Episode 128 – The Pied Piper of the 2nd Running Boom with John “The Penguin” Bingham

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Since his column started in Runner’s World magazine, he’s become one of the running community’s most popular personalities.

The New York Times identified John as the creator of the slow running movement which brought the joy of activity to a new generation of runners and walkers.

Known by his fans as “the Penguin” for his back-of-the-pack speed, John Bingham is the unlikely hero of the modern running boom. Overweight, uninspired, and saddled with a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoking habit Bingham found himself firmly wedged in a middle-age slump. Then, he discovered running and changed his life forever.

In this week’s show, we cover a ton of ground, to include:

  • His Army experience, and how it has affected his life.  
  • His history and beginnings as a runner.
  • Why his non-traditional approach to running has found such appeal

And much more!

 

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Transcription:

Intro: 00:01 This is the Eagle Nation podcast where we talk about building richer lives and stronger communities. We have inspiring guests, tap real conversations about the things that you care about.

JJ: 00:13 All right, everyone. Welcome back to the equal nation podcast. This is Jj Pinter. I’m going to be your host today for a really cool, really special. Yes. I’m joined today with John Penguin Bingham and joining me from I think Arizona, right? You’re solid Arizona. Beautiful too. So I’m today Tucson, Arizona. I think probably one of the most misspelled city names in America would be my guess. I’ve done it myself. Well, AH, John is a lot of things. He’s a, he’s an army vet. He’s a musician, he’s a journalist, he’s an author. He is a, I guess he is a expedition leader, if you want to call it that of sorts, but the thing that he is most known for is being the kind of voice or the leader of this kind of new second generation of this running boom that has happened in America over the last 20 years.

JJ: 01:02 Yeah, his story is really interesting and I’m, I’m very excited to get into this talk with them about it and there’s a lot of, I think that very direct and natural connections between his story and the stories that I hear veterans talk about a lot. So I’m really excited to talk about this in John and welcome and thank you so much for joining us today. My pleasure to be here. Thanks for the invitation. I want to start from the, from the very beginning. Well, I have to tell you first in prepping for this podcast, I was obviously doing some reading and checking out your website and checking out your blog. Probably the, my favorite piece, you might hate this, but I think the most interesting thesis and most thought provoking pieces for me was an article about you that was written in the Chicago Tribune. I think it was titled the man who ruined running great headlines.

JJ: 01:46 Yeah, well it was, it caught my attention and it was a long piece. So it caused me to read the entire thing and it was not, you know, the actual article did not turn out the way that I, I thought it was going to, but I thought it was really interesting and there’s a bunch of nuggets that I pulled out of there that I want to talk to you about today. So it’s been, I know it’s been out for awhile, but uh, yeah, I thought it was well written show kid and then I, I know the article that I, I think the headline is a little misleading but it’s certainly got people to read it. Like you, it was effective. I will say that it was very effective. So I want to, I want to start from the, from very early on. So you were a kid who was not involved in a lot of athletics from what I read as a young age and was was a musician, correct?

JB: 02:26 Yes.

JJ: 02:28 And that led you to being in the army, so you are an army veteran as well, but in a, you were in the army band as my understanding. Yes. That was, what was that experience like? Well to be honest, and again since we’re talking to folks who would understand this, uh, 1970, it’s the year of the lottery and I was going to be drafted and it was fortunate enough to have, I had a buddy that was in the army band in Washington DC and he said, look, if you hurry and get out of here and take you audition, you maybe you can get in. So it was for me just a real blessing to get a chance to get in there. I made the audition and got into the band shortly before I come. I let her say, and you know, your friends and neighbors want to send you somewhere else.

JB: 03:06 So it was a, it was a great opportunity for me. The interesting thing about that, if you go back into the early seventies is that there were a lot of guys like me and it was all guys at that point that we’re trying to find something else to do. So they had wonderful musicians. It was a great experience. I wasn’t a great soldier. I’ll be honest about that. I didn’t really kind of understand. We were out there, Fort Meyers with the Third Infantry, a lot of spit and Polish and I think that there were a lot of us, we used to joke that it was kind of a musical mash unit, but we had a, a great commanding officer who understood that we were really kind of set out to do this. So it was a wonderful experience and I’m glad to do it. By that all being said, you know, I was smoking, I was drinking and I was a bass trombone player.

JB: 03:47 So I had all that going for me and to my life wasn’t exactly the life that it turned into later on. Yes. See you. The army is certainly known for some introducing people to some of those habits that are not exactly healthy. The uh, I guess the modern equivalent would be other than the drinking, smoking is just getting harder and harder to do. So people I think are, are transitioning to more and more to smokeless tobacco and energy drain. I mean in those days and basic training, smoke them if you’ve got them. And I didn’t smoke at the time. And so when the guys would light up and spoke and the rest of us, but police up the company area and I’ve uh, I’m gonna Start Smoking than that. So yeah, I’m not blaming the army for my bad habits. It just made it easier. Yeah. It’s, so post Army career, what did you do?

JJ: 04:32 I guess I don’t really understand in the middle period between getting done with that and becoming a journalist. Oh, the only thing I really knew how to do was play trombone. So I beat, I played trombone for the army. I got out just because I did, I finished up my almost six years and I freelanced out there in the Washington DC area. So that was what I did. I was just playing in theaters and circuses and I shows and that kind of thing. But like a lot of folks do in there. I was injured as a musician. I’ve stopped to call it thoracic outlet syndrome. So I couldn’t play my career at 31 years old as a musician when it was the only thing I knew was over. And, uh, that’s really when I thought I’ve got to find out something else to do. And I went back to school, got a doctorate and then I was spent about 20 years as an academic administrator, which is about the worst thing you could possibly be.

