How Not To Go Overboard On A Cruise Ship

You hear it all the time. I put on 10 pounds plus, while on the cruise ship, and now it will take me a month to get back into those jeans that I love.

The other misgiving of the typical cruise ship experience is the many hours of just sitting or laying around. At the dinner table, during the many off Broadway type shows, in the lounge chairs, deck side, at the casino and being rocked to sleep in your 2X4 cabin. John, the Penguin, Bingham and Jenny, The Coach, Hadfield have the answer for you.

The idea that these two life coaches came up with 10 years ago is to combine all the benefits of cruising and staying fit into a 7-8 day adventure that you will write home about. My running mate, life partner and 75 marathoner, Catherine Popp and I met up with J and J, John and Jenny back in 2011-ish. This will be our 6th outing with them, which has taken us to different parts of the Caribbean, 3 times, and Alaska once. The other two trips were a bit more far flung, with a land base tour with Florence Italy as the hub with places like Pisa, Sitka and Luka as the spokes. The other very unique destination, was a river cruise along the Danube starting in Budapest. We have a similar river cruise in the Southern France region, beginning near Marseille, this coming October.

The gist of the program is to bring a manageable group of like minded runners/walkers to venture in the different regions to do a staged Marathon or half Marathon over 7-8 days. The great part is it is not done all at once, but when it is all said and done each individual has completed either 26.2 or 13.1 miles. If you are the traditional competitor this might not be for you. Each race has a first place winner for both male and female but how that is actually calculated if left up to J and J. We are briefed each day and with the extra benefit of being the first off the ship, each day, and we are then given the opportunity to strategist how to get the coveted yellow hat.


Wearing ours proudly during the run in Key West

It might be the absolute fastest, both male and female, on a short distance, 1 mile to 5/10k, or something as random as who gets the King of Hearts out of the deck of cards as they are handed out, when you cross the finish. You have to hear John tell the hilarious background story, as only he can, during one of his inspirational talks.

The last race on the trip is the one we all look forward to, is classified as the Amazing Race. Similar theme but with an added twist when done on a Caribbean cruise. That being, we all dress up in a pirates theme. Just image 100 plus pirates running/walking around San Juan trying to follow the clues and get all required pictures taken in order along the way. So groups of 2-4 are crisscrossing the major tourist attractions, be it church, fountain, etc just so they are the first ones across the finish with a picture of the group in front of the object, in order. One year, a boy genius, put in all the GPS coordinates, after google search, and ended up going thru a hospital to get first place for the group. Catherine and I usually take a more laid back approach and just go bar hopping in preparation for the award ceremony at Senior Frogs or the like.




How we do the amazing race



The overall winner is pretty cut and dry. In the first briefing we are all given a rough outline of races for the week and the approximate, ISH, a term coined by Jenny, example, 5 mile-ish course that is somewhat hilly-ish. Depending on which distance you select for each day for the marathon of half course you then have to calculate your exact time. I forgot to mention that most, if not all, of these races are done without any time keeping device. It is the classic tortoise and the hare with the slow and steady usually coming out on top.

Both Catherine and I already have our autographed yellow hats so for us it is the ability to enjoy the company of like minded individuals in the most picturesque of settings while keeping a reasonable exercise routine going, that brings us back. That surely comes in handy when trying to counter balance the endless opportunities to eat, lounge and sleep.

This particular venture started in Tampa with an 7 day itinerary consisting of the following.


A very important quality each participant most possess is flexibility. You are on and off an cruise ship for 7-8 days so if you are one of those that insists on the race start at 8 am sharp you might want to keep collecting states or continents. The most memorable upside was another Caribbean excursion a few years back where, not only were we the first ones off the ship, but also got a police escort, in Aruba, to the race start where the roads were closed for our 10K-ish race along coast. The local running group but the race together for us including an official clock at the beach finish with a coolers full of beer and soft drinks, barbecue type items to eat, as we cooled down our legs, in the water.

I will say if you are one of those types that calcululates all of your marathons down to the penny, since you are doing 30-50 a year, you will need to take a chill pill, before signing up. They say money can’t buy happiness but this comes pretty darn close. The pricing is not outrageous but as I look at life in my 60’s, as long as I get what I pay for, I am a happy man. If the fact that I am planning my 7th trip with them in Oct and signed up for another Caribbean cruise while on board, is any indication, then I am sure you will agree this is a very cost effective way to enjoy the benefits of Cruising and living an active lifestyle.

We do have one individual, Ernst, that has done the most, 11 trips with them. He has won several yellow hats over the years and he is also the keeper of the #1 bib number, most of the time, and all the perks that entails. My understanding of the premise of the yellow hat is to mimic the Tour De France yellow jersey but with the one distinct exception, that being, you get to keep the hat.


