Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Running & Being: Reflections in Quotes

This frigid winter has left plenty of time to curl up with a good book, a warm blanket, a warm and snuggly dog and/or cat, and a cup of coffee. One of the many books on my reading list this year was Running & Being: The Total Experienceby Dr. George Sheehan. This classic running text was first published in 1978, and became a bit of a running bible during the rise of the sport, with Sheehan serving as a muse and wise sage for the burgeoning recreational running community. The title had been on my docket for a while, and I was excited to crack it open (although carefully so as not to damage the spin, out of respect to my conservator partner!). Even after almost 30 years, Sheehan’s words ring true and I found myself connecting with his thoughts and perspective more and more as I turned the pages. His writing style, half philosopher, half runner, appealed to my intellectual curiosities as much as running passions.

Numerous reviews of the book have been published over the years, so it would be a bit presumptuous to think I could add anything in that genre that had not already been said. However, I found more and more quotes that spoke to me particularly, and I thought it would be engaging, at least to me, to document those. Perhaps you’ll discover new meaning in the book, or an interest in it that will cause you to pick it up for the first time. Either way, there’s meaning to be found if one is open to letting it in. Enjoy!

Chapter 1- Living

Our day-to-day living may seem mindless to the mind and of no consequence to the body, but the heart tells us different. The heart is where faith lies. Where we find the supreme act of courage, the courage to be. To take arms against oneself and become one’s own perfection. (p. 9)

Chapter 2- Discovering

The runner does not run because he is too slight for football or hasn’t the ability to put a ball through a hoop or can’t hit a curve ball. He runs because he has to. Because in being a runner, in moving through pain and fatigue and suffering, in imposing stress upon stress, in eliminating all but the necessities of life, he is fulfilling himself and becoming the person he is. (p. 22)

Chapter 3- Understanding

So I run in joy and even afterward there is a completeness that lingers and is even restored in the long, hot shower. I am “away”, not in the mind but in its warm, relaxed, tingling happy body, the feeling of running still in my legs and arms and chest. I am still enjoying who I was and what I did that hour on the road. (p. 28)

Chapter 4- Beginning

Where fitness ends, self-discovery starts. The athlete who is in complete command of the skills of his sport comes to understand the person he is through his attachment to his particular sport and his response to the stresses and strains that arise within it. He finds out what he is made of. What his true personality is.” (pp. 45-46)

Chapter 5- Becoming

So let us forget about longevity. Get away from the idea of prolonging life. Let us realize the truth of Thurber’s dictum “There is no safety in numbers- or in anything else.” Despite exercise, diet and abstention from all the vices, we will die in our appointed time. That should not concern. It is what happens from now until then that is important.” (pp. 56-57)

Chapter 6- Playing

Play is where life lives. Where the game is the game. At its borders, we slip into heresy. Become serious. Lose our sense of humor. Fail to see the incongruities of everything we hold to be important. Right and wrong become problematic. Money, power, position become ends. The game becomes winning. And we lose the good life and the good things that play provides.” (p. 61)

Chapter 7- Learning

What is school for the student, wrote philosopher Paul Weiss, is leisure for the mature. A time when we devote ourselves to detecting who we are and what we can do, a time to understand the world and how it works, a time to loaf and invite the imagination to full activity, a time to exhaust ourselves in play and dance and celebration.” (p.77)

Chapter 8- Excelling

Boredom, like beauty, is in the mind of the beholder. “There is no such thing as an uninteresting subject,” said Chesterton. “The only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.” (p.92)

Chapter 9- Running

Running reminds me that at any age man is still the marvel of creation. With the passage of time, there is little deterioration of our physical or psychic powers, little worth thinking that is lost. The only important issue, as Rollo May said, is not whether a person is twenty or forty or sixty, but whether he fulfills his own capacity of self-conscious choice at his own particular level.” (p. 116)

Chapter 10- Training

Life is the great experiment. Each of us is an experiment of one- observer and subject- making choices, living with them, recording the effects. “Living”, said the philosopher Ortega, “is nothing more than doing one thing instead of another.” (p. 130)

Chapter 11- Healing

The athlete is medicine’s most difficult patient. His pursuit of perfection is an unprecedented challenge to what Cannon called “homeostasis” and Claude Bernard termed the “internal milieu,” the body’s inner harmony with its external environment.” (p. 147)

Chapter 12- Racing

I have no need for short-lived bursts of superhuman energy. My game is endurance. My object perfection. My race is a product of training, determination, and reason. Strong emotions often contribute nothing but stupidity. It is the fired-up, psyched-up runner who runs the most irrationally placed races.” (p. 157)

Chapter 13- Winning

Some think guts is sprinting at the end of a race. But guts is what got you there to begin with. Guts start in the back hills with six miles still to go and you’re thinking of how you can get out of this race without anyone noticing. Guts begin when you still have forty minutes of torture left and you’re already hurting more than you ever remember.” (p. 181)

Chapter 14- Losing

Sport is where an entire life can be compressed into a few hours. Where the emotions of a lifetime can be felt on the acre or two of ground. Where a person can suffer and die and rise again on six miles of trails through a New York City park.” (p. 189)

Chapter 15- Suffering

Why I began running is no longer important. It is enough that it generated a desire to run. Then the running itself took over. Running became self-renewing compulsion. The more I ran, the more I wanted to run.” (p. 197)

Chapter 16- Meditating

On the road I become a philosopher and follow the philosopher’s tradition. I affirm my own existence and no one else’s. I am occupied with my own inner life. I am constructing a system that will justify  my own way of being in the world. And discovering, as Emerson said, that there are thoughts in my brain that have no other watchman or lover or defender than me.” (p. 220)

Chapter 17- Growing

Running is a dangerous game. At one pole the danger is contentment. Running becomes so addictive physically, so habit-forming psychologically, that it takes willpower for me not to run. And it has a solitude so satisfying that I sometimes wonder if the hermit isn’t the supreme hedonist.” (p. 229)

Chapter 18- Seeing

The world belongs to those who laugh and cry. Laughter is the beginning of wisdom, the first evidence of the divine sense of humor…Crying starts when we see things as they really are. When we realize with William Blake that everything that lives is holy. When everything is seen to be infinite and we are part of the infinity.” (p. 246)

 

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