Excerpts from ‘This Running Life’ (1980)

By Dr. George Sheehan

“You are an experiment of one.”

I’ve been on a George Sheehan binge lately, and how could I not be? He was an accomplished athlete, a best-selling author and an inspiration to an entire generation of runners! If you haven’t heard of him, then please look him up! He wrote eight best-selling books and hundreds of magazine columns, revealing his unique ways of thinking about running and his passion for the sport.

For this week’s Corner, I decided to pay tribute to the man and to honor some of his amazing work. He once wrote about the ‘TRIED AND TRUE RULES’ of the road for runners, a guide for all of us, on maintaining good running habits in every-day training and in racing. It’s like you’re listening to your very wise running grandfather, imparting his wisdom to you. Here are the rules of the road, as seen through the eyes of Dr. Sheehan, as well as some of my thoughts (in italics). As you read on, consider his thoughts on our sport and the generation he grew up in! Enjoy!

1. Keep a record of your morning pulse.

Lie in bed for a few minutes after you awaken and then take your pulse. As your training progresses, it will gradually become slower, and after 3 months or so it will plateau. From then on, should you have a rate of 10 or more beats higher than your morning norm, you have not recovered from your previous day’s runs, races, or other stresses. Take a day or more off until the pulse returns to normal.

2. Weigh regularly.

Initially, you will not lose much weight, and getting on and off the scales will seem a bore. Subsequent losses should be in the area of one-half to one pound a week. This equals 250 to 500 calories a day in output of energy over intake of food. What you lose in fat you will put on in muscle.Running consumes 100 calories a mile, and there are 3.500 calories to a pound, so you can see weight loss will be slow unless you do heavy mileage.

3. Do your exercises daily.

The more you run, the more muscle imbalances occurs. The calf, hamstring (back thigh), and low-back muscles become short, tight, and inflexible. They have to be stretched (thank you, Sheehan!!). On the other hand, the shin, the quad (front thigh) and belly muscles become relatively weak. They must be strengthened. There are specific exercises geared to strengthening these muscles.

4. Eat to run.

Eat a good, high-protein breakfast, then have a light lunch. Run at least 2, preferably 3 hours after your last meal. Save the carbohydrates for the meal after the run to replenish muscle sugar.*

5. Drink plenty of fluids.

Take sugar-free drinks up to 15 minutes before running. Then, take 12 to 16 ounces of easily tolerated juices, half-strength “ades”, tea with honey or sugar, defizzed Coke, etc., before setting out. In winter, that should be all you need. In summer, take an additional 10 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during the run.

6. Run on an empty colon.

Running causes increased peristalsis, cramps, and even diarrhea. Having a bowel movement before running and particularly before racing prevents these abdominal symptoms.

7. Wear the right clothes.

In winter, this means a base of thermal underwear followed by several layers of cotton or wool shirts (I think we all know to avoid cotton these days! Wool, on the other hand, is used in modern running gear for of its thermal qualities), and at least one turtleneck. Wear a ski mask and mittens (bottom line, protect your face and hands). Use nylon, Gore-Tex, Lycra, or polypropylene if necessary to protect against wind and wet. In summer, the main enemy is radiant heat. Remember to wear white clothes and use some kind of head covering.

8. Find your shoes and stick to them.

Heavy people do better in tennis shoes and basketball sneakers (point being, don't run in basketball shoes but find the appropriate cushioning for your running needs!). High-arched feet do better with narrow heels. Morton’s feet (short big toes, long second toes) may need arch supports in the shoes. If a shoe works, train in it, race in it, and wear it to work (in other words, be kind to your feet and wear what works for you, no matter the brand).

9. The fitness equation is 30 minutes at a comfortable pace four times a week.

(Otherwise known as the easy run!). Your body should be able to tell you that “comfortable” pace (running based on feel). If in doubt, use the “talk test”. Run at a speed at which you could carry on a conversation with a companion.

10. Run economically.

Do not bounce or overstride. You should lengthen your stride by pushing off, not by reaching out. Do not let your foot get ahead of your knee. This means you knee will be slightly bent at footstrike. Run from the hips down with the upper body straight up and used only for balance. Relax.

11. Belly-breathe.

This is not easy, and must be practiced and consciously done just prior to a run or a race. Take air into your belly and exhale against a slight resistance, either through pursed lips or by a grunt or groan. This uses the diaphragm correctly and prevents the “stitch” (or breathing-related side cramp).

12. Wait for your second wind.

It takes about 6 to 10 minutes and a one-degree rise in body temperature to shunt the blood to the working muscles. When that happens, you will experience a light, warm sweat and know what the “second wind” means. You must run quite slowly until this occurs. Then, you can dial yourself to “comfortable,” put yourself on automatic pilot, and enjoy.

13. Run against traffic.

Two heads are better than one in preventing an accident. Turn your back on a driver, and you are giving up control of your life. At night, wear some reflective material or carry a small flashlight.

14. Give dogs their territory. (don't I know this!)

Cross to the other side of the road and pick up some object you can brandish at them. Never try to outrun a dog. Face the dog and keep talking until it appears safe to go on.

15. Learn to read your body.

Be aware of signs of overtraining. If the second wind brings a cold, clammy sweat, head for home. Establish a [Distant Early Warning] line that alerts you to impending trouble. Loss of zest, high morning pulse, lightheadedness on standing, scratchy throat, swollen glands, insomnia, and palpitations are some of the frequent harbingers of trouble.

16. Do not run with a cold.

A cold means you are overtrained. You have already run too much. Wait at least 3 days, preferably longer. Take a nap the hour you would usually spend running.

17. Do not cheat on your sleep.

Add an extra hour when in heavy training. Also, arrange for at least one or two naps a week, and take a longer one after your weekend run (I couldn't agree more with this!! Sleep is your friend, so make it a priority!).

18. When injured, find a substitute activity to maintain fitness.

Swim, cycle, or walk for the same time and at the same frequency you would normally run.

19. Most injuries result with a change in your training.

A change in shoes, an increase in mileage (25 miles per week is the dividing line; at least 50 miles per week the injury rate is doubled), hill or speed work, or a change in surface are all factors that can affect susceptibility to injury Almost always there is some associated weakness of the foot, muscle strength/flexibility imbalance, or one leg shorter than the other.

20. Use of heel lifts.

Use of heel lifts, arch supports, modification of shoes, and corrective exercises may be necessary before you are able to return to pain-free running (do this under the guidance of a sports orthopedist or PT). 

21. Training is a practical application of Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome.

Stress is applied, the organism reacts, a suitable time is given to re-establish equilibrium, then stress is applied again. Each of us can stand different loads and needs different amounts of time to adapt. You are an experiment of one. Establish your own schedule; do not follow anyone else’s. Listen to your body. Train, don’t strain.

Thank you, Dr. George Sheehan. You show us that a lot of running wisdom transcends time, and that we can learn a lot from our predecessors.

Run better. Run smarter. Run for life.

Coach Mwangi


*RUNNER’S WORLD EDITOR’S NOTE: Current wisdom is to fuel with a small dose of carbs right before running to give your body energy to burn instead of potentially burning your body’s protein stores.

Coach Mwangi2 Comments