Friday, December 18, 2009

Ski Trip with the Grandkids

It's been a while since I was able to get here. December has been quite a month. If you haven't already, be sure to read about the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Half Marathon in Las Vegas. The short story; Blues Brothers Band at the start, white tigers, show girls, and Elvis's falling from the sky. Radical.

From there is was on-the-road to Randlesman, NC for the 2009 Run to Victory. You can read about THAT event at: Victory for All.

And then the fun started. Jenny and I drove up to see my son and grandchildren and take them, the grandkids, on their first ski trip. We took them to the Wisp Resort in McHenry, MD in the Deep Creek Lake area.

One thing I need to get clear from the start, I am NOT a skier. I have never skied. I have never had much of a desire to ski. Jenny has done some skiing. Terry has done some skiing. I have NEVER strapped ANYTHING to my feet, pointed myself downhill, and thought that it was a good idea. I like things with brakes, like motorcycles and scooters.

So, you may be asking yourself; why would you take your grandchilden skiing. The answer is pretty simple really. I want them to experience the world more completely than I have. For most of my life I had only two interest; motorcycling and music. It wasn't until I was 43 that tried to encounter the world with my body. By then I was an overweight smoker. Not the best starting point for any athletic activity.


Last summer we took the grandkids on a road trip in a motorhome. The goal then was to show them what a beautiful country we live in and how many wonderful people there are. This trip was all about getting them out of their comfort zones and into a world that was foreign to them - as well as me.

It turns out that kids at that age don't HAVE comfort zones. The entire world is interesting. Every activity sounds like fun. Every experience is driven by their innate curiosity. What a great example of how to live.

As is so often the case, I learned much more from my grandchildren than I think they learned from me. I was trying to teach them that life should be lived without limits. They already knew that.

I learned that trying something new is a reward in itself. It doesn't matter if you're good at it [which, as it turns out, they were] The only thing that really matters is that you get out and try it.

The next time we go, I'm going to take ski lessons. It may look funny to see a 61 year-old grandpa swooshing down the bunny hill at the speed of molasses, but at least I'll be out there.

And if I'm very, VERY, lucky I'll be able to keep up with them until they turn 6.

Waddle on,

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Walk With Mom


For those who don't think your life can change in an instant, I've got news for you. It can. It does. On May 1st, 2009, the life the my mom knew, the "mom" that her family knew, and the course of the rest of all of our lives changed forever. In literally one heart beat she was transformed from an active, independent 81 year-old to a totally dependent person lost inside of her own brain and body.

Many of you know my mom. For years she worked the "Penguin" booths at the Rock 'n' Roll Expos. She sold shirts and books and made sure that everyone who passed by knew who "the Penguin" was. She was not only my best salesperson, but the best PR agent I've ever had.

She was also a competitive athlete who - to be honest - did not get the "penguin" philosophy. She was a 4-time national senior Olympian who was training for her 5th senior games when her heart trouble started. She collapsed at the end of her last track workout before the games and they discovered a heart blockage. That led eventually to open-heart surgery, a blood clot to the brain and the "lethal" stroke that didn't quite kill her.

For 48 hours she had one foot in life and one in death. We didn't know, and I believe she didn't know whether life - whatever that meant - was worth it following this severe a stroke. As I sat with her in the neuro-intensive care unit after her surgery it was clear that was a debate going on at a level that I could not understand. The Priest called it a sacred conversation with God. I don't know what it was, but it was a very scary place to be.

At one point my mom raised her left hand, the only part of her body over which she had ANY control, and waived at me. I knew that meant she had decided to stay on this side.

The last 7 months have been excruciating. Day by day she has had to learn how to do the things that she, and we, took for granted. I've watched her struggle to learn to raise her arms, struggle to get her right foot to move on command, struggle to find a word the expressed what she was feeling.

I've been lucky to be there for much of her physical therapy. Rather than treating her as an 81 year-old woman who had a stroke, we treated her as an athlete who had suffered a brain injury. Her age was never an issue. We never made accommodations for her age. Success, for her, was not going to be going home, sitting in a wheelchair, and watching the soap operas. Success, for her, was going to be competing again.

This past Saturday I walked with my mom, holding the walker with one hand and helping keep her stable with the other, as she walked one quarter of a mile. Nothing I have ever done comes close to what that felt like. She yelled at me for "not doing it right", she yelled at herself when she lost her balance, she yelled at her right foot when it didn't obey immediately, and she walked.

Her journey is no where close to over. She talks all the time but her words are still jumbled. She has a long way to go before she can even walk with the walker unassisted. But, from waiving one hand to walking hand-in-hand for a quarter mile is already a victory.

Your life can change in an instant. But, it's what you do next that matters most. And if you're like my mom you will grab misfortune by the throat and wrestle it into submission.

Waddle on, mom.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Weekend in St. Pete

Well, what would YOU do? Here were my choices. Stay at home, alone, in Chicago, in November, or go with Jenny to St. Petersburg, Florida where she was working at the Women's Half Marathon.

I chose to take a busman's holiday. For those of you who DON'T know what that means,  a busman's holiday is a holiday or vacation in which one does as recreation what one usually does as one's work. So, for me, going to a race on my HOLIDAY is an awful lot like what I do for a living.

And am I glad I did. First off, not having any real responsibilities meant that I could run when I wanted, and how far I wanted. The result was that I got in a 3 mile walk on Thursday, a 7 mile run on Friday, a 3 mile run on Saturday, and a 4 mile run on Monday. Every run was along the Tampa Bay filled with pelicans and cranes and boats and blue sky and ocean breezes. It was FANTASTIC.

The plan was to do the long run on Friday and back that up with a "tempo" run on Saturday. I just got one of the new Garmin 310XT GPS units and was eager to play - err - use it. It was perfect. I was able to see the pace so I could run slow enough on Friday and FAST enough on Saturday. I really don't know how I managed to run without the 310XT. It does EVERYTHING I need a wrist unit to do; mileage, time, distance, pace, average pace, intervals. It's perfect.

Because the race benefited the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I stopped by the inspiration dinner for a bit to give folks a few "penguin" tips. At least they got a good laugh out of it.

I did hang around the start/finish line on Sunday. Jenny was running the race so it made sense to head on down and see how things were going. A quick congratulations to Dawna Stone and her crew for putting on a very nice event.

So it ended up being a great holiday weekend.

