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Original Issue


In the excerpt from his new book Running & Being, which begins on page 78, and in his other writings, marathoner-cardiologist George Sheehan bares his soul (usually stressing its connections to his 59-year-old body) with disarming shamelessness. Indeed, Dr. Sheehan, though he behaves in a perfectly sensible manner, has picked up a reputation for eccentricity. He wears corduroy trousers, turtleneck sweaters and running shoes no matter where he is or what the occasion, having concluded that such clothes are cheap, healthy and comfortable. He blandly prescribes beer as a restorative after races. He says a brisk rub with a dry towel after a run is the equivalent of a hot shower, because odiferous sweat is a result of nerves, not honest exercise. Most shameless of all, Sheehan is not content to carry on his experiments quietly. "No," says his oldest daughter, Mary Jane Kroon. "He writes about all those scandals. There is very little gossip about my father that he hasn't published himself."

Sheehan's grandest eccentricity is his family. Together with Mary Jane Fleming Sheehan, an elegant, forgiving and superbly organized woman, Sheehan has raised 12 children: Mary Jane, 33, who has an M.A. from Harvard; her twin George Jr., who graduated from Manhattan; Tim, 31, who has his Ph. D. in education from Johns Hopkins; Ann, 29, who took a master's from Smith and is a social worker at Montefiore Hospital in New York; Nora, 27, who graduated from New York University, is a book designer and did the drawings for her father's new book; Sarah, 25, who graduated from Wheelock College in Boston, teaches special education and on Monday will become the first female Sheehan to run the Boston Marathon; Peter, 23, who attended Antioch College in Ohio and is now studying at New York's Downstate Medical college; Andrew, 22, who is majoring in English at Columbia; John, 21, the family's entrepreneur, who owns and trains harness horses; Stephen, 19, who attends Carlton University in Ottawa; Monica, 18, who will enter art school in the fall; and Michael, 16, a junior in high school. Eight of the 12 children run.

Obviously, if Sheehan can get a sentence through a dinner-table conversation unscathed, it is ready for publication. "We've heard everything he's said over and over," says George Jr. "We can be forgiven for being a little jaded. He quotes from other sources so much that when he comes up with a good original line everybody says, 'Who did you steal that from?' "

Last week, when spring weather arrived in his hometown of Red Bank, N.J., Sheehan was seen running through the 70° sunshine wearing wool mittens, stocking cap and long underwear—an attempt to acclimatize to possible hot weather in Boston on marathon day. "He has more ego than he lets on," says George Jr. "He tries to play down his competitiveness, but if he gets beaten by someone in his age-group, that's all he talks about the whole night." There is a touch of the adversary relationship in Sheehan's medicine as well. "The cardiologist's refrain is, 'What do I do?' " he says at sports-medicine, seminars. "Surgeons say, 'What have I done? What have I done?' "

Regardless of season, Sheehan continues his impish application of logic to running. This winter he finally figured out how to hold his arms. "We are descended from quadrupeds, right?" he says. "Well, then it's inescapable. We should dog-paddle when we run." He swears that flapping his wrists in front of him during the last mile of a race in Central Park allowed him to withstand the late charge of his old nemesis, Nina Kuscik. "I thought there was something drastically wrong with him," Kuscik said afterward. "I didn't want to come any closer."

In all of Sheehan's musing on the elevating nature of the vigorous life, thoughts of his great, humbling family are never far from his mind. "Aristocrats are people who search for truth on other people's money," he says. "I still have five of them at home."