They Might Be Giants

For Clydesdales, life on the run can be heavy going

After a long run, an athlete is chewing the fat.
"Fifty-two-point-five miles," Matt Reilly reports from Portland. "Yeah, I finished the race. It took me eleven hours, and I seem to have run until my butt cheeks chafed. You want a quote? Here: Chicks dig guys who run ultra-marathons."

"How many other people did it?" I ask.
"Thirty-nine entered," he says, "but I don't know how many made it."
In fact, by the time Reilly crossed the finish line, it no longer existed. Officials had already removed all the paraphernalia that marked the end of Seattle's Falls to Gasworks Ultra-Marathon, and only Reilly's friends were there to note his triumph.

"But," he adds, "I did open my first beer before I crossed the line. A nice Foster's."

Before the race, he'd had a chance to check out the other ultra-marathoners, who looked "like real runners," he laughs. "Little tiny upper bodies. While we were waiting around, I saw this little woman runner staring at me from behind. I was wearing tights and a T-shirt, and she wasn't scoping me out, either. She was justEamazed."

At 5'10" and 230 pounds, Reilly can be an amazing sight--particularly at ultra-marathons, where his is by far the largest physique visible. "They weren't ready to accept that I would ever enter this race," he gloats. "They didn't even have a category for guys like me."

Most races divide contestants by sex, age and ability. But many also have categories for guys like Reilly, including the Portland Marathon, which he recently ran. The Clydesdale category is specifically reserved for big athletes, a recognized group--albeit one that's recognized with a slightly raised eyebrow.

Clydesdales have been around officially since the mid-Eighties, which makes them a relative newcomer to the world of organized sport. Though their dimensions change from race to race, the average parameters are: men over 200 pounds, women over 150.

"Talk about your training," I say.
"I ran some," Reilly replies. "Also, I drank a lot of beer."
"What's a lot?"

"I would recommend an average of one six-pack of good stout beer every day," he replies. "Also, you need to eat lots of red meat, pizza and raw oysters."

Matt Reilly is only thirty. It will take a lot of beer and a lot of years before he can rightly consider himself a champion Clydesdale. But if he really works at it, he could be another Dave Alexander.

Alexander, who calls himself "Little Fat Boy," is 51. Over the past thirteen years he has raced in 261 triathlons, as well as countless marathons, ultra-marathons and bike races. He is something of a celebrity in the world of endurance sports, and he often signs autographs before and after races--which he almost always finishes last.

This is what a reporter for the St. Croix Avis had to say about Alexander's 1988 performance in the Beauty and the Beast Triathlon: "The last contestant emerged from the water. Enter Dave Alexander, stage front, dripping wet, dripping fat. Dave Alexander is a petroleum products businessman from Phoenix, Arizona. He looks great for sixty. The problem is, he's only forty-two...He was the fat person's hero of the day. And he was consistent. He was last in the swim, last in the bike, and hours later, last in the run."

At the moment, the 250-pound Alexander is stuck behind a desk at the crude-oil terminal he owns and runs in Phoenix, reminiscing about races--and the reporters who covered them. The St. Croix Avis story is just one in a stack, although it may be the most memorable.

"My wife thought it was cruel, but I thought it was funny as hell," Alexander recalls. "Anyway, a lot has been written about me. I can send you a neat article from Independent Gasoline magazine. It should have some stuff not everybody knows."

And indeed it does. For example, it explains the ties between gasoline marketing and triathlons that "may seem distant to most." Alexander also sends along some stories written in Turkish and Croatian, which presumably tell the story of the large athlete and his foreign junkets in search of sweat.

He's already contemplating summer travel plans. "The thing is, I'm usually in Eastern Europe at that time," he says. "I just got a fax from these same Hungarians--they always want me at their race. Also, there's the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco. Oh, it's intimidating! The terrible cross-current, the sharks. You could get washed out to sea."

Which only makes it more interesting to Alexander. "When I finish a tough race like that, I feel like King Kong," he says. Little Fat Boy has been charged by a sacred bull during a marathon in India and threatened by a tree limb containing a four-foot-long forest cobra during a run in Malaysia. That was after the pre-race meal with the sultan. "He asked me to have dinner with him at his summer palace," Alexander recalls. "He was real curious why a forty-something guy would come to Malaysia to do a race and not expect to win. Natch, I said, 'You betcha, Sultan.' He had a chef prepare this godawful meal full of spices. I could barely handle it."

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