The Penguin Chronicles: Rediscovering My Ambition

“I’ve learned that the joy I felt so many years ago still burns in my spirit.”

Written by: John “The Penguin” Bingham

This column first appeared in the May issue of Competitor Magazine.

One spring, as I hobbled around, a colleague approached me and asked what was wrong. I told him I was just coming off my winter racing season and was in the best shape of my life. He looked at me with a combination of disbelief and disdain and said: “If you were in any better shape you wouldn’t be able to walk at all!”

That was how it went nearly every spring. Careful planning and cautious scheduling always gave way to over enthusiasm. I could not stand to see a “0” in my logbook. If I started to get faster, I’d double up on the speed work. If running for an hour started to feel easy, I’d run for two. No matter how hard I worked I always felt as if I could work a little harder.

This spring, it’s different. I spent nearly all of 2010 injured. I displaced my sacroiliac joint in early January. But as I recovered from that, I began to have foot pain. Months later it was diagnosed as cuboid subluxation syndrome and I began the prescribed rehabilitation and recovery.

Neither of these injuries were running related. The first was the result of a fall I took years earlier that had weakened my SI joint and the latter was the result of keeping my foot in an awkward position while sitting on a motorcycle during a week-long ride.

In December, I decided to challenge myself: I would commit to moving for 30 minutes a day for the first 100 days of 2011. I wouldn’t worry about what the activity was, only that it was intentional movement. I needed to find a way to be consistent.

It was clear after a week that the challenge was going to be more difficult than I anticipated. I thought I’d simply extend my normal running schedule from four days a week to seven. That didn’t work. By the beginning of the third week I was beginning to experience the little haunting aches and pains that I remembered from earlier years. If I was going to be successful in this challenge, I had to change my approach.

I went back to the basics. I went all the way back to the first days of my decision to live an active life. Back then, at 43 years old and 100 pounds overweight, I had to start by walking. I couldn’t walk fast and I couldn’t walk far, but I could walk.

So I swallowed my runner’s pride. I put it out of my head that I had run 45 marathons and an untold number of 5Ks, 10Ks and half-marathons. I told myself the truth: I had to start from scratch.

It’s been an amazing process, and I’m several months into the challenge. I can’t remember a time when I felt like I’ve learned more about myself, more about my commitment to being active and more about what it’s going to take for me to live a truly healthy, active lifestyle.

I’ve learned that I’m older than I was when I started running. This might seem obvious since I’ve celebrated nearly 20 birthdays since I decided to get healthy, but it wasn’t obvious to me. I thought that I could just go grab a logbook from 15 years ago and do the same workouts. I know differently now.

I’ve learned that on the days I don’t feel like doing anything, a 30-minute walk is good enough. It’s better than giving up.

I’ve learned that it’s more important for me to be happy with what I have done than to worry about what I haven’t done. I’ve also learned that on some days easy is hard and on other days hard is easy.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that the joy I felt so many years ago still burns in my spirit.


John Bingham, aka The Penguin, will share his running tales and experiences every month. Have a story of your own to share or a topic you’d like The Penguin to consider? E-mail him at thepen

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