JB: 05:21 You know, I was an associate dean, which is sort of like being the ex. So you just take all the heat to the old man doesn’t want to take. And so that’s that period is, is really, as you say, it’s kind of an unknown part of my life because it never really gets most publicity. And then somewhere in towards the end of all that started smoking. I was tired of drinking, tired over eating and I began to ride a bicycle a little bit cause I remember liking that. They’ll turn it into running a little bit. I started writing a little bit about it and hear you and I are talking about it now. Well I want to ask you two questions first I guess I have, I’ve heard of, I have this much association with music. I have heard of like drummers having like shoulder injuries and not being able to play the drums.

JJ: 06:00 But I’ve never been, I’ve heard of singers like injuring their vocal cords and having got to sing, but I’ve never heard of any other type of a musician having a career ending injury. So what the heck happened to you? This is a, I mean I was a based or bulk, a big heavy instrument and the injury is called thoracic outlet syndrome. And what happens is your, your collarbone presses down against that opening and pinches off the nerves and my arm would go dead. And that doesn’t do you vary. It doesn’t do you any good when you’re trying to play trombone and the kind of surgery that it might’ve required, which was to start removing ribs until they found the right one. The well, I didn’t play that well. I was willing in lung start carving up my body. But he was talking about that’s, you know, it’s the same kind of thing.

JB: 06:42 I mean I had a career plan, I had a life plan. I never expected to do anything except play music. I didn’t expect to stay in the army forever, but I did expect to be able to play music. And it is devastating when the thing that you think you’re going to do and that you had prepared to do all your life suddenly comes to a screeching halt because of an injury. So I, I relate to that very well. And now what, you know, that’s the question I think you probably asking a lot of folks ask not a lot. I can’t do what I thought I would do for whatever reason. It is like I’ve lost a limb or I’m done now what? And I think that’s where, if we can just tie it back in a little bit, the book of Courage to start, which has been a real blessing to me, that book is, it turns out was my crying for help asking that very same question.

JJ: 07:26 And the answer was having the courage to start doing something, not doing it well, but just doing something to begin to move forward with the rest. In my case, the rest of my life, which is it turns out was running. And so you spent 20 years, think you said assistant or associate dean. I can imagine the kind of stuff that you had to deal with there and then started riding a bike. But I guess I’m interested in what the kind of crucible moment was that caused you to do this. Because I, I hear many people say, oh, I need to make some lifestyle changes. Oh, like I’m gaining weight. All my pants don’t fit. But they don’t actually do anything differently. Right. They kind of talk about it and very few people do anything differently. I actually have a, a, a really interesting connection. My, my mom’s oldest brother, his name is Tom.

JB: 08:09 Very similar story to you. He was, he was in the navy, actually got out, started working, and he worked for a big manufacturing company. And as I understand it, just kind of got unhealthier and unhealthier, unhealthier and at age 50 or 48 his doctor said you need to change something. And he takes, has taken up running and he, I think he’s in his eighties now and it’s still running marathons. Yeah. Yeah. He’s still running marathons and so, yeah. Crazy. So what happened in your life that caused you to say, okay, I need to get on this bicycle? I needed to do something different? That is a great question. And it is the question that I’m asked all the time. And the answer never satisfies the interview because they wanted to be. And you want there to be some moment of epiphany, some sort of blinding light.

JJ: 08:53 You know the whole salt on the road to Damascus where you’re struck down and the Lord says you’re a fat tub of Goo and you’ve got to do something different. And in my case, and I’ve now heard so many of these stories, it doesn’t happen that way. It’s insidious. You get out of shape a day at a time of beer at a time, a cigarette at a time. Now he isn’t for me. And for a lot of us, there wasn’t that sort of bottoming out where they said, or I said, I’ve got to change my case. There was, I had an employee who was a bicyclist and he seemed happy. And so nothing really changed except that I thought, I wonder why he’s happy. And I’m miserable and I thought, well, maybe that bicycle has got something to do with it. So I wasn’t moved by some, I wasn’t trying to get healthy, I wasn’t trying to quit smoking.

JB: 09:37 It wasn’t trying to change my diet. I would just tired being miserable and I thought maybe the bicycle would help. And as it turns out it did. And then that turned out to doing some walking that turn into to doing some running and the lifestyle changes came as result of just wanting to be better at what I was doing. That goes back to the musician. You know, if you’re a musician, you practice. If you’re going to be a runner, an athlete, whatever you’re going to do. The idea is to try to get a little better every day. So that was a very natural way for me to go at running and mocking. It’s interesting because I certainly know some people, the most common one I hear is someone has a child and they’re like, Oh man, I’ve got this little child in my life and I needed, I want to be around to support him or her or to be with him or her.

JJ: 10:19 So I’m going to make these lifestyle changes. But more often is your story I hear is that the kind of one beer at a time, you and then you make some small change in your life. Like maybe you stopped drinking pop, right? And then all of a sudden you notice you feel you know, a half a percent better. Then it’s like, oh, okay, maybe I’m going to start walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator at work in addition to not drinking pop. I feel, you know, and it’s just like, it’s got this multiplicative effect where you keep making changes, right? And people don’t always understand is how incremental it is. People think there’s going to be this magic change and in six weeks you and you’re going to be an Olympic athlete. You start with like I did in your early forties and overweight and smoker drinker who are not going to turn it into an athlete physically overnight.

