The Courage to Start: A Guide to Running For Your Life
© 1999 John Bingham
John Bingham loved running as a kid. He wasn’t any good at it – he flailed his arms and wouldn’t impress any stopwatch-yielding kindergarten teachers with his time – but he found it an innate pleasure. Every advancing year in elementary school, however, made him increasingly self-conscious about his physical limitations, to the point that he stopped running altogether. He focused on his music, preferring to take part in physical activities only vicariously, by watching athletes on tv. As the years passed and his waist grew wider, he occasionally gave thought to running again — until one day he stood in his garage and just did. For 20 seconds. The next day he did it again, for a little longer, and the next – until before long, he was running marathons alongside his librarian-wife, who also began running for moral support but soon surpassed even him in passion and strength.
When I bought The Courage to Start, it was under the impression that it was about his journey from an obese couch potato to a mostly-healthy runner, but that isn’t accurate at all. Bingham doesn’t mention weight loss, and his only mention of diet and nutrition is when he mentions that starting a running habit made him shift to thinking of food in utilitarian terms: as fuel rather than a source of fun, relaxation, or comfort. The Courage to Start is purely about running – what you need to get started, what preconceptions you’ll need to ignore to continue, and what joy it can bring to your life. Bingham’s message is simple: if you want to run, run. Don’t worry about the fact that you can’t go further than the edge of your driveway without your lungs mutinying: just do it again once they’re rested. Bingham’s discovery was that his body responded to movement: the more he did it, the better he got. He provides a nine-week schedule for newbies from the couch to regular running status, but it only suggests “movement”, and Bingham suggests that readers do a mix of walking and running that feels right to them. (The Beginning Runner’s Handbook has a more detailed schedule to guide walkers into running.) The latter part of the book is taken up with racing and the fruits thereof – the courage to endure.
Is The Courage to Start for you? Well, if you’re on the fence about running and you want to start but lack the nudge, then it will probably do the trick. If you’re simply considering it, probably not: Bingham’s book strikes me as written to someone who already has the bug. Aside from the chapter on what to look for in running shoes, there’s not a lot of hard advice; Courage is more a work of encouragement than education.