ON THE ROAD AGAIN – Toby Walls of Shelter Bay is used to being in the fast lane at road runs and other racing events. He has run competitively both here and in New England. – Photo courtesy of Sarah Walls
For Toby Walls, losing weight was a moving experience. A dozen years ago, at age 33, he re-connected with a former passion – distance running – and hasn’t looked back since. Or, more precisely, Walls hasn’t looked over his shoulder, having earned a slew of medals from various road races and running events on both coasts. Nor has he looked at his bathroom scale quite the same way. The trim, yet broad-shouldered 45-year-old weighs 60 pounds less than he did in 2006. Walls hasn’t done so with Atkins, Keto, or any other faddish food strategy. Instead, he has kept the weight off with a steady diet of running. “My advice,” says Walls, who ran track and cross-country while a student at Stanwood High, “is not necessarily to change your diet. Just keep moving. You’ve just got to get your body used to moving.” Walls usually runs four days a week, sometimes up to 10 miles at a clip. During winter, when daylight is limited, he’ll use his lunch break at Conway Feed to fit in a workout. He has competed at every distance from 100 meters to marathons both here and in New England, taking on temperatures from minus degrees to the 90s. His wife, photographer Sarah Walls, has been there most every step of the way, capturing through her lenses the strides Toby has made since returning to the running life. The couple’s children, Hallie and Sylas, have likewise caught the running bug. Each has already completed a 5K race. Walls counts many benefits. He is rarely ill and has more energy while on the job at the feed mill. It started when he began taking stock of his health more than a decade ago. “I realized that as I got older, I wanted to be able to play with my kids,” he says. “So, I started running again. And as things progressed it was a matter of ‘let’s see what I can do.’ My competitive nature kicked in.” Living at the time in Vermont, with its steep terrain and spectacular fall scenery, proved an ideal setting for getting serious once more about running. With Sarah working weekends, Toby would take Hallie along in a jogger for his long runs, often encountering hilly conditions along the way. His speed and endurance benefitted. By 2010, he was ready for his first marathon. It was a race Walls won’t soon forget. Mostly because of the weather. “It was autumn in New Hampshire,” he recalls, “and it was raining sideways.” Two years later, Walls entered another fall marathon in New Hampshire, this time in the resort town of Hampton Beach. Walls was one of thousands of runners to descend on the popular summer tourist hub. At that time of year, they far outnumbered everybody else who was out and about. “It was the off-season,” says Walls. “There was nobody there. The stores were all boarded up. Everybody had gone south for the winter.” Walls found himself having to zigzag and burn precious energy trying to break free from the packs of runners who clogged the town’s narrow streets. “That’s where I learned how much grit I had,” he says. “I had to figure out how to get past all the others.” Training runs, of course, are more solitary. The famed White Mountains provided favorite running courses when the family lived back east. “I remember running there once and at that time of year there was the most beautiful foliage,” says Walls. “I was running alone under a canopy of hardwood trees. Just me and the moose.” Since moving back to the Skagit Valley and settling in at Shelter Bay, Walls has taken part in the summer all-comers track meets in Burlington, the Tulip Run, the La Conner Smelt Run and Camano Island’s Crab Dash. Walls is now prepping for the Skagit Flats Marathon, where he hopes to best his personal mark of three hours and 16 minutes, a clocking that would qualify him for his age division of the Boston Marathon, one of the world’s best-known running events. Walls doesn’t plan to stop with marathons, either. He hopes to add 50K runs and other ultrarunning trials to his resume. “I’m really looking into it,” he says. “I’d like to try something with a slower, steadier pace.” The 5’-6” Walls is noted for his distinct, kinetic running style, a means for keeping up with taller runners with longer strides. Among his favorite memories is a 5K race Walls ran at age 40 and beating a field of guys in their 20s, turning in a personal best mile split of 5:06 in the process. When not on the run, you’ll rarely find Walls stretched out in a recliner. He keeps busy making furniture and coaching La Conner youth sports teams. Idle time isn’t an option – at least not by choice. “He just doesn’t sit still,” Sarah says.