By Joe Stumpe
Dale Bing hadn’t run on a regular basis since junior high school when his 11-year-old son asked him to jog alongside him in the 1998 5K River Run.
“I thought it was pretty easy,” Bing remembers. “I discovered I liked running. And I’m pretty good at it.”
Even so, he adds: “I thought people who did the 10K were just insane. It was so far.”
Two decades later, the 66-year-old Bing is getting ready for an endurance test that almost everybody thinks is insane: the 2019 Ironman World Championship, held each year in Hawaii and consisting of a 2.4-mile open water swim in Kailua-Kona Bay, a 112-bike ride across the Hawaiian lava desert, and a full 26.2-mile marathon. About 2,500 athletes from around the world will compete.
To be invited, Bing had to place in one of 40 qualifying Ironman contests. He did better than that, winning his age bracket in a Chattanooga, Tenn., Ironman last September.
Bing discovered a talent and passion in mid-life that’s become an obsession in his 60s. He grew up in Indian Hills (his sister is Bonnie Bing Honeyman, the well-known Wichita Eagle columnist). He ran track in junior high school but gave it up at North High to “chase girls and race cars.” He’s still a car guy, with a ’65 El Camino parked in his garage, though it has taken a back seat to training.
Bing says he’s always been competitive, but the trait came out more in his professional life. He retired as president of Fidelity Insurance Agency in 2014.
In 2007, he ran his first 10K — the distance that once seemed so daunting – and placed in his age group. He completed a half-marathon not long after “and told my wife I’m never going to run this far again.”
But when he heard about a full marathon coming up in Oklahoma City, Bing decided he had to try one. The problem was, he didn’t know how to train for it. As he ran laps around his neighborhood one day, a fit-looking man shouted to him, asking him what he was doing. “I yelled out ‘Oklahoma City,’” Bing recalls. The man was Alan Ferrington, a member of the Kansas River Valley Tri Club.
Bing finished the OKC marathon in 4 hours – he was shooting for 3 ½ — and started training with local triathletes at Sedgwick County Park. “I was, like, humbled,” he said. Most of his friend are now triathletes and he works part-time at First Gear Running Company in Old Town.
Ten years ago, Bing completed his first triathlon, a “sprint” version in McPherson calling for a 200-meter swim, 7-mile bike ride and 2-mile run. He’s now finished 22 triathlons of varying lengths, plus assorted marathons and other races. Olympic-length triathlons consist of a .93-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike and 6.2-mile swim. Ironman competitions more than quadruple that total distance. Bing finished his first one in Louisville in 2013, placing fourth in his age group.
To get to that level, Bing says, “Your life revolves around your training. It really does.”
Bing and other triathletes “go by hours more than we do miles.” Training hits a peak of 20 hours a week of biking, swimming and running in the months leading up to a race, interrupted by a week of “only” 7 to 10 hours of work. “The idea is to keep your fitness but get your body rested.”
That’s not always possible. Bing has suffered calf and hamstring injuries and a torn rotator cuff. He was in so much pain that he barely he finished his second Boston Marathon.
Outweighing that, Bing says, the good feeling he gets from a workout “now is part of my life. If I don’t (exercise), I get cranky. I’m in a much better mood post-run than pre-run.”
Bing thinks coming to running and triathlons late in life gives him an advantage over many people who started earlier, since wear and tear on joints is an unavoidable side affect. Bing was slender even before he started running. It’s likely he found just the right sport for his body type.
However, he’s the first to admit that when it comes to triathlons, he has one significant weakness: swimming. In triathlons, swimming takes on added difficulty because several hundred competitors jump in at once, creating choppy water and the possibility of contact in addition to the waves already present in big bodies of water. Bing says he’ll probably take swimming lessons and practice in the roughest water he can find to get ready for Hawaii.
Until now, he’s relied on his strength – running – to compete. Bing holds several state running records for his age group. After losing time in the swimming portion of a triathlon, Bing says, “I run them down – that’s what I do.”
Bing hopes to finish the Ironman World Championship in 12 ½ hours. “You have to go mental,” Bing says of keeping going for so long. “You just have to go to another place.”
Because of heat, wind and a 5,000-foot gain during the bike ride, he expects the Hawaii challenge to be the most brutal he’s faced. He’ll rely on a mental trick in which he cuts up the race into pieces – the next buoy on the swim, the next energy bar on the bike ride, the next water station on the run.
Bing thought the Chattanooga Ironman might be his last. After all, there are other things in life. He and his wife, Peggy, have two grown children and three grandkids. Then there’s that sweet El Camino.
But then he won and qualified for the World Championship. Despite feeling pressure to see how he’ll stack up against the “fittest of the fit,” and another year of what some would consider self-inflicted torture, he never considered not going.
“I just couldn’t pass this up,” he said. “It is obsessive.”