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For some national politicians, over-the-top competition isn’t limited to elections. The relentless drive that powers a campaign serves some politicians just as well in the weight room, on the basketball court or in the Ironman.

For some national politicians, over-the-top competition isn’t limited to elections. The relentless drive that powers a campaign serves some politicians just as well in the weight room, on the basketball court or in the Ironman.
For some lawmakers, over-the-top competition isn’t limited to elections. Our panel rated the athletic feats of 20 politicians. Illustrated by Tim Marrs May 13, 2019 All successful politicians are competitive — that’s how they got elected. But some find that the relentless drive that powers them through a campaign serves them equally well in the…

For some lawmakers, over-the-top competition isn’t limited to elections. Our panel rated the athletic feats of 20 politicians.

Illustrated by Tim Marrs

May 13, 2019

All successful politicians are competitive — that’s how they got elected. But some find that the relentless drive that powers them through a campaign serves them equally well in the weight room, in a road race or on the basketball court.

Or even in an Ironman.

In March, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) became the first U.S. senator to finish one of the iconic and arduous swim-bike-run events, crushing her previous best time by more than two hours.

The panelists

Christie Aschwanden

, author of

“Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn From the Strange Science of Recovery”

Jeff Darman, race director of the ACLI Capital Challenge

David Epstein, author of “The Sports Gene” and “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World”

Rick Nealis, race director of the Marine Corps Marathon

Stacy Sims, sports scientist and co-author of exercise physiology book “ROAR”

Mike Spinnler, race director and former winner of the JFK 50 Mile

Walt Thompson, kinesiology professor at Georgia State University and former president of the American College of Sports Medicine

“That’s the fundamental appeal of the Ironman, right?” said Sinema, 42. “You watch the Ironman on television and you think to yourself, ‘No human can do that.’ And I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to go do that.’ ”

Sinema’s Ironman success made us curious about other feats of badassery that national politicians have accomplished, so we combed news articles, books and race results and consulted House and Senate historians. The result was a little blood, plenty of guts and a list of 20.

The feats had to be ranked — this is a story about competition, after all — but how do you compare a fast marathon to a heavy bench press, or a tough rock climb to an extreme display of bladder control?

We outsourced that quandary to a panel of seven experts that included sports scientists, sports science book authors and Washington-area race directors who have seen plenty of politicians cross their finish lines. We asked them to score each feat on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most impressive, and let the judges interpret that as they saw fit.

Front of the pack

Average judge score

Rep. Jean Schmidt

4.1

Ran the fastest of 40+ marathons while in office in 3:49:05 at age 54.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth*

4.1

Completed the Chicago Marathon in a hand cycle while running for Senate.

Rep. Bart Gordon

4.0

Set fastest lawmaker record for 3 miles in 16:59 (5:40/mile) at age 46.

Sen. Max Baucus

4.0

Finished the JFK 50 Mile at age 61 despite a hard fall and head injury.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie

3.9

As part of a yearly weightlifting streak, bench-pressed 272 pounds at age 72.

3.8

Rep. Goodloe Byron

Ran the JFK 50 Mile four times in office, including a speedy 10:13:10.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

3.8

Placed in top half of women at

Ironman New Zealand in 12:59:57.

*Currently a senator, but completed the athletic feat while in the U.S. House.

Avg. score

Rep. Jean Schmidt

4.1

Ran the fastest of 40+ marathons while in office in 3:49:05 at age 54.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth*

4.1

Completed the Chicago Marathon in a hand cycle while running for Senate.

Rep. Bart Gordon

4.0

Set fastest lawmaker record for 3 miles in 16:59 (5:40/mile) at age 46.

Sen. Max Baucus

4.0

Finished the JFK 50 Mile at age 61 despite a hard fall and head injury.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie

3.9

As part of a yearly weightlifting streak, bench-pressed 272 pounds at age 72.

Rep. Goodloe Byron

3.8

Ran the JFK 50 Mile four times in office, including a speedy 10:13:10.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

3.8

Placed in top half of women at

Ironman New Zealand in 12:59:57.

*Currently a senator, but completed the athletic feat while in the U.S. House.

