Saturday, October 08, 2005

Marathon Man

From today’s Star Tribune:

When Minnesotans elected Tim Pawlenty governor, they knew they were getting a fiscal fanatic. Turns out he's something of a physical one, too.

Days after finishing the 2005 Twin Cities Marathon in a brisk 3 hours and 43 minutes, the governor was relaxed and running Friday on a Summit Avenue sidewalk as the frosty dawn broke and a trooper trailed him in a dark sedan.

The governor's gear reflected his approach to running, which is serious but leaves plenty of room for pure enjoyment.

On his Friday run, he wore wind pants and competition-grade Asics Gel Kayano shoes, but also a heavy cotton Minneapolis Police Department sweatshirt. Synthetic fibers keep runners warm and dry; cotton gets wet and can cause a chill.

The comfortable pace and Pawlenty's ability to chat easily without losing his breath also showed a runner who isn't just out for the kill.

Last Sunday, he headed down the middle of Summit toward the State Capitol with an iPod playing in his ears, sunglasses over his eyes and his head in the haze of the home stretch of the 26.2-mile marathon.

A trooper was nearby on a bicycle with a defibrillator. "My wife was afraid I would either puke or soil myself," Pawlenty said of the precaution, which he first had for the 2004 marathon. He trained more diligently this year and wasn't as concerned about bodily fallout.

This year, the trooper who ran alongside him developed bad blisters and dropped out.

Help from Mary

For a half-hearted marathoner, Pawlenty has posted impressive times. He ran this year's race 14 minutes faster than he did in 2004, shaving 32 seconds a mile to average 8½-minute miles.

What made the difference? First Lady Mary Pawlenty.

"Last year, I didn't have a very good training regimen; I didn't have the time or organizational plan," the governor said. "This year I had a schedule of long runs keyed off my wife, because she's very organized."

Mary Pawlenty also ran last Sunday, finishing in 5:05, slightly disappointing because she was aiming for a sub-5-hour finish in her first marathon since 1991. She said she wanted to prove to herself she could do it again. She followed a traditional marathon schedule of shorter weekday runs and long weekend runs.

But the Pawlentys didn't train together. Mary Pawlenty rose early for long runs and hit the road no later than 6 a.m. so she could wrap up before the heat of the day.

The governor wasn't as lucky. His executive schedule kept him from many midweek runs and forced him to squeeze in weekend training when he could -- sometimes in the scorching sun, another factor that toughened him for race day. "It's not advisable, but if you can survive it, it helps," he said.

Pawlenty also took to the hills near his home in Eagan, including a monster on Diffley Road between Pilot Knob Road and Lexington Avenue.

"It's not that he's a medical marvel; he's a mental marvel," Mary Pawlenty said of her 44-year-old husband.

At the governor's urging, Mary Pawlenty ran that hill --- once. "Anyone can run on a flat course, but it takes a certain level of discipline to run hills," she said. "I'd rather bypass the hills. ... He loves the hill. He loves all the hills."

Mental game

In the governor's mind, the marathon is about mental toughness, not physical prowess; his trick is his iPod, with an eclectic cache that includes Johnny Cash, AC/DC, Sonny and Cher and Pink. But he said he queued up his most energizing tunes for the final 5 miles of the marathon. Among them: Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising," Aerosmith's "Walk This Way," John Mellencamp's "When the Walls Came Tumbling Down" and Grand Funk Railroad's "Some Kind of Wonderful."

While he isn't a running proselytizer, Pawlenty said it doesn't hurt for Minnesotans to see the governor hitting the streets.

The governor, who loves to play old-timers' hockey, has never been extremely out of shape. But two years ago he was pushing 220 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. None of his suits fit. He set his sights on the marathon as a motivator to get him out the door.

"I really like to run," he said. "It helps me burn stress. I put on the iPod and kind of drift away for whatever time I have. Being able to go away and have your mind just drift is a healthy thing."

Pawlenty's training for the 2004 marathon was sporadic, but he still ran it in 3:57. A month later, he ran the New York City marathon in a nearly identical time -- right after a day of deer hunting in Minnesota.

In addition to running, the governor also has completed two in-line skating marathons this fall in about 1:33. "I've just fallen in love," he said of those contests. He said he enjoys the drafting camaraderie and the strategy, along with the shorter time span, of those races.

What the governor doesn't like is winter running. He said he tends to hibernate and gain weight, then cranks up the training again in the spring.

All runners need breaks, and that includes Pawlenty, who already sees potential scheduling conflicts in 2006. "If I run for reelection," he said, "I doubt I'll have the time" for the next Twin Cities Marathon.
(Source: Star Tribune, Oct. 8, 2005)

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