Heard on the Hill

Sen. Chuck Grassley announces he’s running ... 3 miles a day, 4 days a week

The Iowa Republican prefers to go it alone — and you won’t catch him with ‘plugs’

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, exits the Senate subway as he arrives in the Capitol for a vote on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Keeping Instagram abreast of the latest #CornWatch developments happening back at the family farm in Iowa isn’t the only responsibility Chuck Grassley prioritizes on a regular basis. When he’s in D.C., the 85-year-old senator dedicates four days a week to running 3 miles — rain or shine.

“I just wanna get out and do something so I don’t get fat, I guess,” the matter-of-fact lawmaker tells me. (Don’t we all?)

The oldest sitting male senator in Congress, who wasn’t a runner for most of his life, got an unusually late start at the age of 65 while chairman of the Aging Committee. Frequent visits to Iowa nursing homes left him disturbed that residents were hardly motivated to exercise.

“I wanted to make sure I was in shape so I didn’t get in that position … so I started running,” he says.

He chose running because it’s low maintenance — it’s free, doesn’t require any equipment, and even better, no people are necessary.

“I think I would be performing better if I had a running partner, but I don’t really want a running partner,” an earnest Grassley tells me right after rescinding a pseudo-invite to join him on a run. (I’m not one for 4 a.m. wake-ups anyway.)

The Arlington resident, who is known for having a strict bedtime of 9 p.m., answers the grueling predawn ring of his alarm and runs roughly the same route along Army-Navy Drive every day. The early hour is by choice; it means he can leave for work before 6 a.m., giving him the luxury of beating rush hour traffic in the nation’s gridlocked capital.

He speculates that wife Barbara thinks he’s “crazy for running” well before the sun even peeks over the horizon, but “she doesn’t complain about it every day” — only in the wintertime, when icy weather could lead to precarious running conditions, or when she feels her husband hasn’t gotten enough sleep the night before. She’s just looking out, much like she did when she used to make raisin oatmeal for the senator and any friends and staff who joined him on his early morning endeavors (back when he tolerated running partners).

But don’t for a second think the discomfort that comes with the repeated slapping of one’s feet against hard pavement is enjoyable to Grassley. He claims that “anybody that says they love to run is lying” — and I don’t disagree.

He runs to stay healthy, and while a disappointing finish of 38:43 at the 2015 ACLI Capital Challenge caused him to give up competitive running, he still goes in for the recreational kind. Just make sure it’s free of “plugs” (as he refers to earbuds). Without headphones clogging up his ears, he can clear his head and “think things over.”

Unlike his disciplined morning regiment, Grassley’s athletic attire is anything but enforced, and his shoe of choice is not one of the many decisions the busy senator has to make. “My favorite [running shoe] is what my son tells me to buy,” he says. Every 500 miles or so, he switches them out.

Even though running might not be everyone’s preferred mode of movement, “everyone should have some sort of recreation,” Grassley advises. “Running is best for me, but for someone else, it might not be.”

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