Don't Judge a TOJ by the Size of His/Her Shorts

On the Fourth of July over thirty years ago, I was at the start of a five mile race on a then-dirt road that runs along Horsetooth Reservoir, just outside Ft. Collins, Colorado. I had lined up in the second row behind the really fast people wearing singlets and skimpy dayglo shorts. Although I was in good shape and expected run the hilly course in pretty good time, I wasn't a serious racer with any expectation of placing, especially with some of very competitive local runners I recognized in front of me, including one who would soon be one of the top 10K road runners in the U.S.

One guy caught my eye when he took up a position almost right in front of me because he looked like he didn't belong there. He was large, with tent-like baggy shorts and ridge of fat bulging from under a x-large T-shirt. I wondered if he was arrogant or just plain ignorant lining up where everyone most of the field would have to run around him in the first hundred yards.

But when the starting gun fired, he pulled away from most of us and quickly disappeared over the first hill, with the lead pack, in a cloud of dust. By the time I crossed the finish line, he was relaxing with some other early finishers, laughing and drinking a beer. Later when they announced the results, I found out he had finished fifth. He had come within a minute of the winner, the guy who would go on to national fame and a contract with Nike. The heavy mystery runner had come from somewhere up in Wyoming. I never saw him again, but I never forgot him.

I thought of him when I picked up a book called Shape Up with the Slow Fat Triathlete by Jayne Williams, a large athlete who has weighed upwards of 240 lbs. and has also completed over twenty triathlons, among her other athletic accomplishments. I enjoyed her book for lots of reasons. Although it talks most directly to women, the book is full of useful facts and suggestions on training, attitude, competition, clothing, nutrition, and health. With humor and light heartedness, she addresses everything from Lycra and energy gels to hydration and the color of healthy urine. Her words have the authentic ring of experience; when she describes a greasy concoction to help avoid rubbing your butt raw on a bike seat during a long ride, you know she has been there, done that. The core information is pertinent to athletes of all ages and genders, including TOJs.

But it's not the facts that drew me to her book. It was because she conveys such a deep and abiding love for exercise that is shared by every TOJ. Reading her insights, you realize she has fought personal and physical battles to be athletic, starting with being a heavy woman in an body image-obsessed culture and rising to the real challenge of moving that body with skill in one of the toughest endurance competitions. The simple laws of physics dictate that a heavier runner will expend more energy and effort to cover the same distance as a flyweight. And the heavier runner will endure exponentially higher forces on his or her joints, especially the knees.

"Heavyset" and "endurance sports" seem to be concepts that are at odds, but Jayne proves that is just conventional (and wrong) wisdom. Exercise is fun and good for everyone. People of all shapes and sizes love it and have a right to participate in any pursuit they choose. Much of what she has to say about heavy athletes is true for TOJs as well. Until very recently, it was an unspoken rule that as we age, we become less active, as if all there is to do when your hair turns grey is to voluntarily resign yourself to a sedentary life of checkers, knitting and television. The cultural signals are all around us. When you pick up a copy of Runners World, you will never see a heavy runner, nor will you ever see a TOJ.

Jayne Williams gets it -- you pursue your physical passions for your own reasons, whether it's a race or a jog in the park. You will likely never win anything. You may never look sleek or strong. Physical effort might be hard for you and sometimes you might get injured. Other times you will become tired and lazy. Sometimes you train like a Spartan and watch what you eat, other times you eat like a pig. The athletic life is dynamic because your body, the weather, the terrain, skills, techniques, equipment, everything is constantly changing. It's what you have chosen to do, despite all odds. It's how you fill your time, like a Zen master sits on a cushion and stares at a wall.

And after all is said and done, Williams, like a TOJ, feels a great sense of joy, humility, and gratitude. In a book with many memorable lines, my favorite reads: "Simply being able to move your body around is something that should make you feel awed and grateful every day." To that, this TOJ would only add: Amen.

