Running and Being: The Total Experience

ISBN: 0446970905
ISBN 13: 9780446970907
By: George Sheehan

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Reader's Thoughts

Lenny Husen

I read this in the 1980's, my aunt Mary Jo gave it to me when I was 16. I loved it and loved George Sheehan's style enough to subscribe to Runner's World magazine for a couple of years, just because of his column. For him, running was meditation, a triumph of the human spirit, and a religion. The way surfing is for some people. He was unique and a special guy. Every time I see someone running and looking happy about it instead of miserable, I think of this book.


It took me a while, but I finally polished off this collection of essays on running and life. Especially in the later sections, I found myself resonating with Sheehan's accounts of running the Boston Marathon, and experiencing its deeper aspects of family and ritual. Overall, he raises some good points about the connections between exercise and growth, training for a race and tackling a life goal, and so on. A little more intellectual than I expected, but still a rewarding read, and one that reminded me to enjoy every run I take.

Pat Burke

This man explains what drives runners to run using philosophers, theologians, poets, psychologists, Christianity, Buddhism, et al. Because he is an accomplished runner, he is able to use his own anecdotes to paint the words of these others into an experience with which all road runners will relate.His thesis is that we find meaning in play, not in work. Athletics, dance, golf and other endeavors that require focus and discipline allow participants to live in the moment where time stands still. Freed from time eternal values are palpable and wisdom gained.


It was great to read a book about running that wasn't how-to. Sheehan emphasizes the necessity of play in our daily lives, and also how running for some people can serve as a way to connect with the self, and also the wider world. In general, this book was thoughtful, well-written, and unique.However, one thing kept really bugging me about this book. Sheehan likes to write phrases in a sentence, put words together in various ways, combine ideas and thoughts in several versions, and then rather than picking the one that worked best for getting across what he is trying to communicate, what he really wants most to say, what the real thrust of his argument is, he leaves them all in the sentence.See what I did there?


The runners out there already will know of George Sheehan, perhaps the sport's first philosopher. His quotes appear all over our motivational materials, and this book was reissued last year. As I trained for last week's Chicago Marathon, I read it slowly over several weeks, and I loved it. Sheehan is a little too fond of his own shortcomings, a little too proud of being somewhat antisocial, and his emphasis on the ectomorph/mesomorph/endomorph body-type stuff as being indicative of personality and ability is just....wrong. But nobody's perfect. There are passages of true beauty and clarity in this book that perfectly capture the running experience for me, with the chapters of losing, winning and "seeing" really standing out. I read the last section last night. It left me with the sensation of being launched into my sport, myself and my world as a person still incomplete, but more complete than I was before. I will refer to this book again and again.

Ed Stephenson

You don't have to run as well as Sheehan did to enjoy this book. His ability was definitely disheartening to me as I will never run as well as he did (even when he was older) but the thoughts and ideas in this book helped me through many runs and also helped me believe running is worthwhile for its own sake.


When I first started this book I thought it was really lame. He talks about himself a lot in a self-deprecating-yet-egotistical way, like he is so proud of being a loner. I kept thinking, "Man, get over yourself." He also has a lot of bogus ideas about ecto/endo/mesomorphs and how that determines your personality. I kept thinking he must really be a loner and not know anyone because I can think of a zillion individuals whose body types do not match the personalities he related to them. The first 15% of the book is filled with that, and it crops up again briefly several times later in the book.For some reason I kept reading, and I am so glad I did. There are some amazingly inspiring essays. Reading this book will really make you want to find an activity you are good at and like doing, and do it with your whole heart and soul. It helps you find meaning in your life in the daily activities.The core of his message is that play is meaningful.He shares some really cool stories about some races he has been in, especially ones where he had a spiritual or emotional experience during the race. He also tells about some daily training sessions and how he feels about running in general. There is also some practical advice for runners which now is kind of outdated, like "Wear cushioned shoes" and "Land on your heel". On the other hand, you got to trust him on some stuff, because he is the world record holder for the over-50 2 mile, with a time of 10:53. Yeah. I bet less than 5% of the population of America can run that fast for even twenty yards. I could probably run that fast for only 800 m.Despite the lame-brain self-absorption scattered through the book, it's definitely worth reading because it has so many nuggets of wisdom and inspiring stories. There are some really good life lessons.

Heather Cervas

This was a very enjoyable book, but I like existential writing and identified with the author. One slightly detracting element of the format was that each chapter was divided into smaller chunks, which resembled possible columns or articles he previously wrote. There was a lot of repetition in each chapter trying to drive home the same point, which towards the end of the book began to bug me. This is not a manual on running, but rather insight into the mind of a runner, and highly charged with the author's own experience; kind of like creative memoir writing. There were some dated references to the lack of research on what our dietary intake should be as well. I do think I will still recommend this to my friends.


The best book for anyone wanting to start running. Written with longevity in mind.


I read this back in the height of my active running days while living in Eugene, Oregon. I loved this book because it spoke to me with great passion and meaning about one of the main sports I enjoyed participating in, along with advice about running, writing, philosophy, and life. Some where over the years I lost the book and found that it was now out of print. But I was able to find a good quality copy that was available used. The book was a great inspiration to me in terms of simple motivation and findng meaning in my running. I highly recommend it.

Brian Walker

Running parts were good, Being parts not so much. Sheehan attempts to be a philosopher by quoting hundreds of other writers, leading thinkers, and halfway philosophers. His racing stories are interesting and inspiring, just leave out the pseudo philosophy. At times I felt like it was "Deep thoughts with Jack Handey." His medical running advice was obviously outdated for a 35 year old book. I didn't like that he would quote Scripture and talk about God in his philosophizing, and then turn around and sound like he was agnostic or even antagonistic toward God on the next page. His writing was choppy and at times hard to follow with all the jumping around from deep thought to deep thought. Two stars because it was about Running. Run and Leave it Be.

Christopher Kijowski

I have read this book so many times over the years my 20-year-old paperback looks like it's been to Hell and back. This book is a favorite for so many reasons. When I was younger and trying to find myself, Doc Sheehan understood me. As I reread the dog eared pages I see myself happy and content. I find company and solace in its pages. I've read reviews by people who have said, "Not enough about running" in this book. You've missed the point. Doc Sheehan's life was about running, any runner will tell you that.

Steve Haley

Reading any Sheehan book is akin to reading what José Ortega y Gassett and Heraclitus might have collaboratively written had they been running buddies. Essentially Sheehan espouses the philosophy that running is equal parts existential discovery and vital physical activity; that by doing the work of running as play we allow ourselves to realize more of our potential as both athletes and intellectual beings. Definitely give yourself time to reread the more conceptual parts of his books.


I won't lie- this book is dated and the author is so pretentious it borders on comical. However, if you manage to swim through the sea of narcisism Sheehan does have moments of beautiful clarity and prose. He describes the spiritual aspect of running well, though he tends to go far overboard. (He compares himself to everyone from Moses to Thoreau.) All that being said it is a nice read if you don't take it too seriously.

Mike Salamida

The runner-philosopher. This book reads as if Sheehan wrote the whole thing while on a runner's high. Besides Born to Run, this is the highlight of my running-book collection.

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