Paul Ryan Never Ran Sub-3-Hour Marathon

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 1 2012 12:00 PM

Did Paul Ryan Really Run a Sub-Three-Hour Marathon? No, He Didn't.

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Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan on the campaign trail

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

UPDATE: Paul Ryan fessed up. Turns out that, as most experienced runners suspected, Mitt Romney’s running mate never ran a marathon in less than three hours. In fact, he never ran one in under four hours. The news settle a (very minor) controversy that broke out within runner circles after 42-year-old Ryan told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Aug. 22 that he had run a “two hour and fifty-something” marathon.

Runner’s World started looking into the issue, and by Friday evening had figured out that then-20-year-old Ryan ran a marathon in 1990, where he finished in 4 hours, 1 minute, and 25 seconds. A Ryan spokesman confirmed the news late Friday.

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"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,” Ryan said in a statement. “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.”

Friday, August 31 at 2:16 p.m.: We should all be able to agree that Paul Ryan is in remarkably good shape, for his age or any other.

The 42-year-old's a former personal trainer with a body fat percentage squarely in the single digits. As has been noted by pretty much everyone, he's a big fan of P90X, a rather intense workout program that is a cult classic among health freaks (and late-night infomercial watchers). We're also told he looks pretty good with his shirt off.

But has he really run a sub-three-hour marathon, as he claimed in a radio interview last week? The Runner's World campaign team is on the case:

"In the interview, after Ryan told Hewitt that he ran in high school, Hewitt asked if Ryan still runs. Ryan replied, 'Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don't run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or less.' When Hewitt asked Ryan what his personal best is, Ryan replied, 'Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.'
"Runner's World has been unable to find any marathon results by Ryan. Requests for more information from Ryan's Washington and Wisconsin offices, and from the Romney-Paul campaign, have so far gone unanswered."

The debate has quickly taken off on running forums (yeah, they're a thing), with commenters analyzing everything from the Wisconsin Republican's likely running weight to his apparent inability to remember his exact PR time. The consensus, if you can call it that, is that, yes, the sub-three mark would be within reach for a fitness fanatic like Ryan, but the lack of detail is a little troubling. Basically, the people want proof in the form of official documentation or, barring that we suppose, a worn commemorative t-shirt.

The parallel that comes most immediately to mind is that of John Kerry, who was dogged by similar questions in 2004 about ... whether he had run the Boston Marathon in the 1970s. (What, you thought we were going to say something else?) RW proves it's an equal-time magazine:

"The November 2004 issue of Runner's World reported that Kerry had run Boston in the 1970s but gave no supporting details. ESPN looked into the claim and wound up concluding 'there's no official record of his feat, and his campaign did not provide further details despite repeated inquiries.'
"In an e-mail to Runner's World last night, Tom Derderian, author of Boston Marathon, said, 'It is very hard to prove a negative, but in doing my research I read every account in every newspaper about the Boston Marathon. I would have seen and noted that a US Senator ran.'"

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.