Runner tradition returning to White House, but it won’t be the president

Dr. Jill Biden, wife of president-elect Joe Biden, has run races at distances up to a marathon. (Photo by Nancy Rokos/Bucks County Courier Times)

Remember when Bill Clinton would lace them up each morning and jog down to the neighborhood McDonald’s for breakfast?

Or the time Jimmy Carter collapsed near the end of an ill-advised 10K?

Heck, George W. Bush once completed a marathon in under four hours.

They’re all part of a tradition, including Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush, which had commanders-in-chief pounding the pavement to keep unwanted pounds at bay.

That White House custom briefly ended in recent years when the current resident showed no proclivity for the sport.

But things could be changing once again – only this time, the new “runner-in-chief’’ will not be a U.S. president but rather a first lady.

That would be Dr. Jill Biden, wife of president-elect Joe Biden.

The Willow Grove “favorite daughter’’ (she was born in Hammonton, N.J. but spent much of her youth in Pennsylvania, including a brief period in Hatboro) is a passionate runner who has gone as far as completing a marathon in a targeted time of four hours, 30 minutes.

During her eight years (2008-2016) as wife of then-vice president Joe Biden, Jill set a great example for women all across the country by getting out there on both nice and not-so-nice days.

In an interview with Runner’s World Magazine back in 2010, Dr. Biden discussed in length why running is such a big part of her life.

Part of her attraction to running came with her work for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure (breast cancer awareness).

“Back in the early ’90s, I had several friends who got breast cancer. One died. I felt like I had to do something, and I couldn’t just sit by,’’ Biden told RW. “Being an educator, I thought, ‘Well, maybe there’s something I could do in education.’

“So I started the Biden Breast Health Initiative, and I have health-care professionals go to high schools in Delaware, and we talk to them about good health practices, breast self-examination, and early detection. So not only is that awareness created for them, but they take that message home to their moms and grandmoms, and they start a dialogue. We’ve reached more than 10,000 young women.’’

Dr. Biden ran her 4:30 at the 1998 Marine Corps Marathon in and around Washington, D.C.

Her training has helped relieve some of the stress that comes with being such a high-ranking official. It all started nearly 30 years ago with her connection to the Komen project.

“I started running after Joe and I were asked to kick off a Komen Race for the Cure in the early ’90s,’’ Dr. Biden explained. “After sounding the horn, we ran to get out of everyone’s way, and I got so winded that I said, ‘I’m going to start running.’ My first run was around my neighborhood in Delaware — about a third of a mile. I kept increasing the distance until I got the bug.’’

What is it about running that makes it so appealing to her?

“It was such a feeling of freedom,’’ she said. “I love running outside. It was a good feeling. I mean, I felt good about myself, and so that’s why I continued. And I’ve been pretty consistent with it. I mean, I’ve had things in my life happen where I’ve had to slow down a little bit, but I’ve always gone back to it.’’

Joe Biden is not much of a runner (although he was seen jogging to the podium the other night to start his “victory/acceptance’’ speech in Wilmington), so it’s doubtful he could keep up with his wife on a run of any distance.

“Sometimes Joe runs with me, but he’s not a runner,’’ Dr. Biden said. “He’s an athlete, and he does a lot of exercise.  So he likes to do a lot of sports, but I think once you’re a runner, you really stick with it.’’

Starting in January, there’s a good chance Dr. Biden will have more company on her daily treks – namely the U.S. Secret Service.

She’s been through this routine before when she was then-vice president Joe Biden’s sidekick. But things are likely to get a little tighter now.

Question is: Can the Secret Service agents keep up? She’s probably faster than some names from the past, such as Carter and Clinton.

“I usually have someone ahead of me and someone behind me,’’ Dr. Biden said. “But they’ve been great. I just say to them, ‘I need to pretend you’re not here,’ because I love to run by myself, and they’re pretty respectful of that.

“These guys are runners. I mean, these guys are fit, and they’re good runners.’’

That said, Dr. Biden likes to run solo so she can take stock of her life as she moves down the road, a meditative period if you will.

“I think that running creates a sense of balance in my life. And it really calms me down,’’ she said. “It’s a great feeling to just get out and lose myself in a run. I think that’s why I continue to run because, as you know, once you get that, you kind of crave that time for yourself.’’

Nice to see the running heritage at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. restored.


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About Wayne Fish 2444 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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