Paul Ryan’s marathon claim is about as real as Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan

Paul Ryan’s marathon time: as mythical as Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe

Okay, I know this controversy is pretty well over — Paul Ryan has copped to the facts: He never ran a sub 3:00 marathon as he claimed on a radio talk show. Here’s the relevant snippet from the 8/22 interview with Hugh Hewitt:

HH: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?

PR: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.

HH: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University…

PR: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.

Runners were immediately suspicious. And even though he’s already admitted that his marathon claim is fictitious as Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe, it still keeps bugging me.

A sub three-hour marathon is a significant accomplishment, but it isn’t that rare; during the New Jersey Marathon this past May (where my time was 3:58:46), twenty men (out of about 1,400) finished in under three hours. At last year’s NYC Marathon, about 1,000 men (out of about 30,000) clocked in at sub-3:00:00. And Ryan seems like a pretty fit guy — it didn’t seem completely out of the realm of possibility. What pricked up the ears of runners I know is that Ryan didn’t know his exact time.

Every marathoner I know — whether they’ve run a single marathon or two dozen 26.2’s — can tell you his or her PR time (personal record), down to the second. Nobody just sort of “forgets” their best marathon time if they’re proud of it. So I can only imagine that Ryan was embarrassed about his actual finish time of 4:01:25, or that he considered it so unremarkable he’d tried to forget it.

Sure, we’re used to politicians inflating their accomplishments. And there’s nothing partisan about it — they all do it, don’t they? But in politics, there’s room for interpretation, for spin. In running, there’s not — your finish time is your finish time. Anybody can look it up, as Runner’s World looked up Ryan’s actual time, recorded at the 1990 Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota when Ryan was 20.

Does this mean anything about Ryan’s character? Who knows. At least he admitted he was full of it when Runner’s World caught up with him.

Ryan’s 4:01:25 personal best does mean one thing, though. I kicked his ass with my 3:58:46 marathon at more than twice his age.

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