It Turns Out That Paul Ryan Did Not Run a Marathon in Under Three Hours

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Photo: Justin Sullivan/2012 Getty Images

It's been a tough few days for Paul Ryan's relationship with the truth. Now that the fact-checking of his less-than-honest Republican National Convention speech has been completed, the media has moved on to his claim — made in a radio interview last week — of having run "a two hour and fifty-something" marathon in his youth. As many people who like to run and think about running quickly pointed out, completing a 26-mile run in under three hours is a pretty impressive feat, even for the PX90-loving Ryan. (To pull that off, Ryan would have had to average an under seven-minute mile for the entire race.) Last night, after Runner's World got ahold of the printed results of the event in question (the hilariously named 1990 Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota), which listed Ryan's time as a respectable — but certainly not mind-blowing — four hours and one minute, he backed away from the story. 

In a statement to the New Yorker, Ryan said: 

“The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin—who ran Boston last year—reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-three. If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three. He gave me a good ribbing over this at dinner tonight.”

As the New Yorker's Nicholas Thompson wrote today, the comment seems unlikely to have been a simple case of faulty memory (even if Ryan couldn't remember the exact numbers, he still knew how fast he was purporting to be) and a possible sign of a person who "lies congenitally," especially when it is examined in the context of the original interview: When the reporter reacted to Ryan's supposed running time with an impressed "Holy smokes!" the vice-presidential nominee seemed to double down on what he knew was a significant claim, saying, "I was fast when I was younger, yeah." 

While the matter might "sound trivial," as the New York Times's Paul Krugman wrote yesterday, it does have implications for a candidate running on the straightforward, good guy image Ryan is so eager to project. Krugman went on to recall the 2000 election, "When Al Gore was constantly hounded by claims of fibbing on trivial issues — claims that, by the way, were all, as far as I could tell, fabricated. These alleged fibs supposedly showed some deep defect in his character. So if Ryan is making false claims about his physical prowess, this is absolutely fair game." It seems that Ryan should take this as a cue to start sticking a little more closely to the facts or — as anyone who has ever made a joke about Al Gore inventing the internet knows — the idea that vice-presidential nominee is a liar is going to become a bigger theme than it already has.