Moabing in Moab, Utah

Moab, Utah, lays in a narrow, north-south valley sandwiched between the foothills of the La Sal mountains and the Moab Rim, a red mass of layered sandstone rising a thousand feet above. The core of the town consists of twenty or so blocks strung along State Highway 191, a two lane that is busy 24/7 because few routes go north and south in Utah, where the middle of the state is dominated by some of the most rugged and spectacular geography in North America.

When you drive in miday, you are in a procession of semi-trucks pulling mining contraptions, SUVs bristling with hard core mountain bikes or kayaks, long shiny campers with nicknames like Wanderlust , Subaru Outbacks packed with camping gear, hugh pickups hauling a trailer with multiple-ATVs, and battered pickup trucks loaded with hay. You pass a hodgdepodge of rock shops, motels, motorcycle shops, mountain bike shops, junk food and organic food restaurants, the obligatory Native American arts and crafts store, and a funky store with crystal curtains that looks like head shop.

The mix of hand-painted and neon signage gives you the feeling that the zoning rules are pretty lax, hinting at a frontier, libertarian bent, not the strict order you'd expect in a place with such deep Mormon roots. This may be a resort, but it ain't fru-fru; you won't see any Aspen Insitutute or Sante Fe Ballet here, or meetings of the World Bank. Moab can be very hot, windy and dusty and freezing during the winter. Like all places with a view in the West, some fancy second homes have popped up in the last decade, but not many. Probably too hard to keep them clean, and there is only one golf course.

I first learned about it many years ago from Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire, in which he described the austere beauty of the canyon country and high desert. After reading about it, it took years to finally visit, but once I did, I've been drawn to it ever since. And when in Moab, I always pay a visit to Back of Beyond Books, which has a great collection of Abbey books (and sort of a shrine to him when you first come in the front door), maps, hiking and biking books, environmental books, and western history.

Moab epitomizes the two cultures that co-exist, with varying degrees of success, in rural resorts in the West: the nature lovers and adventurers with mountain bikes, rafts, and hiking shoes and the motor nuts with ATVs, monster wheel jeeps, and motorized trail bikes. Moab has large and well organized contigents of both. You might say it gives Moab some economic diversity. I think the two cultures get along fine because most visitors don't spend that much time in town, and there are vast expanses for the two cultures to avoid each other. You want to avoid Moab during the annual Jeep Safari in April when the town is overrun by every 4-wheel congifuration known to man. They caravan up every nook and cranny and have contests to see if they can crawl over steep rocks without rolling down. When they roll down and smash their rigs, they then spend all night outside your motel room drinking Bud Lite and welding the broken pieces back together. They next day they head back to the slickrock, leaving smashed beer cans and pools of oil and grease all over the parking lot.

For a TOJ, most times of the year Moab is a paradise. There is great trail running and mountain biking. Moab is best known for the Slick Rock Trail, which is very challenging and, except for the most skilled and well equipped TOJs, potentially dangerous. On some days the Slick Rock Trail feels as crowded and hyper as Breckenridge ski resort on Xmas day. But there are hundreds and hundreds of miles of trails and roads both in the national parks and other public areas outside of Moab. I've found the Falcon series of hiking and biking books very reliable, as well as the Latitude 40 maps, which you can online at or find in many outdoor gear shops.

You spend limited time in Moab because it's a long drive into Arches and Canyonlands, truly among the wonders of the world. There is so much to see and do outside the town, which is why you go there, and travelling back and forth consumes most of your day. But Moab is a perfect base camp for your adventures, and you can still enjoy resort amenities like good food (try the Peace Tree for wraps and smoothies or Miguel's Baja Grill for Mexican food) or good beer (try the Moab Brewery).

Moab is a place that deserves to be a verb. It's a place where you go to do things in the outdoors, not just hang out. We just visited there for a few days. I got to run on a back road in a howling wind that drove red sand into my ears, mouth, and eyes, and to wander amidst the towering slabs of Entrada Sandstone in Arches that make you think about deep time. It was great. I was Moabing.