You've Been Penguined

You think that because we’re slow we’re not competitive? Then you’ve never been at the back of the pack


Posted: 11 March 2003
by John Bingham

There we were. Two middle-aged men in a Firebird on a summer night. The top was down, the V8 was rumbling. We were just driving around, minding our own business.

And there he was. A 20-something young man in a four-cylinder sports saloon with loud mufflers. He kept racing his engine, waiting for the lights to turn green.

I looked over at Ken. Without saying a word, we knew what had to be done. When the lights changed, I gave the young man a lesson in what happens when you put all 200bhp to work at the same time.

Why? Testosterone? Fear of ageing? Mindless machismo? Nope. It’s just great to annihilate someone who challenges you. And it’s just as much fun in a running event as it is behind the wheel of a car.

Okay, I admit it – I’m a closet competitor. I enjoy passing people. I enjoy beating someone. I enjoy the strategy of setting someone up. I enjoy deciding on the precise moment when I will surge past. I enjoy pushing myself until I know that they will not pass me back.

Maybe the race number produces this effect: maybe pinning on a number transforms me from a normal human being into a gladiator. Or maybe it’s just plain fun.

Some runners tell me that they don’t feel competitive, even in races: they never notice when someone passes them or when they pass someone else. But to be honest, I don’t believe them.

I’ve heard the rhetoric: you’re not racing against anyone but yourself; you’re racing the clock; you’re just trying to do your best. Nonsense! Every runner except the leader is chasing someone.

Still not convinced? Then watch the race for last place. Make no mistake, it is a race. I know – I’ve been there. I’ve reached deep into my soul and made deals with the devil to run down just one person. And I’m embarrassed to tell you that, on more than one occasion, that person was my wife.

Lest anyone think this is a gender issue, I can assure you that Karen is not easily passed. Nor is she inclined to surrender the position in order to maintain marital bliss. In the heat of battle she’s called me names that I didn’t even know she knew.

It’s not an age issue either: I’ve chased down youngsters and I’ve been passed by senior citizens. During a race, nothing matters but how fast you’re running and how fast they’re running.

My biggest enemy in a road race is my sense of humour. The idea of me and another runner of similar ability racing is often enough to send me into gales of uncontrolled laughter. I just can’t get over the absurdity of it – spending so much effort on deciding who will finish first among the last.

The ferocity of competition is especially rousing if the other person recognises me. For them, it then becomes not just a matter of beating another runner, but of not finishing behind me. No one, it seems, wants to suffer the indignity of finishing behind the Penguin.

In the end, though, it’s all a matter of fun. Besides, unless the awards are being given to the top 30 finishers in each age group, I’m only competing for my own bragging rights.

But – I’m not a competitor to be taken lightly. So consider yourself warned. The gauntlet is thrown down. That heavy breathing you hear behind you could be me. Those pounding footsteps could be mine. And if they are, you’re in for the race of your life. Unless I’m in the Firebird, that is.

In which case, just give up now and wave me goodbye.

Waddle on, friends.


Previous article
Kid's Tough
Next article
Meet The Penguin

beginner racing, bingham
TwitterStumbleUponFacebookDiggRedditGoogle

Discuss this article

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.