Average judge score

Rep. Jean Schmidt

4.1

Ran the fastest of 40+ marathons while in office in 3:49:05 at age 54.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth*

4.1

Completed the Chicago Marathon in a hand cycle while running for Senate.

Rep. Bart Gordon

4.0

Set fastest lawmaker record for 3 miles in 16:59 (5:40/mile) at age 46.

Sen. Max Baucus

4.0

Finished the JFK 50 Mile at age 61 despite a hard fall and head injury.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie

3.9

As part of a yearly weightlifting streak, bench-pressed 272 pounds at age 72.

Rep. Goodloe Byron

3.8

Ran the JFK 50 Mile four times in office, including a speedy 10:13:10.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

3.8

Placed in top half of women at

Ironman New Zealand in 12:59:57.

*Currently a senator, but completed the feat while in the U.S. House.

Judges’ scores

1

2

3

4

5

Average score

Rep. Jean Schmidt R-Ohio

4.1

Ran the fastest of 40+ marathons while in office in 3:49:05 at age 54.

Range of scores

Rep. Tammy Duckworth* D-Ill.

4.1

Completed the Chicago Marathon in a hand cycle while running for Senate.

Rep. Bart Gordon D-Tenn.

4.0

Set fastest lawmaker record for 3 miles in 16:59 (5:40/mile) at age 46.

Sen. Max Baucus D-Mont.

4.0

Finished the JFK 50 Mile at age 61 despite a hard fall and head injury.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie D-Hawaii

3.9

As part of a yearly weightlifting streak, bench-pressed 272 pounds at age 72.

Rep. Goodloe Byron D-Md.

3.8

Ran the JFK 50 Mile four times in office, including a speedy 10:13:10.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema D-Ariz.

Placed in top half of women at

Ironman New Zealand in 12:59:57.

3.8

*Currently a senator, but completed the athletic feat while in the U.S. House.

Judges’ scores

1

2

3

4

5

Average score

Rep. Jean Schmidt R-Ohio

4.1

Ran the fastest of 40+ marathons while in office in 3:49:05 at age 54.

Range of scores

Rep. Tammy Duckworth* D-Ill.

4.1

Completed the Chicago Marathon in a hand cycle while running for Senate.

Rep. Bart Gordon D-Tenn.

4.0

Set fastest lawmaker record for 3 miles in 16:59 (5:40/mile) at age 46.

Sen. Max Baucus D-Mont.

4.0

Finished the JFK 50 Mile at age 61 despite a hard fall and head injury.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie D-Hawaii

3.9

As part of a yearly weightlifting streak, bench-pressed 272 pounds at age 72.

Rep. Goodloe Byron D-Md.

3.8

Ran the JFK 50 Mile four times in office, including a speedy 10:13:10.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema D-Ariz.

Placed in top half of women at

Ironman New Zealand in 12:59:57.

3.8

*Currently a senator, but completed the athletic feat while in the U.S. House.

Judges’ scores

1

2

3

4

5

Average score

Rep. Jean Schmidt R-Ohio

4.1

Ran the fastest of 40+ marathons while in office in 3:49:05 at age 54.

Range of scores

Rep. Tammy Duckworth* D-Ill.

4.1

Completed the Chicago Marathon in a hand cycle while running for Senate.

Rep. Bart Gordon D-Tenn.

4.0

Set fastest lawmaker record for 3 miles in 16:59 (5:40/mile) at age 46.

Sen. Max Baucus D-Mont.

4.0

Finished the JFK 50 Mile at age 61 despite a hard fall and head injury.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie D-Hawaii

3.9

As part of a yearly weightlifting streak, bench-pressed 272 pounds at age 72.

Rep. Goodloe Byron D-Md.

3.8

Ran the JFK 50 Mile four times in office, including a speedy 10:13:10.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema D-Ariz.

Placed in top half of women at

Ironman New Zealand in 12:59:57.

3.8

*Currently a senator, but completed the athletic feat while in the U.S. House.

As a group, these lawmakers seem a bit competitive in the same way that wolverines seem a little aggressive and sharks a tad toothy.

Exhibit A is former congressman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), who at 70 says he is still often introduced as “the fastest man in Congress” thanks to a never-beaten 1995 performance in the lawmaker category of a quirky D.C. three-mile race.

