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They Might Be Giants

For Clydesdales, life on the run can be heavy going

For the past two years, women entering the Columbia Triathlon have been asked to check yes or no to the following question: If necessary, would you accept an Athena award?

Imagine. You win an award but refuse to accept it--not out of deep political conviction, but for fear someone will see the award on your mantelpiece and discover your (hidden?) fatness. For that matter, if you are going to go ahead and tell your weight to strangers, why not just be called a Clydesdale and be done with it? How does being labeled a Greek goddess or a gangster's girlfriend sweeten the deal?

It is all very female and neurotic, and I am feeling very tolerant and superior until I remember that, at this year's Mount Taylor Winter Quadrathlon in New Mexico, I could have competed in something called the Horsepower Contest but didn't. Why? Because competition means nothing to me and I did not covet the beautiful silver piston offered as an award? No, it was because my weight would be announced out loud, after which I would race for seven hours--an amount of time I did not want to spend listening to a nagging inner voice repeating: You're fat, you're fat, you're fat.

"But food has so much control over people," says Danelle Ballengee, a world-famous Colorado triathlete who should not have to worry about this at all. In winning the World's Toughest Triathlon for the second time, she had to bicycle fast enough to get away from a very real, and very interested, bear. But that did not scare her as much as the thought of five extra pounds.

"In running," she explains, "if I gain weight, I tend to be more prone to injuries, whereas I get stronger in my biking and swimming. One-fifteen to one-twenty is about right for me, and I struggle with it. I love to eat, and I love to eat junk, and controlling that is the hardest part of my training."

Ballengee qualified for the Olympic Marathon trials this year, has won the Mount Taylor Winter Quadrathlon and the Pikes Peak Marathon and works full time as a fitness trainer. This is her second year as director of the Evergreen Multi-Sport Festival, which includes five separate on-road and off-road duathlons and triathlons, including the one I entered.

Like any other race director in the country, Ballengee is familiar with the Clydesdale concept. "We had a great turnout last year," she says. "Road bikes and mountain bikes. It was very popular."

"What about Athenas?" I ask.
"Let me see," she says. "Oh. We had no Athenas. None. Not knowing what I was doing, I may have put the weight limit too high. I made it 165. This year it's 150."

"Do you have any Athenas yet for this year?"
"Hold on a second. Yes! We have two!"
Two? That's me and--Potts? I hope so. But when I call to ask, she says she won't be running the Evergreen duathlon. A half-marathon of 13.2 miles is her limit, she explains; she doesn't have time for more. Still, this could be the start of something big, and Potts welcomes the unknown Athena to our ranks.

"Because, you know, I am pretty large," she says, "and there is always someone yelling at me to run around the block a few more times, and sometimes it gets discouraging and I think about giving it up.

"But then," she adds, "I think: The hell with you. I can run a good fifteen, twenty miles when I feel like it. Can you?

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