Paul Ryan, elite marathon runner and truth teller? Alas, no

I can’t remember the precise time of my fastest marathon. I do know that it was 3 hours, 48 minutes and 30 seconds, give or take 30 seconds. You could look it up. It was the 1996 Marine Corps Marathon, I’m almost sure.

That’s why Paul Ryan’s failure to remember his marathon time — or more likely, his decision to lie about it, after he had been nominated for vice president — is so puzzling.

No marathon runner I know — and I know dozens — has forgotten what we call our PRs, or personal records. You might not remember to the second, or to the minute, but you know within a minute or two. Nor would any of my running friends, none of whom are candidates for national political office, lie about their time, at least not by an hour. It’s too easy to check. Marathons keep records.

Ryan said he ran the 26.2 mile course in under three hours. In fact, he ran it in just over four. That is a huge difference–between an elite distance runner and a very ordinary middle of the pack runner, like me. Runner’s World has been all over the story, and in a bipartisan spirit, reminds those of us who were paying attention that John Kerry in all likelihood also made a false claim about running a marathon.

What is it with these people?

Here’s the relevant exchange between Ryan and radio host Hugh Hewitt:

HH: Are you still running?
PR: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or less.
HH: But you did run marathons at some point?
PR: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.
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.…

The “Holy smokes” should have been a tipoff to Ryan, if he had made an innocent mistake. He should have caught himself and said something like, “Oh wait, maybe it was four hours” or “You know, Hugh, it was 20 years ago and I could have that wrong, I can’t remember.”

Now, I know this is a guy who has to keep a lot of numbers in his head – budgets, deficits, debt, Medicare cuts and the like — so maybe I am being too harsh on him.

But I don’t think so.

Puzzling, no? Of all the misstatements, exaggerations and lies of the campaign, this is the strangest.

Hat tip to James Fallows at The Atlantic and Nicholas Thompson in The New Yorker, who pointed out the “Holy smokes” problem.


  1. says

    I think the way politicians behave in their everyday lives is of great importance, because it’s reflective of their character and how they will behave in office. That’s why I was so troubled about the story about Romney leading a posse of students to assault a gay man while in prep school (and then referring to it as a “prank”). If abuse is okay by Romney, it says something about his character. If lying is a knee-jerk response from Ryan, then that is what we’ll see from him in office. Disturbing.

  2. Ed Reid says

    I think it is wonderful that the most important issues of the current political campaign are Mitt Romney’s prep school days and Paul Ryan’s marathon time. Much more important, for example, than any history regarding BHMO, whose past life has been hidden from view, undoubtedly to avoid adulation of his awesomeness.

    Now that these important issues have been dealt with, perhaps we could focus on the more mundane issues, such as the economy, jobs, religious freedom, Second Amendment issues, creation of a federal budget, Fast & Furious, energy policy, impending city and state bankruptcies, impending SS and Medicare bankruptcies, the impending Obamacare Ponzi scheme, dealing with an armed New Black Panther Party presence at polling places in November, etc.

    • Marc Gunther says

      I’m not trying to make too much of this. But as a marathon runner, I was surprised and mystified by Paul Ryan’s claim. It is not as meaningful as the misleading political ads and campaign speeches we’ve been hearing from both sides. But it may tell us something we didn’t previously know about Cingressman Ryan, who has a reputation for speaking the truth that he may not deserve.

      • Ed Reid says

        Fortunately, President Obama has no such reputation to tarnish. He has acknowledged, on tape, the removal of $716 billion in funding from Medicare to “balance” the Obamacare books, which he and the campaign now deny. He demonstrably lied about conscience exemptions under Obamacare. He demonstrably lied about the cost of Obamacare. He demonstrably lied about new taxes. He has aided and abetted the failure of the Senate to present a budget, at the very least; and might, in fact, have orchestrated that failure, knowing that he would have more flexibility under continuing resolutions. He demonstrably lied about transparency; and, about posting legislation on the web several days before it was brought up for a vote.

        Enough. I have no expectation of causing you to question your support for the President and progressive causes. You should have no expectation regarding my support for conservatism, bordering on libertarianism.

        • Matt says

          Enough…that I agree with. Enough of the lies and distortions from so called “conservitives”

          Paul Ryan the “straight shooter” is a fraud and a liar.

    • Matt says


      I love how you brush off the lies of Paul Ryan…then proceed to lie through YOUR teeth…ie “Obamacare Ponzi scheme”

      The truth does not seem to get through the thick skulls of some people.

      • Ed Reid says

        Obamacare, like SS and Medicare, will collapse under its own weight. Wait until the new Obamacare taxes “click in” in 2013 and 2014. There is no Obamacare (dis)trust fund; but then, there is nothing but IOUs in the SS and Medicare (dis)trust funds either.

        I am a member of the “Annual end-of-life counseling” and “Death Panel (IPAB)” generation. However, I am not yet a “shovel ready” senior. I see what is coming, even if you choose not to do so.

    • Matt says

      “Much more important, for example, than any history regarding BHMO, whose past life has been hidden from view”

      Please do tell us of this “past life” they’ve hidden? Can’t wait.

      • Ed Reid says

        Original birth certificate
        Occidental records
        Columbia records
        Yale records
        Reasons for abandoning law license’
        Reasons Michelle abandoned law license

        • Mark says

          Ed, I’d encourage you to take a deep breath, remove the tinfoil hat, and do a little factchecking, on every single one of those items, which presumably you’re listing as some sort of damning indictment on the shadowy, sinister, unknowable President Obama. Start with Seriously. Go. Please.

          • Ed Reid says

            That’s OK. I like my tinfoil hat. My thick skull is fine. I’ve survived being called a liar previously.

        • Kal says

          I was looking at this post as a runner and came across this comment.

          Ed, is it customary for any President to realease these items to the public?

          “Occidental records, Columbia records, Yale records, Thesis, Reasons for abandoning law license’, Reasons Michelle abandoned law license”

          Absolutely not. Where are all of Romney’s transcripts? No one cares because such inconsequential items have no bearing on any Presidential election for any candidate.

          Plus, Obama released his original birth certificate. Time is quickly running out in this campaign for the chameleon Romney and his largely silent and insubstantial sidekick, Ryan.

  3. saphina says

    What we can be sure of is pols continually lie. Ryan’s ego is so pumped that he may actually believe his own spin. That is a dangerous character trait for a potential VP a heartbeat away from the Presidency. Anyone that has ever competed in sports knows to lie about your stats is not only uncool, but being dishonest with yourself too. This kind of behavior, the superman syndrome as I call it, leads to delusions of grandeur. And after listening to Ryan and this mayonnaise ticket at the convention this week, I am more terrified than ever for our country. So much puffing and self-aggrandizing, wives telling me to believe in their husbands because they do, no plans or strategy to achieve such imaginary successes and this is supposed to convince me to vote for them? A guy that lies about his running times will lie about anything. The GOP just lost me.

  4. says

    I have to agree with Ed on this one. I sincerely regret having to accept the increasingly obvious fact that ALL politicians lie, and distort or stretch the facts to their own advantage, however I am much more concerend about the huge, recent lies than I am about decades old minor issues such as a personal best time.

    Regarding the “heart beat away ” comment, after recently getting a better, closer look at Joe Biden, all I can say is that I wish President Obama good health and safety for the next few months because his choice of VP scares the daylights out of me. Yes, I will take a slow runner over a loaded cannon any time.

    I am typically an independent voter and this year, my position is “Tried that. It didn’t work.”

    Dennis Salazar

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