BY NICHOLAS THOMPSON, The New Yorker
It has no bearing at all on the republic how fast Paul Ryan runs a marathon. But in another way it is important: Is the potential Vice President the sort of person who lies congenitally? In that sense it matters.
Here’s the transcript of what Ryan said to Hewitt:
H. H.: Are you still running?
P. R.: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or [less].
H. H.: But you did run marathons at some point?
P. R.: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.
H. H.: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?
P. R.: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.
H. H.: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University...
P. R.: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.
What's striking about the exchange is how he responds to Hewitt's “Holy smokes.” A four-hour marathon, for a twenty-year-old, is not something that elicits a “holy smokes.” It’s entirely average; in fact, for the race that Ryan ran, it was below average. In the marathon in question, he finished in nineteen hundred and ninetieth place, out of just thirty-two hundred and seventy-seven male runners. (A 2:55 would have had him at a hundred and thirtieth.) But Hewitt’s reaction didn’t set off any alarm. Instead, Ryan could tell that he had just impressed his host, and he reinforced it, saying “I was fast when I was younger, yeah.”
Runners - and Ryan says he continues to be one - also just don't forget race times. They talk about them with their friends; they think about them when running. If they’ve just missed breaking four hours, it probably bothers them a little bit. It probably bothers them particularly if their brothers run faster. People also ask about marathon times often. Note the ease with which Hewitt queried Ryan’s time. The congressman, who talks frequently about fitness, has surely been asked the same question dozens, or hundreds, of times. When did he stop answering “four hours” and start saying “a two hour and fifty-something”?