Piaggio MP3 update: It's all set and ready to go. I am waiting for the first snowflake to fall so that I can get out and ride in real winter conditions for the first time EVER.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Snow Thrower, Leaf Blower, and a Three-Wheeled Scooter

Those of you who are old enough to remember Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show will remember the Carnac bit that he used to do. For you youngsters, Ed McMahon would read "answers" and Carnac [Johnny] would come up with the question. It was often quite funny.

Well, if the answer had been; "A snow thrower, a leaf blower, and a three-wheeled scooter", my question would have been: "Name three things that I never thought would be in my garage." And yet, they are.

Garages are sacred places to gear heads. They are the cathedrals in which we keep the icons of our beliefs. They are not simply places to park our cars at night. They are not the final resting place for no-longer-used sporting equipment. And they are certainly not place where all the fun things with motors are shoved into a corner to make room for large bags of Scott's Weed and Feed.

A two-car garage is a place where, maybe, you keep one car. Well, one car that you drive on a regular basis. It's a place where you keep things like tools and battery chargers and extra oil and a can of gas. It's a place where you make room for everything in your life that has an engine.

In the course of my life I've had many garages from a tiny dirt-floored building with no door to an oversized building built initially to keep snowmobiles. I've filled those buildings with the motorized objects of my affection. I've had motorcycles in every state of repair or disrepair. I've had complete bikes and pieces-parts of bikes. I've had bikes that ran and bikes that would never run again. That's what makes a garage such a special place.

Now my garage contains not only my toys but the implements of my life. We've been in the house nearly a year so we're seen 4 seasons. Each season has required new equipment. Each season has meant finding a place for the equipment required for home ownership among the motorcycles.

There's also a new kid in the garage, the Piaggio MP3. As the leaves fall and the seasons change the garage shuffle begins. Like an elaborate Rubik's Cube everything has to be in it's place. The big bikes are moved to the front of the garage, safe for the winter. The lawn mower goes along the wall, run dry of fuel.

But the Piaggio stays near the back ready to be ridden. For the first time in my life I'm actually hoping that we get an early snow. I am convinced that the MP3 is going to extend my riding season.

And if it can do that it will earn a place of honor in my garage.

Waddle on,

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Long Runs and Sunday Rides


Sunday rides are, for motorcyclists, what the weekend long runs are for runners. They are both at once deeply personal and wildly social. They are both opportunities for quiet self reflection and rousing interaction. Having come to motorcycling as a young person but only come to running in my mid-life I have a lot more years of Sunday rides under my belt than long runs. But I understand and appreciate them both.

The traditional Sunday ride, for me, is a breakfast ride. The schedule was nearly always the same; get up, have a cup of coffee in the house while getting dressed to ride, have a second cup of coffee in the garage while getting the bike ready to go, ride for an hour or so to a favorite restaurant for a breakfast of pancakes and eggs, and then ride for the rest of the day. Over the years I've done Sunday rides alone or with a good friend. Rarely I would open the Sunday ride up to a small group.

This past Sunday was a bit different. Jenny had a kick-off for her CES Winter Warriors program and I needed to visit my mom, so breakfast was out of the question. Our Sunday ride would have to be sneaking a couple of hours off in the afternoon and getting out. It wasn't exactly a classic Sunday ride, but it was better than nothing.

Adding to the pressure of getting out is the fact that it was November 1. The perfect summer days are long behind us. Even the beautiful fall days of translucent trees are gone. Here in the mid-west we have moved into a pre-winter state of mind. I'm running in tights and a jacket most days. So, even if I couldn't get out for an all-day Sunday ride, I was going to fire up the Piaggio MP3 get out.


And I wasn't alone. It seemed like every motorcyclist in our area was out for a ride. Actually, by the time Jenny and I got out it seemed like every motorcyclist in our area was already finished with their ride. At every small restaurant and bar there were motorcycles out front. We got invited in to sit around and talk about the MP3 which I would have been happy to do most other times. But Sunday, I didn't want to talk. I wanted to ride. So that's exactly what we did. With what little time we had we covered as many miles as we could.

Pulling back into the garage I had the same feeling as I have at the end of a long run. I'm glad that I was able to do it, but sad that it's over. With my schedule, being at events so many weekends, I'm not sure how many more Sundays I'll have before I have to pack the bikes up for the winter. But, trust me, if the temperature is above freezing, I'll be hitting the road.



Thursday, October 22, 2009

All In the Family


I mentioned earlier that the first motorized vehicle I ever operated, at 12 years-old, was a Sears Moped. From there I graduated to a Cushman Eagle, then a Honda 65 [which I crashed] and a 90cc Suzuki Step-Through, which I rented for a day [I was 16 at the time]. The first bike I owned was a Honda 305 Scrambler. Since then I've owned over 50 motorcycles and having worked at a motorcycle dealership for 10 years, probably ridden 1,000. It's safe to say that I've thrown a leg over nearly every imaginable configuration from old Harley Police trikes to full-on Choppers, to sport bikes, road bikes, dirt bikes, and cruisers. I love to ride. And I don't much care what it is that I'm riding.

Riding the Piaggio MP3 has been an education in both the tightness of the motorcycling/scootering communities and the wideness of the gap between the various elements of that same community. At some level I suppose I knew that, but riding the MP3 has really put it under a bright light.

Anyone who has ever ridden knows about the "Rider Wave". As long as I've ridden I've always made it a point to wave at other cyclist, irrespective of brand or style of bike. My wave was a raised left hand. At some point the wave became something like a "Low Five". I think it started with the Harley riders but has become pretty much universal.

So now I give the low wave to everyone. But not everyone waves back. And depending on what I'm riding I can almost predict who will wave. If I'm on my BMW R1150R, a big "naked" road bike, nearly everyone waves back. Even the Harley and Gold Wing riders give a - sometimes begrudging - wave.

If I'm riding the GS, with the high front fender and off-road look, then I'll nearly never get a wave from the Harley or Sport Bike riders. It's just too big a gap. If I'm on the BMW650CS, a somewhat odd looking street bike, only the BMW riders wave.

If I'm on the Piaggio MP3, though, I get near universal acknowledgment. I didn't expect that. I thought there'd be a sort of elitist attitude among the two-wheelers. Quite the contrary. Big Bike riders, sport bike guys in tight leather outfits, cruisers folks with fringe leather jackets, and the BMW crowd in their Aerostich Darien jackets wave. And they smile.

That's, maybe, the greatest part of riding the MP3. It makes me, and everyone I encounter, smile. What's better than that??

