Can I still beat Oprah?

Just a few more days until I find out if I can still run faster than Oprah Winfrey.

That’s not a joke. Oprah just might kick my butt.

OK, maybe I’m just suffering the usual pre-marathon jitters, and my mind is freaking out. You help me decide.

Here’s the story.

Since I started running long distances, I have completed eight road marathons. 

In four of  those marathons, I finished under four hours. In the other four marathons, I finished over four hours.

My average finishing time is 4:01.

That’s a lot of fours.

But here’s the thing. When it comes to marathons, I hate the number four. I abhor it. I despise it. I never wanted to be a four-hour marathoner.

Four is such an Oprah number.

Oprah ran her one and only marathon in 4:29 — the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994. That’s a slow jog, with lots of walking breaks through the water stops.

Ever since then, a lot of runners have considered 4:29 the “Oprah Line” — the division between marathoners who don’t give a crap how fast they run and those who do.

I’m not judging anyone else. But I think if you want to consider yourself moderately fast, you have to run marathons in under four hours. That’s my rule.

On Sunday, I will run my ninth road marathon in Cleveland. That will tip the scales one way or the other — whether I have run most of my marathons faster or slower than four hours. And whether I’m still faster than Oprah.

So you can guess how much baggage I will carry for 26.2 miles.

Oprah won’t be in Cleveland on Sunday. But I’ll see her ghost everywhere.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve said in recent months that I don’t care about my finishing time for this race. That I haven’t really trained this spring for speed. That I considered this race as a reintroduction to road marathons, after nearly three years away, and I was so unconcerned with time that I wouldn’t even wear a watch.

Even so, this Four thing is going to ride on my back the whole way, whether I like it or not.

 It will be kind of like carrying Oprah the whole way.


Waddle on, Penguin

What do the following numbers have in common:

6:14, 7:18, 6:25, 6:27, 5:49, 5:41, 5:51, 6:19, 5:54, 5:49.

The answer: they are the finishing times for the last 10 marathons run by John Bingham, a best-selling author of running books.

His average time for those 10 marathons was 6:10.

No one, in their wildest dreams, would ever accuse Bingham of being fast — or even trying to get fast. Bingham is slow.

As far as I can tell, from searching marathon records back to 2000, he has never even beat Oprah’s time.

Yet, he has sold a bazillion books and is wildly popular as a motivational speaker. I have no idea why.

Sure, he has a cute little personal story behind it. He was overweight and a smoker when he took up running in his mid-40s, as a music professor at Oberlin. He ran slow at first.

But he apparently never really tried very hard to get faster. And he takes pride in his slowness. He calls himself the Penguin. His tagline is “Waddle On.”

“Marathons are too much fun to hurry through,” he once wrote.

He likes to talk about stopping at coffee shops for a latte during the race. He even once wrote something like this: “The guy who wins the marathon will get the same finishers’ medal that I will, so what’s the point in hurrying?”

As you might guess, Bingham drives competitive runners crazy. His message — that it’s OK to be slow and to give up on trying to improve — runs against the grain of every serious runner.

But Bingham has found a huge market in beginnning runners and others who don’t care about speed. He has made a fortune writing books and magazine articles about the joys of slow running.

So what?

Today, I received my final instructions from the Cleveland Marathon. Among other things, I learned there will be two main speakers at the expo. “Don’t miss hearing from famous running legends,” the e-mail said. One of the speakers will be Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon and editor of Runner’s World magazine.

The other? You guessed it. The Penguin.

“Humor to get you to the starting line,” is how Bingham’s talk is described.

In my mind, there’s nothing humorous about Bingham. This is a guy who has made a fortune from running slow. This is a guy who ran the Honolulu Marathon in 2005 in seven hours and eighteen minutes. That works out to an average pace of 16 minutes and 42 seconds a mile. Was Bingham running this race or was he doing the hula for 26 miles?

Yes, I am sick of being a four-hour marathoner. And I’m sure John Bingham can give me lots of tips for how to shake myself out of the Evil Fours forver.

Except his methods would leave me running marathons in five hours. Or six. Or even seven.

No thanks, Penguin. I think I’ll have to skip your “humorous” motivational talk.

I have to go catch Oprah.


3 Responses to “Can I still beat Oprah?”

  1. Rather than carry that 4 on your back the whole race, make him run behind you, poking and prodding you all the way to a BQ time. focus on this: one, two, BQ, three, four, no more!

  2. Good luck in Cleveland!

    I ran it in 2004 when they switched to the new course (which I assume is what it still is, haven’t checked for a few years.) I enjoyed it quite a bit, it was the first time I ran a BQ.

    Personally, I have no problem with The Penguin. He doesn’t have a lot to offer me, but if I had a choice between a marathon win and just getting a medal, I go for the win. Winning gives you a much greater feeling afterwards…

  3. sorry the penguin sounds like a winner to me after all my motto is “slow is the new fast” my one and only Marathon was 6:00 and it was my proudest moment! I understand each runner has his own goals, I hope you run fast and enjoy it enough to run many many more. Isn’t that the point?? love you!~S.

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