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  John in the Media  

The Indianapolis Star
January 11, 2002

Guru preaches gospel of latter-day running

John Bingham, hero of the plodding runners, is coming to the Triangle to give us all a lesson in perseverance


He ignored the cookies. It didn't matter that nobody was there to catch him taking a couple. It was the new year and time to summon willpower, not more calories.

He hadn't run in years. But now the shoes were on. And so he pulled the door shut, huffed a frosty breath and waddled into the winter chill like a chubby penguin.

Insider's struggle against the toll of middle age and furtive snacking would sound familiar to John "the Penguin" Bingham, a columnist for Runner's World magazine and inspiration to struggling would-be athletes everywhere.

He is in Indianapolis today, appearing at the annual Jump the Gun early sign-up for the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. It begins at 5:30 p.m. at St. Francis Hospital's Indianapolis campus, 8111 S. Emerson Ave., and includes a 1.1-mile run/walk and presentation by the Penguin at 6:45 p.m.

Bingham gave himself the nickname. Under the right self-delusional marinade of endorphins, a runner can feel graceful as a gazelle. But early in his running career, which he began as a 240-pound smoker, Bingham glimpsed his very ungazelle-like reflection in a storefront window.

He stuck with it, though, dropping the smokes, losing 80 pounds and running marathons. Now he preaches a take-it-easy brand of exercise to converts around the country, part of a second wave of running that Runner's World estimates has 5.4 million Americans on the street at least three days a week.

Many of these are women and "adult-onset athletes," the Penguin says. They've been working hard on a career or a family and are looking for recreation and fitness, not a first-place medal. They don't want more stress. They want less.

"The first running boom (in the 1970s and '80s) was male-dominated, the testosterone brigade," Bingham says. "Women don't want it to be a highly competitive event, where that's the only thing that matters."

The Suzuki Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego may represent the future, with rock bands and cheerleaders every mile -- and plenty of walkers, who weren't encouraged in the sport years ago.

And at tonight's clinic for new runners and anybody else who wants to enter the Mini, the Penguin will emphasize fun.

"I will talk about my own metamorphosis from this smoking, drinking fat guy to someone who has run 30 marathons," he said.

"It works for me like nothing else in my life did."

Insider runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Contact John Strauss via e-mail at [email protected]

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