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Frost on the Pumpkin


WOW. What happened to Summer? Heck, what happened to FALL? It feels a lot like Winter outside. Like the lyrics from the classic Guess Who song: Seasons change and so did I. You need not wonder why. So it's time to start thinking about running and riding into the new season.

I've ridden in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. I've been to Antarctica 6 times, 5 times as a part of the Race Operations Staff with Thom Gilligan's Antarctica Marathon and Half Marathon. Riding in the cold is nothing new. The truth is, if you're well prepared, riding - and running - when most people have decided to hibernate is both invigorating and satisfying. Knowing that you continue to push the envelop, to find that part of yourself that is willing and able to take on the extreme challenge, is a great feeling.

In Antarctica, on King George Island where the race is held, it isn't so often the cold as it is the wind. It's not that it's never cold, one year the temperature dropped 20 degrees fahrenheit in 10 minutes up on the Collin's Glacier, but generally it's the wildly unpredictable wind that creates the greatest challenge.

The key, and the aspect of  riding in the cold that many people miss, is that you can't get warm, you have to STAY warm. You've got to be prepared for whatever the temperature does and whichever way the weather goes. Once you GET cold, there's very little you can do to get warm.

In some ways it's the opposite with running. If you start your run warm you'll end your run STEAMY. Those first few steps should make you wonder what you're doing outside. By the time you get a mile behind you chances are you'll be warm and toasty.

Whether it's running or riding the key is having the right equipment. Over the years I've purchased thousands of dollars of riding gear that was, at the time, state of the art. 40 years ago, unfortunately, the state of the art cold weather gear was a newspaper stuffed in your jacket and your feet wrapped in plastic bags. Things have changed.

These days I've got a Gerbing electronic jacket liner, compete with an adjustable rheostat. One of the first things I did when I got the Piaggio MP3 was to install the battery connection for the Gerbing. I've also got an Aerostich Darien Goretex suit, lined gauntlet gloves, and waterproof boots. As long as the temperature is above freezing, I'll be riding.

With a good technical base layer, a pair of tights, and a good wind/water resistant jacket, hat and gloves, there's almost no lower temperature limit for running outdoors. I've run with Jenny when her ponytail has frozen! It's neat.

This is the week to make the change. There will be warm days again this season, but not hot days. For riding and running, this is the transition week. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Don't Ask For Ketchup


One of the best kept secrets in the running industry is that I have a doctorate and that I was a university administrator and professor before the "penguin" took over my life. My column, "The Penguin Chronicles" was replacing Dr. George Sheehan's in Runner's World and they didn't want to use Dr. John Bingham, so "the Penguin" was born.

I mention this because I used to teach a music history course and we talked about how all music is culturally specific. The reason that the music you listen to sounds better to you than the music I listen to is because we both listen to the music of our culture. As specific as music is to the culture, food is even more specific. Enter Gene and Jude's.

Gene and Jude's is a tiny hot-dog stand/building in River Grove, Illinois. It's been in the same location for 60 years and - with the exception of adding a double-dog - has served the same menu for all those years. You can get hot dogs, corn tamales, fresh cut french fries, and a drink. Period. And on the hot dogs you can get yellow mustard, chopped fresh onion, pickle relish, and sport peppers. That's it.

I ate there with my grandfather and father. I've taken my son there since he was old enough to eat solid food. And this summer we took my grandchildren there. 5 generations of Binghams have eaten at Gene and Jude's. And not one of them has EVER asked for ketchup. It's just not done.

What's any of this got to do with running, or scootering, or life? Maybe not much, but it seems ro me that we all live inside of a specific culture and one of the most difficult things to do is to break out of that culture and change your life, even if you know it's what's best for you.

When I first started running my family thought I was crazy. When I wouldn't overeat at every meal they thought that I was turning my nose up at our culture.

As a motorcyclist for over 40 years I'm finding that as much as I would like to I don't understand the scooter culture. I love to ride. I love to be riding. What I'm riding isn't nearly as important to me as THAT I'm riding. My love of riding transcends my love of any particular form of riding.

So, just like when I started running, my foray into the scootering culture hasn't been met with universal acceptance. I don't get the "wave" from fellow motorcyclists. I don't get the nod from the "cool" guys. I don't get the "look" from kids in the backseat. And that's a shame.

The MP3 has become my "go to" ride because it is everything I want a motorcycle to be. It's fun, it's fast, it demands very little and delivers a lot. And for me, that's what matters most.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Road Not Taken


Robert Frost wrote: 
Two roads diverge in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Text 

It's always been a favorite of mine because I think it describes a way of life that I've at least aspired to. Now that I've turned 60 and recognized that I've traveled a lot more roads than I have left to travel the choices seem more and more important.

As a runner I've often been criticized because I don't feel the need to hurry through races. My philosophy is that the reason I train is so that I can be out on the race courses. Why, once I'm there, would I try to get through the experience as quickly as I can? It seems backwards. If you want to run fast, do that at home. If you travel to an event, take your time. 

Those same people probably would have criticized my old Army Band and fellow motorcycle traveler, Larry, and I for our approach to motorcycle touring. As I wrote in a recent column, we often had a a destination in mind, and had an itinerary marked clearly on a map, but we rarely followed the map and almost never got to where we were headed.

My fondest memories is of Larry and I relaxing in a field somewhere looking up at the clouds and saying "The is my kind of touring"

Over the years that changed some. As I started riding bigger bikes, as my destinations got farther and farther away, as I saw more of what I wanted to see I lost some of my core principles. I lost sight of the truth that it doesn't matter where I want to be, it's where I am is what's important.

The Piaggio MP3 400 has helped me remember why it was that I started riding in the first place. It's helped me remember that that act of riding is it's own reward. It has help me rediscover the joy of exploring the world closest to me. It's been a renaissance of riding. 

Jenny and I both have BMW R1150Rs. We rode 1,000 miles in 22 hours on those bike. We rode all the way around Lake Michigan in a single day. Why? Because we could.

I won't be doing that on the Piaggio MP3 400, although I think I could. I won't because there's no need to do that to enjoy the scooter. I'll be doing what I'm doing now, hopping on and riding because it just feels good.

People who know me understand that it's exactly what I do when I run. And when the roads of my life diverged, as the traveler in Frost's poem, "I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."


