It was an innocent enough exchange. Talk show host Hugh Hewitt asked workout devotee (and Republican vice-presidential candidate!) Paul Ryan what his best marathon time had been. Ryan replied with what seemed modest vagueness, saying that it was “under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.”
Hewitt was impressed.
“Holy smoke!” he said.
As it turned out, Ryan was fibbing – and then some. He had indeed finished a Minnesota marathon in 1990, but his time was recorded as 4:01. Given that he probably lost a couple of minutes at the start, his actual time was likely around 3:58.
Seems like an excusable error, doesn’t it? Two something, three something – what’s the difference? To non-jocks, it’s as insignificant as missing an appointment because you thought it was at 3 p.m. instead of 2 p.m.
But to the vast fraternity/sorority of the somewhat athletic, including marathon runners, cyclists, fitness fanatics, former jocks, casual runners and weekend warriors of all kinds, it’s pretty telling.
I’ve run three marathons (Portland, Chicago and Denver), one Pikes Peak round trip, and several Pikes Peak ascents, as well as dozens of 5Ks, 10Ks and half-marathons. I remember my best performances as if they were yesterday, and I’ve conveniently forgotten the bad ones. But when I checked on those remembered times, they were slightly worse than my recollection.
I thought that my best ascent time was, as Paul Ryan might have said, just under 4:10. Alas, it was just under 4:20. I also remembered running Bolder Boulder in a little over 50 minutes – well, 54:30 is pretty close to 50, isn’t it?
Memory plays tricks, and I suspect that we all exaggerate a bit.
But clipping an hour off your marathon time? That’s pretty bold, especially if your real time wasn’t awful.
On the local stage, you could never get away with it. Every moderately serious runner in town knows who can run a sub-3:00, and any post-marathon braggadocio would be quickly uncovered.
After I finished my first and fastest Pikes Peak ascent, I ran into Bob McAndrews, who ruled our age group for two decades.
“You were up a lot faster than I expected,” he said.
Never mind that McAndrews had finished in 2:49, second in our age group, while my time put me at 49th – coming from a really fast guy, that was praise indeed.
Mid-pack runners know their limitations, treasure their good times and admire their betters. You might want to run 2:55, and you might claim a 3:58 marathon if you ran a 4:05, but a 2:55?
That’d be like showing USOC boss Scott Blackmun your fake Olympic gold medal. Eventually, the truth would come out.
I suspect that Ryan identifies himself as an elite participant in everything that he attempts that he long ago internalized this particular lie. Of necessity, politicians have to tell a lot of whoppers, both in claiming credit for good things and blaming others for bad things.
Even if you’re a brilliant and capable member of the House of Representatives, it’s hard to differentiate yourself from the amorphous political mass. And since most Americans regard Congress with the same disdain that marathoners regard overweight couch potatoes (as in, why can’t they just get off their fat butts and get it together??!!), it’s even harder to shine.
Ryan solved that problem by authoring a serious plan to fix the nation’s faltering economy. You or I may think it makes no sense, but millions of conservative Republicans love it.
So here he is, prancing happily on the national stage. It’s quite an achievement – an achievement worthy of a sub-three hour marathoner. So why not claim that sub-three marathon that he could have/might have/must have run 22 years ago?
Who’ll know? After all, that was before Al Gore invented the internet, so the actual time would have long disappeared…into the mists of time.