Ron Marinucci August Column: "Running Presidents" Part 2
by Ron Marinucci, Aug. 1, 2022
Photo Credit: Clinton Presidential Library
President George H. W. Bush (Daddy) enjoyed participating in many sports. He played baseball (first base?) as an undergrad at Yale. He remained active his whole life, even skydiving at age 90! Bush seemed to relish running. Often he invited reporters to join him on a run. These reporters later told how the President liked to talk about daily life while they were together. He was quick to turn off formalities, chatting about families, sports, books, music, movies, and more.
As can be imagined, Bush’s running opportunities were sporadic. Some reporters recalled having their running gear at the ready just in case they received a coveted last-minute invitation. Imagine getting a call from one of Bush’s aides, “The President is wondering if you would like to go jogging with him this morning.” How fast can one say, “Yes, I’d love to?”
Bush often brought cold bottles of water for his reporter and Secret Service running partners. More than once he lamented when he saw regular folks running that he wished he could be with them. I’d bet the Secret Service winced every time he said that.
President Bill Clinton insisted, at least for a while, on running. Some have suggested, after a campaign diet of fast food, he wanted to lose weight. Running, for the President, served as an escape, however temporary, from the trials and tribulations of his White House job. Like Bush Daddy, Clinton loved to run in public, an added headache for his Secret Service protectors. He wanted to run even in unsecured and unswept areas, “a nightmare” one of his body-guard running partners admitted.
To try to limit potential danger but allow the President the satisfaction of running, a quarter mile track was installed along the perimeter of the White House grounds. Clinton tried it a few times, but didn’t like it. He wanted to run elsewhere, outside of the White House property. Eventually the Secret Service did find a few such places, including the National Mall, around the Lincoln Memorial, and some trails along the Potomac River.
Clinton ran, he admitted, to watch his weight and to keep a connection with people. Have we had any President who was more of a “people person?” He ran several days a week, usually for a little more than an hour, about four or five miles. It’s hard to really believe, but it was said his pace made it a chore to find Secret Service agents able to keep up with him. But maybe so. The agents were, I’m certain, carrying their weapons and communications devices while continuing to maintain the strictest vigilance of their running surroundings.
Compounding the Secret Service headaches, Clinton was known for inviting random runners to join his group. “Sure. Come on!” he’d answer a runner requesting to run with the President of the United States.
President George W. Bush had a daily planner which allowed time for exercise, including running. It appeared to have worked. He always looked fit. Some sources cite his body fat percentage was less than 15%. Exercise was a priority.
He used an elliptical a few times a week and he lifted weights. Running was on his schedule four days a week, getting in about four miles each time out. Some days he ran on a treadmill, often after long business days were over and he went back to the White House.
W. Bush once visited a wounded US soldier, Sgt. Mike McNaughton, who had stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan and lost his right leg. In the course of their conversation, they discovered a mutual enjoyment of running. The President told McNaughton when he could run a mile, let him know and they’d go out together. In fact, Bush called every month, checking how the sergeant was progressing.
After about a dozen operations, rehabilitation, and the Presidential visit, McNaughton was ready to run, but had a problem. He wondered, “How are you supposed to just call the President?” Hmmm. I guess I’d hesitate to phone and say, “Hey, Mr. President, wanna go for a run?” Fortunately, a doctor mutual to both made the connection and they ran.
They ran in the rain. McNaughton admitted, “I didn’t care if it was storming or lightning all around. I didn’t care.” He ran with the President of the United States.
Barack Obama was purportedly “a workout fiend.” His fitness time was “non-negotiable;” he exercised almost every day. He enjoyed a variety of sports/activities including basketball, golf, boxing (with his wife Michelle joining on the heavy bag), and running.
President Obama alternated cardio and strength workouts. He often ran on a treadmill, used the elliptical, and did resistance training, including weights. On the road, he could be found running on the treadmill of his host hotel.
The President, who often described himself as “a night owl,” worked late into the night most evenings. That meant getting up after five or six hours of sleep and running and/or working out otherwise in the morning, before breakfast. Reports claimed he did 45-minutes of exercise, six days a week with a goal of three miles a day.
Obama’s plan must have worked. If he wasn’t our fittest President, he was pretty close to it. And he exercised not just for the physical and physiological benefits, but seemed to genuinely enjoy it.
President Donald Trump was very different from his immediate predecessors, in many ways, but including his notions of exercise and fitness. He golfed a lot and that was about it, well, unless you considered, as he did, campaigning to be exercise. I hope this isn’t true, but purportedly President Trump thought that people are allotted “a finite amount of energy.” Therefore, why waste that limited energy on working out? Hmmm…..
President Joe Biden? I’m not sure on his exercise habits other than he seemed to have trouble riding a bike a short while ago. I’ll have to check on his workouts, if any.