Waddle on,





 
 

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ice Cream Run

I'm pretty sure it was the former Olympic marathoner and writer, Don Kardong, who was quoted as saying that a life without ice cream wasn't worth living. I agree. But, I would add that a life without chocolate ice cream wasn't worth living. I was the kid that when they opened the half gallon of Neapolitan ice cream was careful to scrape of any remnants of the vanilla and strawberry. And, while we're talking about it, chocolate should be chocolate, not all mixed up with bits and pieces of other things. Double chocolate? Sure. Chocolate chocolate chip. OK. But leave out the flavors that distract from the chocolate.

The part of this whole Piaggio MP3 scooter experiment that has been the most intriguing for me is how much I'm enjoying it.  And, how much sense having it makes. Don't misunderstand, I knew that I would like ANYTHING that allowed me to throw my leg over it and had a motor. What I didn't expect was that I would choose to ride the scooter over a garage full of motorcycles. You could argue that part of it is that it's like a new toy and I want to play with it. But I would argue that it's more than that.

The other evening Jenny and I had enjoyed a nice dinner at home. We'd fired up the grill, sat on the deck at sunset and basked in the cool temperatures. Then someone - probably me - mentioned taking a ride to go get ice cream. I didn't say "Let's take the Piaggio". I just said let's take a ride for ice cream.

The next thing I know we're in the garage and I'm backing the MP3 out of the door. Jenny is NOT looking to drag out a motorcycle of her own to ride, but is dressing warmly so that we can go "two-up." I can't emphasize this enough. Jenny has NEVER wanted to ride two-up. But something about being on the Piaggio has changed all that.

So we did exactly that. We hopped on the scooter and went for ice cream. No drama. No agenda. No plan, really, other than heading over to The Plush Pony - there is a nearly live size toy pony inside - for ice cream. As is always the case when you're on an MP3 the ice cream stopped turned into a conversation about how cool the scooter was.

When we left the cool night air was perfect and we took the long way home. And not just a block or two out of the way, but miles of riding for no other reason than it felt good.

I'm not sure how long this can last. I'm not sure how long I'll have the scooter, but I can tell you that I would already miss the element of pure pleasure that it has provided.

John

Monday, September 14, 2009

All Day Sucker


300 Miles on 3 Wheels. A Day in the Life


I'm not sure when it started, but the call of the open road has been a constant pedal point in my head for as long as I can remember. I just love being on the road. These days, that means running and riding. Being cooped up in a car, or a motor home with 3 grandchildren under age 5 can be rewarding, but this weekend it was about finding a stretch of road, twisting the throttle, and heading into the next mile.

Saturday morning dawned cool and foggy. I call in riding to Brigadoon, the Scottish town of the same name that is said to come to life only one day every 100 years.

First stop was to pick up my buddy Harry, a motorcycle enthusiast, pilot, and old friend. Harry has owned, and still owns, nearly every motorcycle that I have ever wanted to ride. His tastes mirror mine in almost every way. His wife rides a Vespa 250 so I knew we could have a scooter date, and I was sure that his impressions of the Piaggio MP3 would be interesting. Our agenda for the day was simply to get on the scooters and ride. We'd done this before on a variety of motorcycles and the goal was to see if it would be different on the scooters. It was, and it wasn't.

Our first stop was the hanger at Walgreen Field in Dixon, IL. The Board of Directors, a group of pilots, aircraft owners, and mechanics meet nearly every day to discuss planes, politics, and whatever else someone brings to the table. It is the classic gathering with good conversation over bad coffee. I expected them to be, at least, intrigued by the Piaggio MP3 and I wasn't disappointed. From the instant I rolled up until the adjournment of the meeting the hows and whys of the front suspension were the only topic.

It's important to understand that these are essentially airplane guys. Their knowledge of, and appreciation for, how things work exceeds even the most adamant motorcyclist. After all, if things don't work on a motorcycle you might have to walk home. If they don't work on an airplane, well, life can get ugly in a hurry. Once they got past the how does this work question the real issue seemed to be why would Piaggio do this. What was the point, so to speak. Beyond the engineering exercise was there any reason  have this configuration. We didn't answer the question, but we had a wonderful debate.

Then it was time for Harry and I to hit the roads. I explained that I wanted Harry to spend the day on the MP3 for two reasons. First, and most important, I wanted to get his riding impressions. Secondly, though I wanted to watch another rider on the Piaggio so that I could see what was going on and maybe learn a bit about how to ride it well. Our first stop, to fuel up, set the tone for the entire day. Every time we stopped, and sometimes even when we weren't stopped, people wanted to talk about the MP3. Seeing the two-wheel front end everyone had questions. Every stop turned into a conversation.
 
The longer we road the more I noticed the subtle changes in the way Harry was riding the MP3. Like everyone, he started by playing with the front end. As the miles went by he began to truly experience the whole vehicle. But rather than my telling you, here's what Harry had to say: I have owned at least fifty motorcycles over fifty years and have never met one that I did not like...except perhaps a Victor 441 that seemed created to provoke my shortage of vocabulary while trying to start the @#$%^&* thing.  This promised to be an opportunity to ride something “really different”

As a few miles rolled by, it became obvious that the idiot who was writing the supertitles need to be replaced.  This wonderful machine was NOT a scooter.  It is too heavy and “planted” to be considered in those terms.  In fact after a dozen or so miles of very curvy county roads, it began to dawn on me that I was not thinking in any known two wheel mode familiar to me.

In my humble opinion, the MP3 400 is a magnificent piece of engineering with cornering ability that could allow a good rider to humiliate a squid on a sport bike, especially when confronted with a less than perfect road surface with neither steep hills nor connecting straight-aways. Harry's full riding impression are at the end of this blog.

The surprise for both of us is that the MP3 is not a motorcycle, it's not a scooter either. It's, well, it's not anything LIKE anything else. When you try to describe something new the temptation is to compare it to something else, something you already know. The problem with the MP3 is that there isn't anything else against which it can be compared except, of course, another MP3. Beyond the mere look of the vehicle, way past the novelty and the bold styling, there is an absolutely fantastic piece of riding equipment. You don't see or feel it right away, but eventually it sinks in: This is special

The joy of riding backroads in America's heartland is that you never know what you're going to come across. The scooters are parked in front of what in my experience is the largest rock garden anywhere. It stands to reason, I suppose, that living in the vicinity of the Rock River that people would find all manner of things to do with rocks. This person certainly had. They had piled them up in a vast array of styles and shapes and figures the likes of which I had never seen.
The other grand joy in riding the backroads is in the riding, pure and simple. I long ago came to understand that as satisfying as it may be to quantify a ride with miles covered on a long strip of Interstate highway, it is every bit as satisfying to look at the quality of the ride. That quality comes in equal measures from the equipment you're riding, the company you are keeping, the care you take to be present for each moment, and your willingness to discard any thought you had of what the day might be.


