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Lifestyle18 Nov 2020

The Athletic Life: who would win an actual presidential race?


Running for office (© Christel Saneh)


Kate CarterWe now know the outcome of the US election. But who would win an actual running race between US Presidents? Or, indeed, between other world leaders?

Kate Carter (@katehelencarter)


Running for office, fit for office, running mates … it turns out these are more than simply metaphors.

These days every politician who wants to be – or be seen as – fit for office takes the words literally, and heads out to pound the pavements before a busy day of handshaking. Or, it being 2020, socially-distanced elbow bumping.

Some, of course, may be staged photo opportunities – it’s a handy visual metaphor – but surely most is not. After all, every runner knows the power of the sport for unbeatable stress relief. The only office I’ve ever run for is class pencil monitor, so my experience of the stresses and strains of campaigning is a tad limited (though all that sharpening does take it out of a girl) but I can imagine the intensity of the attention, that constant need to be switched on, the media scrutiny… it certainly must require some release. And running is a considerably healthier option than burgers.

Last week the interminable period between ballots closing and the final result in the US elections could have hosted a few ultra-marathons – possibly an entire major athletics tournament. But when news did finally come, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris was out for a run. I like to think that, after being caught on camera calling President-Elect Joe Biden with news of their victory, she went into adrenaline-fuelled overdrive and smashed her mile PB on the way home. The new First Lady, Dr Jill Biden is also a keen runner, telling Runners World in 2010 that “Running creates a sense of balance in my life. And it really calms me down.” I imagine her new position is definitely one that requires a fair degree of that calm, so start racking those miles up, Dr Biden…


While the current White House incumbent may be more keen on a round or 10 of golf (to be fair, it does seem to be the Presidential sport of choice) many other holders of the office have been keen runners, starting with Jimmy Carter back in the 1970s. Both George Bush Snr and Jnr were also often pictured out and about in some rather dubious leisure attire, while Bill Clinton’s jogging habit was the despair of his secret service detail. At least they got a good workout too, albeit not one of their own choice. Mind you, they should have been on (more) danger money to be forced to look at him in his skimpy shorts every day.

So if the Presidents of the US had a 5k race – all in their prime – who would win? There is no question the internet has not already answered, calling it for George W Bush. Personally I’d back Jimmy Carter, because us Carters have to stick together. But running them close would be Gerald Ford. His reputation now is of a clumsy, bumbling man, but actually as a youngster he was a star footballer, courted by the Green Bay Packers. He swam every day in the White House, played tennis and – of course – ran. That screams ‘great cardio fitness’ to me. Though of course, if you throw the race open to Presidential candidates who never got selected, then Bernie Sanders is a good value bet: he apparently ran a 4:37 mile in his youth.

Meanwhile here in the UK, our politicians too are out and about, though they are more likely to attract the attention of the fashion police than the secret service. Look, I’m not one to judge anyone’s sartorial choices, but Bermuda shorts, a polo shirt and an ill-fitting hat? That’s got ‘unfortunate chafing’ written all over it.

So which UK politician would win an in-their-prime, Prime Ministerial 5k contest? You’d have to, somewhat reluctantly, hand the contest to David Cameron by default: at least he seems to genuinely have a running habit, but I don’t think the times would trouble any record books.

Actually, when it comes to endurance, many Members of Parliament have run the London Marathon while in office, but none has ever come close to former Conservative MP Matthew Parris who flew round the 1985 edition in 2:32:57. Then again, there’s also a certain former Conservative MP called Sebastian Coe. The name might ring a bell – he wasn’t too much of a slouch round the track, even if he had slowed down a bit by the time he became an MP in the 1990s.

Chairman Mao once apparently said that “long-distance running is particularly good training in perseverance”, but I don’t think anyone is going to put money on him in my final race, the ‘Miscellaneous World Leaders 5k’. Kim Jong-un, of course, would claim he finished in 12 minutes dead but would receive a DQ, Vladimir Putin (bare-chested) would finish in five minutes, but on a horse, Justin Trudeau would be romping it before getting side-tracked to stop and take some selfies, at which point Winston Churchill would stroll past, puffing on an unorthodox mid-race cigar, flashing the V sign and taking the victory.