Sporting his jazzy calf compression socks

There is a yeng and yang when it comes to team of J and J with the Cruise and Vacation Authority doing a bit of the heavy lifting on the logistic end. John and Jenny, are the proverbial who’s who when it comes to running. John has brought millions off their couches to the sport of running/walking and Jenny coaches just as many to reach their goals from just completing their first marathon to qualifying for the prestigious, Boston Marathon. Here are their bios for your reading pleasure.

John “The Penguin” Bingham is a featured columnist for Competitor Magazine, spokesman for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “Team in Training” program, and race announcer of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half-Marathon Series. His popular column, The Penguin Chronicles, ran for 14 years in Runner’s World Magazine.
Known by fans as “The Penguin” for his back-of-the-pack speed, John is the unlikely hero of the modern running boom. A best selling author and magazine columnist, he writes and speaks about his childhood dreams of athletic glory, sedentary years of unhealthy excess, and a life-changing transformation from couch potato to “adult-onset athlete”.
Once overweight, uninspired and saddled with a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoking habit, Bingham found himself firmly wedged into a middle-age slump. Then he discovered the active lifestyle and it all changed.
He is the author of The Courage to Start and No Need for Speed and co- author with Coach Jenny Hadfield of Marathoning for Mortals and Running for Mortals. His most recent book, An Accidental Athlete: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Middle Age, was released September 1, 2011.
In turns inspiring, poignant, hilarious and heartbreaking, John is a warm and engaging speaker. In his books and columns, Bingham shares stories of the joys of running, such as, the pride of the finisher’s medal, a bureau-busting t-shirt collection, and intense back-of-the-pack strategizing. John’s story is about one man’s discovery that middle age was not the finish line after all; it was only the beginning.


During his Rock and Roll Marathon series announcer days

Jenny, The Coach, Hadfield is the co-author of the best- selling Running for Mortals and Marathoning for Mortals book series as well as a columnist for Women’s Running Magazine and She is a certified personal trainer and coach, who has earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and Health Promotion and a Masters Degree in Exercise Science.
Jenny began her running journey overweight and unable to make it to the end of the block. Her unique approach to coaching draws from her struggles to get started, lose over 30 pounds, reach the finish line of a her first 5K and go on to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Jenny practices what she preaches and is an accomplished endurance athlete, having competed in over forty marathons all over the world including the Boston Marathon, the Antarctica Marathon and three of Mark Burnett’s Eco-Challenge Expeditions (Survivor Producer). She recently broke the women’s ElliptiGO One-Day World Distance Record by riding 152 miles. Her curiosity to find out what is around the next corner continues to fuel her adventurous spirit and desire to explore the world under her own power.
Running changed Jenny’s life. She fell in love with the process of training, quit her job in corporate fitness, and dedicated the rest of her life to coaching, writing, competing, and inventing active vacations. She loves to learn and teach but, perhaps, derives the most gratification from helping people accomplish goals they never thought possible. Consider Jenny your personal coach for the week; please feel free to ask her plenty of questions at any time.


Hard to vision she was once overweight

My personal take on this duo is that John is the inspiration and Jenny is the brain’s of the pair. Many a debrief was had with Jenny quizzing us over a beverage in the crows nest on where else we could possibly go and from those intense back and forth blossomed the Florence, Danube and soon to be Southern France adventures. John keeps us inspired, in between bouts of sheer laughter along the way. For the Caribbean Cruise they utilize Royal Caribbean and AMA waterways is the river cruise line of chose. I keep joking about switching over to the Windstar Cruise line since I have been on them 3 times and envision the entire ship of “us” on board. Of course, I only mention such to Jenny. I also keep whispering, Hawaii, in her ear from time to time.


Thriller joining them at the Mayan ruins in Belize City

Our particular adventure had plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep the dynamic duo on their toes. It started out very calm with the evening welcome event at the Embassy Suites hotel where the hotel offered drinks and snacks to loosen up those of us that came in a day early. Little did we know that the Gasparilla festival was going on that weekend and we got our fill of much needed pirate outfits ideas.

The next morning we were off to stretch out the old legs along the water for a slow 2-ish run. The Vision of the seas cruise ship and our home for the next 7 days was a short walk away. Transportation by bus was provided which was great since we were dragging 3, 50 pound bags with us.

After the mandatory safety drill we, all 142 of us, met in our new meeting spot, Some Enchanted Evening Lounge. There we got an overview of the upcoming week’s events and races. After dinner many assembled in the Viking Crown Lounge. Many a discussion on future trips had been had in the past and we always rename that lounge to the Crow’s Nest. That is where it all began for us, back in 2011 or so.

In Key West Florida we were met by the local running club and ran either a 5K or 10K with the winner being the fastest male and female in each race. We choose the 5K so as to give us more time to view the most southern land mark and visit my name sake, Captain Tony’s Saloon.










