Lifestyle Health

Saturday 24 March 2018

Running: Sweet Balm for the Spirit

Running: Takanassee Lake 5K Run: Dr. George Sheehan in action during race. Sheehan, a cardiologist, is a writer and medical editor for Runner's World magazine.
Running: Takanassee Lake 5K Run: Dr. George Sheehan in action during race. Sheehan, a cardiologist, is a writer and medical editor for Runner's World magazine.

I have come to believe running is as much a spiritual experience as a physical one, and the older I get, the more I am convinced of the importance of this grain of truth.

I am sure that at certain difficult times in my life, my running background is what sustained me – even if I was doing no running at the time of the trauma in question.

I have also heard many others express the same belief, describing how running has sustained or lifted their spirits through episodes of sadness or depression.

Most runners have experienced and embraced some physical pain in training and racing, but the feeling of well-being that inevitability ensues nearly always compensates for the discomfort.

The act of running is creative too, and my great friend, the late George Sheehan, whose books on running are little classics, referred to his running as "the hub in the centre of my life".

That metaphor will, I am sure, strike a chord with many readers of FIT Magazine.

Distance running, more than any other physical activity, brings us back continually to simplicity; to having the curiosity of a child and the freedom of an adult.

For a number of reasons, I have been thinking lately about George, a man who was at the forefront of the first American running boom in the late 1970s.

In the 1980s, George made several trips to Ireland and held audiences enthralled at a number of running seminars.

He was a man of great wisdom, and he had a deep love and understanding of things Irish – especially the Dublin Marathon, an event that he ran on a couple of occasions.

And whenever I need a little inspiration or motivation to get back to exercise regularly, I have only to reach for one of his books – Personal Bests is a good one to start with.

As a runner, columnist and lecturer, the good doctor left a rich legacy of philosophy which has been embraced by runners and non-runners alike. He insisted physical excellence promoted creativity, intellectual development, spiritual renewal and personal accomplishment.

With the Dublin Marathon and the Dublin Race Series being launched this week, it seems appropriate that I introduce FIT readers to some of the writings of George Sheehan – little gems that have stood the test of time.

I feel that it is timely to share just a little of what George had to say about the classic distance. He wrote: "In training for the marathon, I grow in physical wisdom. I learn how my body works best. I read the texts of course, but then I take these bookish theories out on the road and test them. I filter them through my exercising body and come up with my own truth. I prepare myself for an exploration of my outer limits – the marathon itself.

"The marathon is the focal point of all that goes before and all that comes afterwards. The long-distance race is a struggle that results in self-discovery. It is an adventure into the limits of the self, representing for runners what has been called the moral equivalent of war – a theatre for heroism – where the runners can do deeds of daring and greatness.

"Life is made in doing and suffering and creating. All of that is there in the marathon – the doing in training, the suffering in the race, and finally, the creating that comes with the tranquillity that follows.

"The stage on which we can be bigger than life is a place where we can exhibit all that is good in us. Courage and determination, discipline and willpower, the purging of all negative impulses – we see that we are indeed whole and holy.

'We have been told time and again that were born to success, but a truly run marathon convinces us of that truth.

"The marathon fills our subconscious with this gospel. Taking a well-trained body through a gruelling 26.2-mile race does immeasurably more for the self-concept and self-esteem than years with the best psychiatrist."

Words of wisdom, indeed, for every aspiring marathoner, and enough to get even lapsed runners back on track.

The Dublin Race Series – the ideal build-up events to this year's Dublin Marathon – starts with the Irish Runner 5-Mile event in the Phoenix Park on Saturday, June 29. More information is available on

Irish Independent

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