For us. the day ended much as it had begun; talking to people. We thought we had found an out-of-the-way place to relax and enjoy a cool drink and to reflect on the findings of that day. That peace was quickly shattered by yet another couple of curious onlookers. These folks were motorcyclist. Classic, American, Big Bore, V-Twin motorcyclists. Their theory is that if it worked in 1950, it should work just fine now. But even their hide-bound attitudes towards motorcycling couldn't keep them from admiring the MP3. 


That's my take-away lesson of the day. When you decided to do something new - whether that's run a marathon or design and build a scooter with two front wheels - people are going to be curious at first but will not really buy into the idea. To be a marathon runner, or to be a rider on an MP3, takes a bit more courage, a bit more attitude, than sitting around and letting your life pass you by. And in the end, that's the part about riding the Piaggio MP3 that I'm enjoying the most.


Waddle on,
Guest Commentary
Harry is many things: former professor, entrepreneur, businessman, pilot, and motorcyclist. He appreciates all things mechanical and seemed like the perfect person to ask to spend a day on the Piaggio MP3. What follows is his description of that day.

A Day on an Piaggio MP3: Riding Impressions and more.
Submitted by Harry Spell

On Saturday, last, an old friend came calling, asking me to ride something really different and give an opinion.  Fine, so far, as I really enjoy John's company and do not have the opportunity to spend nearly enough time with him and his lovely wife, Jenny.  Jenny was busy as was my wife, Karly so we had the day to enjoy a new Piaggio MP3 400 and, to provide a foil, my wife's two year old Vespa 250ie.  I was somewhat familiar with the MP3 as I had ridden a 250cc model while my wife was finishing up the paper work for her new Vespa.

Hold that thought....

John said, “how about we spend the day on the two 'scooters', you on the MP3 and me on the Vespa?”.  Done!  I have owned at least fifty motorcycles over fifty years and have never met one that I did not like...except perhaps a Victor 441 that seemed created to provoke my shortage of vocabulary while trying to start the @#$%^&* thing.  This promised to be an opportunity to ride something “really different” (MP reference intentional).  My supertitle scrolled “SCOOTER” as it did not look like a motorcycle, had a “step through” frame, small wheels, and no visible clutch.

  Back to the first paragraph thought...

The first impression, with my svelt porcine physique, was that, at least, it was large enough that I would not look like a gorilla on a tricycle.  The suspension made a great impression considering city traffic and obligatory potholes, but alas, the power delivery was closer to that of a simeon on a velocipede.  After being reminded by the salesman that I was riding double before the exercise began, I returned to my second analysis of the MP3, the engineering is simply riveting.  You just want to crawl under to see how the front end works.  My wife reminded me that she had just taken possession of a stunning new red Vespa and to stop ogling images of algorithms and parallelograms.  I put the notion of having a MP3 out of my mind but the engineering sugar plums kept dancing in my head.

So, off we go with me thinking “scooter” with motor.  As a few miles rolled by, it became obvious that the idiot who was writing the supertitles need to be replaced.  This wonderful machine was NOT a scooter.  It is too heavy and “planted” to be considered in those terms.  In fact after a dozen or so miles of very curvy county roads, it began to dawn on me that I was not thinking in any known two wheel mode familiar to me.  You see, I approach every motorcycle/scooter from the front wheel back.  What is happening to the front wheel determines the whole day.  It is that feed-back of grip, stability, push, turn-in, understeer/oversteer, etc. that establishes the basic nature of the machine.  I know, for some it is all about the motor; but, in my humble estimation, the motor is not very important if it cannot be manipulated down an exquisite path with an ever-widening grin.  Here is the dilemma, the MP3, little by little, inspires such confidence in the front-end that I began to stop thinking about it.  Hold the phone, this is huge; fifty plus years of riding, with all the baggage that goes with it has to be re-evaluated.

In what terms?!

I began with “scooter”, moved to a faster pace that whispered “motorcycle”, and suddenly entered the world of “sports car”!  Now what?  There is an interesting thing about preconceived notions; they are usually based upon anecdotal rather than empirical evidence.  They can also get you into things that require studied consideration; usually requiring a bit more time that a mid-corner correction allows.  It is all about definitions and categories.  I am reminded of the conundrum that must have confronted the first writer seeing a 1921 Ner-A-Car.  What is this?

Bottom line.

In my humble opinion, the MP3 400 is a magnificent piece of engineering with cornering ability that could allow a good rider to humiliate a squid on a sport bike, especially when confronted with a less than perfect road surface with neither steep hills nor connecting straight-aways.  If this suggests that a bit more motor would be nice along with more legroom, I plead guilty.  But then what is the target audience?  The MP3 is a bit heavy, for a beginning rider, especially if that rider is not adept at triggering the lock that allows feet on the floorboard stops. It also is too “pricey” to attract many first time customers.  At the end of the day, I was not tired, most anxious to talk about this great machine, and would welcome the opportunity to do it all again.  I love to carve corners without worrying about that pesky front contact patch.  Bravo e gratzie Piaggio!!

P.S. This is the abbreviated analysis.  This wonderfully executed engineering masterpiece deserves an article or at least a poem.  If I had to ride on unfamiliar roads in the rain, this would be my first choice of everything other than a chauffeured limo.

HS




Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Table For Two

I'm starting to get used to the finger pointing. Everywhere I ride, people point. It's not me they're pointing at, it's the Piaggio MP3.

Last night Jenny and I decided to do two of our favorite things. One, have dinner at P.F. Chang's - where I think in time they will change the name of Sesame chicken to John's Chicken - and ride the new scooter. And that's where the pointing began.

Pulling in to the parking lot folks sitting on the outdoor porch started pointing. Then, they smile. They are smiling because WE are smiling and the whole place turns into a giant smile-fest. That's the best part of riding an MP3. It makes me smile, and makes everyone who sees it smile.

What's really fun about riding the MP3 is that Jenny seems quite content to be a passenger. To say that Jenny is independent is an understatement. She has never been the kind to be happy sitting behind me and just taking in the scenery. Something about the MP3, though, has changed her attitude.

In may be the whole pointing thing. Jenny sits back there waving at everyone like a Homecoming Queen. I can feel her moving around. She waves at kids in cars who press their faces against the windows trying to get a better look and she waves to other motorcyclists who do a double-take when they see us ride by.

