Saturday, November 1, 2008

Remembering George Sheehan

Dr George Sheehan

Dr George Sheehan passed away on November 1, 1993 four days short of his 75th birthday.
Sheehan was a cardiologist, runner and running author who counted among his many accomplishments a successful cardiology practice, and founding Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft NJ. At the time of his passing Sheehan was easily Runnings best selling and most accessible author. He has not been replaced.
One of Doc Sheehan's best selling books
Dr Sheehan authored a number of best selling running books including "Dr Sheehan on Running", "Running and Being", "Running to Win" and "Going the Distance".

After he retired from his practice and became a best selling author, Dr. Sheehan continue to race and to travel across the country to speak at all the major races. He also wrote a weekly newspaper column, on running, a monthly column for Runners World and yet still found time to write personal letters back to the many runners that contacted him with questions on their own running and injuries. I received a note from Dr Sheehan the week he passed away from Prostate Cancer urging me to keep coaching because "so many kids are being turned off to a great sport-- running when they should just be getting started."

Here is one of Dr Sheehans essays about one of his favorite activities-- the race:

The Beauty of the Race

"The race is the beauty part. Practice is fun and laughs, even with those interval halves. And there are those days when you don't even know you are running, like when you drive to work and don't remember passing familiar places along the way. Practice can soothe you or exhaust you, but it's never the same as the race.

The time you put it all together is the race. For one thing, there's the anxiety, the apprehension At age 50 Dr Sheehan set a world age record in the mile of 4:47that must be minimized but not avoided. Or else you come to the starting line completely flat. But you can get too much of that peculiar empty feeling-the tightness in the stomach, the urge to yawn. The answer is enough adrenalin but not too much.

Next comes the warmup. An easy six minutes and the sweating starts. You search for indications. Will the day be good or bad? The warmup tells nothing.

On the starting line for that one silent moment. Then the start. Always faster than you remembered. The mind goes through the instructions. Relax. Push off with each stride. Run from the hips. Belly breathe.

At the half-mile mark, you settle for a pace that keeps breathing just bearable. Everything makes a difference. Every change in footing-grass, cinder, dirt, or stone. A grade that would escape a surveyor adds its toll. The environment occupies you completely. Wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity can either aid or hinder. Forget the watch; the course runs different every time.

A mile past and the first hill. Quite suddenly every step is an exquisite effort. The slope steepens and each foot takes its interminable time. The top comes and there is relief to burning chest and aching legs. Now they come in series. Toil up and fly down. Then out onto the flats for the three mile mark. There are the stop watches and your friends-an occasional face sharply seen. The hearing is keener than the eye. "They're dead up ahead. Get tough."

You're alone again, remembering now is the time to make your move. Relax, the race is in front of you. So you push off. Run with your thighs. Use that trailing leg. And now comes Cemetery Hill with its easy winding approach. And then 100 yards straight up. The legs are gone, the breathing impossible. Your face is at your knees. Your thoughts turn to survival. But finally there is the crest. But not before an additional rise not seen below. The incredible oxygen debt is finally paid off in a halting downhill stagger.

The flats once more. The finish in sight but you are beginning to come apart. Pain is now your companion. It warns you to a point that must not be passed. So you wait and endure until the moment for the final drive to the finish. Now! Now there is no tomorrow. The world and time have narrowed to this agony. Where the legs hurt, you hurt them more. But the chest can't be helped. The light is starting to go out. And then you're over the line.

Ten minutes later, you wonder why you didn't push harder going up Cemetery Hill."

To read more about Dr. Sheehan including more of his essays: