When Dr. Dick Sheehan of Orchard Park goes through his to-do list for 2007, he can cross off one item.
Completed 50 marathons before the age of 70? Check.
Sheehan, a dentist, finished The Big Five-O last weekend at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. The number is even more impressive when you consider he didn't start doing marathons until 1986.
When asked how he started running the long-distance race, he replies with a laugh, "Accidentally."
"My brother-in-law [Bob Brooks], who had been a buddy since high school, had run a couple of marathons. I called him crazy. The most I had run was a 5K sporadically," he continued. "In '86, he called me and said, 'My father-in-law passed away, you've got to help me out and run with me.' I said, 'I can't do that. Are you kidding?' He wasn't."
Sheehan had only eight weeks before reaching the starting line for his first Marine Corps marathon.
"I went from 10 to 12 to 15 to 17 miles the week before," he said. "When I was running the race, I vowed I would never do it again. It took me forever. But soon I started to plan my next one. I was 48."
Fifty marathons in 21 years averages out to slightly more than two per year, which is Sheehan's usual rate.
"I've done as many as four a year. One time I did a couple two or three weeks apart with a bunch of buddies," he said. "I just love it."
As the races piled up, Sheehan decided he needed a long-range goal -- apparently just getting ready for 26 miles of running twice a year wasn't enough of a challenge. So the 50 races before turning 70 idea came up.
"I've always liked a goal; I thought it would keep me from going backwards," he said. "It's gotten harder the older I get."
Sheehan has run the Marine Corps race 12 times. He also has done the Buffalo and Niagara Falls marathons a few times. He's run in Cleveland and Chicago, and even made it to Boston once.
"It was always a goal to qualify for Boston," he said. "My age helped me out. I was 65. I did a 4:12 and qualified. I needed a 4:15 to get in."
Running is a family event for the Sheehans. Most of his children are runners, and Dick gets together with some of them on Saturdays.
"It's a great feeling," he said. "On Saturdays, we run on the Niagara River [in Canada] with a bunch of friends. A buddy [Jim Nelligan of St. Catharines] has done all of them. About 90 percent of my long runs have been there."
When Sheehan came to race No. 50, he had plenty of company as a group of 16 consisting of family and friends made the trip to D.C.
"It [running marathons] has motivated my kids to do it. My five kids have all run marathons," he said. "I had done the Washington race 10 years in a row, and wanted to do it for the 50th. Four out of the five kids ran it with me."
"There were a couple of injuries in the group," daughter Terry Jones said. "My husband and brother were hurting. Everybody just said, 'this is Dick's 50th, and I'm going to run through this pain.' "
The group didn't run 26 miles together. That's difficult with the differences in running speed over that long a period of time. But everyone finished, and everyone found each other at race's end.
"We all celebrated that night. It was a great weekend," Dick said.
"He's always the one that feels the best afterwards," Jones said about her father, who ran a 5:04:54. "He just loves it."
Sheehan tries not to overtrain as he comes up on his 70th birthday in January. He runs three times a week, and he hasn't had many physical problems over the years ("I guess I have good joints"). As for No. 51, Sheehan hasn't made any plans.
"I'll probably do one [marathon] next fall. I may do Phoenix in January. I hope to do one a year now.
"I've never cross-trained, but I'd better learn."
*Bob Ivory Run (The Buffalo News Runner of the Year race), 5K, St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute at 845 Kenmore Ave. in Buffalo, 9 a.m. today, 873-3599.
*Lindsay's Legacy Run, 5K, Clinton & Broad streets in Tonawanda, 11 a.m. Saturday, 695-7406.
*Lauren Castanza 5K Benefit Run, 401 Buffalo Ave. in Niagara Falls, 3 p.m. Saturday, 866-1424.
*Making Tracks for Families 5K, Pettibones Grill in Dunn Tire Park in Buffalo, 11 a.m. Nov. 17, 858-2671.