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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette~~Tuesday, March 23, 1999

Two new books about exercise can help release the fit person in you

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 waddling away.

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 and discovery.

"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 success."

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."

Penguin Wisdom
Something strange happened as I began to find the time to run. I realized that my being gone from work or family for a while didn't really matter. It turned out I wasn't nearly as important to the fate of my immediate world as I thought. Suddenly I was liberated. I had nothing but time. Time to run, time to laugh, time to live.





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Last Updated: August 15, 2000 14:52