He described his racing attitude this way: “I would get in my mind that the more that I hurt, the more everybody around me hurt, and so I wanted to hurt more because I wanted them to hurt more. Because I could take it, and they couldn’t.”

Now that is hardcore, said Greg Chertok, a New York-based sports psychology consultant who coaches athletes in developing mental toughness.

“The sense of having power over your opponent is very attractive and appealing to an athlete,” he said. “And I’m sure a politician’s mind-set is very similar.”

Gordon set his record of 16 minutes 59 seconds — that’s 5:40 per mile — at the ACLI Capital Challenge, a collegial team event that has drawn the speediest runners from government and Washington-area media for nearly four decades. If a lawmaker wants bragging rights for their foot speed, they earn it there.

The panelists say . . .

“This is the only truly elite performance on this list. Most 72-year-olds are ahead of the game if they can knock out a few good push-ups.”


— David Epstein

on Neil Abercrombie’s 272-pound bench press

“Respectable finish in a ridiculous race that requires a lot of suffering to finish.”


— Christie Aschwanden

on Kyrsten Sinema’s Ironman

“At 61, finishing this race in sub-11 hours is awesome. I’ve done this ultra — it’s not easy!”


— Stacy Sims

on Max Baucus’s JFK 50 Mile

“The physical ability to push the human body over 26 miles just using the upper extremity is an incredible feat of physical and mental stamina.”


— Walt Thompson

on Tammy Duckworth’s handcycle marathon


Gordon was the race’s fastest lawmaker 20 times, even winning in his 50s (and a final time at 60). He says he proudly left Congress in 2011 “unindicted and undefeated.”

“I would say a small percentage take it quite seriously,” said race director Jeff Darman, who created the event in 1981. “Bart Gordon wanted to win. He didn’t want to come in second.”

Darman polices entries closely to make sure teams don’t include ineligible ringers. (Oh, yeah, they try.) And because of all the high-profile participants, the logistics differ a bit from your average race, particularly in the realm of security.

“I always have to tell Park Police who is running the race with a gun,” Darman said.

The race’s 38th running is Wednesday, and 18 members of Congress are entered. Sinema is planning to break the female lawmaker’s record of 22:05 that she set last year in the House, as well as Kelly Ayotte’s Senate women’s record of 24:52.

In March, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) became the first U.S. senator to finish an Ironman Triathlon, finishing in 12:59:57 in New Zealand. Sinema says she loves the challenge of achieving things that are “audacious and too hard.” (FinisherPix)

Sinema said she loves the challenge of achieving things that are “audacious and too hard,” which is why she chose the Ironman and why she is attempting to qualify for Boston at a marathon this month.

She calls her approach disciplined rather than competitive.

“I’m the same as an athlete, as a candidate and as a senator — very disciplined,” she said. “Which means you decide what you want, you focus relentlessly on it you do all the work to achieve it, and then you achieve it.”

Chertok said that the long, hard training required to compete in endurance events may appeal to people in jobs that require a lot of public interaction, giving them “an opportunity for solitude in a professional life that doesn’t really grant much of that.”

Then-Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2016. She finished the marathon in 2:38:13. (Bank of America Chicago Marathon)

The 2007 Marine Corps race was one of more than 40 marathons then-Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) took part in during her eight years in office. (Marine Corps Marathon)

Then-Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) in 2007. Today at 70, Gordon says he is still often introduced as “the fastest man in Congress” thanks to a never-beaten 1995 performance in the lawmaker category of a D.C. three-mile race. (ACLI Capital Challenge)

Then-Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2016. She finished the marathon in 2:38:13. (Bank of America Chicago Marathon). The 2007 Marine Corps race was one of more than 40 marathons then-Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) took part in during her eight years in office. (Marine Corps Marathon). Then-Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) in 2007. Today at 70, Gordon says he is still often introduced as “the fastest man in Congress” thanks to a never-beaten 1995 performance in the lawmaker category of a D.C. three-mile race. (ACLI Capital Challenge)

Our judges voted former congresswoman Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), by far the most prolific endurance racer on our list, into the top spot with her 3:49:05 marathon at age 54. It was the fastest of more than 40 marathons she ran during her eight years in the House. Many of those were speedy enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Schmidt grew up working on pit crews for the auto racing team her father co-founded and says competition is in her blood. She says the will to finish no matter what applies to both running and politics.

