The first book I discovered by George Sheehan was “George Sheehan on Running to Win: How to Achieve the Physical, Mental & Spiritual Victories of Running.” I was browsing at Books-A-Million back in 1997 or 1998 and stumbled across it by accident. I can admit that at the time I was not aware of this running guru or his amazing books. I was only a couple of years out of college and had just jumped into marathoning without really knowing what I was doing. I read the front cover, the back cover, then started reading the first chapter right there in the store. After the first couple pages I could not believe that what he wrote applied so directly, so perfectly to me. I had to buy it!
From that point I read everything I could get my hands on written by George Sheehan. And even his early books that were out of print, thanks to Phil (now husband, then boyfriend) who was a computer and Internet whiz even back then. This is before I was doing much online, never mind shopping. I am now the proud owner of all of George Sheehan’s books and even a rare audio tape of one of his lectures and a VHS but we don’t have a VCR so I haven’t actually watched that yet. But that’s a whole other story…
I have read all of his books and some twice. After just 22 pages of “Running to Win” I am already inspired again and don’t want to put it down. He starts out talking about the difference between a runner, a jogger, and a racer. I won’t go into all the details – you should definitely read the book! One of the most fascinating parts (so far) is about becoming a runner. According to Sheehan, “running has become an accepted method of taking charge of one’s life and becoming one’s personal best.”
The premise here is that people become runners for the basic reason of changing themselves. It can be a physical change they seek or a psychological change or both. Sheehan goes on to say that every runner has a “before” and “after” story. I have heard many great stories about lives changed by running. They are dramatic and amazing and important. The funny thing for me is that I started running when I was 11 years old. Still a child. My Girl Scout troop was working towards a fitness badge and the sport we chose was running because my dad was a runner, my mom was our troop leader, and running was a sport we could do without a lot of people or equipment.
Now at age 37 I honestly don’t remember what I was like “before” running. I have been running for 26 years. The longest lay off I had from running was 4 months recovering from an injury. I have been a runner for my entire adult life, teen years, and some of my childhood. I don’t feel like I really have a “before” story. I am blessed to have been a runner almost all of my life. I could not even imagine what my life would be like without running. I guess that is why I encourage anyone and everyone to try it. I promote and educate, support and give back. Running has given me so much. I hope others find that gift as well.
Rather than a “before” and “after” story I think I have a long and varied journey through running, through various training methods, through various obsessions, and what I call “before” and “after” coaching education. Training smarter after the coaching education was really key for me. I think that is why I was able to PR at the half marathon at age 36. Some PRs like the 5K and anything shorter than that are definitely behind me but I feel like the longer distances are still within reach. And after 26 years of running and racing, it’s good that I can still go after these goals. We all need purpose, right?
Sheehan answers the question of what makes runners run with this great quote from a 39-year-old runner: “Running is the most important thing in my life. It’s given me the freedom to be myself, to live a life I deemed not worth living. It has freed me from the hang-ups of my youth. It has matured and strengthened me. It is the most important thing I have ever done.” And he goes on to say “This runner has done what millions of other runners have done: They have accepted a moral imperative, the necessity of being a good animal, and have become a good person as well.”
If you have not read George Sheehan, you are in for a real treat. His focus is on being the best YOU, an experiment of one. Not the fastest on race day or beating a training partner or rival, but comparing yourself to yourself and trying to be the best YOU that you can be. Competing and winning are definitely great and can keep us excited, interested, and challenged, but truly becoming a runner is about you and the run.