JB: 11:05 It’s gonna take time. And I’m, one of the things that I have preached for a long time is patience, patience, patience, patience with yourself. It’s not going to be this kind of thing. Well, I’m going to my high school reunion, I want to lose 40 pounds to look good for the girls that were in high school with me. And then when the reunion is over, it goes back. You’ve got to find the way. Nobody in their right mind is going to do something that they hate doing every day. So this idea that I’m going to start working out and I’m going to stop eating all the food, Esol, like I’m going to start doing a bunch of stuff I can’t stand doing and I wouldn’t do that for the rest of my life. No you’re not. You’ve got to find some thing. In my case was walking to begin with, it was running a little bit.

JB: 11:43 I mean, again, I never ran fulltime. I put run and walk and run and walk because I was enjoying myself. There was no pro bono in front of me. There was no faculty in front of me was me and the road and my willingness to see if I could go a quarter mile farther today. Then I went yesterday and again, that was a very natural progression for me and that’s what I encourage people to do. Don’t start with the idea, I’m going to run a marathon six weeks from now. No, you’re not. Get Out of your house. Move for 20 minutes, move for 30 minutes. Do that till it starts to feel natural. Then maybe move for 35 minutes and see how it goes. Yeah, so it’s interesting because we were talking about your story kind of individually, but we haven’t really gotten into the fact that well, it is about you.

JJ: 12:25 You are this kind of person who turned out to be kind of the face of this running movement in America. So how, I guess the connection between, if you could paint, kind of draw the line, connect the dots between that kind of getting running in your life and how that turns into you writing in runner’s world and eventually kind of, well this is a story that if you brought it in a book, nobody would believe it happened. This goes back until the mid nineties you know there was, the Internet was out there in the midnight is, but it wasn’t like it is now doing the kind of what we’re doing. And there was a group on the Internet called the dead runner society, mostly academics and some government types and they, it was a mail server in those days. And so I got invited to join in and I would write about my running experiences and they were all joyous because as a fat Lapa Goo for me to get out and run for 30 minutes, I was just delighted.

JB: 13:15 So I was writing these kind of fanciful stories about how much fun I had a woman on that list since some of those emails to the editors are runner’s world to Andy Fun and said, I want you to list, read these. There’s something in this voice that’s she thought would resonate with this budding new running boom. And so Amy Murphy called me from runner’s world and say, Hey, would you like to write a column in runner’s World Magazine? And this is 1995 runner’s world was the only place to go for that kind of advice. And being a former freelance musician, I said, sure, I can do that. Not having any idea, no experience as a writer, no spreads as a runner really. And so it was just pure dumb luck. And the end of that story is that, again, when I talk to people, you know, I know that there’s a phone call that you can get that will destroy your life or make your life off.

JB: 14:03 But what people don’t think of is if there’s also a phone call that can come in that can change your life for the better. So I think the idea for me, it was just simply being open to this opportunity and I didn’t know what I was doing. I, but I, I can, it comes back to the courage to start. I wrote eight columns. I did them all in one week because I thought that’s what I had to do. I figured that would be the end of it. And then at the end of the year they asked for another 12 columns and it, it did have that ability to resonate and I was, I don’t have the kind of ego that demanded that it be about me, as you say. So I just pulled me an honest voice for the people like me who are trying to change their life with their own two feet.

JJ: 14:41 So did, was it an instant hit or did the popularity of kind of just like build over over time? The man who ruined running, that doesn’t sound like an instant here. No, it was terrible. It was absolutely awful. I mean the running industry, there was a New York Times article that was done and I was wearing a tee shirt that said, I’m slow. I know get over it. Well, I mean they got all kinds of mail about that this guy is trying to ruin running. And I said, Whoa, no. All I’m saying is that I’m doing my best, my best marathon and maybe going to be five hours train. I try to eat right. That’s my mess. So don’t tell me I can enjoy the benefits of running and the benefits of the sport of running Jessica slow. And that was a very difficult sell in the music industry.

JB: 15:27 I mean in the running industry. Eventually when there was enough of us wanting to go to the bigger races, certainly the rock and roll race in San Diego was set up. That’s kind of the marker or when this all began to change and the economy of them running industry change. We had money to spend, we were buying shoes, we were buying clothes, and suddenly they realize, wait a minute, let’s not ignore these people. Let’s embrace these people. And that’s how it all went, not because of me, but because of the people that were out there that I was able to speak for.

JJ: 15:59 How long was it before your column caught on was a kind of new and different that people started reading it instantly or did it kind of like build crescendo a little bit to use a music term here

JB: 16:09 now? That’s actually a very interesting question too, because among the my colleagues at runner’s world, it did not catch on at all. They thought it was horrible. One of the editors that I learned to, I got to know later on, so nobody wants to hear and read about an old, slow, fat smoker drinker who’s trying to run. Nobody wants to read that. Those were my colleagues. But yes, from the public standpoint, they started to get an overwhelmingly positive response or people who didn’t feel like they had anybody who was their voice. All the articles were about how to run your fastest five k, how to take three seconds off your five k, how to run your fastest meant it was all about speed and energy and there was no joy in it. So a guy like me comes in and says, oh, okay, I ran a five K in 45 minutes to look at me. Colleagues hated it, public loved it.

JJ: 17:01 Did you have a sense that there was this population of people whose voice wasn’t being heard out there or did you just write what was on your heart and you just happen to tap into this like unmet need that set out there?

JB: 17:15 That’s a good question too. I’m going to give you a little bit longer story. I’m a big motorcycle. That is my absolute joy and I used to read cycle world magazine and Peter Egan was a columnist there. Peter Egan did well, it’s just kind of off the top of his head. Talk about what he was doing. He was out in his garage. He changed the oil in his Norton, so he didn’t really try to, to make them anything other than just, well I call it writing a letter to his friends. So I took the Peter Egan model. Yeah, did that with the columns. I just would right to one person and it was distributed to a million people and there was something about that conversational quality of it that I think really work. So no, I didn’t have any sense that I was trying to lead a group or I was trying to do anything, anything more than share my experiences in some kind of universal way and it people saw themselves in the columns.

