Saturday, September 1, 2012

Lying About Your Times: Slightly Political Edition

Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan has recently been caught in a lie. I want to be clear, I'm not going to use this platform to jump up and down politically, so this post has nothing to do with the five provable lies he told during his RNC speech. This is about a lie he told on a radio show about his marathon time.
 Ryan, a devotee of P90X, went on Hugh Hewitt's radio show last month and told the host he ran a marathon back in 1990 in "two hour and fifty-something." Blazing fast for an amateur runner. That's holding a sub-seven minute mile pace for 26.2 miles. Super fast! Probably the fastest man ever to run (get it?) for national office.
Then this showed up. Runners World reported that Ryan actually ran that marathon in just over four hours. Ryan's response is that he should have rounded his marathon time to four hours, not three. I want to leave aside that I'm teaching rounding to fourth graders this week and they would faaaaaiiiiiil if they came up with an answer like that and focus on what I see as the more important aspect of this story:
A four-something marathon is a damn good marathon. A person does not complain about a four-something marathon. If I told my friends (and strangers because I would talk about it to anyone who even looked like they were going to ask) that I ran a four low marathon I would expect them to be properly impressed. It is impressive.
Here is the other thing: You don't forget times like that. You might forget the exact minutes, but you remember the basics. You can estimate your time pretty accurately. You don't misremember by an hour.
Example- My first half marathon was the Hapalua, and I did it in about 2:45. I don't think that is exact, but it is pretty damn close. You're going to have to trust me that I didn't look back and check. My Half Ironman time was, I think, right under seven hours. I'd guess 6:53. And the half marathon in that race was slower than the Hapalua, so it was probably about 2:50-something. Not fast. Not at all. My running race times have never been fast. If I was motivated to lie about a time, those would be the times I would lie about. I could stand to sound a little faster, and it would still be believable. I could lie about my swims, but even the swims I consider bad or slow aren't really. Lying about swim times would just piss off my non-swimmer friends more.
The thing is, I don't really care about time too much. I have yet to judge someone based on their time in any event. What a crappy thing to do. My opinion of you changes not one iota if you run a 5k off the bike in 18 minutes or 38 minutes. I don't think I'm alone in that.
So why lie about your time? And it is a lie. It was not a misspeak or a mistake. A runner remembers.
Fish stories are funny because you overestimate the size of your catch. That is part of the fun of fishing. No one can prove it, "Oh yeah, I had to throw him back. Already caught my limit." Everybody laughs.
Runners though, we know. And we care. Because, unlike fishing, we have a ton of control over the result. Training, nutrition, mental preparation, thousands of tiny things that need to be fiddled with and fine-tuned and corrected. The result of all that work is something we take pride in.
When a race doesn't go the way we planned endurance athletes delight in going into extreme detail about what went wrong! The second best thing* about telling a race story is talking about the damn cramp at mile seven, dropping your GU at the start, crashing your bike, having something to blame the time on! Complaining about race problems is humblebragging at it's best. "Yeah, I was right at the start of my HALF IRONMAN bike and the chain fell off the bike. I had to stop, fix it, and then worry about it happening again for the next 56 MILES. So that is why I was so slow during the HALF IRONMAN I DID THAT YOU DIDN'T DO."
So yeah, it bothers me that Paul Ryan lied about his marathon time. I think it speaks to deeper self-dissatisfaction, dishonesty, and a pathological need to impress us. It wasn't enough that he ran a marathon. It wasn't even enough that with a low four he probably finished in the top 50% of the field. My earlier statement is probably still true. He is probably the fastest marathoner to run (get it?) for national office. But that wasn't good enough for him. Rather than train harder and do better next time, rather than be proud he accomplished something so few people do, he lied about it. And he got caught. Of course he did because come on, pain is temporary, but race results live forever on the internet.

*the best thing about telling a race story is talking about all the people you passed and choosing whether or not to mention that one of those people was an 81 year old woman with one leg who somehow beat you out of the water and off the bike. I would mention it, makes the story funnier. Ryan would not mention it, or she would become a 24 year-old Chrissie Wellington-clone in his version.


  1. I'm convinced that most politicians, regardless of party, are pathological liars. Indeed, you also hit the nail on the head when you said Lyin' Ryan has a pathological need to impress others, but again, doesn't this seem to characterize all politicians. I think his problem is ever worse, he is BAD at lying, because he thinks everyone is too stupid to catch him on his lies. Problem is, most of the Rich whites think just like him and see no problem with lying to win, and the poor whites are too stupid to even question his lies.

  2. I agree with the Grey. The other side has some pretty good whoppers too!