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These days, home for Dr. French is a two-story Colonial house in Salt Lake City which he shares with a cat named Tigger and his second wife, Marilynn, a nurse. He took a leave of absence from his residency last year to see what proper training could do for him. His qualifying for the Olympic Trials was a result.
Having decided to forgo the rest of his surgical residency, he recently went to work as an emergency-room physician at Memorial Hospital of Uinta County in Evanston, Wyo., an hour away. He has turned down offers to join private practices because, he says, they require too much time.
On a recent morning French could be found running errands around the house, followed everywhere by Tigger. He wore running shorts and no shirt; he no longer has a gut to hide. He finally sat on the arm of his living-room couch and relaxed with a chaw of Red Man. "When I was in college I was very aggressive and goal-oriented," he said. "I worked 99% of the time. My social life was zero, and it led to the demise of my marriage. I want to find a happy medium between my work and my other interests."
Indeed, balance rather than zealotry seems to be a hallmark of French's new personal philosophy. It even extends to his diet. "I'm a week-day vegetarian," he said, "which means I'll eat white meat on the weekends. I'm not a nut about it, though. I don't break out in a rash if someone puts a steak in front of me."
French produced a collection of pictures that show the body he used to lug around. The photos looked like the before shots in the diet-pill ads. For further proof that the man standing before his guest was really the same one shown in the snapshots, French bared a hip and revealed mazes of stretch marks. "I've lived almost three lives," he said. "First in high school and then the years I was fat and hated to be seen in public. Now I've been given a second chance."
French is still adjusting to his new life. The day before this year's Boston Marathon, he spotted his name on the wall of Rodgers' running store among a list of the race's 50 most notable runners. He was delighted. He remains unaccustomed to his status as a top athlete. "I still feel fat at races," he says.
French tends to regard running rather superstitiously. Since his third race, a half marathon, three years ago, he's never run without the orange-flowered railroad cap that has become his trademark. He also likes to take his training runs dressed in the T shirt he will wear in his next big race; that means he has to wash it every day. And he trains as he used to eat. French logs 120 to 140 miles a week.
Such a regimen has whipped French into excellent health—and often poor condition for running. "My workouts take me to the brink of disaster, and I've tumbled over a couple of times," he says. "But I've been aware of it. I had to be willing to take those risks. What I've done is totally wrong. It has been too much too soon. I would never advise anyone to do what I did. But I had such a short time to work with because of my age."
Starting last December, French ran four marathons in six months and suffered four major injuries. The week before the Fiesta Bowl he was unable to walk because of a hip injury. He calls his fastest marathon—the Mardi Gras—his worst. He ran with eventual winner Ron Tabb through the first 11 miles and passed the halfway mark in 1:06:30, but in the final half of the race he cramped up in his calves and was forced to stop twice for a minute or longer. He nearly quit. Instead, he jogged the last 1� miles.