The atmosphere in Arizona fits David Willemsen just fine. Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe are fairly flat and have low humidity, Willemsen says, so they meet the criteria for his annual vacation. He further loves his January treks west as he's greeted by live music and boosters in each city and stretches between.
"You finish at Arizona State," says Willemsen of P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon & Half Marathon. "It's like a citywide party. You've got thousands of runners that are on the street, and you've got local people cheering you the whole 26-mile route. They bring in cheerleaders from 40 different schools that are all along the way. It's this real party thing. They've got rock 'n' roll bands stationed about every two miles, playing the oldies, heavy metal. My daughter says that the alter ego Dave comes out in the marathon. She says, 'I see a side to you, Dad, that I never see any other time of the year.' I just get kind of nuts."
It's a side of Willemsen he didn't think he'd see either, certainly not as a marathon runner. He spent some four decades as sedentary and unwittingly embraced the role. As a chubby kid, Willemsen says, "I lived up to the reputation. I got told by people I was fat and that kind of kept going. I got bigger and bigger and bigger. I topped the scales at 325 (pounds), 330. I was a big guy."