- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2005

The first shock came in the form of an e-mail I received last Sunday from the spokesman of the Boston Athletic Association asking me to confirm a rumor that former BAA coach and athlete Ed Sheehan of Silver Spring had died two days earlier.

The second shock came the next day when I saw that the Boston Globe published his obituary.

The third shock followed quickly when I realized that he had been 47, just two years older than me.

Sheehan died of a heart attack in Silver Spring on May 6 during a training run with his wife, national-class runner Naoko Ishibe.

That seemed fitting, because wherever you found Naoko on the roads of Washington, you found Ed. The inside joke was that he was Mr. Naoko Ishibe. That was a compliment, a testament to the loving support Ed gave his wife, who also was a star athlete. He rarely spoke about himself, choosing instead to talk at marathon length about Naoko’s running career.

So few in the Washington running community ever knew that this skinny, red-haired guy had been an elite runner in his day.

Most area running fans were surprised to hear that Ed ran a personal-best 2:13:46 marathon on a tough course at Rocket City (Huntsville, Ala.) in 1982 or that he was twice a top-15 finisher at Boston (14th place in 1980, 11th in 1982). He also qualified for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in 1980 and 1984.

I had known about the 2:13 only because Ed and I had a discussion years ago about training. I had offered that the best 10K and 5K times can be run off training specific to 10Ks and 5Ks. Ed corrected me and countered that his best 10K (29:06 on the roads) and 5K (14:00.02 on the track) came off his 2:13 marathon training.

Few people in the Washington running community knew Ed was a legend in Boston, where he grew up on the South Shore in East Weymouth. He broke all the distance running records while earning a B.A. in philosophy from Harvard. He continued at Harvard, receiving an M.S. in psychology before beginning work toward a Ph.D. in psychology (also at Harvard).

As much as he loved running, he loved coaching even more. Ed shared his knowledge and work ethic (“No short cuts,” said the man who ran 130 miles a week) as a college distance coach for three years at Troy State in Alabama, then seven more at Harvard. Then he took the coveted job of head coach at the BAA from December 1994 through September 1997 and also conducted clinics for inner-city youth.

It was in Ed’s capacity with the BAA that his life was changed forever at the 1993 Boston Marathon. Ed met a woman who was working as a translator for two elite Japanese marathoners. She became his wife in 1996, the year she ran in her first Olympic marathon trials.

Soon after, Naoko, an epidemiologist with a Ph.D., accepted a job with the National Institutes of Health that brought the couple to the Washington area.

The move was a tough call for Ed, the Yankee-born runner with millions of ties to Beantown. But Naoko was the most important part of his life. He never needed to say that; he just showed it with his actions.

The last time I spent time with them was at a VIP dinner in 2003. I asked how it had worked out that Ed was Naoko’s coach as well as her husband. They both giggled and joked throughout the conversation, and insisted the two relationships were kept very apart but were buoyed by mutual respect. What happened on the track stayed on the track.

And when you think about how Ed spent his last moments on May 6, you realize he was doing two things he most loved: spending time with Naoko and running.

Correction — In last week’s column, I referred to an annual marathon study conducted by the Road Running Information Center. As of January, RRIC was no longer under contract with USATF but under the aegis of Running USA.

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