After dinner we took the long way home. It was a beautiful evening and there's just something peaceful about riding the backroads on the MP3. There's plenty of power but it's unnecessary. The sense of not being in any hurry, of being satisfied with exactly what's going on, and of feeling like there's no need to be anxious to get to anywhere else is the perfect end to the day.

Turns out it's the perfect Penguin attitude.

Scooter on,

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Me, MotoGP, and the MP3


Just about everything at the Red Bull Indy MotoGP was new for me. I was riding on the new Piaggio MP3, I was going to an international MotoGP event for the first time, I'd be meeting up with my new colleagues at Piaggio and Aprilia, and I'd be rooming and riding with my son and his step-dad [an old riding buddy of mine]. I can tell you that everything about the weekend, from the ride to the racing to the company and conversation exceeded my expectations.
THURSDAY, August 27. The ride begins.

Being on a new ride, and not really knowing what it would be like to be traveling on a 400cc, three-wheeled scooter, I decided to give myself two days to cover the 200 miles or so from home to Indy. Turns out that the scooter was so comfortable that it was completely unnecessary.
I was amazed at how much luggage capacity there was on the MP3. I had packed my small MotoFIZZ bag, but almost didn't need it. The underseat storage on the Piaggio could have held nearly everything I needed to carry.

FRIDAY, August 28. The track ride.

The first highlight of the weekend was getting to ride a lap on the actual Indy MotoGP course. I've run the track, of course, during the Indy Mini Half Marathon. It was exciting enough just to be on the same ground as racing legends like AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti.

I also got to drive my old Firebird around the track. Talk about cool. Getting up on the banking, pushing the pedal down the main straight, slowing for turn one; awesome.

But riding the Indy MotoGP road course was better than any of that. Feeling the tightness of the curves, knowing that the GP riders would be going more than twice as fast as I was going made the hair on my arms stand up. The MP3 was perfect because I could hold my camera with one hand and work the throttle with the other.


SATURDAY, August 29. Practice, Qualifying, and Barbeque.

We spent most of the day Saturday wandering around the manufacturers exhibits and down in the pits. Being nuts and bolts guys we all wanted to see inside the garages. There's a calm but intense energy that I've only experienced in motor racing. There's so much to do and only so much time to do it that there's no extra time for lots of drama.

Saturday night we went to the Aprilia barbeque and then to the Indy Mile, a flat-track race. There's no way to describe what it looks, feels, and smells like at flat-track races. These riders - who come by the stands at well over 100 miles and hour and THEN slide through the corners - are simpy amazing. The racing went on until nearly midnight.

SUNDAY, August 30. Race Day.

With Pat's connections [him being a VP and all] we were able to get pit passes. For a bona fide gear head like me this is as good as it gets. The bike in the photo set the record fastest lap AND Simoncelli road it to victory in the 250 GP race.  Watching them prep the bikes, watching the calm precision, the focus, is one of my favorite things to do. We had exceptional access because of Pat and we made good use of it.

MONDAY, August 31, The Ride Home.


The ride home is almost never as much fun as the ride there. After a perfect weekend of bikes and buddies it's hard to face heading into the wind of everything waiting for us. I decided, in part because it was SO cold and, in part, because I wasn't in any hurry, to take the smallest roads that I could find on the way back.  

It wasn't enough just to be on two-lane roads. I wanted to be on the roads that we off the two-lanes. I wanted to take the roads that lead from one little town to the next. The roads that only the people who need to go between those two towns ever take.

I found what I was after and the Piaggio was the perfect companion. I'd run it at 75 MPH on the interstate on Friday, so I knew it was capable of that speed, but both of us were happier at 55 MPH cruising past corn fields and creeping through the small towns. At that speed I was able to soak up the geography and culture of central Indiana and Illinois. It's less than 200 miles from the house, but it is light-years away from where I live.

So, it was a magic weekend; one that will be hard to duplicate. And that may be the point. Nothing can ever truly be repeated. Even an annual event is altered by our own aging, our shifts in perspective, and the deepening of our experience.

I wouldn't want it any other way.



 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hitting The Road


There's a great little book, a pamphlet really, published by Aero Design and Mfg. entitled "Lightweight: Unsupported Motorcycle Travel for Terminal Cases" It's a great resource for anyone thinking about taking a motorcycle road trip. It's a book a could have written myself.

The first road trip I took on a motorcycle was from Decatur, IL to Chicago, two-up on a raggedy Honda 305 Scrambler. It was loud, rough riding, with an uncomfortable seat. Every mile felt like it took an hour. By the time I got to Chicago I was beat up and exhausted. And, I was hooked.

Since then I have traveled thousand of miles by motorcycle, some with good friends, some with people I didn't know, and thousands more by myself. I've ridden coast to coast 5 times, including one time solo. I am more comfortable in the saddle of a motorcycle than anywhere else in the world.

I'm leaving today for my first road trip on the Piaggio MP3. I'm headed to Indianapolis to meet up with my son and and old riding buddy [we've known each other for over 30 years, we are OLD riding buddies] for the US Motorcycle Grand Prix. As I wrote recently, more than half the joy of any journey is in the preparation.

Whether you're going a hundred miles or for weeks, the time spent thinking about what you'll need - and what you'll wear - are worth their weight in gold. On smallish motorcycles, and certainly on the MP3, there's not much room for carrying extra stuff. You need to distill your needs down to what really matters, and that's it.

So, my packing list includes a couple of pair of socks, a couple of changes of underwear, my running shoes and gear, and that's about it. I'll wear my Aerostich Darien jacket with jeans and carry a good pair of rain pants. My only extravagance is an extra pair of gloves. I'll have a warm pair, a cool pair, and a lined pair in case it gets cold.

I'm excited, a little bit nervous, but eager to hit the road. Come back next week for photos from the trip and the race.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Old Dog, New Tricks

I've been riding motorcycles, or motor scooters, for over 50 years. The first motorized vehicle that I ever rode and controlled myself was an Allstate [Sears] moped. I was probably 12 years-old. The freedom I felt the first time I twisted the throttle is still with me some 50 years later.

The vehicle that liberated me from the bonds and boundaries of my tiny word was a borrowed Cushman motor scooter. I was probably 14. It was a buddy of mine's and when he was at work I'd take off on the scooter. Although I doubt that I ever got more than 5 miles from my house, it felt like I had the whole world at my feet.



