A Different Kind of Race

Politicos Will Run in Sunday’s Marathon

Posted October 26, 2005 at 4:12pm

One man started doing it to blow off steam caused by the pressures of law school. For the other, it was a way out of a lifestyle that just wasn’t working for him. At one point, it took one of them all the way to the bottom of the heap — and shaved more than 100 pounds off the other’s frame.

And, believe it or not, it was the healthiest thing either of them has ever done.

Running helped turn Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s (R) life around, and has kept Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in shape well past his peers’ primes. How each of them will wind up at the starting tape on Sunday afternoon at the Marine Corps Marathon, however, involves stories that differ in all facets but one — two men who were looking to better themselves through running.

Blazing a Trail

Blumenauer was in the midst of earning his J.D. from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., when his journey began. Stressed out from the daily grind of a law-school student, the Beaver State native said he started running as a “release valve.”

A few years later, he found himself thinking he would like to try his hand at a marathon. And he’s been running at least one a year ever since.

The Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday will be the 32nd marathon in which he has participated. Blumenauer said he has finished all but two — the second of which was remedied by a determined effort on his part.

While running the Portland Marathon one year — a race he has snapped the tape on 22 times — he had problems with his neck and had to stop after 16 miles. But Blumenauer couldn’t accept not being able to finish the race.

He went back a week later and re-ran the entire course, without stopping. Upon finishing, he called the director of the marathon and asked for his finisher’s shirt. He wound up getting more than he bargained for: The shirt arrived at his office with a rather dubious award.

“I got a plaque for finishing last in the Portland Marathon, which I still have back home,” Blumenauer said with a laugh. “It took me 172 hours, all told. I don’t think anyone has run one slower.”

He has run them faster — according to a press release, his fastest time in a marathon was 3 hours, 23 minutes — but he said running has now taken on more of a business role in his life.

While helping him to stay healthy, Blumenauer said running also enables him to conduct meetings with almost anyone, at any time. Even himself.

“I’m a huge believer in meetings on the move. I always have a reason to go out for a run,” Blumenauer said. “There are literally hundreds of people to do business with — staff, constituents, you name it. … It’s also the quickest way for me to organize my thoughts about a speech. I always run with a dictation unit.”

Since joining Congress 10 years ago, he also picked up another healthy and efficient means of transportation: a bike.

Blumenauer said he bikes to work every day, an extension of his philosophy to “exercise whenever you can.”

Though it has gotten him strange looks from other people — the Oregon native said the first time he biked to the White House, “they looked at me funny” — it also comes in handy in a city known for its congested streets, he said.

“If it’s a trip of two or three miles, I can get there faster on a bike than people can get there in their cars,” Blumenauer said. “I’ve gotten hundreds of hours of exercise and saved lots of time by using a bike instead of a car.”

That doesn’t mean Blumenauer doesn’t enjoy running anymore, of course. He listed some of his favorite running places in Washington, D.C., as the National Mall, the Monument loop and the C&O Canal.

And though he won’t be running for time in the Marine Corps Marathon, having just finished the Portland Marathon three weeks ago, he does have goals for this race.

“My goals are simple: to not finish last, to not get lost and to finish.”

A Healthy Alternative

Finishing a marathon was the last thing on Mike Huckabee’s mind two years ago. He was overweight, and exercise was not a part of his daily routine.

It was then that he made up his mind to start a weight-loss program, of which exercising on a bike was a part of the regimen. He did well enough with that, he said, and he decided to step off the bike and onto the pavement.

“I decided to run a block and see how it went,” the governor said. “And when I finished I thought, well, that didn’t kill me, so I’ll do more and see how it goes. Soon, I started running instead of walking. And I thought it was amazing when I finally hit a mile.”

Things soon escalated for Huckabee as the weight began to drop. His doctor recommended a 5K race in 2004, which he finished in about 28 minutes. Soon afterwards, a TV reporter, running enthusiast and his current press secretary, Alice Stewart, approached him about the Little Rock Marathon. Huckabee said, at that point in time, he called her “insane.”

One would think that would have been the end of that. But Huckabee said Stewart must have told her idea to the marathon’s organizers, because they came knocking not too long after, asking him to come out and run their race.

“I agreed to do it, mostly to get them off my back,” Huckabee said. “I figured I’d hit the wall after a few miles and that would be that. … I told everybody, I’m running two marathons today — my first and my last.”

He finished the race in 4 hours, 28 minutes, and described it as “the experience of a lifetime … a day of sheer joy and ecstasy.” During the race, Huckabee said, he passed people half his age who were on the ground in obvious pain, something he said gave him just a little bit of pleasure.

Though his career total of marathons doesn’t approach the level of Blumenauer’s — the Little Rock Marathon was Huckabee’s only one thus far — he already has the mind-set of a career runner.

Huckabee has trained for months for the Marine Corps Marathon, he said, and hopes he can finish without stopping. And there is a simple formula, he said, that has helped him turn his life around.

“There is not one single day that I haven’t followed my training program to the letter, because then I know I’m sticking to it, I know I’m prepared,” Huckabee said. “Could you run 26.2 miles today? Absolutely not. But if you wanted to do that a year from now, you absolutely could if you’re a reasonably focused person. Because it’s all about following a training program.”

Huckabee’s goals for the 30th installment of the Marine Corps Marathon mimic those of Blumenauer’s — with one minor twist.

“I want to go the distance,” he said. “As far as time, my goal is to finish sometime before Monday. I’m not trying to be a competitive runner. I’m trying to beat myself. I’m running away from a life of poor health habits.”

‘Inspirational’

Though their most memorable running spots are hundreds of miles apart — Blumenauer’s is Forest Park in Portland, while Huckabee’s is a 12-mile run through San Francisco — they will embark on this latest journey, along with 30,000 others, from the same place on Sunday. It’s an experience both described as certain to be “inspirational.”

“There’s something pretty inspiring about it,” Huckabee said. “You’re running past the monuments of people who died so you could do this. They paid a high price for some sore legs so I can come to the nation’s capital and run in a marathon like this. It’s truly inspirational.”

“That’s why I enjoy running in D.C.,” Blumenauer said. “I never tire of the views and the vistas, the monuments. The marathon, though sharing it with tens of thousands of people, is very much inspirational. I’m looking forward to sharing that experience this weekend. It’s absolutely the best way to see the city.”