JB: 18:08 Now the one thing I did do in 97 I took an eight week trip, a motorcycle, and spoke at running stores and running clubs and things like that. And I met a lot of these people and they got a very personal sense from them that many of them are a little older. They were overweight, they feel they were not athletes when they were younger. They felt like the running industry and the whole sport industry really ignore them. And they were grateful that I was willing to get out there and take the heat for them because at that point I was thinking a fair amount of heat.

JJ: 18:39 It’s so what kind of motorcycle did you take that trip on?

JB: 18:42 That one was on a BMW k 75 s and a buddy of mine still owns it and I miss it every day.

JJ: 18:49 I’m not an avid motorcyclist, but I have owned a couple of motorcycles in my life and my dad when I was really young, headache, Norton Ranger. So when he said, and maybe it made me a, it made me think of that from way back in the day. I have found that the idea of, I’ve been on two motorcycle trips and one of them, the bike I was on did not have a windshield and I found that they, for me, the idea of the motorcycle trip is a lot more pleasant than the actual motorcycle trip itself, especially when you’re getting like rained on or I’m sure bikes now are much more comfortable than than what they used to be, but I was pretty ready to get off a motorcycle, especially after when I took the New Orleans and back.

JB: 19:26 Yeah, well, you know, I actually did write a column about that, about the, the similarities between the sort of solitary riding, because I don’t ride with groups and the solitary running and there’s a sense in both cases where you’re both disconnected from everything else that’s going on around, you know, you’re in a helmet and all of that while at the same time you’re absolutely connected because as you say, you’re out there. If there’s a cold wind, you get cold. If you’re running, yeah, it may be miserable, but you’re still doing something, you know, you’re still, you’re present. And so much of our lives, it seems to me we’re not present. And I always joke about the fact that I looked fast right until they said go. I mean at the time I had lost some weight and I was working out and so yeah, I look great until they said go. And then all of a sudden this guy that looked good, it was way in the back of the pack. But it was true. And that’s the difference between I think running and some other things. Certainly in my life as an academic and you know, as a military life, it doesn’t matter if that guy’s got a bird on his shoulder. Well he’s smarter than you and I only got the east seven so I had just about, everybody was smarter than me.

JJ: 20:30 It’s funny, I was a runner when I was younger. I ran track all the way through high school. You know, I ran a lot when I was in the army and still run quite a bit. But I never forget the first marathon I ever did. I had never done one before. And I am not a big fan of doing them if I’m just being perfectly honest. So I show up to the line and

JB: 20:47 the sum total of what I have is a pair of shoes, a pair of socks and a pair of shorts. I don’t even think I had a shirt. I might’ve had a shirt that was it. And I’m looking around and I see people are just like dripping and electronics. They got stuff strapped to their arms and legs and it’s like, is this really necessary? Like just run, you know there’s water everywhere. This stuff is not necessary. But I guess that’s one of the ways that people enjoy it. Oh No. They got their electrolyte drinks and they got the goop packets and they got this and they got them when they got their headphones on. That was never me either. I had a little Timex watch that I used when I know I never did it. Never listened to music, not want. So John People refer to you as the Pied Piper of the second running boom I guess is the term, which I’m not sure it’s a great cause.

JJ: 21:32 Didn’t the Pied Piper leads rats out of town. Like maybe that’s, maybe that’s not the best, not the best metaphor there. But at what point did you realize that you had kind of stumbled into being the face of this movement, that kind of the leader, if you want to call it that, and that there was an opportunity for you to maybe take this philosophy and that clearly resonated with people and help kind of share it with the larger world and use it to get more people involved? Maybe. I think for me, and I think frankly for the editors, your runner’s world magazine, it was probably at the Dallas Marathon in December of 1997 because they have the whole runner’s world page team they call. So they had somebody pacing at three 44 four 15 and I was pacing at the time, a four and a half hour or five hours, whatever it was.

JB: 22:22 So we were giving clinics. So here you got an Ambi Burfoot, Boston Marathon winner, you got Jeff Galloway, Olympian, Blah Blah and blah. And then you got this Guy John being a penguin. Well, and again, it’s not my ego, but the response to the penguin was enormous. Right? And we got a nice round of applause, but then they came to the penguins. So I think they recognize that there was a certain pop culture out there that had, despite him, not because of me, but almost in spite of me had created this penguin image. Now it’s got nothing to do with John Bingham. It’s got to do it because the penguin never age. The penguin was always 45 years old depending on it always been running. And eventually I’m writing in the character the same way that uh, you know, Captain Kangaroo with writing. So I think that’s when it all changed for them.

JB: 23:10 And I think that’s when it changed for me. When I finally had a chance to see a large group of people saying, wait a minute, this appeals to us. And then they saw it and then of course the column. But there was never any more questions about whether we’re going to continue to come. So what’s the basic kind of premise of your message? I guess we haven’t even really hit that yet. I mean it’s from what I’ve, let me tell you what I, what I hear it to be from based off and then tell me how close it is. Is that, is that hey, it’s uh, there’s a couple of tenants to it that I see standing out. One is that like being healthy is important and being active is important, but you got to find a way to do it that works for your life.

