Penguin Chronicles: January 26, 2016
The late Dr. George Sheehan was arguably the greatest philosopher on running that ever put a word on paper. His book “Running and Being” was the manifesto of his generation of runners. They believed, as he did, that through running and the galvanizing effect of effort, we can find what it means to experience the oneness of body and mind, of self and the universe. In this, he argues, we have the power to discover “the truth that makes men free.”
He was the voice of his generation of runners. He wrote to them and for them. He described their experience through his and they identified their experience through him. It was a symbiosis of writer and reader.
Shortly after I began to write for Runner’s World, a year of so after Sheehan’s death, one of the editors took me out for a run and told me very pointedly: “Don’t try to be Sheehan.”
It actually had never occurred to me to be Sheehan. The “not being Sheehan” probably explains why I was John Bingham and not Dr. John Bingham – even though I have a doctorate, the column was in the back of the magazine and, maybe most importantly, my photo didn’t appear with the column as did everyone else’s. I was a character, not a person.
Not being Sheehan wasn’t all that difficult. He espoused physical, emotional, and spiritual cleansing through running. I espoused physical, emotional, and spiritual healing through activity; running included.
As the “Pied Piper of the Second Running Boom” I was fortunate to have a forum in which I could describe my own healing. I discovered almost immediately that my experiences resonated with this new generation in the same way the Dr. Sheehan’s resonated with his.
For better or worse, in the way that Sheehan was the voice of his generation, I became the voice of mine.
An interviewer asked recently who is the voice for this generation. That’s not an easy answer. First off, it assumes that there is a “this” generation and that if there is, there’s someone out there who can be – eagerly or reluctantly – THE voice.
I don’t think there is a voice of this generation. I don’t think there can be. Whatever we choose to call this generation – the capri runners, for example – they listen to a chorus of voices. They get their information on their Twitter feed or in Facebook posts. They learn about training and nutrition and hydration on Google. They go to events with friends. They don’t believe in the “loneliness of the long-distance runner.” They are, above all, social.
They crowdsource all of the important decisions in their lives – running and beyond. Where previous generations might have opened up a map, this generation will put an address into their GPS and thereby know exactly where they’re going even though they have no idea where they are.
That’s not all bad. Getting a lot of opinions and sharing experiences with friends can be a great way to gather knowledge. Rather than having to rely on a single source of information you can compare lots of different sources.
But it can also lead to confusion. In the immortal words of Buffalo Springfield, “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” Finding the one true voice, the one that speaks to you and for you is still an important pursuit. It may not come into your mailbox. You may not find it while searching through titles at a bookstore or library, but it’s an odyssey worth taking nonetheless.
And in that investigation you may find as I did, and probably as Dr. Sheehan did, that the voice you need to listen to most carefully is your own.
Waddle on, friends.