Running & Being: The Total Experience

ISBN: 0966631803
ISBN 13: 9780966631807
By: George Sheehan

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Reader's Thoughts

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 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.


The more enjoyable your new fitness routine, the more likely you are to stick with it (through February, at least). Dr. Sheehan’s bestselling classic has inspired millions to find the fun in running. Read this on the elliptical, and then ditch the machines for the great outdoors.image

Dani Turner

Redundant and a little out there but I feel like I've finally encountered another person who thinks and feels the way I do. Too bad he is dead.


GS was truly the first runner philosopher of our modern era. Some of my favorites from the book:Page 11 I look for answers on the roads. I take my tools of sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste and intellect and run with it. I discover a total Universe, a world that begins and ends sweat and exhaustion. Page 35 for the runner, less is better. Life that is his work of art is understated. His needs and wants are few; he can be captured in a few strokes. One friend, a few clothes, a meal now and then, some change in his pockets, and, for enjoyment, his thoughts and the elements.Page 46. To be satisfied with the simplicities, I have learned the possessions get in my way, that money and what it can buy are distractions. I have learned that simplicity starts when income exceeds out go.Page 46. Inside of me, as in every thin man, there is a fat man saying, "eat " and my fat man is adding, "eat it's free."Page 47. When I finally spend some money I prefer to have some permanent evidence the expenditure. Doing it on something that is immediately consumed leaves me feeling cheated. For much the same reason, I suppose, I have never smoked. Buying something and then setting it on fire is incomprehensible. Page 51. From Pender to Emerson they have told us to become the thing we are, to fulfill our Design to choose our own reality, our own way of being a person. What they didn't tell us do it was how to do it, or how difficult it would be.Page 52. We came more and more to associate who we were with what we owned, to judge ourselves by peoples’ opinions, to make our decisions by other peoples rules, to live by other peoples’ values. Coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidentally, our physical condition began to decline. We had reached the fork in the road. We took the well-traveled path.Page 53. Physical fitness programs have long been based on the desire to lead a long life, to forestall heart attacks, to feel better generally or to improve your figure. No one ever told us that the body determined our mental and spiritual energy. That with the new body we can put on the new person and build a new life, the life we were always designed to lead but lost with the body we enjoyed in our youth.Page 56. But succeed or fail, the true athlete makes no excuses. He recognizes himself without pride or prejudice. He knows what he can or cannot do. Found what he does best and is happy with it regardless of where he is listed in the standings. He has discovered himself understood his strengths and weaknesses, and accepted them.Page 63. People just do not do things because they are good for them. And are even less inclined to do so when they enjoy doing the opposite. People accept the rationale, practical, physiological only when it dawns on them that life any other way is a waste. Only then will they agree to a program that to them is a mindless, inconvenient and boring use other time.Page 68. " The next major advance in the health of the American people," said Dr. John Knowles of the Rockefeller Foundation, " will result only from what the individual is willing to do for himself. "Page 70. The message I get from consulting myself is clear. First I ran from instinct. Later I was forced to exercise in physical education. Even later I came to run and exercise because it was prescribed by authorities. But finally I have come to run because it is the right and true and just thing for me to do. In the process I may be helping my arteries and heart and circulation as well, but that is not my concern.Page 75. For every runner who tours the world running marathons, there are thousands who run to hear the leaves and listen to rain and look to the day when it is all suddenly as easy as a bird in flight. For them, sport is not a test but a therapy, not a trial but a reward, not a question but an answer.Page 94. We are taught collectively; “Education,” said Socrates, “was the winning of knowledge out of yourself.” Yet the activity of the classroom and the lecture hall is to homogenize people.Page 95. If you would learn how to defraud the consumer, observe the educators: they imprisoned their audience, set up delusionary goals called success and happiness, sell inadequate means called science and the humanities, and disparage their competitors – the body and spirit. And when they fail, they blame the pupils, not the teachers. Blame us, not themselves... As with everything else in life, if you would be educated, you must do it yourself.Page 119. Every mile I run is my first period. Every hour on the roads is a new beginning. Every day I put on my running clothes, I am born again. Seeing things as if for the first time, seeing the familiar as unfamiliar, the common as uncommon.Page 123 The fight, then, is never with age, it is with boredom, with routine, with the danger of not living at all. The life will stop, growth will cease, learning will come to an end. You no longer become who you are. You begin to kill time or live it without thought for purpose. Everything that is happiness, all that is excitement, whatever you know of joy and delight will evaporate. Life will be reduced to a slow progression of days and weeks and months. Time will become an enemy instead of an ally. When I run, I enter a world where time stops, where now is a fair sample of Eternity. Where I am filled with excitement in joy and delight, even with the intensity and inner fire and never ending search for self."Play, games, jests, culture," wrote Plato, "we affirm are the most serious things in life."We can continue to keep our bodies in beauty and competence until death claims us. We should know that the fit die young in body as well as in mind and heart.Running has made me young again. I run now as I did at 20. I have the same health, the same vigor, the same sensations of power and grace. And I have the strength and speed and endurance of those years younger than me. Not because I am exceptional, but because I do what I do with my whole self.Running gives me a body and mind and heart willing to follow my own vision, to break the mold, to choose a new course even perhaps to become the hero that Ortega said we all carry within us.Page 150. And I know now, as every teacher should know, the truth of Ortegas statement, " it is not desire that leads to knowledge but necessity. "Page 164. There is an excitement in practice. Perhaps the greatest of all excitements. The discovery of who I am. Alone with myself and my stopwatch, I learn who I am. I find out what I can do.Page 181. Tom Baum, the director of the January 9 Jersey Shore marathon, called me a few days before the beach race to predict that the event will be held in horrible weather. In a voice radiating with joy he said, " I think we'll have a snow storm with high winds and freezing temperatures. It will be an experience we will never forget. "Page 185 Fatigue, you see, does depend on motivation and lactic acid and task aversion, but it also depends on something else. Man's limits are not simply in his cells or even in his brain. You can measure lactic acid and stimulate brain areas with an electrode and make a person's arms and legs move. But there is no place in the brain where stimulation will cause a person to decide. No substance in his blood that will cause him to believe.That choice, that act of faith, is made in the mind. And in answering the great question, " will you or won't you have it so? " we find the energy that conquers fatigue and conquers ourselves as well.Page 194. If you want to be all you can be, you have to expect a failure from time to time. Finding the limits of your ability will almost certainly end in a walk to the finish line.Page 199. "When a man dies," wrote Charles Peguy, "he dies not from the disease alone. He dies from his whole life. "Page 228. This is probably not true about everyone, but the runner would agree. He possesses himself in solitude and silence and suffering. He is gradually stripped of desires and attachment to things. As I run, I get closer and closer to requiring nothing more than life supports, air and water and the use of the planet.Page 246. We were not created to be spectators. Not made to be onlookers. Not born to be bystanders. You and I cannot view life as a theater goer would, please or displeased but what unfolds. You, as well as I, are producer, playwright, and actor making, creating and living the drama on stage. Life must be lived. Act it out. The play we are in is our own.There are reasons, of course, to observe others. To learn how something is done. And to see the human body or soul or intellect in its perfection. We watch others so that their skill becomes our skill, their wisdom becomes our wisdom, their faith becomes our faith. But eventually we must go it alone. Find our own skill, our own wisdom, our own faith. Otherwise we will die without having learned who we are or what we can accomplish. And we will die without having an inkling of the meaning of it all.Page 255. What do I do now? No matter what I have done, there is still more to do. No matter how well it has been done, it can still be done better. No matter how fast the race, it can still be run faster. Everything I do must be aimed at that, aimed at being a masterpiece. The things I write, the races I run, everyday I live. There can be no other


