Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Courage To Start

The miracle is not that I finished.
The miracle is that I had the courage to start.
- John Bingham

John Bingham is the most famous marathoner never to win a race. He is a published author, columnist for Runners World and Competitor Magazine and an announcer the start and finish lines at the Rock n Roll Marathon races. He is also the national spokesman for Team in Training and speaks to first time marathoners at TNT Inspiration Dinners. He's also one of my personal inspirations and the inspiration of a generation of runners and walkers who are leading healthier, more fulfilling lives because of the trail he blazed. 

Dubbed "The Penguin", John and the Rock n Roll Series opened what once was restricted to the thin and speedy to the legions of people in the middle and back of the pack whose goals was not necessarily to win, but to finish. Some in the running world say he ruined the sport because people in this second "running boom" are satisfied with "just finishing" and not improving themselves. I think that if it weren't for him, hundreds of thousands of people wouldn't have developed the love and admiration of the sport as they have now.

I'm a self-professed middle of the packer with no shame of finishing near the back. After four knee surgeries, I'm not really interested in running, but I challenge myself by pushing my pace as a race walker and by adding races while continuing to stay healthy. I've won my age group for several races in the walk divisions, but I don't try to push every race, nor do I yearn to run to get even faster. About half the time, I just enjoy the scenery, chat up some of the other athletes and look forward to where we're going to replenish our calories later.

I've gotten a lot of joy out of the journey. My wife and I have been racing for close to 10 years, all the while supporting each other and strengthening our marriage with this common interest. We've gotten healthier, each of us dropping 50 pounds since we started racing. We've finished full marathons on 5 continents. Our vacations around the Australia and Antarctica/South America marathon trips were some of the best memories we've ever made. We now have friends in all parts of the country and all corners of the world and have met and raced with some world class runners and race walkers. 

How is all that considered "not improving ourselves?"

Every race I finish extends my personal record of 'most races completed in a lifetime'. Considering it was a big dream to finish one marathon, let alone over a dozen full and 75 halfs, makes me happy and fiercely proud to be part of a generation led by a many who says that all of the fun people are in the corrals with the 5 - 6 hour finishing times.

John will be retiring after this weekend's races at Rock n Roll San Antonio. Though I've heard he may still be speaking at the TNT dinners, we're going to miss his voice at the finish lines. He has seen over a million people cross the finish line in his years or work, many of them have him to thank for giving them the courage to start. We'll be racing this the 10K and the half marathon this weekend, and I plan to slow down, shake his hand, and waddle across the finish line in his honor.

John "The Penguin" Bingham is the most famous marathoner never to win a race. 

But maybe finishing first isn't really what winning is all about.

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