• 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 Perfect Run

JohnTriathlonYes folks, that’s me. Check the date. May 21, 1995. Nearly exactly 18 years ago today. The race was the Memphis in May Triathlon, and I was “getting it done”. I was also, just for the record, nearly dead last.

I wasn’t much of a swimmer. The swim course was a giant triangle marked by buoys. The buoys were connected by rope. I was such a lousy swimmer that I was actually faster by pulling myself along on the rope than trying to swim. This did not prevent me from being swatted and kicked and nearly drowned by other competitors.

I was a pretty fair bicyclist. That is to say I didn’t suck as badly on the bike as I did on the swim. Once I was on the bike I was able to have fun. I didn’t have a very fancy bike, but I could ride with, and sometime pass, other competitors. To be fair, I wasn’t passing anyone in my age or gender category. No. Most of them were much older.

Then there was the run. Being nearly last at the beginning of the run did not bode well for my finishing position. Despite the look of effort, the flash frozen form, and the very cool sunglasses, in the photo I am probably running flat out at about a 10:30 pace.

Given all that, you’d think that I would have been discouraged. As always, most everyone else had gone home by the time I finished. As always, there was a very small group of friends waiting for me at the finish line. And they were only there because I had the keys to the van.

And, like always, I was as happy as I could be. I had done it. I had finished an Olympic distance triathlon all by myself and was still upright and didn’t need medical attention. No gold medal could have made me feel better.

When people approach me now – I am older, heavier, slower – they incorrectly assume that I have no memories to look back on. I do. I have many. Memphis is May is only one. I have memories of great days, of pure effort, of good planning and execution, and unadulterated satisfaction. I have it all.

The difference for me is that all of those moments, all of those moments are solely and uniquely mine. I didn’t have to share them with anyone else because, in truth, a middle-aged man finishing nearly last in a triathlon isn’t very interesting. Unless, of course, you’re that midde-aged man.

Waddle on, friends.


An Accidental Athlete is available in print and ebooks versions now. BUY THE BOOK

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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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