenty years I’ve run or cycled much of the W&OD trail. 40 years ago, in my first year in Northern Virginia, and Army buddy and I rode motorcycles on the rough dirt right-of-way of the W&OD railroad. I’ve seen the path change from a forgotten relic that was nearly inaccessible to a fully functioning and active running, walking, cycling thoroughfare. It’s now a place for children and seniors. A path for serious runners and casual hikers. It is treasure for all who choose to use it.

The trees that I rode past in my youthful enthusiasm have stood guard over hundreds of Fall transitions. I have been a part of many of them. This year, as in no other year, I feel connected to them. I feel like they have been patiently waiting for me to notice them. I’m glad they waited.

Waddle on, friends.

John

An Accidental Athlete is available now. BUY THE BOOK

Here’s the direct link to the Amazon Kindle version

Here’s a link to the Nook version

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.

The Italian Job

Florence 2011 There’s something magical about Florence, Italy. People have know that for centuries, but even so, being there it’s impossible not to marvel at the beauty, history, and – well – magic of Florence. This photo, which looks a lot like some of the water-color paintings in the Uffizi Gallery, was taken with an iPhone from the balcony of my room at the Plaza Hotel Lucchesi. That’s the Arno river in the foreground. It had been raining and this photo was taken just as the rain stopped.

I’m not saying I’m a great photographer. I’m just saying that in Florence you can just about turn in any direction at any time, take a photo, and you’ll have something you want to keep.

I was in Florence because we were hosting the Marathon di Tuscany. You can go to the Facebook page to see all the photos. It was an amazing trip with about 70 of our closest friends. It wasn’t an easy week of running and walking. But, I think everyone went home weary but happy.

This was not my first trip to Florence. The first time I walked the streets of Florence was over 20 years ago during a very tumultuous time in my life. I think I was so absorbed in the chaos of my own life that I couldn’t see beyond myself to the beauty of Florence. The next time I was there, in 1996, was less chaotic but I still wasn’t open to all the Florence was, and is. In subsequent visits I ran the Florence Marathon a couple of times, got to know some of the local Italian runners, and began to get sense that there was a Florence beyond the art and museums.

Seeing Florence, and more broadly, Tuscany, was like being there for the very first time. I walked streets I had never walked, visited places I had never visited, and experienced the magic of Florence in a whole new way. In part that was by seeing the area through the eyes of the participants in the Marathon di Tuscany. Knowing that they were literally discovering Tuscany with there own two feet made it all the more interesting to me.

I was able to see past the history and even the beauty of Tuscany to what is, to me, more important. I was able to see into the eyes and lives of the people there. I was able to connect with the staff at the hotel, the bus drivers, the servers at the restaurant, the race organizers and local runners. I wasn’t separated from them by culture or geography or politics. I was united with them by common goals and shared values. What we couldn’t understand because of our language barrier was easily overcome by our desire to communicate.

In the end I left Florence this time with more than I had come with. I had found what I had been looking for all those other times. I had found a part of myself that felt like it was home.

Waddle on, friends.

John

An Accidental Athlete is available now. BUY THE BOOK

Here’s the direct link to the Amazon Kindle version

Here’s a link to the Nook version

Review An Accidental Athlete on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

What others are saying: Read your book, loved it, it was wonderful. It made me laugh, it made me cry. In it I saw glimpses of myself. I may be old and I may be slow, but I am an Athlete, I am a Competitor, I am a Runner! Wow, thanks John, for enabling me to see that! D W, Senior-Onset Athlete

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.

Running with friends | The Penguin Chronicles

Running with friends | The Penguin Chronicles.

I’m off to Italy for a bit, with the Marathon di Tuscany. In the meantime, here’s one of the earliest columns in the archives.

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