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JDaveG
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THE GENERAL MOTORS

http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120...12348-0,00.html

Turns out that David Petraeus, the commander of our troops in Iraq, is a runner--a fast, slightly obsessive, completely in-your-face runner.

By Willey Stern Photographs by Arthur E. Giron

PUBLISHED 12/03/2007

"If you are going to win any battle, you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do." --General George Patton

Gen. David Petraeus has just challenged me to a push-up contest. A moment later he's prone--ramrod straight, back and arms rigid. Then in a 90-second blur, he hammers out 81 push-ups while deconstructing David Ignatius's latest novel. How can anyone keep up with that?

Our workout unfolds early in September. In less than two weeks, Petraeus, the four-star general who commands the multinational force fighting in Iraq, will fly to Washington. There, he'll sit before a congressional panel to present a midterm report on the war, which will make him the focal point of headlines and TV newscasts and controversy. But right now, he's just showing a reporter how to bang out push-ups.

We're working out in an undisclosed Baghdad location; I can't divulge specifics for security reasons. After all, military bases here in Iraq are periodically hit by mortar and rocket attacks. (While this indirect fire poses a threat to all personnel, runners face additional risk because they don't wear standard body armor and Kevlar helmets.) Still, I am allowed to reveal that we are in one of Saddam Hussein's former estates. The massive palace is filled with gold-inlaid bidets and the grounds are dotted with artificial lakes. This is where Petraeus runs in Baghdad. The 55-year-old general is intense about many things. Exercise is one of them. Petraeus, who has raced two miles in less than 10 minutes, was a three-sport standout in high school, and went on to compete in intercollegiate soccer and skiing at West Point. Then and now, he has an unapologetic zeal for competition: "You can always wear your opponents down, keep hammering at them until you beat them."

Today, he arrives for his workout at precisely 6:30 a.m., ready to hit the road in his New Balance 992s and an Army T-shirt. The subject quickly turns to running. "When we bring a new guy in, I take him out for a run," says Petraeus. "I'll go out hard, then ramp it up around five miles to try to waste him. I want to know how he'll react and respond to the challenge, what his strength of character is."

It's the kind of brash comment invoked by high-school football coaches. But the intellectual general (he earned a Ph.D. in international relations from Princeton) has more complex motives. "Obviously, I'm not just interested in whether someone is a good runner," he says. "But there's something about an individual who has self-discipline, drive, basic fitness, and the heart to run reasonably well that indicates the kind of spirit that you are after in people who take on tough tasks."

Petraeus's aide-de-camp, Maj. Everett Spain, relates how he came to work for the general at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Spain, 37, has a Duke M.B.A., a goofy smile, and a notebook that he carries at all times to jot down his boss's latest thoughts. "I got the call to meet the general at the gym at 0600 in my PT [physical training] clothes," says Spain. "He took me out for a brutal five-mile run. We competed for another hour, one-on-one, in the gym. He beat me up pretty good. A little while later, I found out that he'd picked me as his next aide. That was my job 'interview.' We never talked about much but the workout."

"All the commissioned officers who have worked as my aides have been decent runners," Petraeus admits with a laugh. "You have to draw the line somewhere!"

Another officer who regularly runs with Petraeus is Col. Mark Martins. The general's legal advisor is a Rhodes scholar, a graduate of Harvard Law School, and a class valedictorian at West Point, and has made a private study of the sort of soldiers Petraeus surrounds himself with. His hypothesis: "General Petraeus tends to attract people who value competition--not ultimately competition for itself, but for what it produces. General Petraeus is in a deadly serious business, and he's made a habit of prevailing by ensuring he's on the side with the better ideas, the more resilient troops, the clearer-headed and more creative leaders, and the tighter-knit and more determined units. Competition is one of the main engines for all of these things.

"The general believes that running and other sports will prepare you for the unexpected," continues Martins, "and for the need--in life and war--to modify plans with no notice based on new information, and to take risks."

Today's run is shaping up to be another test. Petraeus is the clear alpha male and sets the pace as we take off. Our group includes Martins, Spain, the general's security detail, and some fresh-faced National Guardsmen from Kentucky. Two women are in the mix. Petraeus saves his highest praise for Sgt. Landon Nordby, a chiseled 25-year-old from Minnesota: "Look at his legs. He's really fast." As we cruise by a man-made lake, an armored Humvee lumbers past. Petraeus offers me a sip of his bottled water before taking a chug. Then he drops me.

Of the 21 soldiers who began the 5.7-mile loop, only four (including Nordby and Martins) hang with Petraeus to the finish. He comes in at a pace under six minutes per mile, impressive for a guy with a metal plate in his pelvis and a gunshot wound on his chest (courtesy of a training accident). "It's very inspirational," says one of the Kentuckians, Capt. Bradley Chaney, who seems in awe of the general after getting dusted.

After the last runner finishes, Petraeus leads a calisthenics session. Minutes after I'm humbled in the push-up contest, we assemble around a pull-up bar. "You can tell a good bar by where the tape is," he says to no one in particular. He hangs, then lifts his unbent legs slowly in front of him until his shoelaces touch the bar. He repeats the abs-of-steel routine 17 times. Nordby manages to get to 20, with Petraeus at his side, screaming, "Stick of dynamite, stick of dynamite!" This phrase, I soon learn, is Petraeus-speak for "Come on buddy, you can do one more!" The general isn't impressed, asserting that Nord?by cheated on the first three by letting his legs hit the wall behind him. Spain also churns out 20.

After our workout, Petraeus asks if I want to see his office, which, it turns out, is also his bedroom. He keeps a picture of his son on his desk--next to the secure phone he uses to chat with President Bush. Petraeus's son studies at MIT and is enrolled in the ROTC program there. When asked who's faster, Petraeus says he can likely still "take" his son, but only because the youngster caught a bug working in China last summer. Petraeus also has a daughter who lives near Washington, D.C. "She's a pretty decent runner," he adds.

