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Swift of Tongue and Hoping to Be Fleet of Foot

Three decades ago, Sen. Max Baucus was the fastest man in Congress. 

At the inaugural American Council of Life Insurers Capital Challenge, the Montana Democrat finished the three-mile course in 18:15. Baucus no longer runs in the race, but his record still stands in the male Senator category. Until recently, it didn’t seem anybody would break his mark anytime soon. 

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, finished the course last year in 18:54. The road conditions were poor and, he said, he didn’t put in much training. The next fastest was Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock, who finished more than a minute slower. 

At Anacostia Park on Wednesday, notwithstanding concerns with his knees, the 51-year-old Thune is cautiously optimistic about breaking Baucus’ mark. “When you get old, stuff wears out. I wish I could get more miles in because it’ll be nice to train a little bit. But most years I try to go out and gut that thing out,” he said. 

On most Wednesdays, Thune runs five to six miles around town or in the gym. On weekends, he adds another three to four miles with an element of speed work.

Thune, who has finished the Capital Challenge four times, is modest about the distinction of being Congress’ fastest lawmaker: “Somebody once told me that’s like being the best surfer in Kansas, so it’s a nice title, but it doesn’t mean a lot.” 

He said he is confident his team, the Mount Runmores, has what it takes to bring home blue ribbon honors in its class again this year. His team consists of prolific runners who work in his office, as well as his daughter, Brittany, who was a formidable runner in college. 

At the Capital Challenge, the Thunes will run alongside each other in an actual race for the first time. 

“When she was in middle school, I started to take it up again. I was running with her — it was kind of a father-daughter thing. And I used to have to break stride so she could keep up with me. And now she’s breaking stride so I can keep up with her,” Thune said.

The Last Lap

Since 1981, ACLI has welcomed employees from federal agencies, service members, journalists and Capitol Hill staff to the race frequently won by a member of the military.

More than two dozen lawmakers are expected to participate this year, including Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.). “This is a great way for Members of both parties to have fun and enjoy a little friendly competition,” said Ayotte, last year’s fastest female Senator. 

In the House, Democrats Russ Carnahan (Mo.) and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) are among the participants. 

This year, two Capital Challenge giants will be running the course for the last time as Members. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) lost his primary bid last week. The 80-year-old Lugar has participated in every Capital Challenge race since its inception.

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) also lost her primary bid. For several years, she consistently finished ahead of all other female lawmakers. 

“It’s fun. It builds good will and better friendship, and you lead by example,” Schmidt said. “One of the biggest challenges facing our country is obesity, which can result in serious health issues. Members of Congress need to lead by example.”

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