Dr. George Sheehan was a cardiologist, runner, writer, and philosopher. Yet no label is sufficient for him. And of all that's been written about him, I wasn't truly impressed until I read this book and heard from Dr. Sheehan himself.
There is something in his writing that makes this book hard to put down. It's honest and insightful, direct and inspiring. Sheehan's voice is like Thoreau's (whom he often quotes): calm and wise, inviting us to walk along with him. In the process, he stirs our deepest desire to be great. This is the kind of writing I always look for, but seldom find.
Sheehan loved running. He loved running in every season, and in any condition. He loved the soul cleansing affect it had on him, he loved the agony of pushing himself to the limit in every race, and he loved both the solitude and the camaraderie he found in running. And he wanted others to share that love.
Sheehan believed that life should be simple, that people needed to free themselves from the things that squash creativity and play. Play, he believed, was serious business, and people should make time for it:
"Certainly, a case can be made that the true object of life is play."
For Sheehan, running was play.
Throughout these writings, we hear the importance of becoming the best we can physically, mentally, and spiritually. Sheehan urges readers to be heroic, something he believed could happen through running:
"This stage on which we can be bigger than life is a place where we can exhibit all that is good in us. Courage and determination, discipline and willpower, the purging of all negative impulses--we see that we are indeed whole and holy."
The Essential Sheehan is a treasure for runners, especially those of us who are getting older. Here's a man who ran competitively into his 70's, who could break a five minute mile when most men his age wouldn't walk a mile, who ran a 3:01:10 marathon when he was 61. We want to hear everything he has to say. But his wisdom can be applied to any sport, or art, or even life.
The writings are taken mostly from the 70's and 80's, so some of the descriptions of shoes and clothes are dated. I don't see many runners in turtle necks or leather tennis shoes today. But the writing is timeless. As David Willey writes in the introduction:
"There are things from the past--even forgotten, old-school things--that still matter today....In our over-digitized and under-exercised culture, George's writing may be more urgently needed now than when it was originally published."