Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 5 Nov 1999 09:03:40 -0500

Who Cares?

(from RC 289; posted on what would have been George Sheehan's 81st birthday)

Dahn Shaulis centers his research, as a graduate student at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, on the history of running. Most of his studies look back a century or more. But recently he touched off a discussion on my website about more recent people and issues.

He asked, "When George Sheehan died, do you think American running lost its conscience?" The wording of the question tipped off Shaulis's view.

He bemoaned what he saw as the lack of a caring, philosophical voice in the sport since Dr. Sheehan's was stilled in 1993. Shaulis didn't think anyone new had stepped up to speak on topics deeper than what to run, what to wear and what to do about the latest injury.

"If Runner's World were to allow someone to write who could think philosophically, [he or] she might be compared -- perhaps unfairly -- to Sheehan. Perhaps the idea of running as a transforming experience is no longer valid. Weight loss, anti-aging cures and pretty bodies are the most important thing."

Shaulis labeled that last line with a smiley face. But it still wasn't any way to win friends among those of us who write and edit RW.

My reply: "There was and will be only one George Sheehan, and he didn't try to be the 'conscience' of running. This just naturally grew out of his personality, life view and writing style. Anyone who sets out to be The Next Sheehan will come off as a cheap imitation."

I was Dr. Sheehan's first editor at Runner's World. Amby Burfoot was his last.

Amby's answer: "I wouldn't say that George Sheehan was or wanted to be the 'conscience' of American running, in the way I think of conscience. I think he was interested in smaller, more personal issues."

The longest and best response came from Don Kardong. He's well positioned, as president of the Road Runners Club of America, to see how much runners care about issues bigger than themselves.

Kardong wrote, "One could make an argument that running has never had more of a conscience than it has now, based on the fact that a huge percentage of new marathoners are raising funds for charity. By contrast, marathoners in the original running boom -- and this was reflected in Dr. Sheehan's writings -- were mostly motivated by self-improvement.

"Whether or not this [fund-raising emphasis] is good for the sport of running is debatable. But it sure appears that at the moment conscience is, to a large degree, driving participation in marathoning."

Kardong added that "when an individual or organization raises funds for a specific charity, the nudge of conscience may be obvious. But charitable work is more than fund-raising.

"The RRCA's mission is to promote running for health, fitness and recreation. The programs and events we and our member clubs organize encourage people to get in shape and stay in shape -- a process that addresses a host of societal ills.

"Obesity and cardiovascular illness are the obvious ones. Stress, depression and substance abuse are less obvious but in many ways more profound."

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