In a recent interview Paul Ryan gave a much faster personal record for his marathon time than he actually ran. Nicholas Thompson has a good overview, plus James Fallows as well. Ryan claimed to have finished “Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.” Via Thompson he actually finished with a 4:01 time, which put him in 1990th place out of 3227. A 2:55 time would have been 113 out of 3227. As the interviewer responded “Holy smokes.” To which Ryan replied “I was fast when I was younger, yeah.”
This caught my attention since I’ve run marathons before. And if you are a serious runner, you don’t forget your PR. A two hour fifty something requires hard training, even if it’s not college level. So Fallows and Thompson struggle to understand why Ryan might have lied about something that’s so easy to fact check. There’s no up side. So they conclude it’s either 1) a flub, or 2) he’s so unpolished he doesn’t know it will be fact checked. Both seem very unlikely so (being good journalists) they remain puzzled though skeptical of him. But the right perspective is to realize that Congressman Ryan must have been asked this question many times over the years. But it’s only recently he’s been in the VP candidate spotlight. So what’s most plausible is Ryan got into the habit of lying about his marathon time earlier in his congressional career when he could get away with it. And in the recent interview he responded out of habit before he could catch himself. This explains the puzzle of why he did it. It doesn’t excuse it. He took what would be have been a nice little tie-in to a small subculture (fellow runners who identify with his perfectly fine 4:01 marathon) and turned it into a real credibility issue. No one, especially runners, likes people who lie about their PR.