The Marathon Diaries: Annie Meets Her Running Idol, John Bingham

Our marathoner-in-training caught up with John "The Penguin" Bingham—Mr. Waddle On himself—at last week's Rock and Roll Half Marathon expo. Here's what they talked about.

Annie and John Bingham at the Rock and Roll Half Marathon expo

Annie and John Bingham at the Rock and Roll Half Marathon expo

Ask runners what their favorite part of race weekend is and you’re probably going to get the same answer: “The race expo.” It’s the mothership for any running junkie: swag bags, race T-shirts, gear, Gu—the possibilities for purchases are endless. And while all of those things make race day more fun, the most valuable part of any race expo are the speakers, who offer their time and talents to educate race participants.

When I saw that John Bingham (my running idol) would be a featured speaker at the Rock and Roll Half Marathon Expo this past weekend, I had a bit of a fan-girl moment (you know, squealing, internal exclamation points—the whole nine yards). After I mentioned this to Emily Leaman, the Be Well Philly editor, she shot him a quick email and next thing you know, I’m hanging out with “The Penguin” himself. To say I was excited is an understatement.

Luckily, I was able to compose myself long enough to ask him a few questions about his running philosophy, how he stays motivated and more. Our conversation is below. And don’t worry, I’ll be back next week with a recap of the half marathon and how I did. Stay tuned!

How did you get started with running and writing about running?

I didn’t start running until my mid-40s and I started talking about it because I was having such a great time. I was 100 pounds overweight when I started and I thought “This is great!” I started writing about it a little bit, mostly on the Internet. Then 16 years ago, pure dumb luck, Runner’s World contacted me and asked me if I wanted to do a column. They thought I represented a new runner out there. I didn’t care about finishing fast, I just wanted to have fun.

Have you received any backlash regarding your running philosophy?

There was a lot more backlash early on. When I came to Runner’s World in 1996, yeah, I was the devil incarnate. How could you possibly talk about enjoying something that is so hard? It was a male-dominated sport. The sport is still the same, but the activity has expanded. Now, our races are 65 percent women. It’s more cooperative and less competitive. People just want to do it for themselves.

What keeps you motivated?

I’m having fun. It’s like saying, “What motivates you to eat decent meals?” Well, I like to eat. Also, you find your own challenges, whatever those challenges are. And if you can work toward a goal and accomplish that goal—and it’s your own personal goal—then you’re done. It’s not about somebody else’s goal, or some arbitrary goal. Maybe, for you, a three-hour half marathon is the best you’ll ever do. So if you’re at 3:10, then 3:07, you’re progressing towards your own goal.

After 45 marathons, do you remember your first?

I do. It was in Columbus, Ohio, and I had really prepared well. The goal that day was to try and run it in under five hours. I don’t know why, we just picked a number. I ran it in 4:56 something. I came across the finish line and burst into tears. I just started bawling like a baby because I never thought I could finish a marathon. I had a great time and it pushed me to do my second.

I’m about to run my second marathon. My first was rather … unpleasant. Do you have any advice for me?

What you don’t know is if your first one will be your worst ever. You have to wait until you can put it in some type of context. I tell people that you have to run 10 marathons to comprehend the volume of that distance—what you go through physically, what you go through emotionally, what you go through spiritually. A marathon is a long way. You might have gotten all of that stuff out of your system in the first one and your second could be a piece of cake!

What if it’s not?

If you really aren’t enjoying it, why would you do a third? I haven’t run a full marathon in about seven years because I quit having fun. Half-marathons give me the same satisfaction and require much less training and recovery time. I ran the Rock and Roll Half in Virginia Beach a few weeks ago. I actually volunteered to be the last finisher so everyone could say that they passed someone. I crossed the line with a vet and a guy suffering from MS. I didn’t care that it wasn’t a marathon. It was much more satisfying to accomplish that than running 26 miles.

What’s your number one piece of advice for anyone hoping to begin distance running, from a 5K to a marathon?

Don’t take on anyone else’s expectations. I have had people email me and say, “My friend told me that if I run slower than a seven-minute per mile pace, I’m just jogging.” Not true. Don’t let anyone else’s goals influence yours.


Annie Acri is an administrative assistant at the Drexel University College of Medicine and is working toward her master’s of communication degree. The 2012 Philadelphia Marathon will be her second marathon. Follow along every Tuesday as Annie posts about the ups and downs of training as she prepares for the big race on November 18th. Catch up on the series here.