The general's bed sits roughly 30 inches from his desk. It's unmade, and he's embarrassed by it, tossing the covers over his two pillows. He's reading The Pentagon: A History, by Steve Vogel. Interestingly, he draws parallels between what it took to build that massive building and the qualities he sees in committed runners. "It's about the same sense of dedication, of getting it done. They had to build [the Pentagon] in short order with lots of challenges. It's another one about folks having the determination, ability, and a work ethic." He likens the Vogel book to another tome he recently finished, David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas, about the construction of the Panama Canal. It never seems to cross his mind that I might not have already read that 704-page book.

The general is engaging and seems to enjoy media attention. (Like a Hollywood star, he later sends me two signed photos of us running together.) Petraeus says he is wholly apolitical. In fact, he asserts that he can't remember what party he's registered with, a curious admission for a guy who can recall his exact time in the 1982 Omaha Marathon (2:50:53.) But it's a smart dodge for a man who is only too aware that he has to be credible on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.

Petraeus says he dreams of the time when he can go out and run by his lonesome--security detail be damned. These days, the general's runs may be his only chance to step away from the pressures of war planning and politics. Not surprisingly, he runs to clear his mind and to sleep. "This is where the world's complications become clearer to me," he says. "And I prefer running to Ambien."

His aides had insisted that I provide a bio before we ran. The last line of my CV contains a quote from E.E. Cummings: "Nothing measurable matters." No surprise, he has committed my bio to memory. His life has overflowed with achievement and absolute measurements. Without prompting, he reels off his quarter-mile split times during peak track training sessions (eight quarters, sub-75).

Gen. David Petraeus has lived his life at that enviable top end of every scale. He graduated near the top of his class at West Point and was later first in his class at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College; he's been overachieving ever since. As our time together draws to a close, I get the nerve to ask him if he sees any truth in Cummings's admonition. A long pause ensues. Finally, the man who leads more than 165,000 U.S. troops in Iraq speaks up. "I'm increasingly thinking Cummings may be right," says Petraeus. "As you get older, you're less keen on having somebody start a stopwatch."

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DomeGnome (12/5/2007)
I'm not into running fast anymore. At 48 I'd much rather do 12 miles at 8mm then 5 at 5 but I've got to say I've got the urge to go give it a shot.

You shame me. I cannot 1) run 12 miles, or 2) run anything much over 1 mile at 8mm.

I ran a 5K last weekend at a race pace of a smidge over 10 mm.

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snake snake (12/5/2007)
Ah dam Jdave. After all those nice words you said abt me, I would get dropped by the General on that dam 5.7 mile run. Running under 10 minutes for 2 miles? My best 1 mile was only 5.10, and that was a LONG time ago. Oh boy. I think I need to pick up my routine abit. Not abit, a whole bunch. Patreaus is a machine.

That was my thought too. He's almost obnoxiously good.

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JDaveG (12/5/2007)
DomeGnome (12/5/2007)
I'm not into running fast anymore. At 48 I'd much rather do 12 miles at 8mm then 5 at 5 but I've got to say I've got the urge to go give it a shot.

You shame me. I cannot 1) run 12 miles, or 2) run anything much over 1 mile at 8mm.

I ran a 5K last weekend at a race pace of a smidge over 10 mm.

I only have the time to run on weekends now but I do 15 miles every weekend. It goes like this, week 1: 8 miles Saturday/7 miles Sunday, week 2: 9 miles Saturday/6 miles Sunday, week 3: 10 miles Saturday/ 5 miles Sunday....until I get to week 5: 12 miles Sat/3 Miles Sunday. Then I repeat starting with week 1...I try to do my long day slower and go hard on my short day. That's just how I do it so I don't go crazy and burn myself out.

Build up a base of miles at a slow pace and give yourself off days in between. After you've built up a good distance base start adding speed once or twice per week.

I also have a trainer and work out with weights 3 days/week, one of them all legs midweek.

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DomeGnome (12/5/2007)
I only have the time to run on weekends now but I do 15 miles every weekend. It goes like this, week 1: 8 miles Saturday/7 miles Sunday, week 2: 9 miles Saturday/6 miles Sunday, week 3: 10 miles Saturday/ 5 miles Sunday....until I get to week 5: 12 miles Sat/3 Miles Sunday. Then I repeat starting with week 1...I try to do my long day slower and go hard on my short day. That's just how I do it so I don't go crazy and burn myself out.

Build up a base of miles at a slow pace and give yourself off days in between. After you've built up a good distance base start adding speed once or twice per week.

I also have a trainer and work out with weights 3 days/week, one of them all legs midweek.

You should contribute to the fitness thread more!

Yeah, I do a "long" run on Saturdays or Sundays (depending on whether I'm in the gym on Saturday). 6.2 miles. I walk a LOT of that 6.2 miles. Not usually half, but a lot. I'm trying to get to a 10K pace where I run the whole thing. I intend to run the Peachtree this year. And once I get that 10K pace, I'll work in speedwork (apart from the typical mid-week 5K runs or elliptical workouts). One thing I did notice is that the longer runs have drastically helped my ability to sustain pace during the 5K runs. I ran my first race 7 minutes faster than my goal.

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Good to know the military high command is decided largely upon who is the biggest jock.:D As for running and so on, I find people typically are overly generous as to their distance, speed, etc., so I'll say I run five miles every other day and I have no idea how long that takes me. My hope is that one day the Lab I run with will get tired before I do. That will be success...however unlikely.

Hey socalfalcon, is that Pat Dye in your avatar?

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