Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Book: John “the Penguin” Bingham, An Accidental Athlete: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Middle Age (VeloPress, 2011).

Why: An example of how an entrepreneurial mindset can take a simple idea and turn it into a thriving business.

 Back at the turn of the century (this century, not the last—I’m not that old, despite how I may feel on decidedly wintery mornings such as this), I decided that I needed to run a marathon. Why? I can only now speculate. I suspect this may have been my mid-life crisis. I think I thought I should make use of the old machinery to achieve something that, at least personally, seemed notable.

 I had been a runner—no, scratch that, let’s say a jogger—for most of my life, starting in my high school years when long runs came with the territory when training to secure my third-string place on the school soccer team. Turns out I liked the running better, and was far more skilled at it than at the game, though indeed this is not saying much. So, ramping up to run really long distances just meant more (read “longer,” as in distance and time commitment) of what I had been doing for years.

 For all those long runs, and all the time I clocked sweating profusely and putting one foot in front of the other on local streets and trails, I never once wondered if I could turn what I was doing into a business opportunity. This, sadly, is what separates me from John Bingham, author of a number of books for “adult-onset” athletes, who has now written a memoir of sorts under the title, An Accidental Athlete: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Middle Age.

 Bingham is actually quite well known to long-time readers of Runner’s World as the columnist who for years wrote in that magazine under the pen name “the Penguin.” Apparently, during his long runs, Bingham actually thought about what he was doing, why he was doing it, and made the connection that, as a baby boomer, there were probably a lot of people like him who were thinking and doing the same thing. The result: a steady gig as a columnist for a popular running magazine, leading to a number of successful books aimed at this demographic group, leading to a successful business organizing trips to exotic locales for long distance runs.

 It only goes to confirm, in my mind, that any endeavor can serve as the basis for a solid entrepreneurial idea. Take a simple idea and some shrewd insight, and add in a whole lot of passion, and you can achieve great things.

 What about me? Well, since you asked, yes, I finished not one, but two marathons, and no, I don’t think I feel the need to do another one. But every time I go for a jog I wonder, “How come Bingham had this idea but I didn’t?” I choose to think my big idea has not yet occurred to me, and I’m sticking with that for now.

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