You Can’t Hide Your Lyin’ Feat
Those who know me, know that I like to run half-marathons. The distance (13.1 miles) is not too great, and as a friend said this morning, “I can run a half-marathon and still mow the lawn that afternoon.” I’ve tried the marathon distance, running somewhere between 15 and 20 of them (I’ve lost count).
When you’re a runner, scrupulous honesty is prized. That’s why a lot of us perked up our ears when Representative Paul Ryan (R-Janesville, WI) claimed to have run a marathon in under three hours (called a “sub-3″ by runners). My PR (personal record) is 4:12, a number that’s burned in my memory. Every time I run I have that number in mind. An “average” marathon time nationwide, across all age groups, is about 4:15. Former Senator John Edwards posted a blazing 3:30 (the better to run away from compromising situations, apparently); former President George W. Bush owns a much-more-than-respectable 3:44:52; former Governor Sarah Palin has a damn good 3:59:36; and former Vice President Al Gore has a rather pitiful 4:54:25. As About.com snarkily suggests, “If you’re hoping to beat a politician’s time and think Bush and Palin’s marks are a little out of your league, Al Gore’s time is a lot more achievable.”
On the Hugh Hewitt [HH] radio show, Ryan [PR] makes a smooth claim that he was a fantastic runner as a young man. From the transcript:
PR: No, I was student government and athletics, honor society, you know, that kind of thing. I was kind of a combination. I was class president my junior year, I was the school board rep my senior year. I lettered in varsity, you know, my first year in high school, mostly soccer and track. I was a distance runner and a soccer player. So kind of well-rounded. I can’t, I can play a cowbell. That’s about it for instruments.
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 yes [ed.: he said ‘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. All right, now you go down to Miami University…
PR: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.
A runner has to have a really good time to qualify for the Boston Marathon. (There are charity slots for us slowpokes — in my age group, I’d have to run 3:30, which is simply not going to happen.) All people who have ever run a marathon know their times in relationship to Boston Marathon times. “Wow, John Doe really burned up the course today. He got a Boston qualifying time,” is something I’ve heard at every marathon I’ve ever run.
Ryan’s time would have easily qualified him for the Boston Marathon that year. (The current Boston qualifying time for an 18-to-34 year old is 3:05.)
Alas, one thing runners know is that The Internets (a series of tubes) combined with The Google makes for a powerful means of checking claims of marathon glory. Thus it was revealed, later that week by Runner’s World, that Ryan ran his only marathon as a 19-year-old, in the 1991 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota.
His time was … 4:01:25.
Everyone who hasn’t yet done it wants to run a sub-4 marathon. I’ve tried it; as you know by now, I never achieved it. You remember missing a goal like that. Absent magical thinking, 4:01:25 is not a sub-4 marathon. It’s especially not a sub-3.
On August 31, Ryan’s spokesman issued a statement:
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.
His brother Tobin’s time in the 2011 Boston Marathon (at the age of 46) was 3:34.
It’s indisputable that Ryan is a very athletic man. The search “Paul Ryan shirtless” spiked on Google on August 11, the day Ryan was announced as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee:
(The elusive Paul Ryan Shirtless Photo finally emerged on TMZ: Ryan and his wife Janna in bathing suits on vacation, from 2006.)
But is it part of a larger pattern? Ryan’s convention acceptance speech set of a round of frenzied fact checking (examples here, here, here and here). Notably, The Wall Street Journal failed to fact-check Ryan’s speech, which got them this stinging rebuke from the Columbia Journalism Review.
Ryan Chittum of the Review says:
Look, when a vice presidential candidate makes a speech with so many misleading and/or shameless statements in it, it’s a story.
Lying about his marathon time seems to be part of a pattern of someone who at best has a light touch on the truth. Do all politicians lie? Certainly, all people who speak publicly without a TelePrompTer say things that they later regret. I tell my students I estimate about two serious mistakes an hour when I speak (hopefully that, at least, is true). But even after almost four years in office, President Obama has collected but six “Pants on Fire” ratings from Politifact (one percent of the total they’ve researched).
Taking the first three “truest” classifications in aggregate, President Obama gets at least a half-truth out of his mouth at least 73 percent of the time. Vice President Biden hits 66 percent or more. Republican Presidential Nominee Romney gets it half-right at least 58 percent of the time. Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Ryan is now at 55 percent, but it’s still early for him; notice the small total number of claims by Ryan that have been investigated. (As Politifact investigates only dubious claims, this metric likely far understates the percentage of truthful statements each has made.)
I actually find this level of honesty surprisingly high, given the demands made on politicians by our 24⁄7 news environment and the pressures they must operate under.
Still, Ryan is beginning to establish a troubling pattern of prevarication about things big and small. His “runner story” was the hot topic at this morning’s half-marathon (the person who told it to me, a Political Science professor at a nearby university, routinely runs a sub-3 marathon). He needs to run no further down the Road to Perdition, regardless of the pace.
- World Class Liar: Runner’s World Debunks Outlandish Paul Ryan Marathon Claim (mediaite.com)
- Paul Ryan Lied About Being Good At Marathons [Paul Ryan] (deadspin.com)
- Paul Ryan’s Marathon Fish Story (outsidethebeltway.com)
- The (If I Were to Do Any Rounding, It Would Certainly Be To Four Hours, Not Three) Marathon Man (economistsview.typepad.com)
- Paul Ryan’s Most Egregious Lie: He Never Ran a Marathon in Under Three Hours [Paul Ryan] (gawker.com)
- D’oh: Paul Ryan’s sub-3 marathon enters the pantheon of politician fibs (twitchy.com)
- Ryan claims faulty memory behind marathon lie (rawstory.com)
- Paul Ryan Lied About Marathon Feat (joemygod.blogspot.com)