Why Paul Ryan’s marathon time matters more to runners

I really hate it when worlds collide.
Remember seeing your teachers out in public? Seeing them at the grocery store was like spotting a giraffe in the garage. Very unsettling.
So imagine how shaken my reality became when recently the two very separate worlds crashed into each other: politics and running.
Running is my refuge. It’s where I turn to when I need to clear my head and release the tension that has built up in my neck from the day’s stressors. It’s the one place I can go to escape the nonstop political discussions that seem to dominate the news feeds. Yes, it is election season, but we all could use a breather.
But with Paul Ryan’s recent claim to marathon fame, it was a little harder to find that escape. The issue causing upheaval in the running world? Ryan’s mistaken claim that he ran a sub-three-hour marathon 22 years ago.
He stated he couldn’t remember the exact time. Around 2:50-ish, he said.
This being a presidential election cycle, and Ryan being a vice president candidate, every fact must be checked and double-checked. What was uncovered was the fact that he did, indeed, run a marathon but at a much different time. It was a 4:01 finish.
Ryan offered a few reasons for the discrepancy, but most runners wouldn’t buy it and the topic became a hot-button issue for many running forums.
Now, let me be clear: I am in no way advocating for one political party over another. My idea of purgatory is a nonstop political debate. To non-runners, this really is a non-issue. I’ve talked to many and they really don’t see what the big deal is, and to an extent they’re right. There are far more important issues to address before we cast our votes. But this incident is still lingers for several reasons.
First, many runners found it hard to believe that Ryan would confuse his finish time with that of his brother’s, which was one of his explanations for the misstatement.
I admit that I have yet to meet a runner who doesn’t remember his or her first marathon finish time. It’s a monumental achievement whether it’s your first and only or your first of many. Ask any runner what his first marathon time was and he will tell you down to the second. Many can even recite to you their mile splits as well as a mile-by-mile playback of every side stitch and blister they encountered along the way.
Some explain Ryan’s mistaken time by claiming he ran the race so long ago that his memory is bound to be a bit unclear. I’ll admit that there are some races I remember vividly and others I remember through a veil of fog. But I remember my finish times. It’s understandable, after many years, to forget precise finish times, but the difference between a four-hour marathon and a sub three-hour is huge. Too huge for many marathoners brush off.
Running a sub three-hour marathon is hard. Really hard. So hard that only 2 percent of marathoners ever run their way into this exclusive club. It takes more than talent to run this fast. It takes discipline and dedication. A sub-three-hour finish may not guarantee you a spot at the Olympics, but it definitely takes you to elite circles.
Some runners are upset because Ryan claimed something he didn’t earn, mistakenly or not.
There is nothing wrong with a four-hour marathon. There isn’t a marathoner out there who wouldn’t respect a four-hour finish. That is quite a good time, in fact. It’s still above the average finish time, and those miles are earned as much as those run by an elite marathoner. You can’t fake your way through a marathon. Whether you’re running three hours or six hours, you still train. You still sacrifice. You still suffer. Those miles are earned. No matter how slow you finish, you’re always faster than those still sitting on the couch.
This isn’t the first time politics and running have collided. Runner’s World magazine frequently highlights politicians who have run various distances. When John Kerry was the vice presidential nominee, he claimed to have run the Boston Marathon. No one could find records verifying this and runners fumed feeling that he claimed an honor he did not earn.
For me, running is a competition against myself and the clock. For others, it’s an escape and they never race, but they are runners nonetheless. There is no need for exaggeration. There is no need to run faster to impress other runners. To exaggerate a finish time is to say that the actual finish time wasn’t good enough. It also diminishes the accomplishments of those whose talents and sacrifices did earn them those sub-three-hour finishes, and that is what sparked the fiery response from runners.
I commend anyone, politician or not, who takes care of his body and mind with a good run. Ryan’s marathon, whether three hours or four, is one race he won simply because he finished and he should be proud of the time he earned.
Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner who would much rather be in a road race than a political race.

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