“It’s a mind-set,” Schmidt said, just days after completing her 20-somethingth Boston in April. “You just have to roll with it and move forward and always look at the goal. You want to finish the race. You want to win that election.”

Now 67, Schmidt is still adding to a lifetime marathon total, which is approaching 150, and she recently decided to run for a seat in the Ohio legislature in 2020.

“I’ve got competition, and they think I’m an old lady,” she said. “They ain’t seen nothing yet.”

In 1979, then-Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) became the first senator to complete a marathon, and two years later he set the Senate record of 18:15 at the first Capital Challenge. He was the fastest senator many times — “I wasn’t going to let anybody beat me — no senator. No way!” — and he can recount like it was yesterday the one time he lost, more than 20 years ago — “to Don Nickles, that son of a gun.”

But his most dramatic achievement came in a much longer race.

In 2003, at age 61, Baucus was cruising along the notoriously rocky Appalachian Trail section of the JFK 50 Mile in Boonsboro, Md., when he fell and hit his head. He ran the last 42 miles with a bleeding gash that would require stitches and, days later, emergency surgery for a subdural hematoma. (“They just put a couple of holes in your head and drain you,” he said. “It really is not that big a deal.”)

Baucus said he initially didn’t notice anything was wrong.

“I just kept running,” he said. “Then one little kid, I went to high-five him — he must’ve been 5 or 6 years old. He looked at me and said ‘EEEEEWW!’ My face was so bloody, he wouldn’t high-five me. I thought to myself, ‘Well, maybe there is a little blood there.’ ” That is his face in the illustration at the top of this story.

Not only did he finish, his 10:55:47 time was fast enough to qualify for the Western States Endurance Run, which is to ultrarunners what Boston is to marathoners.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), second on our list, said that for her, the personal challenge is the point. As a House member campaigning for the Senate, she was the only woman to finish the 2016 Chicago Marathon in a hand-cranked wheelchair called a handcycle.

Duckworth, a combat veteran who lost both legs in Iraq in 2004, said that during her recovery, the staff members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center first encouraged her to try a marathon, and she has since completed four.

“When I lost my legs, I lost my physical self that I was before,” she said in an email. “I slowly realized [racing marathons] helped me begin to feel strong in my own body and understand that I could overcome my injuries and finish the race.”

High level but not next level

Average judge score

Rep. Katie Hill

3.5

Free-climbed the tough “Cowboy Coffee” route in Texas Canyon.

Rep. Tom Cotton*

3.4

Averaged 5:58/mile for three miles at age 36.

Pres. Theodore Roosevelt

3.3

Hauled friends on treacherous treks before adventure races were a thing.

Pres. George W. Bush

3.2

The highest-ranking politician with an official race time (20:29 for 3 miles).

Sen. Charles E. Grassley

3.2

Runs three miles a day, four days a week, at age 85 (15:00/mile).

*Currently a senator, but completed the athletic feat while in the U.S. House.

Avg. score

Rep. Katie Hill

3.5

Free-climbed the tough “Cowboy Coffee” route in Texas Canyon.

Rep. Tom Cotton*

3.4

Averaged 5:58/mile for three miles at age 36.

President Theodore Roosevelt

3.3

Hauled friends on treacherous treks before adventure races were a thing.

President George W. Bush

3.2

The highest-ranking politician with an official race time (20:29 for 3 miles).

Sen. Charles E. Grassley

3.2

Runs three miles a day, four days a week, at age 85 (15:00/mile).

*Currently a senator, but completed the athletic feat while in the U.S. House.

Average judge score

Rep. Katie Hill

3.5

Free-climbed the tough “Cowboy Coffee” route in Texas Canyon.

Rep. Tom Cotton*

3.4

Averaged 5:58/mile for three miles at age 36.

President Theodore Roosevelt

3.3

Hauled friends on treacherous treks before adventure races were a thing.

