They Might Be Giants

For Clydesdales, life on the run can be heavy going

His even lower metabolic rate, he says, is what keeps him fat--although experts tend to disagree. They might also take issue with Alexander's theories on women in triathlons.

"My wife, Marilyn, for instance," he says. "Sports make her legs bulk up. She likes thin, trim, feminine legs, and so do I. The fact of the matter is that I like women, and triathlon is not good for them. It ages them. If you're a woman and you care about being soft and feminine, you won't do it. It'll ruin your face."

"It doesn't ruin yours?" I ask.
"I goop on lots of sunscreen," he replies. "Also, I'm a man."
A man who, despite his size, does not sign up as a Clydesdale. "I disagree with that whole thing," Alexander says. "I mean, you can be guilty of not even trying to eat right if you get more attention for being fat. Some guy from Baltimore invented the Clydesdale thing, and that's all it is--attention for being fat."

Personally, I wouldn't mind a little positive attention for being fat, or big, or large, or whatever you want to call it. I am 5'8", and at the moment I weigh about 160. At 37, I have spent most of my adult life bouncing between big and way big. This used to be my central neurotic tragedy, but more and more, it is turning into no big deal. I like to move around outdoors, breathing hard and sweating. According to my latest calculations, 85 percent of the significant fun I have originates with my big, bad body.

For instance, I live in the mountains and run on mountain trails. One recent morning, while running, I had a vision of a brown bear careening slo-mo through Yellowstone on a National Geographic TV special. Bears are big, but they sure can move. Everyone knows a gazelle is built better for running, and yet you wouldn't want that bear chasing you, would you?

The Colorado Division of Wildlife allocates 100 square miles for each of our state's brown bears. Any less than that and you end up with "nuisance" bears, which eat garbage and start fights. I relate to this implicitly. If I am prevented from crashing through the underbrush, I too eat garbage and snarl a lot.

That day, I sent off my application for the Evergreen Powerman Duathlon, on July 14, a race that consists of a 2.5-mile run, followed by a 56-mile road-bike ride, followed by another run of 13.2 miles. I entered in the Athena division--the female form of Clydesdales.

Joe Law, the guy from Baltimore who came up with the Clydesdale concept, shot himself in 1990, taking much of his story with him. But his brainchild was an, ahem, enormous development for athletes.

This much I know: Law worked for the government in the area of insurance, and it was his interest in actuarial statistics, his size--he was 6'4" and weighed 225--and his athleticism that led him to Clydesdales.

I wish I could find one of the rate tables Law designed that proved how much more effort it takes for a 210-pound man to run ten miles than, say, his 140-pound counterpart. I wish I could find a copy of his long-defunct Clydesdale Endurance Sports Magazine. (I do stumble across Clydesdale News and Clydesdale Stud Journal, but they both deal mostly with stallion sperm and real horses.) Finally, I reach the Long Island home of mortgage banker Dan Intemann, who is said to be the heir to Law's Clydesdale empire. According to his brother, Intemann is "a very busy, important man who has very little time for phone calls even on his cell phone. He is doing very well for himself."

Whatever Intemann is doing very well at, it is not the Clydesdale concept.
"He's let it fall apart, unfortunately," says Les Smith, director of the Portland Marathon and a supporter of big athletes since the mid-Eighties.

"That was before I ever heard of Joe," Smith points out, "and we didn't call them Clydesdales. We had a heavyweight division. That was because I'd been running for years with this huge guy, a big runner, a big man, and he used to point out, in a polite way, that bigger runners were running pretty well and that it wasn't easy. Then his son, God almighty, he was 6'5" and regularly qualified for the Boston Marathon."

Smith finally met Law when the Maryland man came to Oregon for a race directors' conference. "He was a regular guy who was big and looked great," Smith recalls. "He was proud because he used to be even bigger. He was nice and pleasant and enthusiastic, and from what I hear, he went out in a field and shot himself. Later, I heard he was just obsessed with his Clydesdale movement."

Obsessed is not the style of the Portland Marathon, which prides itself on being one of the more laid-back races in the country. There is no prize money, entrants have over ten hours in which to finish, and large runners can choose from ten categories in which to compete and win trophies. There's a Power Division, for big guys who can lift a large percentage of their own body weight, as well as several weight categories within the Clydesdale division. Big women have three divisions of their own: 145 to 155 pounds, 155 to 165 pounds, and 165 pounds and up. Still, fewer than ten women have ever entered the female Clydesdale division of the Portland Marathon--whereas there are always at least a hundred males.

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