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The Penguin Chronicles: Camaraderie in Sport Helps Us Find Our True Selves

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Jul. 17, 2011
  • Updated Mar. 15, 2012 at 5:10 PM UTC

I am only one person but I am part of an enormous community.

Written by: John Bingham

Summer was all about baseball when I was growing up. From the day school let out in June until we went back in September, there was always a baseball mitt hanging over the handlebars of my bicycle.

If I were alone, I would throw the red rubber ball against the back wall of the house for hours. If I could find a friend, we’d play catch. If there were three of us, we’d play running the bases. If there were four of us, and one of us had a bat, we’d go to the field and play bounce or fly. With five boys we’d play “500,” where we’d earn points by catching the ball.

What made baseball so great was that it could be played alone or in groups large and small.

I’ve found the same to be true about running.

Currently, I do much of my running and walking alone. It’s not so much by choice that I run alone but by circumstance. As I’ve done more solitary running, I’ve rediscovered the quiet contemplation that only comes when I’m moving. It’s not that I’m opposed to stationary contemplation, it’s just that for me, the act of moving seems to unlock my creative storeroom.

There are times, though, when I get the chance to run with a buddy. These are the magic runs where two people can erase the differences between them and find themselves unified in effort. There’s something about running in tandem with another person that frees me from the bondage of my own concerns.

When the group grows to three or four, the run becomes more of a physical, emotional and spiritual stew. Each of us brings our own unique ingredient to the mix. The power of each of us is amplified by all of us. There’s a sense of shared purpose and common goals that seems to only come through synchronized effort.

From time to time I find myself running with larger groups of 40, 50 or more. At that size it’s impossible to connect with anyone but impossible to ignore the connection of everyone. Often these groups are tied together by a cause and when their efforts are in the service of a greater good, the energy created is enough to change the world.

But the greatest joy for me is lining up at the starting line of a race. It doesn’t matter if it’s with 100 people at a local 5K or with 30,000 people at a major half- or full marathon. Standing at the start, looking around at all the anxious participants, feeling their eagerness, knowing that in time we will all be released to chase a dream, is almost overpowering. Standing with others who are all prepared to put it all on the line, I feel both larger and smaller than who I am otherwise.

I am one of them. I am willing, as they are, to risk failure in the pursuit of success. I am willing, as they are, to try to find the best of me in public. I concede, as they do, that there is no room for my ego on a racecourse. I am only one person but I am part of an enormous community.

Unlike the baseball of my youth, I know that I will never outgrow my desire to run. As long as there are unexplored places in my soul I know that I am going to lace up my shoes and go in search of myself.

Waddle on, friends.

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John Bingham, aka The Penguin, shares his running tales and experiences every month in Competitor Magazine. Have a story of your own to share or a topic you’d like The Penguin to consider?

E-mail him at thepenguin@johnbingham.com.

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Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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