JB: 23:43 That’s one. Two is that like the journey in this sense, like the journey is more important than the destination and if you’re going to put in the time to do this, that you should set it up so that you’re enjoying the time that you’re putting in. That seems to be another sense of it. And uh, the third one is maybe is maybe that running doesn’t need to be about constant goal setting and it doesn’t need to be a competition all the time. That it can be an enjoyable experience and that’s all. Okay. You shouldn’t be looked down upon by looking at it that way. I make sure my wife has your name for the eulogy. I bet you kind of sum it all off. I think that that’s really what it is. An aspect of that though, and I think this is important for the conversation we’re having, is that you have to get real with who you are right now.

JJ: 24:30 You have to take your life as it is not how you would like it to be and say, okay, if this is where I am, what’s my next step? What’s the first step I can take from here? Somebody wants to describe it as like being in the middle of a field and you can go any direction you want and while you can be paralyzed by that. For me it was just saying, okay, what’s the first thing I can do? And then doing that and then doing the next thing after that and it is that sort of 12 step, one day at a time cliche, but it really is true. All you can do is start with today and then see what happens if you try to get better and then the next day trying to get better. Whether you’re weightlifting, whether you’re in a chair, whether you’re running, it doesn’t matter.

JB: 25:09 You’ve got it. And that’s a difficult thing for people because they want to have a fantasy of who they are and they have a fantasy of who they want to be. And the ones that I’ve seen fail that tell me, well I tried but I couldn’t do it. They never lived up to their own fantasies. And you’ve got to break that habit. You just simply got to stay real. It’s interesting. It seems like you’re almost trying to find the balance between sustainable participation in running and like optimizing the health benefits of it or something like that. Right. It’s like how are we getting people the maximum amount of people out and involved in enjoying the sport of running and saying that. Okay, like knowing that there is, I’m not a doctor, but there’s probably, you know, if you were to maybe get your heart rate up higher or something, that would probably be a little marginal health benefit.

JB: 25:56 But trying to find the balance between like participation and optimizing health benefits and I rarely talked about the health benefits of it because I, you know that don’t think running the training hard is going to make you live any longer. The question is whether or not as they talk about the quantity of life versus the quality of life. And I, to be honest, I never really liked running. I like running, but the only way you can be around runners is if you’re running. So for me it was that social aspect of it coming from a musical background and I think that’s all I’ve tried to balance is exactly the right word. Same thing with diet. When people ask, well, what do you eat? What am I supposed to say? Well, I’m not going to never have a hot fudge Sundae. I’m not going to never have another beer.

JB: 26:37 Or what I can do is try to find a way of eating that makes sense for me, a level of activity that makes sense for me. Do those two things and in six months I’m in a way look like what I’m on. Yeah. I come from a very rounded family reunion. Not going to be a bunch of skinny dudes out there. I don’t care if I ran a hundred miles a week and eight and almost nothing. I would still have the sound round body that I have. People have a hard time with that too. They think, well if I run for six months, some of the, I’m going to look like, you know Shalane Flanagan or something. No you’re not. But you can be a better version of yourself.

JJ: 27:11 What’s interesting as I was thinking about this John, is there seemed, I guess the thing that stood out to me is, is you are a former musician. You know, you had to audition for the army band. I, I mean like in some senses, I’m guessing you were talking about trying to get, be a better musician every day, learn something new every day. So there’s like this competitive sense of wanting to be good to be a professional position. I’m assuming you need to be better than your peers. Right. So wanting to be successful and competitive in that regard, but then in in running to not have that same sense of like competition. That seems like an interesting juxtaposition.

JB: 27:47 You’re exactly right and very few people actually get that as a musician and I was a working musician even in the army. Then after the army for me to work, I had to be not as good as the people around me. I had to be better than that. You know, it’s that old thing, you know, if you’re not practicing somewhere, somebody is, and so it was an obsession and it was such an obsession that there were other parts of my life, including at that point, having an ex wife but not and custody of my son because being better at playing bass trombone was the only thing that mattered. It was the most important thing in my life. That’s not a healthy way to go at it. There are people for whom running is that way because I had failed so miserably at life by being obsessed by music.

JB: 28:31 I just made a decision, I’m not going to do this with running. I am not going to let this. Now I have that inclination. A lot of us do. Right? I want to get bear, I want to get faster, I want to go farther. But I had to modify that and modulating that intensity in order to continue to enjoy it because eventually when you started like I did, you only get as good as you’re going to get and then it starts to deteriorate. I didn’t have, I wasn’t going to have like a 30 year career of being near my pee. I was going to get to my beacon fall off pretty quickly. So yeah, you’re absolutely right. It is. But it was a conscious decision. I guess that’s what’s important about that, to not be obsessive about improvement and running, but to be content with small incremental improvements that in the long run for the ones that mattered.

JJ: 29:17 So how has this happened in the, in the late nineties, early two thousands this is, you know, um, graduate from high school joining the army at this point actually, and the world we live in has changed a tremendous amount since then. How has kind of your audience and the movement changed and then like the ways that you interact with the audience and the movement?

JB: 29:39 Well you’re, you’re a good, you’ve identified the exact case and that is that the go back to the mid nineties there was the, and that wasn’t much of anything. Having a column in runner’s World magazine sanctioned me to be somebody that should be listened to and read. There wasn’t, you know, if you Google half marathon training programs, you’re going to get it 5,000 results and it’s going to be some of these brother-in-law who did the Columbus half marathon one time who decides to do it. Not only did the client tell change, but the way that the information gets to that clientele changed. So for me it was just being in print. I had to have 12 columns a year. You don’t have to be very smart to come up with 12 ideas a year as opposed to now where people are blogging and doing what you’re doing and you’ve got to have all this kind of content.