President George W. Bush

3.2

The highest-ranking politician with an official race time (20:29 for 3 miles).

Sen. Charles E. Grassley

3.2

Runs three miles a day, four days a week, at age 85 (15:00/mile).

*Currently a senator, but completed the feat while in the U.S. House.

Judges’ scores

1

2

3

4

5

Average score

Rep. Katie Hill D-Calif.

Free-climbed the tough “Cowboy Coffee” route in Texas Canyon.

3.5

Range of scores

Rep. Tom Cotton* R-Ark.

Averaged 5:58/mile for three miles at age 36.

3.4

President Theodore Roosevelt

Hauled friends on treacherous treks before adventure races were a thing.

3.3

President George W. Bush

The highest-ranking politician with an official race time (20:29 for 3 miles).

3.2

Sen. Charles E. Grassley R-Iowa

Runs three miles a day, four days a week, at age 85 (15:00/mile).

3.2

*Currently a senator, but completed the athletic feat while in the U.S. House.

Judges’ scores

1

2

3

4

5

Average score

Rep. Katie Hill D-Calif.

Free-climbed the tough “Cowboy Coffee” route in Texas Canyon.

3.5

Range of scores

Rep. Tom Cotton* R-Ark.

Averaged 5:58/mile for three miles at age 36.

3.4

President Theodore Roosevelt

Hauled friends on treacherous treks before adventure races were a thing.

3.3

President George W. Bush

The highest-ranking politician with an official race time (20:29 for 3 miles).

3.2

Sen. Charles E. Grassley R-Iowa

Runs three miles a day, four days a week, at age 85 (15:00/mile).

3.2

*Currently a senator, but completed the athletic feat while in the U.S. House.

Judges’ scores

1

2

3

4

5

Average score

Rep. Katie Hill D-Calif.

Free-climbed the tough “Cowboy Coffee” route in Texas Canyon.

3.5

Range of scores

Rep. Tom Cotton* R-Ark.

Averaged 5:58/mile for three miles at age 36.

3.4

President Theodore Roosevelt

Hauled friends on treacherous treks before adventure races were a thing.

3.3

President George W. Bush

The highest-ranking politician with an official race time (20:29 for 3 miles).

3.2

Sen. Charles E. Grassley R-Iowa

Runs three miles a day, four days a week, at age 85 (15:00/mile).

3.2

*Currently a senator, but completed the athletic feat while in the U.S. House.

In the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt routinely coerced his buddies — and occasionally unsuspecting foreign diplomats — into terrifying hikes, climbs and scrambles through what is now Rock Creek Park, according to “The Games Presidents Play,” by John Sayle Watterson. Sometimes these treks involved naked swims in the icy Potomac.

Presidents tend to be more circumspect — and secretive — when they decide to compete nowadays. This may be because of Jimmy Carter.

In 1979, Carter, then a very active 55-year-old who in college had run cross-country for the Naval Academy, pushed too hard during a hot, hilly 10K near Camp David and collapsed midrace. He cooled off and was fine, but the story became national news, and a strikingly unflattering picture became one of Time magazine’s featured photos of the decade.

The panelists say . . .

“I’ve had training buddies like this. Not so much badass as pain in the ass.”


— Christie Aschwanden

on Theodore Roosevelt’s dragging buddies on crazy adventure treks

“When a 55-year-old guy with a ‘full-time’ job can click off three miles at 6:49.7 pace, he’s in pretty doggone good shape.”


— Mike Spinnler

on George W. Bush’s three-mile time

“I think it’s comparatively rare to see someone with a full-time job train to run fast as opposed to just far.”


— David Epstein

on Tom Cotton’s speed

“Sen. Grassley’s exercise habits and his ability to run three miles consecutively at this pace is a physiological anomaly.”


— Walt Thompson

on Charles E. Grassley’s running regimen


No wonder no other president attempted an officially timed race — unless someone else did it way under the radar — until 2002, when President George W. Bush ran the President’s Fitness Challenge 3-Mile Run at Fort McNair.

The race was organized for only White House staff members, and about 200 people ran it, said Mike Burns, whose timing company scored the race. It was a hot June day, and although the president ran a respectable 20:29, Burns said Bush told him afterward, “I died like a dog!”

