They Might Be Giants

For Clydesdales, life on the run can be heavy going

But he did. Basically, Alexander can handle anything. Born in Southern California, the grandson of an "Oklahoma scalawag," he started his sales career at twelve, doing magic shows for Elks and Kiwanis clubs. By 1967, at the age of 22, he was considered "the best close-up card magician in the United States." That was also the year he fell in love with Marilyn, the woman he's now been married to for 29 years. Drawing on his Oklahoma oil roots, he talked his way into a job with a company called Southwest Grease and went on to a big-money career in "crude-oil gathering, jobberships, all of it," he says. He and his wife decided against children, preferring to concentrate on world travel and adventure.

All of that was just a warm-up exercise for Alexander's racing career, which began in the early Eighties. "I was thinking, 'You need to do something, Little Fat Boy,'" Alexander recalls. "I went to watch a friend in his first half-marathon, and I watched him have to run like hell to beat a man who was 76 years old. You see things like that, it makes you think. Then my friends talked me into running a 10K. They did it by questioning my masculinity and my parentage."

At the end of the race, Alexander got a free T-shirt. He liked it enough to go for another, at a short triathlon, "which I ran back with the blind people and cripples," he recalls. "All I did was pass people. Wow! Fun!"

During the next race's 9.3-mile running segment, though, he "learned what pain was," Alexander says. "I hadn't trained enough. It pissed me off."

So naturally, he went in search of even greater pain, setting his sights on the half-Ironman-length Fountain Mountain Triathlon and soliciting the help of elite race trainer Jim Glinn of Bakersfield, California.

"He said, 'Dave, you have no business doing that kind of race. You better lose fifty pounds or you'll die of a heart attack,'" Alexander recalls. "I said, 'I'll be out there anyway. You may as well train me.' So he did, and we got to be friends."

Actually, Glinn says, it goes deeper than that.
"He's a very big individual," Glinn says of Alexander. "He swims very well, he's good on the bike, and when he runs, he's incredibly slow. He'll never even win a Clydesdale division. But he's very gregarious and very inspirational to a lot of people. If he can finish one of these tough races, so could almost anyone."

During Alexander's rigorous training, which occupied the summer of 1983, Glinn noticed that the weight began to roll off his client. "Then he plateaued and got frustrated," Glinn remembers. That frustration was nothing new to Glinn, whose three physical-therapy clinics have handled hundreds of endurance athletes. But Alexander was the first client who made Glinn question whether losing weight was worth it.

"I'm kind of large myself," he explains. "I'd done the Ironman, hundred-mile endurance races and dozens of marathons. At peak training, I weighed 168 pounds. But I also went to college on an athletic scholarship as a discus thrower, at 250 pounds, 6'1". I realized my body does not like to be light. It likes to be about 210."

Furthermore, Glinn decided, he was sick of trying to get his clients to the "real intense leanness" they so desperately wanted. "I started thinking: These ultra-endurance athletes, instead of being frustrated and vomiting in little plastic bags, why don't they feel good and happy when they run a good race? I got so sick of seeing anorexia all day long, I almost wished we could go back to the Rubenesque model of the 1890s. That blond-headed lady who talks about 'Stop the Insanity'--I mean, she's a nut, but those three words of hers make sense."

Glinn began advising clients to pursue goals that were "athletic, not aesthetic," he says. "There has to be more to life than, quote, looking good. You can make a choice, as Dave Alexander has, to quit worrying about what you weigh and just function."

But while Glinn was coming around to this new way of thinking, Alexander continued to be tempted by the possibility of weight loss. Articles written about him in the Eighties report his weight as anywhere between 200 and 260--on a 5'8" frame--and several quote him as being firmly on his way to a reasonable body weight.

Alexander never got there. "And why should he?" Glinn asks. "Some of us were meant to be big. It's genetic. Dave's ancestors were probably sacking [champion triathlete] Scott Tinley's ancestors. This world has always been full of big guys. Back in the Viking era, there was a Norwegian guy known far and wide as Walking Rolf--and this because he was too big to ride a horse. He was still a great warrior."

And Alexander's lousy race times and large physique made him a legend. "I'm part of the sport," he says. "I'm dead last, doing the best I can. I was there in the early days, and I'm still there, and I'm recognized. I'm incredibly tough and strong. My heart is huge and it beats real slow."

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