All the gang gathered at the watering hole

After all that we were back on board for a day at sea and a 5K race on the deck, which was pitching, but we have seen worst during the Alaska cruise. This was a predicted race time so some might say the winner was somewhat random but it was a lot of fun. Cheering was had by all.

The next day we were back in Belize City. We were here back in April last year and it was nice to see the area from a different perspective. I was not impressed the first time but seeing it thru the lens of a cruiser it was somewhat of a contrast. They know where the money is so they made sure we all had a great experience.

It turns out we made history by being the first to ever hold a race of any type at the Mayan Ruins of Altun Ha. There it was a 4 mile relay race with Catherine and I doing 2 miles each at a half a mile at a time. It was a bit hot and the folks there gave us a great tour after or before the race, depending on which group you were with. The beer afterwards was cold and the price seemed to change as our group continued to show up at the one bar right up to the point when we drank them dry.


Good thing they ran out of beer or we would have never had made it back for this picture


Even Thriller enjoyed the cold beer after a long day in the heat


Long legs came in handy

I was very happy to see that some of the cruiser money went into the paving of the 14 mile section of the road leading to the ruins. It was not an easy drive for me, back in April, but I did learn a new term on our way back to the ship this time. DRT, Dead right there. Our good friend and emergency nurse, Kim, coined it as a description of what we all witnessed along the side of the road. Another bike versus car that did not turn out well.

On our last visit we were not allowed to enter the cruise thermal and it was a vast difference to the area just 1 mile away. Money talks and nobody walks. There was a couple of watering holes with music to choose from and anything and everything you could every want to buy on hand. My favorite phrase was “I have all the junk you don’t need at half the price.”

Back to the ship for another great dinner where many have learned, by now, you can order two of each appetizer, entree, and dessert. I even saw someone order three deserts, oh my. Dinner seating is on an assigned rotation basis so that we could spend time with the most of the group and John and Jenny have their own separate tables where others rotate to their tables.

The next day the seas won and we were unable to make land Costa Maya or as we now called it Costa Maybe. This was a first for J and J but the seemed to audible well and put on a couple of deck events. The ship supplied champagne and we all race/walked a few laps around the top deck on the ship while drinking a glass of champagne in between laps. I did make it to the final round but Harry, the professional race walker, beat me out. I did come back with a team victory for the spoon egg carry.

Some might have noticed by now that the mileage, so far, is not near where you would think it would be, by now, for either a marathon or half marathon. Turns out that it was decided that for the Caribbean it was no longer feasible to have people out running or walking that many miles in the heat and humidity. No complaints here, but for those that need to accomplish more mileage in a week do as some of us did and just keep running or walking. When I said us, I did not mean me, as you can see so far, bar time is important to me. However, there were many that continued on or simply found a nearby race when we got back on land on Sunday.


The sea of Green


The winning team, a photo bomber and the trophy


Pool time after the deck races

Off we go now for the final race of the week, the Amazing race in Cozumel. Catherine and I did not really get all dressed up but some of the folks on this trip went all out. I even saw a few stuffed birds on shoulders. Once again everyone took off in one direction each clutching their maps and clues while we went in the opposite direction to get in a good two mile run. I had figured 2 hours to make it to the finish and the winning team was to get the King of Spades, so once again, it was a pub crawl for us. We all finished up at Margrettiville and some took an extra stop at Senior Frogs at the cruise thermal. I know it sounds it hard to believe but I did not win the bottle of beer, shot of tequila and ballon blowing up contest. I think they gave me one of those clown balloons to keep me from winning.


Great Advertising for Royal Caribbean








Thriller enjoying the view and we made it to stop number 5, Maragrettiville


My smile says it all, Catherine is getting a message after a shot of something

About half of us made it to the second formal night at dinner that evening. I wonder why. We were now back at sea for the trek back to Tampa and the boat rocked and rolled the whole way back. Not like the Mega Ship, Anthem of the Seas, off the coast of NC that had to turn around. It did make it interesting for the awards ceremony, the last night, in the Majestic Theater, at the front of the ship.

Besides the overall winner presentation, J and J also select their Inspiration, Dedication and Perspiration awards. It was a very pleasant surprise for Catherine and I to be awarded the Inspiration award for our cutting edge approach to Running all over the world. I sometimes have to tell her and remind myself that if it was easy anyone would be able to do it.


If the shoe fits, wear it


Could not have said it better myself

We are off to Antigua for a long weekend on Saturday, with Valentines day on Sunday. The three day weekend was an award Catherine received after reaching 50,000 Aveda points. Then back to ATL for a few days. After that off we go for our first overseas trip, this year, to Tel Aviv Israel for a half marathon. Using miles from last year for the two first class seats and points for our hotel room at the Renaissance. If I work it right after about 5 years I should be able to travel on miles and points for the entire 6th year.

You can never plan the future by the past.
— Edmund Burke

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