Paul Ryan superhero, elite Marathon runner, and … ?


The point of the Vice President in the American constitution is that they are never meant to get anywhere near the levers of power. Even a President is powerless through the entirety of their second four year-term, and this powerlessness is multiplied in the case of their deputy who has no job in the system at all. The people chosen for President are often characterless nobodies picked for the purposes of some secondary talent (eg LBJ’s skill for bulldozing legislation through Congress) to redeem them for an essentially meaningless role. Most Presidents do not die in office; I doubt even many politics nerds could name the last four US “veeps”. BUT in those rare cases where the Vice President takes on the top job, their truth quotient becomes a matter of concern to billions of people.

Which brings me neatly to the Republican candidate for Vice President. Last week, Paul Ryan told the journalist Hugh Hewitt that he “was a distance runner”, had run “marathons” (note that tricky plural), and had a “two hour and fifty-something” personal best. This week, Runners World reports that he has in fact run one marathon, over 20 ago, finishing in over 4 hours.

If Ryan had been telling the truth, he would be one of the fastest 25% of runners in his field – in fact, he was almost at the mid-point. It’s the difference between getting an A grade in a GCSE exam and a C.

Dave Zirin has skewered Ryan by comparing him to Rosie Ruiz, I’m more interested in the light the incident shines on what may be a general tendency for runners to estimate their times “down”, the equivalent of a middle-managed man standing by a mirror and sucking his tummy in.

Many of us, when we are asked about how fast we could run a particular distance, will tend to shave off a second or two. I’ve blogged before about the Marathon Talk podcast which invites its guests to estimate how fast they could run a mile with the proper training. Those who have done it well but stopped tend to guess “up” and will often say six or seven minutes; those who’ve never run, ten to guess down – saying “5 minutes”, when they’ve never even run a six or seven minute mile, have a poor sense of their body’s ageing, or its susceptibility to injury after even modest training.

Without much difficulty any runner can pick a race at which the environment will be no more than a residual factor – say a Parkrun through central London, with an ascent or descent of no  more than a few degrees. If you plan to run that sort of race in under 20 minutes, but finish in over 25, or do not finish at all (both of which, I have done), it’s a pretty salutory experience.

Either you learn from it, and learn about yourself – or you’re Paul Ryan, stuck forever in a world of your own imagining.

(Hat-tip: Colin Wilson)

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