There has been an occasional mention hereabouts that I am runner. That doesn’t quite describe me. I completed at least a dozen top marathons, maybe 20 or so started. I co-owned a running magazine, I co-owned a running store. I started running clubs, I created races, I served the Governor as a fitness consultant. I was Nike’s second Director of Public Relations, Senior Editor for Track & Field News and a whole bunch of other stuff. I know Alberto Salazar and Mrs. Samuelson and Paul Ryan is neither.
I seem to recall Don Kardong telling me he laughed out loud, when he read my account of my fastest marathon. The account began this way… “2:46:07. Two-forty six-oh-seven. Two hours, forty-six minutes and seven seconds. I ran the Nike/OTC Marathon in 2:46:07 and I am incredulous.”
But that’s another story. My point is this… a honest man does not forget his best marathon time. And whether he remembers it or not, he never lies about it. Never ever. Not a honest man. No way.
If a man will lie about his best marathon time, he will lie about Medicare. He will lie about the Federal budget. He will lie about how hard his workouts are. This is a character red flag. That’s all I am saying. (Story below.)
Robert Gauthier recalls racing to the end of Grandma’s Marathon, in Duluth, Minnesota, on a hot day in June of 1990. “I finished strong with a sprint,” he said. I had called him out of the blue, and asked what his time was in that race. I knew what it was—4:01:24—but wanted to hear what he’d say. “It would have been four-hour-ish,” he said. “I had already gotten old, fat, and slow.”
Gauthier, the C.E.O. of a company in Minnesota called Gruve Technologies, was thirty-five then, and he’s fifty-eight now. He’s also the man who finished directly ahead of Paul Ryan in the Congressman’s now famous marathon. “Oh, that’s funny,” Gauthier said when I told him whom he had just edged out.
As has now been reported in many places, Ryan told Hugh Hewitt in an August interview that he had run a marathon in “under three, high twos.” But then, after an investigation by Runner’s World, Ryan admitted he’d actually run 4:01:25. (To put the difference in race times in perspective: Lance Armstrong ran his first marathon in just under three hours; P. Diddy ran his first in 4:14.) In a statement first given to The New Yorker, Ryan joked about the error, and said, “The race was more than 20 years ago.” Since then, runner’s forums—and political forums—have been debating whether what Ryan said was a lie or a mistake. “He didn’t run that” is perhaps the most common joke.
Gauthier, for his part, thinks it’s ridiculous that anyone could turn a 4:01 into a sub-three. “He wasn’t within a cannon shot of two-fifty. Maybe at eighteen miles.” Gauthier adds, “I would never lie about my marathon time, though I might fib a bit about my golf score.”
I called many other runners who finished right around Ryan in that race, and they all remembered their times pretty well. (When I called them, I just said who I was and that I was writing a story about running; then I
asked their time in that race.) They also all considered it impossible to conflate a sub-three with a just-over-four.
David Thompson, who finished just ahead of Gauthier, said “right around four hours” when I asked his time. Bradley Brubaker, who finished directly behind Ryan, said, “I ran [Grandma’s] three times. The first time it was 3:58. I ran 3:25 the second time. The third time, I paced a friend and came in at right around four hours.” That third race was in 1990, and his friend, Lydia Radke, finished a second behind him, in 4:01:27. When I asked her to remember her time, she said, “I was aiming for four hours, and I made it in four hours and three minutes.” Two places behind her was O. T. Lupinski, who was in his mid-fifties then, and who is still running marathons in his late-seventies. He guessed his time to have been 4:05. Michael Nagell, who ran 4:01:41, remembered running “three-thirty-something.” When told his actual time was slower, he said he had run lots of marathons; his personal best is just under three-ten, and he must have mixed two of them up. He added, “A first-time marathoner is not going to forget a 4:01.”
Had Ryan lost everyone’s votes? Brubaker, for one, was sympathetic. Perhaps, he hypothesized, Ryan had started toward the back of the field. It could have taken him a minute or two to cross the starting line. If he’d started his watch then, he might have remembered finishing in three hours and fifty-something, and then misspoken when he told Hewitt “a two-hour fifty something.” This same theory has been mentioned on the message boards of letsrun.com, where the story has been avidly debated. (A spokesman for the candidate said he didn’t know whether or not this theory could explain Ryan’s claim.)
David Thompson, who calls himself “a Paul Ryan fan,” doesn’t think the controversy matters. “He ran a marathon. That’s a lot more than most people do.” Asked about the exaggeration, Thompson said, “If he said that, he probably shouldn’t have. To me, it’s not a big deal. There’s a lot bigger problems to worry about.”
Gauthier does think the controversy matters, and he says he was “really pissed” at Ryan’s exaggeration. “One of the reasons his statement irks me is that running a marathon is hard work and the difference between three and four hours is huge, not twenty five per cent better effort more like one hundred per cent different.” Gauthier added that he was rather pleased to have finished in front of the potential Vice President, particularly during a race that he’d run when he didn’t consider himself to be in particularly good shape. (“I carbo-loaded instead of trained,” he said.)
“I passed a bunch of people in the last two blocks. [I] don’t know if the representative was holding on or slumping.”