With the arrival of the new Piaggio MP3 it feels like I've rediscover both that freedom and liberation. There's something magical about a vehicle that is so user-friendly that makes riding just that much more fun. As I said to someone yesterday, it just makes me smile.

It's pretty obvious from the photo of the garage that the MP3 has found a good home. The only problem so far is that I'm having so much fun on the Piaggio that I'm afraid I might not ride the others enough to keep their batteries charged.

For more information go to the: Piaggio or Vespa web sites.

Scooter on!

Friday, August 21, 2009

A New Beginning

video

All I can say is WOW. I've been riding motorcycles for 40 years and this is the most unbelievable experience I have ever had.

This will be short and sweet because I'm going out for a ride, but it's really not like anything else I have ever ridden. The two-wheeled front end configuration [I'll learn what it's called once I stop riding] gives it a stability - yet not so much stability - that it's like - well - I don't know what it's like. And maybe that's the point. It isn't like anything else.


I was getting a pretty complete set of riding instructions. There's a lot to know. But once I got it going, I was as happy as I could be.

This is a video of Jenny finishing up her first ride. I don't know when the smile will come off her face. I'll be posting more photos on my Facebook page[http://www.facebook.com/jjbingham]

All I can say for NOW is that I can't wait to get back outside and fire it up. And, I'll have to come up with a name.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Running and Riding: Two Passions


This is going to be an experiment. I've got two real passions in my life right now. Running and motorcycling. But neither is easy to define or easy to defend.

When I say I run, I mean that I move my body with my own two feet. I run. I walk. I walk and run. I run and walk. It doesn't matter. I'm moving.

When I say motorcycles, I mean anything that I can sit on and twist the throttle. It can can have a 50cc or a 1500cc motor. I don't care. It can go 25 miles an hour or 150. I don't care.

And now I'm going to have a chance to expand from two wheels to 3 wheels when I take delivery of a new Piaggio MP3. This blog is going to be devoted to the common ground and common joy in my two passions. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cutting Back To Move Forward

I ran my first marathon, in Memphis, TN in December of 1992. Well, that's not exactly true. I trained - or overtrained - for my first marathon during the fall of 1992. I didn't read anything about training, didn't have a training plan, just a stubborn determination. I made it to mile 6.

I complete my first marathon nearly a year later in Columbus, OH. I had a training plan, and a training partner. I had a race strategy and a very cool "engineer's" hat. I ran at least one marathon a year EVERY year from 1993 to 2006. That's 14 years. And some of those years I ran as many as 6 marathons. That's not a lot if you're one of the marathon maniacs, but it was a lot for me.

The marathon in 2006 was part of the Walt Disney World "Goofy" challenge. As it got late in 2007 I got worried about breaking my streak. Once or twice I started on a marathon training schedule only to get a certain distance and just think "no way". In 2008 I tried a couple of times to complete a half marathon training program. I started out with good intentions, but never got past a 12 mile run.

What I've discovered is what I knew when I started out. I like the shorter distances. I like running shorted distances, training for shorter distances, and racing the shorter distances. I can run more often, run harder and faster - fast for me - and find it easier to fit the training into my day. It works for me.

Why, then, do I feel guilty about REALLY liking the 5K distance? Why is it that I think that training for, and participating in, a 5K is somehow "less than" training for and participating in a half marathon or full marathon? I don't know. But I have some thoughts.

The running "industry" loves the long distances races. They can charge big fees, they can attract big crowds, and they can make a ton of money. I'm not being critical. I've certainly benefitted from the 2nd running boom's desire to run long distances at huge races.

What I miss, though, is the spirit and sense of community that you find in local races. I ran a small 4 mile run last Thanksgiving and had a GREAT time. I didn't have a great "time", but I was able to push myself just a little because I knew the distance was well within my capabilities.

These days I'm running 3 miles a day - or walking 2 miles - nearly every day. I can do that because I'm not worried about long runs. And, to be honest, I'm having more fun than I have in years.

So, it's not that I'm bashing the long distances and giant races. I'll be at all of the Rock 'n' Roll Series events this year. I'm just saying that for me - and maybe others - the joy of running is still the best reason to run, whatever that distance turns out to be.

Waddle on,

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Adding some seasoning to by running

The past couple of days have been simply amazing here in Chicago. After the coldest January in 25 years, February has brought near record temperatures. Yesterday, February 10, it was in the 60’s.

You would think that this would mean being reinvigorated and enthusiastic about running outside. You’d be kinda right, but not altogether. My body’s seasonal clock is still set to winter, which means hitting the treadmill and cross-training. So, even though the sun comes out and the temperatures go up I’m not ready to unplug the machines and head outside.

I did go for a walk, outside. Somehow that made sense. The reason I went for the walk was just to enjoy the weather, to be outside, to feel the warmth, and enjoy the act of walking. I wasn’t thinking that it was helping my heart, or controlling my weight. It just felt good. THAT made sense to me.

What occurred to me is that this winter hibernation is, for me, exactly what it is for the earth. It is a time of renewal. It’s a time to rebuild, to rest, to prepare for the stresses that will come with the spring. What I’ve been defining as a lack of motivation my actually be a necessary condition for being a life long runner.

We accept that there are seasons in other sports. Football is over. Baseball hasn’t begun. There are seasons. As runners, though, we think that if we’re not running and training and preparing and logging miles 365 days a year we are somehow not really runners. My experience has been, this year for sure, is that I need the seasons.

I’m looking ahead to the spring season of my running. I’m looking forward to the events that are months away. I’m looking forward to getting outside on a regular basis, getting back on the streets, paths, and trails.

For now, though, I’m going to enjoy the winter season so that when the spring comes I’m ready.

Waddle on,

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Birth of a Column

Some of you may have noticed that the "No Need for Speed" column was not in the February Runner's World. This is a funny time in the publishing industry, and I'm certainly no expert on magazine publishing, but it looks like there's some sorting out going on. I'll be in the magazine 10 times this year. Look for the column again in the March issue.

With the April column I will have completed 13 years as a columnist with Runner's World. That's 156 columns. Considering that I was worried that I wouldn't be able to come up with ideas for the original 8 columns for which I was contracted, that's not bad. The funny thing is that, rather than it being harder to find ideas, I now find that I don't have the time or space to write about everything I want to.

Thanks goodness for Blogs.

In May of 1996 the column was called "The Penguin Chronicles", a name taken from the reference in the first column to images of runners always being gazelles or eagles and I felt like a penguin. A legal challenge from Penguin-Putnam Books convinced the US editors to change the name of the column to simply "The Chronicles". As a side note, the column remained "The Penguin Chronicles" in all international editions of Runner's World.

