Running for President--Literally

Photo: AP

It's fairly well known that President George W. Bush was at one time an avid runner. Before assuming the presidency he clocked a 3:43 marathon, and while in office blasted a 20-minute 5k. (A truly impressive result for anyone in their 50s, never mind one holding the highest office in the land.)

Knee woes forced President Bush to trade in his running shoes for a mountain bike, but he has approached his new sport with equal zeal and commitment. The president's emphasis on fitness has been well-chronicled and often criticized. Many claim a sitting president has more important things to do than slip away from the oval office for a few hours to go play outside, not to mention the requisite stretching, showering and eating afterward.

An article in the on-line publication Slate recently asked the question: Is it a good thing to have a president with exercise constantly on his (or her) mind? For an executive in a position of such importance, do the benefits accrued outweigh the necessary investment of time, energy and effort?

That, of course, depends upon the value one places on training and staying fit. Any activity, especially one that requires such a large expenditure of energy, is sure to extract some sort of toll. Certainly, a vigorous workout can leave you energized, but for how long? A well-paced 10-mile run can feel great and clear your mind, but a few hours later can put you in desperate need of a nap.

Four More Years

No one knows how the election will turn out next November (although there are plenty of pundits that claim otherwise), but there is another fitness enthusiast on the presidential campaign trail. Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, is known for losing 110 pounds and having completed several marathons (in the 4:30 range).

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Huckabee described his training routine: "I run Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday is an off day. I follow a very rigid training program that I originally used for the first Little Rock Marathon. I follow it to the letter without exception."

Like any person, Huckabee must stay flexible. "If some extraordinary thing happens I'll do it the day before or after. But I keep those miles very focused. I build the rest of my schedule around that running schedule. Sometimes I have to get up in the wee hours of the morning to get it done."

Interestingly, Huckabee also shared his thoughts on the extraordinary fitness of the current chief executive: "President Bush might be one of the most healthy politicians out there. One of the things I wish he would do more of is talk about his own personal regimen... He is certainly an extraordinary fit individual and is fanatical about his exercise routine."

To me, that sounds like someone who is gong to put his training pretty high on the priority list. Not only has he endured the rigorous daily grind of campaigning in several states, he has moved up in polls from relative unknown to near frontrunner status, all while sticking to his exercise routine.

The point I am trying to make is that long-distance exercise and training offers many benefits. But for most--whether or not they harbor presidential aspirations--creating extra time in the day for other activities is not one of them. Some people claim that in order to fit training into their lives they should cut down on their sleep, but it makes me tired just thinking about that.

In another age, it would have been laughable to think of physical fitness as a campaign platform, but no longer. If Mike Huckabee is successful in his "run" for the presidency, the White House Secret Service detail can once again expect to get plenty of exercise during the next four years. See you on the road, Mike. Just don't be late for any meetings.

Don Allison, from Weymouth, Massachusetts, is the former publisher of UltraRunning Magazine and a founder of Cool Running. He has completed 55 marathons, with a personal best of 2:35. In addition, Don has completed several ultramarathons, Ironman triathlons and cycled across the U.S.A. in 2006.

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