I expected to like this book better than I did. I think it was Sheehan's writing style. I know he's accomplished a lot and has been an inspiration to many people and this book has also been a best seller and perhaps is even considered a running classic. But it seems as if everything is black and white to Sheeham. No gray areas. He's found what works for him and assumes the same is true for everyone else. His hard hitting information and jack hammer way of delivering it is not very appetizing. If he were telling you this verbally, I think you would get tired of it very quick. That doesn't mean the information or his experience is of no value. Perhaps a less didactice delivery would be more enjoyable. If you want to read a really good book on running, I recommend "Born to Run" or "Eat and Run," not this title.


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

Laura Hoffman Brauman

I really, really wanted to love this book -- so much so, that I kept reading when normally I would have put the book down and moved on to something else. I've seen a lot of Sheehan's quotes in other articles and always found them very relevant, meaningful, etc. -- But when I read his essays as a whole, there was more that I really disagreed with than resonated with me. That being said -- his essays are about his experience as a runner, and his experiences are his alone. What I did like was the idea of running as play and the importance of play to identity, happiness, fulfillment.

Ross Leblanc

Along the lines of Dale Carnegie's "How to win Friends and Influence People" et al., great wisdom and stories in this book but not something that has to necessarily be read sequentially in long sittings. I've marked the book as 'Read' but in reality will continue to pick up and read a random chapter at times. So much meandering wisdom with a plethora of references to historical figures. His random thinking sits well with me. Love this book and look forward to finding more Mr. Sheehan's work in the future.

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.

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.


This book has a few nice quotes (most of which are not even the author's, just some famous philosophers) for which I give it one star... This book's author has a tone of arrogance the whole way through and frequently refers back to his staunch notion that one must have a specific body type to run, and if you don't, you need to do something else. He gets so detailed with these ideals of physiological perfection it kind of reminds me of Hitler's obsession with ideal Aryan measurements. Also, I am apparently doomed and should just give up tomorrow because my second toe is slightly longer than my great toe. Worst of all, Sheehan tries to temper his huge egotism with fake humility which I just can't tolerate. Mixed in with the lofty and scattered philosophizing was a bunch of seventies-era goofiness. Just horrible. As a side-note, the second I found out Sheehan was a cardiologist, I thought "oh, well no wonder he is so pompous".

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.


The philosophy of running. A classic running book from the '70's. This was my Running Bible when I started running.

Jessica Peshek Alleyne

Not my favorite book on running. I actually got more into his philosophical waning more than anything else. I think if I was just like him - a slender built, born to run long-distance runner, runner - then I would have gotten more out of it. Like - "wow, that's just like me!" Wasn't the most engaging read otherwise.

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