JB: 30:24 The second running boom. People who came into that thing in the mid nineties and early two thousands who 35 40 45 their age and out at this point, you know some of them they made their in like me, I’m 70 years old, I’m not coming out there hammering like I used to do a lot more bicycle. He now running came after the second. Ryan Boone was what I call the Capri generation and these are vast majority of the women running is one of the things that they do for a rubic fitness. They also do spin classes, they do yoga, they do polities and the Capri part of it is that they will then go to Starbucks in there. Capris and running just simply became a part of an overall act of life. Ben, they would go to Seattle and do the rock and roll half marathon in Seattle, go to the original Starbucks, go to iworks for salmon.

JB: 31:12 So it became a very different social. Even that now seems to me, and I don’t know where we are now because it’s not something I’m, I’m that involved in, but I’m sure it’s even different now though. Team and training kind of group running. That’s pretty much falling apart. It’s much more isolated. Two or three people go out in the mornings, they’ll babysit each other’s children so they can run. So it’s uh, yeah, it’s changed dramatically. I don’t know, it may be a retro thing for me at some point, but I don’t know that a 19 year old girl, a woman who’s training for her first five k wants to hear what a 70 year old guy has to say.

JJ: 31:46 Yeah. The world has certainly changed. I mean we see that a team red, white and blue. I mean just the world has certainly changed. It’s interesting. Exercise anecdotally has certainly gotten more social. I mean I remember when I was younger and maybe this is just a product of my age, but you know, we would go like lift weights or something. The goal was just to like destroy each other so that you couldn’t, you are so smokey couldn’t do anything afterwards and now it’s a, it’s much more social. You know, I’m, I’m a big fan of going for a run and then having a cup of coffee or go and have a donut or whatever, you know? Right. And, and having having that be part of the social experience.

JJ: 32:20 Well, I mean you look at the McNabs for example, I mean all the Disney experiences that they have and nothing could possibly be more social then all those Disney events and that’s, they find that they’re a part of some group that they’d like to be a part of it. Of course, with the degree Cruz type things that we do, the trips that we do to vacations, it’s the same of thing. People have found essentially a, a family or a community they want to be a part of and that enhances their running. So they’re willing to go out there and run on Tuesday and Thursday if they know that three weeks from now they’re going to be running in the Caribbean. Now, one of the things that I thought was, was a parallel, and maybe, I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this. I see a huge parallel with the veteran community here.

JB: 33:01 The average veteran, based off the last thing I saw gains about 40 pounds in three years after they get out of the military. They go to some new place and they find themselves to be lonely. They don’t have friends and they don’t have a builtin social structure like they did when they were in the army and they miss the sense of purpose that they previously had. Those are the kind of the three big things there. They’re missing being part of something bigger than themselves. You know, they’re working some job somewhere that doesn’t really, they’re just doing it for a paycheck. They don’t really feel too emotional about it and it’s incremental, right? You don’t just wake up and you’re 40 pounds heavier, like these things happen incrementally over time. And some people, if you don’t get out in front of them and they can, they can continue to spiral into really bad stuff.

JJ: 33:44 So that’s one of the things I thought resonated so much with your story in this, because I hear this from all veterans. A lot of times they get out, they don’t have kind of the PT time set aside in their day anymore like they used to, they’re eating fast food, you know, they probably had whatever and the next thing you know they’re, they’ve gone up three pants sizes and just this idea of like saying, okay, Jim Collins, one of my favorite authors always says like, one of the things you have to do is confront the brutal facts, right? And so taking a look at themselves and saying, okay, there’s some brutal realities here that I needed to deal with and what are some changes I can make to start moving the UTR or the steering the ship in the other direction a little bit. This is all very personal for me and my son’s been active duty for 26 years.

JB: 34:29 He’s sergeant major and he at some point there’s going to get out and I spent the weekend with them. What are you going to do? And already in the old are you going to do, the only thing he knows how to do was play trumpet for the army. And so he’s done an extraordinary job of doing that. And the folks you’re talking to, mom I’m sure did an extraordinary job when they were on active duty and suddenly that extraordinary quality in their life isn’t there anymore. They’re not being recognized for that. And I think, and I never heard that expression before, but it is, you’ve got to be able to, and I said this early, you gotta be willing to face the group proofs about whatever it was. I wasn’t, like I said, I wasn’t a great soldier. I didn’t love being in the army. I look back on it now of course you have fond memories and I go see my old sergeant major and realized he was only a few years older than I was and I thought he was an old man. So if you did like it and you’re out and you lose that structure and you lose the, the hierarchy, you lose sensing where you are in the mix. You were a squad leader and people listen to you and people relied on you and now suddenly you’re working at, you know, Home Depot and some 26 year old is telling you how to put the boxes. I would think emotionally that would be very difficult to do.

JB: 35:42 I almost think it’s more difficult people, people talk often about kind of like the younger, you know, you get a new one or two enlistments then you’d get out. I think the, the retirees sometimes have a much more difficult transition out of the military. Your son for example, right? Like or the colonel who’s been in for 25 or 30 years I sometimes things that’s the more difficult transition. So I guess if you were going to speak to someone who was a military veteran who had gotten out and they’d be there, their life isn’t as going as swimmingly as they thought it was going to write. They thought that they were going to get out of the military. People were just going to be throwing high paying jobs at ’em and every and all of that hasn’t happened. Are there resources, like what would you say to someone? How would you direct them

JB: 36:24 to try to make some changes? But one of the first things you have to do, and this was difficult, was certainly difficult for guys in my era and the Vietnam era getting out, you know, we weren’t very proud. We weren’t walking around with say we had been in the army. It wasn’t a good time to have been in the military. I now recognize as was, I see this through my son, this, this wonderful camaraderie that is there and available if you’re willing to take it. And I think one of the things that I encourage people to do is to find some group of likeminded people, even if that’s some kind of going to have an ice tea every Tuesday at lunch. Share those experiences. Hey, remember that any, oh yeah, you remember that guy. Even if it’s just basic training stuff, you know the guy that couldn’t carry his backpack.

