Dr. George Sheehan was named the ‘philosopher king’ of running by President Bill Clinton. He was a respected cardiologist, accomplished runner, and best-selling author of eight books on the importance of exercise and sport. His regular column in Runner’s World remains the most popular ever. This book is a collection of his best writing, edited by his son and presented to a new audience, so that his words may inspire a new generation of runners to become “good animals.”
As I read this book, I felt that Dr. George Sheehan knew me too well. How could his words, written decades ago, so accurately describe my feelings about running (and living) today? Sheehan has put into words the thoughts that have circled my head unformed and incomplete. His ideas are inspiring and his logic is backed up by the words of great thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James and Henry David Thoreau.
Sheehan felt that we should strive for balance between the body, mind and soul. He believed that the key to happiness and longevity begins with the physical body and being a good animal. Sheehan’s first and greatest commandment in fitness: “Listen to your body.”
“…even if there were other avenues of information, there is one question that only the body can answer. And it is the question that holds the answer to every successful lifelong fitness program: Are you having fun?” – Dr. George Sheehan
Sheehan writes about the importance of play. Play offers the body a chance to move and the mind a chance to wander. Sheehan writes, “when exercise becomes play, it becomes a self-renewing compulsion.” Play occupies us completely and we lose track of time and let go of the daily pressures we feel in our lives. For Sheehan, running was play.
Dr. George Sheehan was an elite age group runner and a ferocious competitor. At age 50, he ran a 4:47 mile, to become the first man over 50 years of age to break the 5 minute barrier. He ran marathons on a whim. His training philosophy was relatively simple, he ran 5 miles a day, 5 days a week, took a day off, and then raced. He sometimes modified his workouts over the years to include longer runs or track intervals, but still raced every weekend.
“Effort is the one strictly underived and original contribution we make to this world. He alone is happy who has will. The rest are zeros. He uses, they are used.” – William James
A large section of the book is dedicated to the subject of marathons. Dr. George Sheehan believed that the men and women who run marathons are answering an ascetic impulse to be heroic. The civility and conveniences of modern life have robbed us of our chance to become heroes. Runners are offered that chance every weekend. Sheehan believed that the marathon provides us with a theater for heroism. “Ordinary citizens, whose previous lives had held little more than boredom, frustration, anxiety, and depression, now filled with martial values.”
Sheehan expounds on the benefits of running that go well beyond the physical. He explores the concept of the ‘runner’s high’ and compares running with religion. He writes about anger management and the patience that runners cultivate over the long miles. Sheehan observes the cyclical nature of training and how it mirrors the changing seasons. Dr. George Sheehan’s words and ideas will ring true to the endurance runner.
Dr. George Sheehan died at the age of 74, after battling prostate cancer for seven years. He never stopped running, and he never stopped fighting. Sheehan wrote that “in many ways, cancer is a blessing. You see life as a gift, and everyday becomes precious…” During his final years he discovered the importance of family and community. He learned that running with others can provide even more joy than running alone.
This is a must-have book for any runner.