Afterward, as Bush climbed into his car, a staff member handed him a set of papers. Burns said a news report about the event framed the scene as an example of how a president cannot escape pressing matters of state.

“I laughed,” Burns said, “because what he was looking at were the results from the race.”

Most of the politicians on our list were middle-aged or a bit older at the time of their feats, but on opposite ends of the age spectrum are Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), a 31-year-old rock climber, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), an 85-year-old runner. They ranked near each other in our panelists’ hearts, and we bent our rules a little to include both of them.

Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), a seasoned rock climber, in 2018. (Ben Steinberger)

Hill’s free-climb — using ropes for safety but no gear or devices for assistance — was featured in a 2018 campaign video, so she was not yet in office. But the climb was significant, rated 5.11+ or 5.12a (hard to difficult, according to REI’s guide), and free-climbing lawmakers are pretty rare.

Grassley’s “feat” is more lifetime achievement than a single performance, but c’mon, running three miles a day, four days a week at age 85 is impressive. And Grassley had plenty of competitive bona fides, including a long-running Capital Challenge rivalry with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who is 18 years his junior.

Impressive but not mind-blowing

Average judge score

Rep. Adam B. Schiff

2.8

Cycled from San Francisco to L.A. in a week-long AIDS/LifeCycle ride.

Sen. Bill Frist

2.7

Ran two marathons eight days apart in 2002, each in under five hours.

Vice President Al Gore

2.6

Finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 4:54:25 (11:13/mile).

Rep. James L. Oberstar

2.4

Averaged 17 mph over a 100-mile bike ride at age 67.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte

2.3

Set the Senate women’s record for three miles in 24:52 (8:17/mile).

Avg. score

Rep. Adam B. Schiff

2.8

Cycled from San Francisco to L.A. in a week-long AIDS/LifeCycle ride.

Sen. Bill Frist

2.7

Ran two marathons eight days apart in 2002, each in under five hours.

Vice President Al Gore

2.6

Finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 4:54:25 (11:13/mile).

Rep. James L. Oberstar

2.4

Averaged 17 mph over a 100-mile bike ride at age 67.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte

2.3

Set the Senate women’s record for three miles in 24:52 (8:17/mile).

Average judge score

Rep. Adam B. Schiff

2.8

Cycled from San Francisco to L.A. in a week-long AIDS/LifeCycle ride.

Sen. Bill Frist

2.7

Ran two marathons eight days apart in 2002, each in under five hours.

Vice President Al Gore

2.6

Finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 4:54:25 (11:13/mile).

Rep. James L. Oberstar

2.4

Averaged 17 mph over a 100-mile bike ride at age 67.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte

2.3

Set the Senate women’s record for three miles in 24:52 (8:17/mile).

Judges’ scores

1

2

3

4

5

Average score

Rep. Adam B. Schiff D-Calif.

Cycled from San Francisco to L.A. in a week-long AIDS/LifeCycle ride.

2.8

Range of scores

Sen. Bill Frist R-Tenn.

Ran two marathons eight days apart in 2002, each in under five hours.

2.7

Vice President Al Gore

Finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 4:54:25 (11:13/mile).

2.6

Rep. James L. Oberstar D-Minn.

Averaged 17 mph over a 100-mile bike ride at age 67.

2.4

Sen. Kelly Ayotte R-N.H.

Set the Senate women’s record for three miles in 24:52 (8:17/mile).

2.3

Judges’ scores

1

2

3

4

5

Average score

Rep. Adam B. Schiff D-Calif.

Cycled from San Francisco to L.A. in a week-long AIDS/LifeCycle ride.

2.8

Range of scores

Sen. Bill Frist R-Tenn.

Ran two marathons eight days apart in 2002, each in under five hours.

2.7

Vice President Al Gore

Finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 4:54:25 (11:13/mile).

2.6

Rep. James L. Oberstar D-Minn.

Averaged 17 mph over a 100-mile bike ride at age 67.

2.4

Sen. Kelly Ayotte R-N.H.

Set the Senate women’s record for three miles in 24:52 (8:17/mile).

2.3

Judges’ scores

1

2

3

4

5

Average score

Rep. Adam B. Schiff D-Calif.

