Type the words “runner-philosopher” on the google search engine and the top 2 results are all about Dr. George Sheehan.
Born 1918 in Brooklyn and died 1993 in New Jersey, he was a respected cardiologist, an accomplished runner, best-selling author of eight books, husband (in his own words) to the “most beautiful woman on the Jersey shore”, and a stern yet inspiring father to 12 kids. One of the pioneers in the fitness boom of the late 70s, he was viewed by many as the “guru” of runners, but his adoring audience eventually encompassed all athletes and then some. No less than one of the most charismatic of American Presidents, Bill Clinton, named Dr. Sheehan the “philosopher king” of running.
His main pulpit for spreading his gospel of play and runner’s high was the hundreds of magazine columns he penned in the last 30 years for the local newspaper The Red Bank Register and then for the Runner’s World magazine as medical editor. He studied great thinkers as varied as American pragmatist philosopher William James, Spanish liberal philosopher Jose Ortega, Irish novelist and poet James Joyce, Moby Dick author Herman Melville, Church Father Irenaeus and the classical Greek philosopher Plato. Thus, the depth and breadth of his writings was truly magnificent.
Unfortunately for me and, I suspect, many more runners here in the Philippines, we never got to be exposed to his deep-thinking and mental stretching. Literally and figuratively not in the same time zone as he was.
Good thing there is this book entitled “THE ESSENTIAL SHEEHAN: A lifetime of Running Wisdom from the Legendary Dr. George Sheehan.” Printed by Rodale, Inc. and edited by his son Andrew Sheehan, the book is a collection of his best writing presented to a new and broader audience in the hope of inspiring many more to “leave the herd” and take up play, be it running or any other.
Divided into thematic chapters covering such timeless subjects as the power of play, the pursuit of excellence and facing one’s mortality, the anthology is a treasure chest. There are many many take-aways. Many worthy of sharing.
One such wisdom is an answer to a question which I am sure many passionate runners have had to answer many times from inquisitors, both cynic and innocent. That question is – how do you budget your day/week so that you can have time to run? Hereunder is Dr. Sheehan’s answer which I quote, almost in toto, from pages 31-34.
“When I was practicing medicine and running every day, writing weekly sports columns and racing almost every Sunday, people would ask me how I did it. The 24 hours did not seem long enough to allow for all those activities. How was I able to budget my time so effectively?
It was difficult at first. I found that running could not be simply added to my day. I would not get up early in the morning and do it, and running before bedtime was too much after my long day. Something had to go to afford running and writing full play.
And because both running and writing are play - - - play of the body and play of the mind - - - I was able to take my 24 hours and find a place for them. Once you find something that is playful and addictive and filled with satisfaction, your daily budget takes care of itself. New priorities are set. A new perspective, a new sense of proportion, takes over. Once I became a runner and then a writer, my expenditures of time were made only when they were compatible with those roles.
Over a period of time, I eliminated a number of activities from my usual day. Most of this surgery was painless. Lunch, I discovered, unnecessary. Eating a big breakfast left me with no need for midday food...Thoreau once said that we should not lunch with people unless we have a new idea to impart. On that basis, my luncheons could be reduced to monthly events.
Movies are no problem. Most are not worth seeing. A year’s output in film is reduced to a handful that can stir me to tears or laughter or action. The others are no more than killers of time.
My rules for books are equally simple. I read the classics and prefer authors who are dead or older than I. If you are of another mind, pick up a bestseller list from 10 years ago, and you will get an idea how little of what is current will live on. A classic is a book that appeals from one generation to another...There are few good reasons to read novels. Robert Frost said he read no novels because he was too busy living his own life.
The passive role imposed by both movies and novels puts me off. Like Frost, I want to be part of the action. I do not want to be a spectator. The trade off for watching and reading is rhe stimulation of new ideas and the good quotes. For good quotes, books by the great thinkers are the best. Newspapers that contain the truth expressed by the common man come next. Movies are bad, TV the worst.
My rules for budgeting my 24 hours are simple. No lunch, no novels, little TV. A rare movie, few magazines, a quick pass through the newspaper. Thus I reduce those hours in which I am a consumer and a spectator and increase the time when I am living my own life.
Do not underestimate the difficulty of turning over a new leaf. Be aware that even minor changes in our daily routines are resisted by forces as powerful as any commitment we can make.
We believe that change is a matter of willpower. Once we become determined enough, once a truly firm decision has been made, the new life will take place.
It doesn’t work that way. It is true that we have to recognize the need for a change, true also that we must make a pledge to do it, true always that such a commitment follows observation and judgment. But no matter how long and proper the preparation, no matter how strong and enduring the motivation, we cannot add a new activity to our life without taking something else out.
Should I decide that I want to become fit and I am currently using up my allotted hours a day, then I must take something out of that day to make room for my new thing - - in this case fitness.
Why not add it to the end of the day or beginning? Because removing time from sleep ultimately fails. It does happen, particularly in the beginning of an athletic program, that less sleep is required because of less fatigue. But as activity increases, so does the need for sleep.
Nor is it easy to decide what is to be thrown away. We have to decide between good things, not good and bad. We have a surfeit of riches. Each has a value, each is worth doing. But decide we must...Whatever success you will have will begin with giving up something presently in your life for the new activity... You have to learn that everything you do every day has a deep-seated reason. It gratifies a need and offers psychological support. Therefore, begin where the rewards of the new activity can clearly outweigh what is being sacrificed.”
There you have it and there are many more to be shared from this masterpiece.
Running luminaries like Alberto Salazar, Frank Shorter, Jeff Galloway and Amby Burfoot all warrant The Essential Sheehan is a must-have book for any runner.
Couldn’t agree more.
Photos taken from http://www.georgesheehan.com/.