Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Interview With John Bingham, The Penguin

John "The Penguin" Bingham is retiring after eighteen amazing years at the end of this year. John has inspired so many runners, including myself, to "waddle on". John didn't start running until he was forty three and wrote "The Courage To Start". This book was one of the reasons why I started running again after I DNF my marathon attempt last year. He has written numerous books that are funny and offer practical advice on how to become a successful runner/walker. His stories are entertaining and he has ran an impressive amount of races including Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, NYC, Florence, Athens and many, many more. He also did a twenty week Penguin Odyssey Tour, twenty week Millenium Tour and a twenty-one week Family Truckster Tour. 

From 1996-2009, John wrote a very popular column in Runner's World called the "Penguin Chronicles". He now appears in Competitor Magazine. John is also the voice of the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon races and is a spokesman for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team-In-Training program.  

How did you start running?
I was in my early 40's, had been a musician and academic most of my life, and never even thought about being active, let alone running. A colleague started running and I got caught up. I began by walking, then mixing in a little running, and discovered that I really liked it.

Where did the nickname "The Penguin" come from?
About six months after I started, I was running down the main street in Appleton, WI. There were lots of storefront windows and I happen to catch a glance at myself; a middle-aged, very round man trying to run. I looked like a penguin and the image took.

What is your biggest challenge with running?
Like everyone, the biggest challenge is time. I've been running for over 20 years, I've completed 45 marathons and hundreds of other races. There's not very much that I haven't done. With my travel schedule, going to 25 events or more every year, it's sometimes difficult to fit my training in.

Do you have a philosophy on diet and nutrition?
For me, it wasn't so much what I ate, but HOW MUCH I ate. I believe in moderation and not denying yourself anything. You can't say that you'll NEVER eat ice cream again if you REALLY like ice cream. So, be sensible. You can have a little of what you like, you just can't have a LOT of what you like as often as you'd like.

Do you have any rituals or superstitions?
Not really. Coming from a music background, I'm a big believer in being prepared and having thought about ALL the possibilities. So, in some ways I "rehearse" a race before I do it.

Advice for new runners?
The best advice is to take your time and enjoy yourself. And, to avoid trying to live up to someone else's expectations. No one keeps doing something that they hate. Running/walking should be fun. If you're NOT having fun, go slower or not so far, or not as often.


What was your most memorable race?
Ahh.... that's impossible to answer. There's been so many. Obviously my first marathon, in Columbus, OH in 1993 was special. My first Chicago Marathon, in 1997 was special, too, because I was born and raised in Chicago and had never seen the city like that.

I read that you travel 300 days a year, what is your favorite part about traveling and sharing your passion?
The best part of traveling is the people that I meet. So many people are changing their lives with their own two feet. And, when they tell me that something I said or wrote inspired them, that's the best.

Tell us about your first race.
My first race was actually a dualthlon. 5K run. 25K bike. 5K run. I had only ever run 3 miles ONCE in my life. Lucky for me a good friend and experienced runner went with me and STAYED with me. It was SO much fun. I was dead last, but it didn't matter. I had done it.

I heard that you have worked with Frank Sinatra and Cher...for real?! Tell me about that!
That goes WAY back to an earlier life. I was a professional musician, a freelancer in Washington, DC. When big-time entertainers would come to town they're hire back-up musicians. I had MUCH more musical talent than running talent, so I was able to work with some really exceptional artists.

You've done Penguin tours in the past, how did that come about? Do you think about doing another one?
The Penguin Tours came about because, again as a former musician, I wanted to "take the show on the road". In the early years, before I was working at so many events, I would travel to running specialty stores and running clubs to speak. And no, I can't imagine going out in my car for 26 weeks again!

Tell me about your Antarctica boat marathon.
I've now been to Antarctica 8 times. Once as a participant and 7 times as part of the Marathon Tours and Travel staff. The year that I was there as a participant, 2001, the weather was so bad that we couldn't get off the ship to run on land so we ran 522 laps around the deck to complete the marathon.

How did you deal with frustration and lack of motivation when training?
Frustration and lack of motivation are almost always from having unrealistic expectations. Frustration means that you can't do something that you think you SHOULD be able to do. If you keep your expectations realistic, keep your goals incremental and achievable, there's no reason to be frustrated and unmotivated.

Have you been to New Hampshire? If so, what did you like about it?
I've been to New Hampshire several times. I am an avid motorcyclist and New Hampshire has some of the most beautiful roads in the world. 


Race: TIE: Chicago Marathon. London Marathon

Running shoe: Brooks, Adrenaline

Running store: Fleet Feet Chicago

Way to relax: Tie: run/walk, ride a motorcycle

Athlete: Deena Kastor

Recovery meal: Pepperoni Pizza

TV show: Of all time: Breaking Bad

Movie: Groundhog Day

Book: Too many to chose

Singer/Band: Tie: Eagles/Beatles

Mantra: Easy does it

Guilty pleasure: McDonald's Hot Fudge sundae

City: TIE: Chicago/Florence

Country: US

Racing Memory: WAY too many to chose just one. 

I want to thank John, not only for agreeing to do this interview, but also for inspiring me and countless others to get off the couch and get moving. You can follow John on FaceBook and Twitter. You can order John's books here thru his website and on Amazon.

Thanks, John, enjoy your retirement! 

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