Cycled from San Francisco to L.A. in a week-long AIDS/LifeCycle ride.

2.8

Range of scores

Sen. Bill Frist R-Tenn.

Ran two marathons eight days apart in 2002, each in under five hours.

2.7

Vice President Al Gore

Finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 4:54:25 (11:13/mile).

2.6

Rep. James L. Oberstar D-Minn.

Averaged 17 mph over a 100-mile bike ride at age 67.

2.4

Sen. Kelly Ayotte R-N.H.

Set the Senate women’s record for three miles in 24:52 (8:17/mile).

2.3

Then-Vice President Al Gore’s performance in the 1997 Marine Corps Marathon earned the widest range of scores. Some judges noted that his time, 4:54:25, was fairly pedestrian for a 49-year-old man.

But his highest score came from the race director, Rick Nealis, who knew the logistical gymnastics required for Gore to get to the start line, not to mention the finish.

“Oh my God, the planning!” said Nealis, who got a visit at home late one night from a Secret Service agent a few months before the race. He said they talked about everything from race logistics to “how do we get three miles in Nashville after he goes to someplace that wants him to eat sausage?”

The panelists say . . .

“This is applaudable for sure, but if he had trained for the marathon, eight days is sufficient to recover for a second one.”


— Walt Thompson

on Bill Frist’s two marathons in eight days

“Respectable, but not remarkable. It seems there’s not enough competition in this category.”


— Christie Aschwanden

on Kelly Ayotte’s Senate women’s three-mile record

“Seventeen mile-per-hour average for 100 miles at age 68 is pretty impressive.”


— Mike Spinnler

on James L. Oberstar’s century ride

Gore said in an email that he had built up to a 20-mile training run and was confident he could finish the marathon, “but I didn’t want a lot of press coverage; I just wanted to do it with my daughters and enjoy the experience, so I kept quiet about it.”

Then he almost missed it.

The night before the race, when typical marathoners would be hydrating, carbo-loading and resting with their feet up, Gore was giving a speech in Iowa. A blizzard closed the airport and delayed his return home.

“I called my daughters and said I wasn’t sure that I could do the race on only three hours sleep,” Gore said. “But they said, ‘C’mon Dad! Do it!’ So I did. And it really was a great experience!”

Although Gore slowed in the later miles, he finished alongside his daughters. Nealis met him at the end and cut the timing chip off his shoe.

Vice President Al Gore’s daughters — Karenna, left, and Kristin — talked him into running in the 1997 Marine Corps Marathon. (Lance Cpl. Philip Appleton/Marine Corps Marathon)

“He was not talkative,” Nealis said. “He basically was exhausted.”

But later that evening, The Washington Post reported, Gore hosted a kids’ trick-or-treat party and attended an evening jazz performance at the Kennedy Center. Nealis was astonished.

“Because I’ve run marathons, I know I would’ve been lying in bed naked with a six-pack of beer and saying, ‘I’m never going to do that again,’ ” he said. “But no — he’s dressed up like a werewolf. And then he put a tuxedo on!”

While sometimes politics and athletic training are hard to reconcile, every so often, a politician’s vocation and sporting love mesh perfectly.

As a member and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, avid cyclist James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), who died in 2014, championed the inclusion of biking and walking programs into federal transportation plans.

But in 2002, his longtime cycling buddies realized he had never completed a “century,” a 100-mile ride that is a cycling rite of passage.

Nine days before his 68th birthday, Oberstar and scores of friends and supporters rode 100 miles through the Twin Cities in an event dubbed the Oberstar 100. According to organizer Gary Sjoquist, the congressman averaged a brisk 17 mph and powered through the last 10 miles in a thunderstorm.

Sjoquist said a good chunk of the course took place on trail projects that Oberstar, in his day job, had helped to create.

Back of the pack

Average judge score

Sen. Wayne Morse

1.8

Filibustered 22 hours 26 minutes with no bathroom break in 1953.

President Barack Obama

1.6

Outshot ex-NBA player Clark Kellogg in a game of H-O-R-S-E . . . er, P-O-T-U-S.

