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Before running for VP, Ryan ran Grandma's -- but not sub-3

Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)1 / 2
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's name appears in the Duluth News Tribune Grandma's Marathon souvenir section from Sunday, June 24, 1990, with a time of 4:01:25.2 / 2

The Republican candidate for vice president once ran in a nonpolitical marathon: Grandma's.

Paul Ryan was a 20-year-old college student when he ran the 1990 Grandma's Marathon in Duluth in a time of 4 hours, 1 minute and 25 seconds, a Ryan campaign spokesman confirmed for the News Tribune.

It was the only marathon Ryan ever ran, spokesman Brendan Buck said in an e-mail.

News that Ryan, now 42, completed Grandma's Marathon came in a roundabout way from a not-too-surprising origin: a politician overstating his accomplishments.

It started Aug. 22 during a nationally syndicated radio program, when the Wisconsin congressman told host Hugh Hewitt he had run marathons.

"What's your personal best?" Hewitt asked, according to a transcript of the show.

"Under three, high twos," Ryan said, referring to finishing in less than three hours. "I had a two hour and fifty-(minute) something."

That got the attention of Runner's World magazine, which did some fact-checking. It could find only one marathon and one time for Ryan: the 4:01:25 on June 23, 1990. Ryan's name and time were printed in the following day's News Tribune, along with all the other marathon finishers.

Ryan's exaggeration drew the ire of runners who posted on the magazine's website. "No one confuses a 4:01 with a sub-3. No one," read one comment; "It's kind of cool that he ran a marathon but that quickly gets squashed by him lying about it. He should be proud of his time and his accomplishment," read another. The reactions prompted a quick retraction from the candidate, picked last month as Mitt Romney's running mate.

"The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin -- who ran Boston last year -- reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-three," Ryan said in a statement. "If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three."

Bob Gustafson, Grandma's Marathon's publicity director, said he searched for Ryan's name but couldn't find it after getting a couple of inquiries Friday. That's because he was searching for times faster than 3 hours, he said.

But the less impressive time doesn't diminish the core accomplishment of completing a marathon, Grandma's officials said.

"Anybody who can finish a marathon, it's a respectable time," executive director Scott Keenan said Saturday. "To go 26.2 miles is not a bad deal for anybody to do it."

Ryan attended college at Miami University of Ohio. He was living in Minneapolis and working at Oscar Mayer, a division of Kraft Foods, during the summer when he competed in Grandma's Marathon, Buck said. Ryan was one of about 4,400 runners to start that race, passing thousands of spectators as he ran along the shore of Lake Superior, down London Road and Superior Street and through Canal Park.

Other celebrities, or future celebrities, have run the race, including Paul Wellstone before he was elected a U.S. senator from Minnesota, and Alan Page late in his football career but well before his days as a Minnesota Supreme Court justice, Keenan said. This year, Duluth native and two-time Olympian Kara Goucher won the USA Half Marathon Championships women's race, held in conjunction with Grandma's Marathon.

There's really no telling what current celebrities might have run in Grandma's at one time or another, Keenan said.

"We're one of the older marathons in the United States," Keenan said of the race, which marked its 36th running in 2012. "Over those years there's a lot of people who have participated in it, and that's a good thing."

But Keenan and Gustafson agreed one thing is almost certain: If Ryan is elected vice president, he'll be the first U.S. vice president to have finished Grandma's Marathon.