With the Chicago Marathon coming up this weekend, I recently took a look at some past Reader articles on marathoning—something I’d much rather read about than do. There are a few interesting ones, including a profile of tiny Kenyan runner Joseph Kahugu and an account of the 2006 marathon focusing on a wheelchair racer. What caught my attention, though, was a 2004 piece on John Bingham titled “The Man Who Ruined Running.”
Bingham promotes an approach to marathons that emphasizes finishing the race over doing it quickly; his books include No Need for Speed and Marathoning for Mortals. Anyone can be a runner, he says, if they just slow down. It’s proved to be a controversial stance—there are even those who argue that he’s partially responsible for the fastest American racers becoming slower over the years—but I like his way of thinking. There’s a certain freedom, even joy, that comes from participating in a sport without caring about speed or winning.
I got a lot of practice at losing in high school, when I was a member of two very bad sports teams. My friends recruited me for field hockey freshman year because they had ten players and needed one more to field a team (another person joined after I did, so we had one sub unless someone got hurt or couldn’t make it to a game). We played mostly against Catholic schoolgirls who’d been doing it since they could walk. I, on the other hand, had literally never seen a field hockey stick before; I remember being surprised at my first practice that it looked different from an ice hockey stick. Needless to say, I wasn’t overfamiliar with the intricacies of the game, and most of my teammates weren’t far ahead of me. I can count on both hands the number of games we won in the four years I was there (and probably still could even if I lost a few fingers).