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Politics, Books and George Sheehan (View from 2008 – repost)

This is not a political blog, and I realize how distressing it can be to read political commentary in places you don’t want it and don’t expect it. However, disparaging George Sheehan does rile us a bit.

George Sheehan has now officially been injected into the current American presidential campaign. Ruth Marcus writing in the Washington Post today, September 30, 2008, described the reading habits of Sarah Palin and John McCaine. She mentions McCaine as being a voracious reader and a student of history. But rather than discussing whether or not he has read John Locke, Edmund Burke, Hobbes or even Friedrich Hayek, she touts his ability to discuss William Manchester’s “McArthur”. A military man, a graduate of Annapolis, even for one near the bottom of his class, being able to discuss McArthur or Eisenhower, (with or without errors) is not a major feat. If he had discussed Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” or gave an analysis of Walker’s vs. Ishmael Reed’s views on society that would be a surprise. The study of military history and the ability to cite such should be a given for an Annapolis graduate.

Running & Being
Running & Being

On the other hand, Marcus makes light of George Sheehan and of Palin’s reading him and treasuring his columns. She calls George a “now deceased writer for Runner’s World magazine”. She snickers at Sarah Palin saying in an interview with Charlie Rose that George was “… very inspiring and very motivating. … He was an athlete and I think so much of what you learn in athletics about competition and healthy living that he was really able to encapsulate, has stayed with me all these years”. This comes immediately before mentioning the impact that an old Garfield desk calendar had on Sarah’s life view.

While some have said that Sarah is representative of your next door neighbor and has something in common with most Americans, others have found only things about her worth snickering about. While much is debatable (by both conservatives and liberals), including her experience and qualifications to become the vice president with a 70 something year old in questionable health in the top spot; running marathons and reading George Sheehan is not something to look down your nose at.

George Sheehan was called the Philosopher-King of Running by former President Bill Clinton. He was the author of 8 books including Running and Being, which was on the New York Times best seller list when first published for 14 straight weeks. His writing, philosophizing, and illness were chronicled in the press from People magazine (cover story) to the New York Times. He began his writing career with a local Red Bank New Jersey weekly newspaper. He became the describer of the runners inner vision by discussing his feelings and his life in his books and columns. At one point he had a monthly column in both Runner’s World and Physician and Sports Medicine, while being the medical editor of Runner’s World, and travelling to speak and race. He set a record in the mile for the 50+ age group. His personal best in the marathon was achieved when he was 62. Although old, and in some ways dated, his books are still eminently readable. Opening up “Running and Being” randomly, without turning a page, I find Sheehan citing “Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Emerson, Nietszche, Ortega, Santayana, William James, and Carl Jung. Are all his conclusions correct. No. But he well describes his perspective, his inner thoughts and vision, and he makes you think and he can often be inspiring.

So while I took nothing away from the writing of Ruth Marcus and her ruminations on Palin and McCain’s reading habits, I have been inspired. Looking on my bookshelves, I see lots and lots of books on many different subjects. On running philosophy, I see among them are 6-7 books by or about George Sheehan, and books by Amby Burfoot, Joe Henderson and many others.  More recent books on running include Bart Yasso’s My Life On The Run, and books by the famous Dean (we won’t dwell on Dean in this blog note, maybe we’ll link him later) are also readable and Dean recently let us all know that he listens to his own book in audible format (apparently in his own voice) as he moves about. (If I want to hear myself I usually just talk to myself instead of listening to recordings. And lately I carry my iPhone & iPod while waiting to exhale, but that’s another story.)

But, my inspiration from this morning has moved me to take Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” off of my library waiting list and I’ve just ordered it from Amazon.

For balance perhaps Salmon Rushdie will write his philosophy of exercise book or we can extract dietary tips from James Joyce’s Ulysses (perhaps not, a poor example of a healthy diet is revealed within Ulysses! Fried liver slices indeed!).

Sheehan’s Obituary: New York Times