After running his 16th Army Ten-Miler, Gen. Dennis J. Reimer, the former chief of staff of the U.S. Army, reflected on the role that physical fitness plays in today’s military, his career in the Army and his life as a runner.
This year, at age 80, he ran the course in 2:07:07. During his tenure as chief of staff from 1995-1999, he ran the course, in 1998, in 1:10:45, finishing 1,207 out of 7,933 men.
In looking back over the 16 completions does any one year stand out and why?
Short answer is that they were all memorable for me–just being a part of something so exciting and running with thousands of soldiers and others was very motivating for me. I always had at least one conversation along the way with a fellow runner that inspired me. However, I think it was 1995, I had just returned from an overseas trip and was feeling the effects of that travel as well as nursing a sore ankle and at the army operations center brief on Friday before the race the Army Under Secretary–Joe Reeder and a good friend of mine, announced at the end that he would buy anyone in the audience (probably about 50 people or a little more) lunch at the secretariat mess if they beat my time–most of these were young officers. I figured he would probably have to take out a loan to cover the cost but somehow, I ran a decent time and it was only reasonable cost for the lunch (1:11:47 – 1,300 place overall out of 7,110 finishers).
How did you manage the training and life’s commitments over the years?
I became addicted to running early on and it became one of my top priorities and I just scheduled it during the day. At Fort Sill when I was a Brigadier General, I used to carry a tape recorder with me and dictate thoughts as they came to mind. My theory was that I had my best thoughts while running (no interruptions, lots of oxygen, etc.) but could not remember them when I got back to the office–once I started transcribing them they turned out not to be so great but it was still a good use of time, that schedule worked well when I could control my schedule but that was harder to do in the pentagon. I really wanted to continue running and did not like getting up at 4am to run so tried to run during lunch time–when I couldn’t because of a lunch I would either run early morning or after work. Early on I came up with the idea that I would continue to run and dictate and then share those thoughts (they became known as random thoughts while running–RTWR) with the strategic leadership of the army–the General Officer Corps. I told them that these were my thoughts, not something the staff put together, but I wanted to share what was going on with them. It was a time of change (1995-1999) and I used this to talk to them about things like testifying in congress, trips to China and Russia, changes to the evaluation system and the officer development program, etc. I found this enormously helpful because it gave me chance to communicate my perspective to about 300 or more key leaders. I got to the point that in a couple of instances I used “RTWR” to get feedback on key issues–most notably changes to the new OER system we implemented. The other reason I preferred to run at noon time is that I wanted people to see me going to gym so hopefully they saw it was ok to do the same–they had much longer days than I did and wanted them to get a break from their work from time to time and felt like if they saw me doing it they would know it was alright to do the same.
How does physical fitness play into the life of today’s soldier?
I think it continues to be huge–I don’t see how anyone can do the new PT test without a regular PT program and being fit is part of a soldier’s responsibility. We need to make time in our life for that. I am a firm believer that when you get addicted to running, it is, like any addiction hard to break but running is an addiction you want to carry for life. That is one of the reasons why I have run 16 of the Army Ten-Milers and continue to feel bad if I don’t get at least three or four runs per week. The times are slower and runs shorter but they’re still good for me.
What has been a memorable time in our running career?
Probably the first marathon I ran–Gettysburg in 1978. I was at the army war college after just coming out of Fort Carson, Colorado where I really started running–after figuring out I was not getting enough exercise with pick-up basketball— so had time to run and was on a pretty good training program. It was the first time Gettysburg had sponsored a marathon on the battlefield and I was doing fine till I got to little round top–there is nothing little about that hill when you have just hit the wall–but worked my way thru it and ended up running it at under 3:05. I was pleased with the time but when I got up the next morning I could hardly move. I swore off running marathons on Monday of that week only to run the Marine Corps Marathon about three weeks later (3rd Marine Corps 3:15:51 822nd place). Since then I have run a few and have enjoyed them but my run is the Army Ten-Miler.
When you joined the Army what was you reason for joining?
I went to West Point because they offered me an education for five years of service (I guess that qualifies as a quid pro quo). No one in my family had ever served in the Army and I was really naive about the Army. The first year there was tough academically, but I think they kept me around because they knew I was trying as hard as I could. I knew I owed them five years after graduation and those five years turned into 37 before they let me go in 1999. I have zero regrets about my time in the Army–in fact lots of people carried me a lot further than I had any thoughts of going.
What was the thoughts which you had as you were going along the course?
I find that when I run my head is clear and it is easy to focus. In the Army I did the RTWR because of that, the thoughts then were about the army and the changes, challenges and opportunities we faced. Since I have retired, I do not record thoughts but use the time to say a silent rosary or two for my family and friends. Believe me I have enough to think about so that even with my slow time on the ten miler I never run out of things to pray about and that seems to keep my mind off any pain I am experiencing.
How has running defined your lifestyle?
Running takes time and it does help me get rid of stress and I think that has helped me manage situations little better. With running, in the near term, you give up some time on a daily basis, but you generally measure that in hours/day, in the long term, I maintain, that running adds longevity to your life–and you can measure that in years and a good trade as far as I am concerned.
Please feel free to add additional comments.
I should close by saying I can’t imagine what my life would have been without running. It worked for me, but it is not an exercise for everyone. I think the important thing is to find some exercise–e.g. walking, swimming, biking, etc.–that works for you individually and then to make it a priority in your life. I would be less than honest if I did not also says it helps to have a spouse who understands how important running really is and who supports you in that endeavor–I was most fortunate in that regard.
Finally my thanks to you, all the Army Ten-Miler personnel and volunteers who have made this race the best in the world–it gets better each year and I sincerely hope you can keep it going forever. I thought this one (this was the 35th and I just turned 80) would be my last one but who knows I might give it another shot–it’s still fun–and 17 is a nice sounding number.