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A little story about Paul Ryan and the right wing epistemic bubble


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Since it’s possible we soon won’t have Paul Ryan to kick around any more I wanted to pass along this tiny bit of internet ethnography.

A guy I know who is a mega-poster on a sports message board (I will stipulate in advance that this post is to some degree nut-picking) posted this on Saturday:

Is Paul Ryan running in the Chicago Marathon today? Love seeing politicians who can run a 2:30. It’s impressive.

This guy was not being sarcastic. He really thinks that Paul Ryan has, and perhaps still can, run a 2:30 marathon. And where would he get that idea? Four years ago, when he was being drooled over by much of the national media, Ryan had this exchange with Hugh Hewitt on Hewitt’s radio show:

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.

This exchange was typical of the many media stories at time featuring Paul Ryan, Visionary Young Leader and exemplar of physical and mental fitness.

The problem with this particular story is that it was complete bullshit of the most egregious kind, as Ryan was soon forced to admit, when confronted with the fact that his only marathon performance was a race he ran in at the age of 20, when he recorded a time of 4:01:25.

Now if you’re not somebody who has run road races it may be hard to grasp just what a fantastic (and laughably offensive, to runners anyway) lie this was. To get a sense of the scale, somebody who ran a 2:55 marathon in Chicago on Friday would have finished just outside the 99th percentile of finishers (573rd out of about 42,000 runners), while someone running Ryan’s time, when he was a 20 year old man — the Chicago marathon is run by people of all ages and genders — would barely crack the top 13,000 finishers.

To put it in terms of another sport, it’s as if Ryan had claimed that in high school he had been an all-state basketball player who received scholarship offers from some DII schools, when in fact he was actually a bench warmer who only occasionally got into a few games.

In other words, this couldn’t possibly be a case of faulty memory, since his claimed performance was on an exponentially higher level than his actual performance. Furthermore, people who run road races and especially marathons remember their best times perfectly well.

On one level, who cares, right? I mean lying about your road race times is a venalvenial sin as these things go, I suppose, although as someone who used to run road races I find this kind of outrageous exaggeration about a trivial matter to be especially telling, precisely because it is so trivial in the grander scheme.

But what I find interesting is that my sports message board buddy — a fanatical Clinton hater, of course, as well as a big Paul Ryan fan — has translated this sorry little saga into an incredibly exaggerated achievement on Ryan’s part, and in exactly the opposite direction! A time of 2:30 would have put Ryan in the top 50 of all finishers, out of 42,000, in Chicago, and it would have placed him first — number one — among the nearly 3,000 45-49 year old men who ran the race (Ryan is 46. In other words, it’s likely that there isn’t a single man Ryan’s age anywhere in the United States, or possibly even the world, who could run a 2:30 marathon at present. ETA: Denverite cites some stats on hyper-elite middle-aged marathon runners indicating that the claim above is probably only true if it applies strictly to 46-year-old Americans. We could probably train up a 46-year-old to break 2:30 if we made it a national priority, like the moon landing.)

For some reason, this little vignette makes me suspect that, against all odds and evidence, Ryan may escape his present political predicament and live to lie another day.

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