The Runner's World reissue of George Sheehan's book, Running & Being, introduces a new generation of reader-runners to the man who identified the value of living an active, fulfilling, and authentic life.
One of the first things I did when I started this job in 2003 was put a framed photo of Dr. George Sheehan on the wall of my office. George, a cardiologist who wrote a column for Runner’s World for two decades starting in 1970, was the magazine’s most popular and beloved writer before his death from prostate cancer in 1993. He wrote about running not only as a sport but as a method for living a fuller life. He helped launch the first running boom, and one of his eight books, Running & Being, spent months on The New York Times Best Sellers list in 1978. Many of you may still consider him your favorite writer, although that word doesn’t fully capture what he was.
I found the photo in a stack of race posters from decades past, forgotten. In it, George is sitting in a wooden rocking chair on the deck of his house in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, overlooking the Atlantic. He’s dressed in running clothes, but it’s unclear whether he has just returned from a run or is about to set out. What is clear is that George is writing—or, more specifically, hunting and pecking away at what looks to be an old Royal typewriter perched on his deck’s wall, seemingly a few inches from falling into the drink. There isn’t a shred of artifice or self-consciousness anywhere. The photo is still on my wall, even though we moved into a new building years ago. Beneath it is my own Royal typewriter. The symbolism isn’t subtle: There are things from the past—even forgotten, old-school things—that still matter today.
As a longtime RW subscriber and the son of an RW reader in the 1970s and ’80s, I had read George’s column religiously. To me, he personified the idea that running and writing have something in common. Something approximating soul. Something I wanted to bring into these pages in a new way. In my first few months on the job, I immersed myself in George’s writing again, and developed a bit of an obsession to republish the work of the man Sports Illustrated called “perhaps our most important philosopher of sport.” Eventually I struck up a conversation with Andy Sheehan, the eighth of George’s 12 children, about how to do it.
This month, I’m immensely proud and excited to announce the reissue of Running & Being, the landmark best-seller that’s been out of print for decades, with a new introduction from Andy, a jacket design by George’s daughter Nora, and a new foreword from Kenny Moore, one of George’s equals in running-writing excellence. (One of my favorite excerpts is at runnersworld.com/sheehan.) We—the Sheehan siblings and Rodale, RW’s parent company—reissued the book for two reasons. First, to introduce George to a new generation of reader-runners, since the sport has continued to boom after his death and many of those fueling the growth (young women in particular) probably don’t know his work. Second, what George had to say about running—and about living an active, fulfilling, authentic life—is more timely than ever. Perhaps, in our overdigitized and underexercised culture, Running & Being is more urgently needed now than it was 35 years ago. As a country, we are fatter and less healthy than ever, and less connected to each other (Twitter and Facebook don’t count) and to the natural world.
But enough from me. George’s words have always stood on their own:
Running made me free. It rid me of concern for the opinion of others. Dispensed me from rules and regulations imposed from outside. Running let me start from scratch. It stripped off those layers of programmed activity and thinking. Developed new priorities about eating and sleeping and what to do with leisure time. Running changed my attitude about work and play. About whom I really liked and who really liked me. Running let me see my twenty-four-hour day in a new light and my lifestyle from a different point of view, from the inside instead of out.
Later this year we’ll also publish an anthology of George’s RW columns, with excerpts from his books and new material about his running and writing life. After all, as Joe Henderson, a former editor and columnist at RW who collaborated with George for many years, put it: “As long as his work is read, a part of George Sheehan lives on.”