JB: 37:08 Find the, the camaraderie that you felt when you were in the service is still out there. It’s just you have to go find it. Whether it’s through the Va, whether it’s through red, white, and blue, whether it’s true other programs that bring best together to share their common experiences rather than focusing on, well, you know, I was here and you were there and I was cavalry. You were infantry. You and I both know that there are aspects of being in the military, even if it’s different branches, they’re the same. The end of the store quickly is that when I was, when I had my own company, I’m trying to hire vet because they understood chain of command. I was the owner of the company, I was the old man, right? And I needed people who understood that it’s got to work its way up. I didn’t want somebody at some lower level making decisions without trying to run it through the chain. So I think that’s, you can find that, but I think it’s difficult. Got to be willing to look for it.

JJ: 38:03 John, I think you’ve referenced Jeff Galloway earlier. Come a few years ago. He was on the army veteran as well. A few years ago was on the, on the podcast and I got some feedback that I didn’t ask any running technical questions. So I can’t let you go without asking you some techniques.

JB: 38:18 Of course you can because I don’t, I’m not the running technical,

JJ: 38:21 not technical, not technical. I’m specific questions. So I’m going to throw just some specifics at you. What is your favorite race?

JB: 38:30 Oh, you can’t do that because that’s like say asking you your favorite child or your favorite. Yep. Just thinking like that. If I could only do one race again, it would be the Chicago Marathon. And because I grew up in Chicago, I spent a lot of time drunk in Chicago. So for me to be running through the streets of Chicago, my hometown as an athlete, as a marathoner, a very slow marathoner, that was special for me because I saw Wrigley. I mean I got to the neighborhoods that I knew about it. So that means if I have to find a favorite one, but there are a lot of great ones. I mean the London marathon is a great marathon. I worked a lot of the rock and roll races. I think there are a lot of fun. My first marathon was that Columbus and it was okay, well if it hadn’t been a well run race and I hadn’t at least gotten through it, you and I wouldn’t even be talking.

JJ: 39:18 What’s your favorite distance these days?

JB: 39:20 I’m sure I’ve run 45 marathons and people say, well you want to do 50 and I said no because I’ve done 45 I mean I know what 46 is going to feel like and I don’t want that. Yeah. So for me the shorter distances, my favorite always throughout the time I was running was 10 k because a 10 k’s long enough that you have to have a strategy, a five k mean you’d go out there and just sort of hammer from the beginning and if you start to fall apart, you know you’re never more than about a mile away from the finish. 10 k requires some serious thought. Okay, I can push your, I gotta back off there. The fun ones. Of course, these days and a half marathons, people love doing half and you know still you don’t like doing marathons. I don’t think anybody, I always told people, don’t do a marathon unless you absolutely feel like you can’t live your life without having done. There’s nothing magical about the marathon at all. It’s just that it’s a longer and way and I never got to the end of a marathon and wanting to hit the lap button on my watch. The ultra folks, I didn’t even understand them at all. So 10 K

JJ: 40:14 so our marketing director is named Dan Brostek, just, he’s an ultra runner. He just ran a 200 mile race. He ran around Lake Tahoe last fall. Yeah, crazy. Here’s my relationship with marathons. I can explain it to you very quickly. Someone will peer pressure me into signing up to do one. I will undertrained for it. I will show up and grit it out and gut it out and it will be miserable. But I’ll finish it and I will say that’s the most miserable thing I’ve ever done. I’m not ever doing another one again. And then that memory will fade over there a few years and then four years later someone will say, we should run this marathon together. And I’ll say, okay. And then there’s about a five year window and I’ll do the same cycle again and I won’t train for it. And I’ll go just like gut it out. And I’ll probably injure myself and I’ll say, this is the most miserable thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never doing this again. That’s my like cycle with marathons.

JB: 41:06 See, I would describe marathoning marathoning for new runners and adults. It’s kind of like sex is for high school kids. You don’t even think about it. You don’t even if not even on your radar until you find out that one of your friends is doing yes. Oh, you ran a minute. Hi Bobby ran a marathon. Hmm. Maybe I want to do that too. So it’s, it’s pure pressure in a sense, but it’s also this sort of awakening to the possibility because somebody else already doing it and you think, well, if they can do that, then I had to be able to do that too. So, yeah, there’s a couple of different ways to go at the shoes. What kind of shoes do you like to wear? Like this is something that’s really important to people. Now. This is, I’m going to give you the honest answer, which is that Brooks was very kind to me or the entire time of my career.

JJ: 41:51 I don’t think I bought a pair of shoes in 20 years. So I’ve always worn Brooks. The adrenaline. GTS is what I have almost always worn. I was there for the first release of it, which is not, I think it’s in their 16th or 17th itineration with shows though. Uh, and again, you got to remember this. It’s like asking your brother-in-law what kind of glasses they were. You can’t, if the fact that I wear Brooks doesn’t mean that’s a good shoe for you. The fact that I wear a particular kind of Brooks doesn’t mean it’s good these days. Every shoe is better than any shoe used to be. So you can take the time again, patients and find out if you’re a new runner, you know you’re going to find whatever she works for you. But in six months you’re running pace and style may have changed at that shoe.

