Wednesday, March 27, 2013


St. Patrick's Day in Virginia Beach this year was not the perfect beach day!

At the start of the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon, temperatures hovered in the low 40s, and an icy wind, coming from the north, aided runners at the start of the race, but smashed us, like the slap of an invisible wave, as we turned back into it.

Near the starting line, around the 12-mile mark of the race, my wife waited, shivering, as the wind swept through the tunnel of Atlantic Avenue. Crowds were thick, mostly friends and family of the over 3,000 competitors.

A young lady, in her 20s, passed by. She was NOT associated with any runner. Tipping the scale at over two-hundred pounds, she was clad in skinny jeans, and an undersized sweatshirt, that struggled, unsuccessfully, to cover her ample belly. The sight of a sea of fit, lithe athletes in motion was simply too much for her to bear. In earshot of my wife, she exclaimed, "Ewww, look how skinny they're legs are!"

My wife, both appalled and amused, gave the overweight observer a look that probably scared the bacon and eggs right out of her.

Statistically, we are living in the most obese country in the history of the world. As I write, over 34% of America's adult population is obese. By the year 2030, given the current trend, nearly half of the population of adults in the U.S. will be considered obese.

At the same time, however, more Americans are running and entering races than ever. Most major U.S. races are filled to capacity, sometimes days, or even hours after registration opens.

Sadly, as most of us have experienced, most of the population views us as freaks. We are insane for running in all kinds of weather, watching our diets, and caring about the only body we're ever going to get. We are not bogging down the health care system. We are not wasting money on cigarettes, or in fast-food joints. If we sustain an injury, the soft, overweight among us thoroughly enjoy saying, "I told you so."

In my book, Running Shorts,, a member of the 'Cast of Characters' is one of my oldest running partners, Brian Tonitis.

Three and a half years ago, Brian, in his early 50s, had just completed a local triathlon. He placed fourth, winning his age division. As he attempted to recover after the race, his chest tightened, and this man, a physical specimen, suffered a heart attack.

Brian and I see the same physician, Dr. George Heffner, a 4-hour marathoner. As Brian recovered in a local hospital, I called Dr. Heffner for a report. I lamented, "Doc, I go to Wal Mart, and I see these morbidly obese people in their 40s, riding around the store. I just don't understand how someone like Brian can suffer a heart attack. Is all the training we do really worth it?"

His answer was nothing short of brilliant, as well as tremendously inspiring.

He replied, "Joe, after a hard workout or a race, we may feel bad for a day or two. I think that obese people feel bad every day."

Brian Tonitis not only made a full recovery, but this winter, at age 56, dropped his 10K time down to 39:30. Had it not been for his superior physical conditioning, he may not have survived the "widowmaker" he suffered.

Yeah, I'll take our skinny legs anytime!