The Penguin Retires


Note: It’s not Throwback Thursday but I can’t help reposting this one. A few months ago one of my running heroes announced his year-end retirement. He finished his career with the Rock and Roll Marathon Series this weekend. I’m glad I had the change to meet him, so I wrote about it.

 

Last week John Bingham announced he is retiring. Who is John Bingham? He’s a formerly overweight, heavy smoker and drinker who in his 40s turned to running and changed his life. He calls himself The Penguin due to his self-described slow waddle. He’s an icon to those of us in the back of the back. You can Google him and read his many articles if you want to learn more about him.

His retirement announcement made me a little sad. I had a Penguin encounter a few years ago and I’ll never forget it.

It was April, 2008, the day before my first half marathon. I was scared to death and had no confidence that I could complete the course, even though I’d faithfully followed my training plan. I took a half day of vacation so I could attend the race expo where I knew Bingham was speaking. I was the only person present for the first 30 minutes of his presentation. A private audience with The Penguin! Winning!

Anyway, he and I chatted and I told him how scared I was. He was so encouraging. He told me the goal of a first half marathon is simply to finish. Time doesn’t matter (thankfully!). He told me he knew without a doubt that I would finish. In other words, he believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

While we were chatting the race’s Medical Director wandered into the room. He overheard me telling John about the hydration belt I’d plan to wear. The Race Director inserted himself into the conversation by saying in a really condescending tone, “Good grief, it’s only 13 miles. We’ll have water on the course; you don’t need to bring your own.” I was mortified. John gave the director a look I’ll never forget. I interpreted it as why don’t you leave now before this lady and I pummel you. Then he turned to me and said, “Bring your water.”

The next day I completed my first half marathon. It was one of the proudest days of my life. In fact, when I reached Mile 11 and knew without a doubt I was going to finish, I wept. I still get misty thinking about it.

I credit John Bingham with giving me the confidence I wasn’t yet ready to muster by myself. I’ve run nine more half marathons and I hope a few more are in my future.

Oh, and I always bring my water. 🙂

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