Thanks again to WordPress for “freshly pressing” my post on media distortion last week. I’d like to welcome both new and longtime followers alike, and to reassure you that I’m not a political blogger. Not really. In fact, I swore off the mere mention of “abortion,” “politicians” and “President Obama,” along with many other words in any way related to politics after last week’s exhausting barrage of mostly civil responses to my non-partisan examination of media bias. As one friend of mine said, I must have done something right because folks were swinging at me from both sides of the political spectrum. And yet I’m grateful, I really am, because from this heady experience, I learned to avoid writing about politics.
That’s right: I swore off politics like I swore off baseball after the strike in the summer of ’94. I stayed so mad at baseball, I ignored my beloved Baltimore Orioles for almost the entire 1995 season. I took baseball back just in time to watch Cal Ripken break Lou Gehrig’s Ironman streak on September 6, 1995.
I stayed mad at baseball for the better part of 1995. In the case of politics, I lasted exactly a week.
It’s Paul Ryan’s fault, really. You see, I think he lied, and I’m irked. I was liking not loving the guy, despite his social conservative leanings. You know what I liked most about him? His athleticism and his bounding energy.
This blog, and my upcoming book, I Run: Running from Hell with El is about how running has helped me heal from and cope with abuse. In it, I write about the eight marathons I’ve run. I also write at length about a lifetime of competitive athletics. Playing sports may well have saved my life, literally. It kept me alive when there was little else to give me hope.
Which is to say that for me, sports, and running, is pretty serious business. In a recent interview, Paul Ryan was asked about the marathon he ran. Here is the relevant quote, taken directly from the transcript of his interview with Hugh Hewitt:
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.
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.
PR: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.
After this interview on Thursday, August 23, 2012, a reporter from Runner’s World got curious and looked up Ryan’s actual finishing time. Ryan ran one marathon, the 1990 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. According to official results, Ryan finished in 4 hours, 1 minute, and 25 seconds.
When asked to explain this discrepancy, a spokesman for Ryan told Runner’s World the next day:
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.
I’ve thought about this for a few days. As I ran 14.7 miles on Sunday, struggling to breathe due to seasonal asthma, I looked back at the marathons I’ve run since I sustained serious injuries in a accident in 2009. In my first marathon, I crossed the line in 5:01:50, just missing breaking the five-hour mark. This race was a warmup for the Suntrust National Marathon a month later. I was aiming to break 4:30 but I turned my ankle at the 5-mile mark and limped across the finishing line, yet again, in 5:01 and change. I’m not going to bore you with my other finishing times.
But I will volunteer a few other times: in 1995, I ran the Charlottesville 10-miler in 75 minutes. In 1989, I ran a 10K in Baltimore in 50:53 (approximately). My fastest mile time, ran in 1988, was 6:20.
I apologize to the non-runners reading this, and trust me, I’m not bragging about my PRs or even my extremely pedestrian finishing times. I could go on and on here, listing my highest scoring total in a basketball game (17 points); how many no-hitters I tossed in fast-pitch softball (one); my maximum bench press (150) and you know what? This is normal for a competitive athlete. We’re almost universally aware, especially we runners, of our splits, PRs for every distance, average minutes per mile, max heart rate, farthest distance run . . . athletes simply are (must be) aware of how much, how far, and how long in their ever-ending quest to be faster, higher and stronger.
I don’t know if Ryan lied on purpose. It’s unlikely that a workout junkie forgot his PR. It’s highly unlikely but it is possible he forgot his finishing time. Even more likely, it’s possible that he exaggerated it once, and the response he received from other athletes made him feel good. Maybe he exaggerated a little more the next time. Maybe he exaggerated so much, and for so long, that he believed it when he said he ran a 2:50-something.
And maybe President Clinton believed it when he said he did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.
I’d love to hear you views on the issues raised above. Please keep your responses polite and avoid ad-hominem attacks and personal insults, and if you do, I’d love to discuss and debate the mysterious marathon memory of Paul Ryan.