(This is the 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)
July 1999. We Americans have an odd relationship with our entertainment celebrities and political figures. The distinctions between these two groups blur, since we’ve elected former actor Ronald Reagan as President and we treat the antics of our current President as entertainment.
Celebrity journalism is a thriving industry in this country. We dote on the every move of these people, and at the same time delight in hearing of their missteps.
For the past year Americans debated removing Bill Clinton from office. At the same time approval of his work as President, measured by public-opinion polls, never wavered from percentages much higher than the voting that had elected him twice to this office.
You might ask what all of this has to running. Only that Clinton is a former runner himself, as were George Bush and Jimmy Carter before him.
The President is the most-watched celebrity in the land. His every step is reported, which can be embarrassing.
Carter is the only sitting President ever to enter a race, other than political, while in office. His ended with a widely reported collapse from heat exhaustion and a trip to a hospital.
Bush’s doctors ordered him to cut back his running when he developed a heart problem. None of this was welcome publicity for our sport.
Clinton retreated from running under less damning conditions. A non-running accident injured a knee and required surgery from which he is still rehabilitating.
Under our constitution the Vice-President steps in to take over duties that his boss is unable to perform. This document says nothing about running, but Al Gore still assumed the role as this nation’s First Runner.
Gore even outdid the President. Clinton never entering a race of any distance, as far as anyone knows, but Gore is credited with running the 1997 Marine Corps Marathon.
He didn’t make this run for the resulting publicity that might have furthered his political ambitions. His entry was kept secret for security reasons, and he ran quietly with two of his daughters, finishing a bit under five hours. Gore’s run was duly reported, and it inspired many Americans.
If standing too close to recent events hasn’t hurt his chances too much, Al Gore is in line to become America’s first marathoner President. He almost certainly will run, in the political sense, for the highest office.
Chances are good that at least one other road runner will be in the presidential running. Dozens of Senators and Representatives train regularly in and around Washington, DC, and many of them race each year in the three-mile Nike Capital Challenge.
When Bill Clinton came into office, I wrote that I’d rather see a President “fighting an active if losing battle with his belly” than one who “settles for being the nation’s First Fan... If he’s willing to make such efforts in his favorite sport, maybe the same approach will spill over to bigger arenas where greater action is required.”
Those sentiments apply in any election year and to every political race. Whether they agree with the office-holder’s politics or not, we can look up to leaders motivated to take care of themselves as well as the country’s business.
2018 Update. Al Gore, of course, narrowly lost to George W. Bush, who had run a marathon before his election to the highest office. Barack Obama ran on basketball courts during his Presidency. Whatever your views on the current President, it’s impossible to imagine him running for anything but another term.
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]