The Courage to Start Book Review

For the month of November, Jamie’s virtual book club read The Courage to Start:  A Guide to Running for Your Life by John “The Penguin” Bingham.

Not to judge a book by its cover, but this illustration really set the tone for the entire text.  Happy, whimsical, and approachable, this penguin portrays Bingham’s approach to running.  As I read along, he maintained my interest with honest, relatable stories, and his passion for running remained omnipresent through each tale.  Overall, I found Bingham’s book good; it was an enjoyable read, but I won’t revisit it anytime soon.

Brief Summary


“The miracle isn’t that I finished.  The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

Take your first step toward fitness and a happier, healthier life.

Has the idea of running crossed your mind, but you haven’t acted on it because you don’t think you have the body of a runner?  Have you thought about running but quit before you started because you knew that you would be breathless at the end of your driveway?  Well, put aside those fears because you can do it.  John Bingham, author of the popular Runner’s World column “The Penguin Chronicles,” transformed himself from an overweight couch potato who smoked into a runner who has completed eleven marathons and hundreds of road races.

Forget about the image of a perfect body in skintight clothes, and don’t worry about how fast or how far you go.  Bingham shows how anyone can embrace running as a life-enhancing activity—rather than as a competition you will never win.  In an entertaining blend of his own success story and practical advice, Bingham provides reasonable guidelines for establishing a program of achievable goals; offers tips on clothing, running shoes, and other equipment; and explains how anyone can prepare for and run distances ranging from a few miles to marathons.

After all, in running and in life, the difference between success and failure sometimes comes down to a single step.  Waddle on, friends.”

Product Details

Publisher:  Touchstone

Publication date:  4/7/1999

Pages:  208

My Review

The Courage to Start takes the form of a how-to manual amped with motivation.  Bingham’s voice and personality shined though, which makes running seem accessible.  Thanks to his relatable personality, he easily guides the reader through the process of becoming a runner.  A few times, I thought to myself how much fun it would be to go on a long run with Bingham.  He’s been around the block once or twice, and he’d many more stories to share.

Bingham broke his book into four parts—“The Courage to Start,” “The Next Step,” “The Road to Victory,” and “Running for Your Life”—and each section details common questions and challenges associated with each stage.  Using his experience as a lens, he delves into the world of couch-potato-turned-regular-runner, sharing tips, tricks, and words of wisdom.  However, even though I don’t consider myself a seasoned runner—I’ve only been running somewhat seriously for one year—I found Bingham’s insights too basic for me.  That being said, I do think these tips would prove perfect for newbies.

“Becoming an Athlete” was my favorite chapter, which isn’t surprising given my history of high school and collegiate athletics.  In this section especially, Bingham portrays running and being athletic as a feasible goal for everyone.  “You can become an athlete by choosing to use your body, whatever that body is, as an instrument of self-expression and self-growth” (Bingham 67).  What’s more, I also appreciated his discussion on self-identification because it’s a concept I struggle with everyday. (Am I a runner?  A triathlete?  A swimmer?  A biker?) “I’m a runner because I run,” he writes.  “It’s simple Cartesian logic.  I run; therefore, I am a runner” (Bingham 69).

Discussion Questions:

1.  Bingham ran a bit when he was younger, but he didn’t start running on a regular basis until he was 43.  When did you begin running?

2.  Waddling, round, and emperor-proud, Bingham says he runs like a penguin.  How would you personify your running style? 

3.  What’s your greatest running accomplishment?  Brag, friends!

12 responses to “The Courage to Start Book Review

  1. I started running in July. And I can’t ever see myself stopping until I’m physically incapable. I love it TOO much. And I’m Emporer-proud, for sure. Proven by sore shoulders, lats, and triceps after speed work practices! 😉
    Biggest accomplishment to date was 1:28:30 in my first half marathon (and my first big race!) ever. I’m going to use the time as a qualifier for NYCM 2013, and can’t wait!! 😀 (Although, I feel like you know this all already, Carrie! haha.)

  2. My answer to question 2. I would liken my running style to a charging baby elephant. Hence, I do not run.

  3. Very interesting, I have never heard of this book but I might have to pick it up. Thanks for the share!

  4. Hmmm… I’ll have to add that to my ever-growing book pile next to my bed! I only started to run regularly 3 years ago when I decided that I wanted to be a triathlete. I realized that I actually had to start running since it’s a swim, bike, RUN race! 🙂 I always hated running till this year when I had an epihany moment and fell in love with it. I have the classic “marathon shuffle.” I might not be the fastest, but I’m efficient! My biggest accomplishment was exceeding my goals and nailing my race plan my coach gave me for my first 10k this summer.

  5. Great review, Carrie! I’m going to steal your questions for the discussion post tomorrow 🙂

    I ran cross country in 6th grade until my freshman year of high school, then it was put on hold until April 2011.

    • Sounds good! Wow, so cool; I didn’t know you ran XC. Even though I played field-hockey in high school, I wish I had more running experience from doing XC, indoor track, or track and field. I had such a great experience doing track and field my senior year, and I wish I had started doing it much sooner.

  6. Sounds like an interesting book, Carrie, and you know I’m not even a runner! This will sound funny to all you pros out there, but my biggest running accomplishment was the first time I completed a mile. I never thought I could!

  7. This book was so funny! I also thought it might be a little too basic for you, but his likeable tone and voice totally compensate.

    I started running when I was 21 after I graduated from college and had the “omg, what am I doing?!?!” freek out 😛

  8. I agree – even with only a year of running, it was a little basic for me too! But I did enjoy his style. And I really like his other book, “Marathoning for Mortals”!

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