Pittsburgh Post-Gazette~~Tuesday, March 23, 1999
Two new books about exercise can help release the fit person
By Kristen Ostendorf, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
The Courage to Start: A Guide to Running for Your Life
By John "The Penguin" Bingham
Fireside, $11 (paperback)
It's OK to finish last.
And it's OK to waddle.
That's what John "The Penguin" Bingham says in his first full-length
book, "The Courage to Start: A Guide to Running for Your Life,"
which is due out in April.
Bingham, who is The Chronicles columnist for Runner's World magazine,
began his career as a self-termed "Penguin Warrior" at the age of
43 and the weight of 240.
"That was as long as I could run," he writes. "I was overcome with
my own arrogance, and I started to laugh. After years of working
hard and playing hard and living hard, I couldn't move my body for
longer than 30 seconds."
Those kinds of self-deprecating, yet encouraging kinds of anecdotes
pepper the book. Bingham admits he expected to give up on running,
but he stuck with it. It took several months, but he lost enough
weight to run regularly. A year and 80 pounds lighter, he was still
Now, Bingham, who calls himself the penguin because of his running
style, is a folk hero among runners who not only bring up the rear,
but also are happy to be there.
He began writing his column, which focuses on the average runner,
for Runner's World in 1996. In the fall of 1998, Bingham, who has
been a professional bass trombone player and an associate dean at
Oberlin College in Ohio, "went full time as the Penguin." He travels
the country, talking to and running with other Penguins.
In a telephone interview, Bingham, now 50, said there was never
any "blinding light" that made him turn to running for salvation
"People are looking for that moment," he said. "You just sort of
grind to a halt."
Running became a part of Bingham's life almost by default: "It's
just that I've tried everything else ... and I'm still just not
very happy with who I am," said Bingham in an interview about the
beginning of his running career.
In his book, Bingham said he found a supportive community of runners
online by posting regular messages or what he calls "The Penguin
Chronicles" to a discussion group.
"The anonymity of sitting alone at my laptop protected me from
my fear of being ridiculed."
Bingham's wife, Karen, began to run several months after he first
hit the road. Running brought them closer together, but it also
helped them discover themselves. "More than anything else, it has
shown us how to be: how to be together, how to be apart, how to
be a couple, and how to be individuals," Bingham writes. Bingham
writes it's OK to fail, especially to "fail at being a failure"
by "learning a new definition for success ... "When I am honest
with myself I must admit that there have been many times when I
have chosen the security of failure over the unexplored waters of
Although "The Courage to Start" provides some basics on the vernacular
of running, as well as tips for starting a program, it's not meant
to be a how-to-guide. Rather, Bingham said he targeted those who
wanted to get going, but just don't know how to start, as well as
those in the throes of starting a running career. "This is really
a journey of joy," Bingham said. "People have a hard time understanding
you can actually like this."