April 25, 2000
WRITER CHANGED LIFESTYLE BY TAKING UP RUNNING TO GET IN SHAPE
by Kim Swint, Sports Writer
PeachSick and tired of being an overweight smoker and drinker, John Bingham decided to give running a try.
Little did he know what a major life-changing decision he had made. Bingham now travels all over the world going to races and then writing about his experiences in Runner's World magazine.
"Running worked for me, from the very first step," said Bingham, whose first career was as a bass trombone player for the National Theater in Washington D.C. He moved to Murfreesboro 10 years ago to teach music at MTSU.
"I had been living a sedentary lifestyle that had just gotten worse and worse. As a musician, I was working odd hours and eating and drinking all the time."
To get fit, Bingham started riding his bike, but a business trip threatened his new fitness commitment.
"I couldn't take the bike with me, so, in 1991 I bought my first pair of running shoes," said Bingham, who is the honorary race director for the Country Music Marathon on Saturday.
"Running was very liberating for me -- there was just something very honest about it. Maybe it's because you can't really kid anybody when you're running -- you're only as fast as you are."
A friend convinced Bingham and his wife, Karen, to sign up for their first race -- a running and cycling event in Fayetteville.
"We had a ball, even though we were close to being last," Bingham said.
"Just seeing that first finish line is what hooked me."
When winter rolled around the Binghams signed up for the Tennessee State Park Running Tour.
"The running community was so warm and willing to accept us," Bingham said. "We learned that it's not necessarily about competition, it's about being part of a community."
As with many new runners, Bingham became a little too enthusiastic and signed up for his first marathon right away.
"I had no idea what I was doing. My knee blew up on me right at the beginning and I had to stop at the first mile marker," Bingham said of the 1992 Memphis Marathon.
He became even more determined and signed up for the Columbus Marathon the next year. This time, however, he actually trained for it and made it to the finish line -- all in one piece.
"It was a pivotal day in my life," he said. "I was able to accomplish unimaginable goals."
He said he "cried like a baby" after crossing that finish line.
Remember, this marathon madness thing can be highly contagious. After Karen Bingham saw her husband's enthusiasm, the next year she finished the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington D.C.
John Bingham said he found a Web site called the Dead Runners Society that published long stories about running experiences and posted his first story about running races as a slower runner or "back of the packer."
"After I posted my first story, people were writing back saying, 'Gee, that was really clever. Do another one. So I did," he recalled.
One of his readers had connections with Amby Burfoot, the editor for Runner's World, who called Bingham.
Thus began the Penguin Chronicles. It's humor and entertainment with insight from the recreational runner who loves racing.
After 20 marathons and at least 250 races, Bingham's writing and racing schedule became so demanding he had to quit his teaching job so he could write and speak at various functions.
"I spent 300 days on the road last year," he said. "Basically, I can't say no to people, when it comes to running. I want everyone to know that normal people can do extraordinary things -- if I can do it they can do it.
That's why when the Country Music Marathon was announced, the Binghams teamed up with the Nashville Striders to help organize pace groups for those who were signing up for the event.
Several of his Penguins (runners slower than five hours) will be out on the course and the Binghams will be right there with them.
"My best marathon is four hours and 35 minutes, but I usually finish most of them closer to five hours," said Bingham, who published his first book, The Courage to Start, last year.
"I feel like, 'Hey, I'm having so much fun why should I hurry?' "
For more information on various pace groups, contact the Nashville Striders at 279-9971.
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