I am not a runner. I have tried. I abhorred the mile-run we were required to do in P.E. in high school. I played competitive volleyball for ten years and loathed any workout that had to do with straight running – usually sprints. And, the only redeeming values of the one 5K that I managed to get through are that I can say I completed one and that I had a good time with my sister (who, with a sprained ankle and several months pregnant, was still capable of running the course much faster) and my brother-in-law (an ultra runner who probably logged his slowest time ever by hanging out with me). That’s it.
So, why read a book about a man’s journey into running? Well, because the title and description lured me in. I wish I could say there was a more literary reason, but that’s it. An Accidental Athlete with a tag line at the bottom of the book that reads, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Middle Age,” suggested that this would be a story I could relate to or at least appreciate. Author John “The Penguin” Bingham is a self-proclaimed back-of-the-packer and that made the author, if not the subject, approachable.
Sure enough, his first section drew me right in. Stories of his youth came one after the other to set the reader up for what would be his main theme throughout the book: find that childhood joy of playing and pursue it. It also firmly established his lifelong pursuit of athleticism that was not to be. From baseball to basketball to P.E. swim classes to P.E. dodge ball to just about anything in P.E., his experiences seemed to confirm that a life of athletic competition was not to be. And he believed it.
What he would realize about halfway through Part II is that there’s a distinct difference between being athletic and being an athlete. Being athletic is a sort of giftedness from a combination of genetic magic, personality, and luck. Being an athlete is a mindset. Bingham started running and found he enjoyed it; then, he drank the competition kool-aid and started pursuing longer distances. He goes from a man who purchases running shoes because “Jazz” is in their name to someone doling out advice and perspective on chafing, black toes, and internal motivation.
The first three parts are laced with anecdotes and a heaping serving of self-deprecating humor. The last part waned a bit as it turned more into an inspirational reflective philosophy on running (if that’s even a thing). Still, it was exactly what I was looking for in a book of this type – entertaining, humorous, and quick. And while it didn’t challenge me to give running a second (or third or fourth) chance, it did confirm a nagging suspicion I’ve had about exercise: find something you just have fun doing and do it in a way that keeps it fun. I’m still looking for my exercise, but I have found the journey to be quite entertaining. Remind me to tell you sometime about my visit to a kickboxing class.
If you’re looking for a quick read, a beach read, or something amusing, this is a good one to pick. And, if you find yourself in the throes of a sedentary middle-age lifestyle looking for some inspiration, this is the read for you by one of our own.