Capitol Hill takes on the Marine Corps Marathon : Royce’s runners: Four members of Calif. rep’s staff gear up for race

Rep. Ed Royce’s (R-Calif.) office might win the award for most active on Capitol Hill.

After months of grueling dawn workouts, four staffers in the avid hiker’s office — Amy Porter, Tom Sheehy, Edward Burrier and Michael Ahern — will take on the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday.

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They have different motivations: to re-qualify for Boston, to raise money for a sick niece, to beat Oprah’s time. But the one thing they have in common is that they are devoted to the Marine Corps Marathon.

“It’s just a great marathon,” said Porter, who is Royce’s chief of staff. Porter, like fellow seasoned racers Sheehy and Burrier, has yet to try a different marathon. “The Marines do a fantastic job. It’s extremely well-run, and you run through the nation’s capital. It’s beautiful.”

Porter ran the marathon two years ago, and is back this year to raise money for the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research. (Porter’s 7-year-old niece, Abby, has the genetic disorder.) She’s raised about $3,000 so far, and hopes to best her previous time of 5:08 Sunday.

Burrier, who handles the legislative work for Royce’s position as ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade subcommittee, is running the race for his second time, too. A 32-year-old former college soccer player, Burrier turned to running as a way to reinstate competition and fitness in his life. This year, he hopes to beat his previous finish of 4:23:36, a time he nonchalantly rattles off to the exact second.

Porter’s and Burrier’s determination spurred Michael Ahern, a 26-year-old financial services legislative aide who is the group newbie. Running a marathon is something he’s always wanted to do, Ahern said, though he is slightly nervous about finishing. He jokingly admits he hopes to best Oprah Winfrey, who logged a time of 4:29 in 1994.

Sheehy, also on Royce’s subcommittee’s professional staff, has the lanky look of a seasoned runner, and, with two MCMs under his belt, is the most experienced racer of the four. A casual runner until a few years ago, the 48-year-old modestly admits to finishing “pretty well” last year. His time of 3:24 qualified him for the Boston marathon. (A native of the Boston area, he hopes to run the famous marathon this April.)

Sheehy’s speedy feet make him a hard co-worker to keep up with on their thrice-weekly morning runs, the group agreed.

“I always say that by the time I finish on Saturday mornings, he’s already gone home, showered and had breakfast with his family,” Porter joked.

Although each has always been athletic, none of the four was a very committed runner before joining the Capitol Hill Running Club, a Marine-led group of about 60 congressional staffers who run at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and — often the most dreaded — Saturdays.

Joining the club was the catalyst for each of the four to start running more seriously, they said.

“The running club is a great motivator,” Porter explained. “You go to the very first introductory meeting and they tell you, ‘If you can run a mile, you can run a marathon. We can train you to do that.’

“At the time you think, ‘There’s no way.’ But they do.”

In addition to the challenge of running alongside — or behind, as the case may be — fit Marines, working out with co-workers keeps the staffers accountable, they said.

Though they don’t run at the same pace, they start together, and knowing one another is pushing through the long dawn runs is often enough motivation, they said.

“On Fridays we always say, ‘OK, see you tomorrow morning,’ ” Porter explained. “If you miss a Saturday, everybody says on Monday, ‘Where were you?’ ”

Though the group laughed at the idea of running with Royce — “He’s a big walker,” Ahern is quick to point out — they admit the office as a whole is probably more active than most.

Press secretary Audra McGeorge did a triathlon last year, and staff assistant Worku Gachou is signed up for an upcoming 5k, though he doesn’t train with the marathoners. Even the “office mascot,” Porter’s white terrier, Archie, is a symbol of energy, scurrying across furniture and wagging his tail ferociously.

Becoming avid runners has had some tangible benefits. Porter said she feels healthier, Burrier lost weight, and Sheehy recognizes fellow running staffers in the hallways — though it’s often bizarre to see them donning suits instead of track gear, he said.

It’s also a great way, the group agreed, to gear up for the hectic work schedule of a Capitol Hill staffer.

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“[Running] is definitely just a way to feel good about yourself all day,” Burrier said. “There’s definitely a difference, especially during the week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when we have those runs, versus a Monday. You feel a lot better when you’re at your desk or at the hearing or whatever you have to do.”

But the benefits of running may not be enough to keep them all as devoted to marathons.

When asked if he plans to run more races this year, Ahern caught his breath from laughing long enough to say, “No.”