JB: 42:31 That works great. No longer work. So you got to find a good running specialty store, make friends with that salesperson and then be willing to try different things to see what it works. No shoe should hurt man. I can tell you that. Yeah, it’s interesting. I was dealing with like runner’s knee for for a long time and it made me, it made me stop running. We’re really, and it was just this terrible kind of nagging injury I couldn’t get rid of and I’d take some time off. Then it would come back and I just switched to basically a minimal shoe, almost flat and it just went away. And I just, my kind of caveman thought process was for, depending on what you leave, believe tens of thousands of years, you know, we kind of walked around on flat feet, then all of a sudden I got a two inch heel, maybe something’s not right there and maybe I need to go and could be a self fulfilling prophecy.

JB: 43:19 But it seemed to work. So I just have stuck with it. No, I think that’s absolutely right. I think, and again, worked for you might not work for me. I mean, I’m a heavier runner for me, pounding on those monkey feet shoes. It wasn’t, it was the, the hammering that was going on in my heels, I needed a little more softening just because of the way I strike the ground. It doesn’t make it right for anybody else. And you know to, I mean, I guess it was Hoka this started this whole thing where they’re like platform shoes because they seem to work for some people. I don’t like them. They didn’t work for me. But that’s not to say that they’re not right for somebody else. Yeah. Well John, I have to ask you, this has been a lot of fun. I can’t believe we’ve been talking for an hour already here.

JJ: 43:58 I have to ask you, so what kind of motorcycle you driving right now? Right now sitting on the grounds, there’s a triumph 800 tiger XRT sitting next to that is a little Suzuki, Dr 650. There’s an old BMW sitting out in the driveway and then, and my son’s house, I still own it as a BMW are 1200 gs. And of course I’ve got a quad cause they live out here in the desert. So it’s the only reason I’ve ever worked. I mean we, if we had another hour I could tell you about riding a motorcycle into the army band rehearsal the first time, the commanding officer to calling me in and saying, do not ever walk into the army band building off of the motorcycle. But this was 1971. How did you carry your Tromba or your, uh, what it Bass trombone via a motorcycle strapped across the back of the seat?

JB: 44:43 Yeah. Oh yeah. I would go down to the Jefferson Memorial for rehearsals and uh, well I wasn’t a good soldier. Let’s just leave it at that. That’s hilarious. Well, John, so what do you, I know you host these running cruises, kind of destination cruises. What else are you up to these days? That’s really the most of it. I mean, I, like I said, I’m doing a lot more bicycling because we’re out here at Tucson. They’ve got this big loop. And of course hiking, uh, you know, I think that the days of training for a five k or 10 k certainly for a half marathoner probably over it is more what we were talking about earlier. It’s a healthy active lifestyle that I’m involved in right now. But I’m still, you know, I’m still doing some writing. I still got my own website that I try to post some things too.

JJ: 45:23 And as I said before, there seems to be just though the beginnings of the sort of retro rediscovery of the Penguin. So it’s been kind of fun to start posting some of the old columns that are now, some of them, you know, 20 years old when he was like, oh, and that’s one of what, you know, they’re evergreen in the sense that you don’t have to have been there the week before to understand. So I’m hoping, I mean, I’m having a great time. I feel very, very fortunate to have had the life I’ve had and I got no complaints. It’s interesting. Have you heard of a website called the art of manliness? It’s been around for awhile, and I won’t go into a ton of details here. The intent is not to plug the website, but it’s basically, it’s just like the intent is, hey, it’s okay to, as a guy it’s okay to, and it’s important for you to know how to do a bunch of things.

JB: 46:07 Everything from tying a tie and shining your shoes to reading and using manners and all of all of these things, right? So they published a list of a hundred books that every man should read probably five years ago, and many of them are the classics as you would expect. And I’ve been kind of just like over the last four or five years, just like chunk in my way reading some of these old books. And what I found is that there’s a reason that they’re classics, but there’s just, there’s so timeless. Like the language is a little bit different, but stories are timeless. The situations they’re timeless. Like you can immediately understand what the character, the protagonist is going through. And it’s just like some enduring quality to this stuff that just connects with you on a very cellular level. And I guess that’s why they’re as popular as they are.

JB: 46:51 And I can tell you as an author, I mean the first book was called the courage to start and I wrote my sig was really my kind of my client for help. We’re recording that cry for help, but now that the book has been out there for 20 years, and I hear from people, they use it in addiction programs because it is that courage to start. I’ve had preachers tell me they’ve used it, they’ve users funerals. So you’re right in the sense that I never wrote it with that intention. I wrote it just because I needed to get that stuff off my chest. But it’s what people bring to it. And that’s, that’s the blessing for an author. If that’s the gift that the reader, it gives back finding something in there that they can then use. And you know, the nicest thing I ever hear is something I wrote or said gay someone permission to do something.

JJ: 47:34 And what I would like to leave you with is that anybody listening to this veterans or non veterans, I’m giving you permission to start where you are and go to tomorrow, whatever that takes. Just go from today to tomorrow and then just keep getting up and doing it. And I think you’ll find like I did that eventually. You’re going to be where you want to be. Awesome, John. Well this has been a lot of fun. Thank you so much for joining us today. And, uh, I want to give Mike make net long time friend of mine and I know you’ve known Mike A. Long time and, and his wife Debbie, a huge shout out just for being great Americans, but also for making this connection. Oh yeah, great. Great family. Loved being with them. Can’t wait to see them again. I think they’re coming to ice them with it. So we’ll see him soon. Awesome. John, we’ll have a great day. Thanks.

JB: 48:18 Okay!

Comments on Episode 128 – The Pied Piper of the 2nd Running Boom with John “The Penguin” Bingham