The Arizona politician on endurance sports and saving the environment one run at a time.
Two days before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, then-candidate for the United States Senate Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) lined up at the Phoenix Half Marathon, gunning for a PR. While to some that might seem a strange choice of activity so close to Election Day, for Sinema it was second nature.
The newly elected senator from Arizona has been running since childhood, and at 42, it’s part and parcel to her everyday lifestyle. “I grew up in poverty,” she says, “and running was one activity I found I could do even without money.”
As Sinema entered adulthood, she gravitated toward ever longer distances and began to appreciate the sport’s value as a stress reliever. Dozens of races in every distance possible—including triathlons—later, she says that running not only gives her an outlet from a hectic career but also informs how she operates as a legislator.
Woven Into Her Fabric
Sinema’s race resume is deep, and there aren’t many distances she hasn’t tried. From the mile on up to ultras, she’s notched many an impressive finish. “I train pretty much every day,” she says. “My team wouldn’t like me if I didn’t.”
Sinema appreciates the mind-clearing benefits she receives while putting in the miles. She also knows that gutting it out in a long race, like an Ironman or an ultra, teaches valuable lessons. “Throughout this election season, I was able to handle the punches that came my way thanks to endurance sports,” she says. “The events I’ve completed have taught me to build and maintain, and understand that no matter what an election delivers, I’ve handled worse.”
Most years—this one included—Sinema packs a race schedule as busy as her congressional schedule. In 2018 alone, she participated in 11 different events, including two marathons, a half Ironman and a couple of trail races. To date, she’s raced just about every type of endurance event one can imagine, with the exception of a dedicated swimming race (which she admits isn’t her cup of tea).
Sinema first moved into the world of triathlon in 2013 after having participated in a few relays with friends. “I wasn’t a swimmer and I thought triathletes were crazy,” she says. “But then I won an election and decided to sign up for Ironman Arizona to celebrate.”
Tying elections with races has since become something of a tradition for the senator-elect. In 2016, after winning a seat in Congress, she took on the JFK 50 Mile, an annual ultramarathon that winds its way through Maryland before finishing just outside Washington, D.C. She finished in a little over 12 hours.
Living in Arizona—which she finds chock-full of beautiful trails, temperate weather and opportunities to train—has influenced how Sinema votes and which bills she sponsors. “Open spaces are critical to the Arizona economy, as well as to our enjoyment,” she says. “We need to protect our land.”
When the U.S. Department of the Interior proposed nearly doubling the entrance fees to many national parks last year, Sinema went to bat against it in her role as an Arizona representative. On a more local level, Sinema worked to pass a bill expanding parks and protecting land in rural Arizona. She also co-sponsored H.R.502, a bill introduced in the House of Representatives in early 2017 that set out to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The bill expired this fall, but Sinema will likely keep the efforts going to revive it in her new senatorial role.
Whether in Washington, D.C., or Arizona, Sinema is up before dawn to fit in her training. “If I’m in Arizona, I go to bed earlier and usually wake up around 3:30 [a.m.] for a Saturday bike ride,” she says.
In D.C., she sometimes partners with other politicians for runs; her favorite route is the monument run from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial. Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Georgia Congressman Tom Graves and Minnesota Governor-elect Tim Walz comprise her run posse. “I call them ‘the fast boys’ because I have to work to keep up,” she says.
Sinema’s delicate balancing act of intense career and endurance training is something most female runners can appreciate, no matter what their political beliefs. And in case you’re wondering: Not only did Sinema win her Senate race, but she ran a 12-minute PR at that November half marathon, notching an impressive 1:43 finish. For Sinema, running and politics are a perfect match.