The Penguin Chronicles: Worst Parade Ever

A marathon field is a unique place to be. Photo:

From crazy signs to duels between runners, road races are a unique thing, writes John Bingham.

As a runner and as the finish line announcer for many Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series events, I’ve seen signs of all kinds. There’s the typical “You can do it” or “Beer at Mile 27.” But of all the signs I’ve seen while running, my favorite has to be “Worst Parade Ever.” That just seems to sum up what it must look like to someone standing on the sidelines watching thousands of people — young, old, tall, short, thin, not-so-thin — running and walking for hours on end. Even if you’re waiting for a friend or loved one to pass by, it has to be mind-numbing to see so many people pounding the pavement. And no one is tossing out candy!

One of my favorite signs, which I saw many years ago at the Portland Marathon in Oregon, was “GO GAMMY GO.” My guess is the young girl who was holding that sign is probably a runner herself by now. After all, if Gammy can run a marathon, then she almost certainly inspired her granddaughter to do one.

Of course, we’ve all seen (or heard) “You’re almost there.” This is especially not helpful at, say, mile 15 of a marathon. And then there’s the almost always incorrect “You’re looking good.” I’m not being critical. I know that people are just trying to be nice.

Once, at about the 6K mark of an 8K along the Chicago lakefront, a passer-by yelled out to me “Pick it up!” What they didn’t know, and couldn’t have known, was that I WAS picking it up — I had already begun my blistering finishing kick, going from a 12-minute pace to 11:45.

Races look very different when you’re on the course. What may seem to the casual observer as an unhurried jog may be a duel to the death. I’ve spent miles with a laser focus on a person in lime-green shorts because I absolutely did not want to look at those shorts anymore. Passing them became the single most important thing in my life.

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As a run/walker I’ve often been in a leap-frog battle with someone who insists on “running” the whole way — even if their running is mostly just moving their arms in a running motion while they walk. I’ll pass them when I run. They’ll pass me when I walk. And this can go on for miles until I either move far enough ahead during a run interval that they don’t catch me or THEY move far enough ahead during my walk interval that I don’t catch them. Ugh.

In the long run (pun intended), what matters most is what’s happening between and among those of us on the course, whether that’s an elaborate winning strategy or simply trying to get past the guy wearing the lobster hat.

Once we cross the start line, we are in our own world. We know that once we cross the finish line, we will have to go back to our real responsibilities: as spouses, parents, employees, students, or one of a hundred other identities. When we cross the finish line, we go back to being who we are.

But out on the course, we are who we want to be. We are heroes and warriors. We are strong and prepared. We are ready to battle the course, the day, the runners around us and ourselves. They may be the worst parades ever, but there’s no place in the world I’d rather be.

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About The Author:

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

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