It’s not too late to be what you might have been


By John “The Penguin” Bingham


One of the insidious maladies that plagues middle age-and, at 54, I’m solidly into middle age-is a fading memory. I’m not talking about a serious medical condition here. I’m talking about the blurring of what was, with what might have been, with what really is. 

For some people, the older they get, the better they think they used to be. For me, the older I get, the more I think I could have been.  And I doubt I’m the only person who ever dreamed of being a professional baseball player, star race-car driver, or world-famous musician. The innocent musings of children become the dreams of young men and women.

Sadly, in the process of growing up, we learn mostly about what we are not. We learn that we are not the brilliant honor students that the bumper stickers brag about. We are, essentially, just who we are.

Standing around my part of the pack at any running event, I am surrounded by extraordinary, ordinary people. Nearly all of us back where I line up are the kind of folks that live our entire lives in obscurity. We get up, we do our jobs, and we love our families. We ask for no more than our share, and take no more than we think we deserve.

Through running, though, we have access to the leftovers of our childhood dreams. Running allows us to go back to a time when everything seemed possible, when believing that something could be done was reason enough to try. Running releases the childlike naivety that doesn’t understand or care what the obstacles are. Our courage is born out of our belief that we can be, or do, anything.

But there’s no going back completely. And so, as adults we need to accept the fact that our strengths and weaknesses will be as much a part of reaching our goals as our enthusiasm.

In the end, though, it’s often not so much the goal itself that motivates us, but the action of moving toward that goal. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, it’s knowing that even if we are stumbling, we are stumbling in the right direction.

We back-of-the-packers, therefore, aren’t asking for the same rewards from the sport as those nearer the front. We don’t want age-group awards to go 50 deep, or for Boston qualifying times to be doubled. We like getting a big honking medal, make no mistake. But we’re more interested in the intrinsic satisfaction of our achievement.

As for me, I never thought I was going to be very good at running. Sure, I wanted to be better than I was, but I never had delusions of grandeur. Most of us, back where I am, are well aware of our limited abilities. Part of the joy for us is that we are doing so much with so little.

We are living out a dream. From the 5-K to the marathon, we are living in a world we’ve created out of the broken spirits and tattered hopes that could otherwise bog us down. I suppose if you’ve never really failed, it’s hard to imagine what our small victories feel like. But, if life has you singing the old blues lyric, Been down so long that bottom looks like up, then maybe you can understand why the front of the back of the pack can still seem like a dream for some of us.

For me, the consuming dream as a child was to be an athlete. Thanks to running, that dream is alive and well in me today. I may have started a little late, but I’m not about to give up on that dream now.

Waddle on, friends.

4 Comments

  • Sheryl walsh says:

    I love you John Bingham. You validate my running and keep me going.

  • Christian Dumangas says:

    I have followed you and read your books. You continue to inspire me with your words . It was at RnR San Diego when I first met you in 2014. I am running RnR SD this year and it will not be the same without you there talking to runners like me. Thank you for everything.

  • Marie Johns says:

    Still, at the back of the pack, you inspire. Because of you and your book, COURAGE TO START, I started running at age 61. I ran for the joy of running, getting some finishers medals along the way, one or two age-group awards and countless blisters. After 10 years of running I found myself trying to treat a nasty callous. It has not responded well, so running has taken a back seat. I have in the meantime broken my hip, became a widow, and retired from the workplace–a third time. So as I am looking forward to getting some serious work done on my foot, I am toying around with the idea of being able to walk/run again. Your posting has ignited the spark again, if it is to be it will be. Waddle on John Bingham, waddle on.

  • vanessa walters says:

    I recently began (again) another walk/run program. Stressed out my last year of school bus driving, eating too much, pity parties..recently retired from said bus driving job (30years of it), BP issues and pills to take; and oh yes, I signed up for a 2 mile run/race on the 4th of July..which I finished..somehow. Having fallen onto my hands/knees on a sidewalk the week before; 2 chiropractor visits for that episode. Finding out that I was now 35-40# overweight as well. So, here I am (again) at 65, buying and reading running books/magazines and now I’m on the road (in the mornings and I detest getting out of the house in the mornings!)..I NEED all the inspiration I can find. Your books should do it..( I can only hope).

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