With the new editorial and publishing staff the column got renamed "No Need for Speed", and Gil Eisner's wonderful penguin characters were removed. In some ways that shifted the focus of the column, or at least seemed to, from the original concept of sharing the "joy of movement" that I discovered as an adult-onset athlete to being an advocate for going slowly. The truth is, I've never advocated going slowly. I've only advocated finding your own pace - fast OR slow.

As I recently wrote, after running for 15 years running is like an old friend to me. I like running. I like being around running. Like a relationship that has matured over time my relationship with running has come to a place of comfort. I don't need to impress myself or anyone else any more.

But, even after 15 years I still have the same sense of wonder and mystery about running - and myself as a runner. Every day I learn something new. Every run reveals something that I hadn't seen. That's what makes running so wonderful.

What I'm discovering is that the Web 2.0 medium - this blogging, Facebook, Twitter, medium - is more like what it was in the beginning for me. And I've found I really like it. It's liberating to be back where I was before 17 people decided what words would be read.

Stick around, folks. I think this is going to be a fun ride.

Waddle on, friends.

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Eat more, exercise less, have better sex

I guess I'm beginning to obsess about the whole weight thing. And, I'm blaming Oprah so that I don't have to take responsibility myself. The show yesterday featured a bunch overweight teens, discussed their eating habits, and more importantly tried to get to the source of their hunger - not the physical hunger but the emotional hunger. It was sad, but enlightening.

One of her guest was David Zinczenko, author of the "Eat this, Not that" books. He is, I suppose, a colleague of mine since we both get our pay check from Rodale, so I may be biased, but I thought what he had to say was fantastic. The misinformation, myths, false beliefs, and out-right untruths about food and weight loss are staggering. And I'm no better informed than most.

For example, one of the "tests" was - are you better off eating a multi-grain bagel with cream cheese or a glazed donut? GUESS WHAT? The bagel and cream cheese has nearly 4 times the calories. And "multi-grain" doesn't mean anything except they use multiple processed grains. Good grief.

No, you can't eat 4 glazed donuts and break even, but it does point out how often we --c-main-- think I'm doing the right thing only to find out I'm really not.

And he talked about eggs. I love eggs. I like almost nothing better for dinner than scrambled eggs. But, eggs are bad for you. Right? NO. They are a good source of high quality protein and are fine - in moderation - in an otherwise balanced diet. GOOD GRIEF.

Anyway, it got me to thinking that if I want to get rich, I should write the book: "Eat More, Exercise Less, Have Great Sex" since that seems to be what everyone - me included - wants to be able to do. It seems to me that nearly all of the popular diet and exercise programs have some element of the eat more, exercise less, have great sex philosophy.

Or maybe I'll write the book "Six-Pack Abs in 6 minutes a week" I don't know where it got started but clearly having great looking abs is a prerequisite for good health. COME ON!

I'm angry. At myself. At the industry that encourages people to believe the unbelievable. And, at the running community that still looks down it's nose at people - like me - who are trying to change their lives with their own two feet. We have so much to overcome that we just can't be bothered trying to shave 3 seconds off our 5K times. AAARRRGGGHHH!

I am recommitting today to standing up for the joy of movement. ANY movement. And to always, ALWAYS, searching for the truth.

Waddle on,

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dawn of a new day

Well, it's hard to start to talk about anything today - January 21, 2009 - without commenting on the events of yesterday. The inauguration of Barack Obama was certainly one of the most memorable days of my life,

In January of 1973 I marched, as a member of THE U.S. Army Band, in the inaugural parade for Richard Nixon. This was a very difficult time for the country. As we marched we were booed, and had things thrown at us. I just kept thinking "HEY! I'm just a trombone player". But, the contentiousness was everywhere.

Yesterday seemed 180 degrees from that day. People seemed united. People seemed relieved. People seemed ready to believe that hope is an appropriate emotion again. I hope that they're right.

It occurred to me that hope is a necessary ingredient for change, whether that's change as dramatic as President Obama was describing, or just the simple, personal changes that lead us to a different lifestyle. In any case, one has to have hope.

As I face down the demons of food and drink, and weight, I think the first emotion I'm going to have to find is hope. If I am hope-less then I don't think any wishing and planning is going to do me any good at all.

So today, I'm going in search of hope. I'm going to look back at where I've been before I look forward to where I want to go. I'm going to find that ability to believe that change can happen. That change will happen.

At least, I hope it will.

John

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Oprah Effect, or is it affect

I actually looked it up and I still don't know which is correct. Maybe both in this context.

Oprah recently admitted to having gained the weight back that she had lost. As a comedian commented, she didn't really have to make the announcement. When you gain weight, it's not a secret.

I had a bit of a connection with Oprah since we ran the Marine Corps Marathon together. OK, not together; she was in the front with her entourage, I was in the back with a few friends. But, I've always admired her for taking on the challenge of the marathon knowing that there would be cameras to capture her every step. By the way, her time that day was over 30 minutes faster than mine.

But, I've also admired her for her honesty about her struggles with her weight. As someone who also fights a daily battle to find the balance between the food I want and the food I need, I get it. Food is not nourishment for people like us. Food is love. Food is comfort. Food is medication. Food is evidence of success. Fat is where it's at.

Her question, though, is what got me; "How could I let this happen again?". How indeed. How could I?

We've moved in the last month and as I was unpacking boxes that haven't been opened in 8 years I came across photos from "the early days". The days and years when being active was brand new, when I would have done anything, eaten anything, taken any supplement, that I believed would have taken 10 seconds off my 5K time. But that was 15 years ago now. I've changed.

As I wrote in a recent column, running is like an old friend now. I look forward to spending time running. I'm comfortable running. I'm relaxed, I'm at ease. I'm happy. And I'm slow. But the truth of it is that I am also heavier than I've been in years. MORE importantly, I don't seem to be willing to do anything about it.

I've said for years that we need to see our bodies as tools, not ornaments. If we can do what we want with the body we have then how that body "looks" is probably not important. I still believe that. But, the other truth is that while I can do what I want to do with the body that I have, I'm not happy with what it looks like.

So. like Oprah, I'm going to try to go back in time. I'm going to try to find that seed of motivation that will help me. And, like Oprah, I'm going to start asking myself what I'm really hungry for when I reach for something to eat.

Wish me luck.

John