President Richard Nixon

1.1

Said he bowled a high score of 232 in lanes under the Executive Office Bldg.

Avg. score

Sen. Wayne Morse

1.8

Filibustered 22 hours 26 minutes with no bathroom break in 1953.

President Barack Obama

1.6

Outshot ex-NBA player Clark Kellogg in a game of H-O-R-S-E . . . er, P-O-T-U-S.

President Richard Nixon

1.1

Said he bowled a high score of 232 in lanes under the Executive Office Bldg.

Average judge score

Sen. Wayne Morse

1.8

Filibustered 22 hours 26 minutes with no bathroom break in 1953.

President Barack Obama

1.6

Outshot ex-NBA player Clark Kellogg in a game of H-O-R-S-E . . . er, P-O-T-U-S.

President Richard Nixon

1.1

Said he bowled a high score of 232 in lanes under the Executive Office Bldg.

Judges’ scores

1

2

3

4

5

Average score

Sen. Wayne Morse I-Ore.

Filibustered 22 hours 26 minutes with no bathroom break in 1953.

1.8

Range of scores

President Barack Obama

Outshot ex-NBA player Clark Kellogg in a game of H-O-R-S-E . . . er, P-O-T-U-S.

1.6

President Richard Nixon

Said he bowled a high score of 232 in lanes under the Executive Office Bldg.

1.1

Judges’ scores

1

2

3

4

5

Average score

Sen. Wayne Morse I-Ore.

Filibustered 22 hours 26 minutes with no bathroom break in 1953.

1.8

Range of scores

President Barack Obama

Outshot ex-NBA player Clark Kellogg in a game of H-O-R-S-E . . . er, P-O-T-U-S.

1.6

President Richard Nixon

Said he bowled a high score of 232 in lanes under the Executive Office Bldg.

1.1

Judges’ scores

1

2

3

4

5

Average score

Sen. Wayne Morse I-Ore.

Filibustered 22 hours 26 minutes with no bathroom break in 1953.

1.8

Range of scores

President Barack Obama

Outshot ex-NBA player Clark Kellogg in a game of H-O-R-S-E . . . er, P-O-T-U-S.

1.6

President Richard Nixon

Said he bowled a high score of 232 in lanes under the Executive Office Bldg.

1.1

Most panelists were unmoved by Sen. Wayne Morse’s overnight filibuster on April 24-25, 1953. It wasn’t the longest ever, but it was the longest without a “parliamentary pause” — that is, a bathroom break.

Ditto for President Barack Obama’s come-from-behind H-O-R-S-E — actually, P-O-T-U-S — victory against former NBA player Clark Kellogg in 2010. Although by all accounts Obama could hold his own on a basketball court, this event was clearly made for cameras. (Both participants wore dress shirts and slacks.) Obama’s highest rating came from panelist David Epstein, who added points for emphasizing the importance of physical activity for kids and for “extremely diplomatic trash talk.”

The panelists say . . .

“Beating an NBA player at H-O-R-S-E is like besting a figure skater at compulsory figures. Chances are, the pro let you win, and either way, who cares?”


— Christie Aschwanden

on Barack Obama’s H-O-R-S-E win

“There’s probably some adage about uncritically accepting someone’s claim about their best score in the basement bowling alley.”


— David Epstein

on Richard M. Nixon’s bowling prowess

“If he would have run, cycled, swam or even walked for 22:26, I would have been a lot more impressed.”


— Mike Spinnler

on Wayne Morse’s bladder control

Alas, and last, President Richard M. Nixon’s bowling prowess failed to wow, mostly because “badass” and “bowling” did not go together in the panelists’ minds, even though Nixon told the New York Times in 1971 that he would bowl up to 12 games in a night in the private lanes under the Executive Office Building.

This list is far from exhaustive. Quite a few Congress folk have completed marathons and centuries, and many more are workout fiends and devotees of other sports.

But some people’s drive to compete stands out.

At the end of the conversation, Gordon, the fastest man in Congress, made a pitch regarding our judges’ rankings: “If you retabulate, just remember — 50 years old and 20 straight [wins] — that’s pretty good!”

President Richard M. Nixon bowls under the Executive Office Building in 1971. (Bettmann Archive)

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