John Bingham looks forward to what lies ahead as his career as a columnist comes to a close.
All good things must come to an end, or so they say. The truth I’ve learned is that all things, good and bad, come to an end. In life, as in marathons, there are good patches and bad patches—and neither last forever.
And so it is that this is my last official column. Beginning in May 1996 with the first “Penguin Chronicles” in Runner’s World Magazine, through various title changes and magazine placements, I have been writing for, and writing to, a running community that has been the greatest collective of people I have ever known.
As word of my impending retirement has made its way around the running community, the most common question to me has been “What’s next?” My answer is simple and honest: I have no idea.
It’s important to remember that I had no plan for the past 20 years. Truth be told, I really didn’t have a plan for the past 40 years. I’ve been fortunate to be able to work in the three fields in which I have passion—music, motorcycles and running—my entire professional life. It’s hard for me to believe that there is some undiscovered passion that will overtake me.
But I could be wrong. Sitting with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, it never would have occurred to me that running would become a passion. But it did.
And if there’s a message that I want to close a writing career with, it’s just this: be open to new passions.
I was absolutely certain that I wanted to be a high school band director. I was a music education major. I took piano lessons, learned how to play all the band instruments and bought a conductor’s baton. I’ve never been employed for one day as a high school band director.
Not having a plan is different than not having a passion. A plan will often limit you because it defines success before you get started. I’ve often said that no plan I could have ever had could have been as good as what’s happened.
In my case, the passion wasn’t really about running. It may have seemed that way, but the truth is that running was never easy for me, was never especially satisfying and I never had the kind of success as a runner that others have enjoyed. My inherent lack of talent always put me on the outside of the real running community.
My passion was, and is, people. It’s you, the reader. It’s the person sitting on the sofa miserable like I was, who has no idea that the secret to happiness is their own two feet. My passion is sharing the extraordinary transformation of body, mind and spirit that happens when you start working on your body.
The battle was, and still is, convincing the pathologically speedy that running or walking can produce the peak experience at any pace. Nearly 20 years after the first Penguin Chronicle appeared, the industry magazines and books are still focused on speed as the sole criterion of success.
Whether through my writing, speaking or owning and producing events, my goal was to show people that they were, each of them, capable of much more than they thought they were and that they were, capable of defining success in their own terms.
And so as this chapter of my life comes to a close, I want to leave you with the words that have changed thousands of lives and that ring as true to me today as when they were first written over 20 years ago.
“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
Waddle on, friends …
Mr Penguin!! I need you to know that you were a big part of my recovery journey! Actually still are today! I’m 56, married, seven grown kids & 1 granddaughter! And guess what I’ve been asked to represent The Chris Herren project running the BOSTON Marathon! ! Crazy isn’t it because I had the courage to start! Now I can help others who are still struggling with addictions!! So I thank you from the bottom of my heart!!
Thank you for everything! May the best be yet to come for you! Perhaps we’ll see one another on the highways in the Midwest on our motorcycles! Godspeed!
you were truly my comfort…….my introduction to you was seeing your quote on the back of a t shirt in front of me as I struggled on my first organized training run for my first marathon. Then I was an overweight 45 year old lady, feeling out of place training with Team in Training for the California International Marathon. Now, 17 years later, having completed 3 of those marathons and more half marathons than I can count, I credit your columns and books with making me feel like I belonged and could really do this on my own terms. I am more grateful than you will ever know. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for having the courage to start and for sharing it with all of us.
Thank you so much for being there! My best friend gave me your book”Courage to Starr” years ago. You helped me and others like me so much. Best wishes for a happy , healthy , fun retirement. YOu made a difference!
I need not tell you how much enjoyment you have been responsible for in my life! And anyone who has read or heard you speak – knows where your true passion & talents lie.
As a skilled “penguin” – at the back of the pack – the joy of helping others has always been what inspires me …. and you have helped me realize that.
All the best in finding your next passion – I’m sure it will appear to you very soon and I hope I can play a small part in it as your friend !!
All the best
You are unique and we will all look forward to seeing what comes next! We know you will ‘waddle’ into the next chapter and make it special! I have so enjoyed working with you along the way and appreciate your humor as well as how much you care for others!
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John, I read your column before we met at one of Jeff Galloway’s training camps at Sqaw Valley outside Lake Tahoe and our paths have crossed repeatedly at Marathons and Half-Marathons throughout the country. I’m proud to call you Friend.
What I loved about your musings over the years was the inclusiveness of your message. When I returned to coaching and working with runners of all abilities, I directed them to your columns because, as others have written, you gave all of us, including those who could no longer run to win, a sense that just being able to run at all is enough. I’ve worked at almost 400 post-finishline areas with Volunteers who distribute our product am unlikely to make it to 400. As you know., I retired two days after Boston and less than six weeks into this latest chapter in my life, I don’t have a clue what comes next. You know how to reach me old friend. May your next chapter be the most satisfying of all.
I have enjoyed your blogs. I too run to the motto ” the race is not run to the swift but to the person who keeps on running. Before every run my daughter and I run together we start with the phrase “Let’s run slow”. Good luck in your retirement you are an inspiration to many
John when I started running I was an Obese 265lbs woman who’s husband traveled for work and kids were in college and depressed. Your book Courage To Start helped give me that Courage. When I was at my beginning of my half marathon running I had the pleasure to met you at the Rock & Roll in Vegas. You have helped more than you will ever know.
Please post on your facebook site where your next adventure takes you. If you ever get back to South Central PA I would love to ZRun or Waddle with you. If I remember right you have family or friends in my area. I live in Chambersburg, PA.
Thank you for sharing your Courage
When I first started out running I joined a local running club the Pacesetters. At that time you did a talk in the Appleton, WI area and talked about seeing yourself running in the window reflection at Gabriel Furniture. Every time our group passed those windows I would remember you and your passion to run, no matter how slow, and enjoying just being out there without “winning” as the goal. I am 61 yrs old, never could run fast, but I just “waddle on”……thank you and wishing you great things in your next adventure.
I saw this and screamed out, “NOOOOOOO!” to the shock of other people in the room. I am speechless!
I first heard you speak in Anchorage in 2004 (I think) to a group of Team In Training walker and runners. I laughed and took pictures with you and have since seen you in San Diego, Arlington, and New Orleans and somewhere else I forget.
I love reading your article in each issue – it’s like seeing an old friend. (Not OLD. You know, just someone you haven’t seen in a long time.)
I wish you the very best and am looking forward to following you on your next adventure.
I’ve kept your column about Larry for 13 years. I read it this morning and felt as moved as I have always been. Thank you for making a difference in my life.
I’m going to post that column on Monday of next week. Thanks for the reminder.
I feel the same way re-reading your final Chronicle today as I did when I first read it when it was published in Runners World. So happy to have met you and enjoy your encouragement packed in each chronicle. I started running in my late 30s to early 40s. Never fast, middle to back of the pack but happy and comfortable. Your words were filled with encouragement that gave me the confidence to keep going, try various events and distances. Thirty years later, I’m still loving life and running. Thank you. Continue to enjoy your retirement. See you soon.