The Top Sports Science Stories of 2012: Paul Ryan's Marathon Snafu

The Republican vice presidential nominee shaves more than an hour off his race time in an interview

Jan 7, 2013
Outside Magazine

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On August 22, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he ran a marathon, “under three, high twos. I had a 2 hour and 50-something.” Hewitt expressed amazement. Ryan said, “I was fast when I was younger, yeah.”

On a forum, Bill Walker  started a discussion about Ryan: “Does anyone know the marathon and the year?”

Scott Douglas, a journalist for Runner’s World, started digging. He found out that Ryan had run the 1990 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, with a time of 4 hours and 1 minute. That is a pace of more than nine minutes a mile, instead of say, a pace of less than seven minutes a mile. The story ended up plastered on the front page of a number of websites and Ryan admitted his error. "If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three," said Ryan.

Nick Thompson of the New Yorker questioned whether Ryan lied about his time or simply made a mistake. More stories began appearing calling the politician’s statements into question. Did Paul Ryan really have 6 percent body fat? Did Paul Ryan really climb 40 of Colorado’s 14ers? How often did Paul Ryan lie?

Psychological studies have shown that people tend to lie to satisfy their own self-interests. That seems obvious. A new study published this year in Psychological Science showed that people playing a dice game and offered a reward for good results were more likely to lie about their rolls when presented with less time to report. Ryan was doing an interview, but he certainly wasn’t under tight time restrictions or high pressure to respond to questions on a conservative radio show. Why would anyone running for public office lie about a sporting event in which records are kept, especially in an age when everything is scrutinized relentlessly online? I don’t have a good answer for that.

During the speculation and commentary, an online calculator was created, just in case anyone wanted to answer the most creative question posed in response to the politician’s snafu. How fast would you exaggerate your marathon time using Paul Ryan’s math?