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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Mystery of Paul Ryan’s Marathon Fib

Published: September 14, 2012
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

When Hugh Hewitt, a radio host on a syndicated Christian station, asked Paul Ryan last month if he ran marathons, Ryan answered that he used to but has since stopped due to back issues. Hewitt asked what Ryan’s personal best time was, to which he replied, “Under three, high twos. I had a two-hour and fifty-something.” Ryan never mentioned which marathon he ran and only added that it happened when he was much younger.

For those of us who are runners, or consider ourselves runners, completing a marathon, 26.2 miles, in two hours and 50 minutes is pretty fast. For those of you who don’t make it your mission to devote time to punishing your body for twenty-six miles, you should know that the world record for the marathon is two hours and three minutes, set by Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya in 2011 at the Boston Marathon.

So Ryan’s time was pretty darn good, considering he wasn’t a professional runner. Questions arose, however, fairly quickly. First of all, no professional or practical runner would ever forget their marathon time. We hold them up as goals, write them on our arms, stick them under our pillows and carve them into our desks. Times are the medals of running, and the fact that Ryan was so hazy about a fantastic marathon time naturally made me skeptical. Then, Scott Douglas, a well-known running journalist, dug through thousands of times to figure out that Ryan had actually run a 4:01 in the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn. in 1990, when he was a college student.

To put another fact into perspective, a 2:55 in that race would have placed Ryan in 130th place out of 3,277 men. A 4:01 put him in 1,919th place. Even those of us who don’t own a pair of running shoes understand the difference between those numbers. When contacted, Paul Ryan sent out a statement saying, “my brother Tobin … 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.”

Ryan acknowledged that he was wrong. Note, he mentioned ‘rounding to four hours.’ His statement insinuates that he ran an under four-hour time, when in fact it took him longer than four hours. While it may seem petty that I am delving so deeply into such a miniscule matter, a true runner never forgets the details, even if they are in minutes. Personally, I don’t think ‘rounding’ constitutes a decline in numbers. So was the mistake a purposeful lie, or a simple misstatement?

Ryan was an athlete in high school and an athlete in college, and a smart one at that. That narrows down the options. If it wasn’t an accident, it means that Ryan purposefully reduced his marathon time. But why? Mixing up his marathon times doesn’t make Paul Ryan a bad candidate. It won’t affect how he would run the country; it won’t make a difference in our everyday lives. If the lie had gone unnoticed, that makes the potential vice president a liar. If the lie was purposeful, it makes him seem filthy and sneaky, which are not the qualities you look for in a vice president.

When the media contacted Ryan’s campaign to ask where Ryan had run the marathon, they immediately responded with the exact date, place and time. If they had known that Ryan was going to be busted for fibbing, they would have dodged the question or apologized. Instead they were incredibly prepared, anticipating that the media would come back for a clarification about a blatant untruth. It makes you wonder whether they care more about the image they’re trying to project or the real truth behind the man. Ryan’s intention behind the fib is and will continue to be unknown. The fact that he would lie, however, about something as unimportant as his marathon time, induces voters to ask the bigger question: If he will lie about something this insignificant in the effort to make himself look better, what else will he lie about?

I can understand the little embellishments that candidates and politicians make, especially in young campaigns where no one pays much attention. But Ryan was directly in the spotlight, and on his way to becoming a national figure. He must have understood that everything he said in that interview was going to be recorded, examined and picked apart beyond belief. And in that moment, he chose to state an unnecessary fact about himself that made him seem better, faster, stronger and yet, nowhere near the truth.

In my view, he was either unbelievably naïve, thinking that no one would ever bother to check on this statement, or incredibly reckless and didn’t care if they did. Either of these options is unacceptable for a vice presidential candidate. It will be interesting to see where Ryan takes us in the coming weeks, and how many seemingly miniscule lies he is willing to make along the way.