Nordic Track Book Club Review: This Running Life

This Running Life by George Sheehan

This is my 3rd reading of This Running Life since discovering George Sheehan in the early 1980’s.  It’s another excellent work from Sheehan on capturing the essential qualities and philosophy of a life in which running plays a big part.  It was motivating to read a book about running while on the [NordicTrack], and usually after a run.  I’ve gone back to running about two months ago, with three races (two 5Ks and a 5-miler), but have been stuck on how to blog about it.  So we’ll seed the topic with a book review and the usual excerpts.

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P.21 We are, then, to become experts in ourselves. I should learn not from books or from others, but from my own experience.

p.23 We runners are not built for the rat race or the community of men. Turning distance runners who are made for flight and thought into fighters or socializers goes against nature.

Near the end of my hour’s run on the river road is a long, steep hill. On certain days I see it in the distance, and remember its length and height and slope. Then, I think of the effort it will take and how I will fell at the top, and I wish I were already back in town, the run over, doing other things.

On those days, my mind is in command. I am a reasoning, calculating human being. I have forgotten I am also my body and that my body accepts such challenges. My body wants to be stretched as far as it can go and then stretched even further. I have forgotten that the body wants the best and the true just as much as my mind and heart do. It will not be satisfied until it has reached its limits. On those days, I am not a runner. I am a mind.

As I race up that hill, I am a pupil, an observer. My body is my tutor.

The mind’s first step to self-awareness must be through the body.

“Who is one truly,” asked Abraham Maslow, “if not first one’s own body, one’s own constitution, one’s own functioning?”

For a good part of my day, I am no more than a robot. (Sheehan was an M.D. and Cardiologist.) My actions are pure reflex. My body is on automatic pilot. For the better part of my time, I am like a captain who has given control of the ship to a junior officer and retired to his cabin to read a good book.

P.29 Exercise may not lengthen our lifespan, but it will certainly combat the problems that are said to shorten it: hypertension, obesity, addiction to nicotine, high cholesterol.

Exercise substitutes a positive addiction that tends to build the body for a negative one that tears the body down.

When exercise becomes play, it becomes a self-renewing compulsion. Play occupies us totally, and time passes without our noticing it.

Why exercise? Rather, “Why play?”

Beyond all this fitness is the discovery of who you are.

P.38 “Exercise addicts,” wrote William Morgan, “give higher priority to their daily runs than job, family and friends. They run first, and then if time permits they work, love and socialize.”

But surely that is the correct sequence. First come fitness and play, energy and self-discovery. We must first be made whole. Then, we can return to the busy world of affairs. We must first go back to being a child before we can do those adult things.

Personal growth must precede professional growth. What you do in your profession is a function of the person you are.

P.50 Whenever my blood tests are normal, I know I’m not training hard enough.

p.78 Runners must also be patient. They must not look for improvement too soon. Most studies show that the major increase in oxygen uptake and physical work capacity takes as long as twelve to sixteen weeks.

Dr. Richard Schuster, who has treated many of these athletes, has noted that their shoes are worn out under the big toe. My initial discovery, then, was my big toe. As soon as I emphasized the use of my big toe, I sensed an increase in power, a stronger pushoff, a longer stride.

You increase your stride by pushing off, not by reaching out. Never let your foot get ahead of your knee. I begin with the thought that I will wear out the shoe under the big toe.

p.98 For an hour or so before our five-mile race, I drank fluids, water at times, but mostly iced tea in quantities that eventually made me urinate. Only that way could I be assured I was in my normal hydrated state.

p.108 The sleep that counts is the night before the night before you run.

The tendency is to run the first mile too fast. I aim for a pace I would be happy with if I were finishing. I ask myself, “Is this the pace I usually run toward the end of the race?” If the answer is affirmative, I stick to that speed not matter how many runners go rushing by.

p.135 Play is the answer—the answer to the unsuccessful fitness program, the answer to the unsuccessful life. Once you’ve found your play, all else will be given to you.

p.150 So I trot that first mile, deliberately making it very easy. I allow myself to savor the initial feeling of release, to experience that sensation of escape. My soma is healing my psyche.

p.164 Running is play; racing is sport. Play is the preparation; sport is the performance. My training is play; my race is sport in its purest expression.

p.215 Running is my relaxation technique. When I run, I relax. When I run, I meditate. Instead of becoming immobile and closing my eyes and repeating my word, I take the opposite course. I run and open my eyes and move into inaccessible areas of my mind and soul.

Movement is the key. Movement is the mantra that opens up my mind. It is the rhythm that leads to relaxation. Nietzsche told us, “Never trust an idea you come upon sitting down.”

p.228 My book is not journalism; it is a journal. It is about the feel of being a runner, the feel of growth, the feel of control, the feel of being at home in what I am doing. Everything we experience, we should be able to put into words.

p.232 Another essential in this preparation for a talk is an hour’s run. Coleridge once said that you will never fail in a talk after a ten-mile walk. I know what he meant.

p.246 I understand these “people” people and know how important their works are. But I am not one of them. That’s why I feel most at home and at peace when I run.

p.263 The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. The flesh is not only willing; it is eager for action.

p.264 To succeed at anything, you need passion. You have to be a bit of a fanatic.

p.270 “Run into peace,” wrote Meister Eckhart, the fourteenth-century mystic. “The man who is in the state of running, of continuous running into peace, is a heavenly man. He continually runs and moves and seeks peace in running.” Running is the purifying discipline that the Greeks sought so their bodies would be fit for the gods to inhabit.

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A long time developer, I was an early adopter of Linux in the mid-90's for a few years until I entered corporate environments and worked with Microsoft technologies like ASP, then .NET. In 2008 I released Sueetie, an Online Community Platform built in .NET. In late 2012 I returned to my Linux roots and locked in on Java development. Much of my work is available on GitHub.