Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

What Ryan's marathon 'Oops' tells us

By Jeff Pearlman, Special to CNN
September 5, 2012 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
Paul Ryan's misstatement of his marathon time shows a casual relationship with truth, says Jeff Pearlman.
Paul Ryan's misstatement of his marathon time shows a casual relationship with truth, says Jeff Pearlman.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jeff Pearlman says one's official marathon record is not something a runner takes lightly
  • So Paul Ryan claiming to have run 26.2 miles in under three hours seemed amazing, he says
  • His time was really 4:01. Ryan says he forgot; Pearlman says this is bogus and a Ryan pattern
  • Pearlman: Ryan getting known for distorting truth, even about his respectable marathon time

Editor's note: Jeff Pearlman is the author of "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton," out in paperback in August. He blogs at jeffpearlman.com. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- I have a confession to make.

In the 2005 Chicago Marathon, I did not finish in 3 hours, 11 minutes.

That's the time I've reported to those who've asked about my PR (Personal Record) and it is, quite frankly, wrong.

I actually ran a 3:12.

The mistake is mine. These days, with those little plastic chips attached to sneakers (they record a runner's time from the moment he crosses the starting line to the finish line -- not merely from the moment the gun goes off), there's a difference between one's stated time and his official time. I was always under the impression that 3:11 was my official time. Then -- oops -- last night I checked. It was, I confess once again, 3:12.

Jeff Pearlman
Jeff Pearlman

Shame, thy name is Pearlman.

This is a long-winded way of saying that Paul Ryan and I have something in common. He, like I, exaggerated his marathon PR as well, recently boasting to conservative talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt of a "two hour and 50-something" clocking over 26.2 miles. When I first heard of the blunder from the Republican vice-presidential candidate, I empathized. Hey, maybe "two hour and 50-something" was actually 3:02. Or even 3:05. I mean, memories get foggy, chips malfunction, the cranial lobes shut down after such a strenuous endeavor.

News: Ryan walks back exaggerated marathon time

Then, ahem, the good folks at Runner's World did a little digging and, eh, ahem, uh -- well, Ryan's time was, ahem, eh, uh -- 4:01:25.

Double glub.

In the congressman's defense, the race occurred 22 years back, in the Duluth-based Grandma's Marathon. That's a long time ago.

And yet -- no. No, no, no, no, no. There is no possible explanation for a four-hour marathoner claming he's a three-hour marathoner. None. Zero. Nilch.

Having been a runner for the last 32 years, and having competed for a season of track and cross country at the University of Delaware (I was arguably one of the nation's worst 100 Division I runners), and having completed 11 marathons, I can tell you -- with 100% certainty -- that when Paul Ryan says (more or less), "Oops, simple mistake," he is full of it.

Fact or fiction? Paul Ryan's RNC speech
Debating the facts in Ryan's RNC speech
Ryan on Obama and Medicare

For those of you who don't run, a 4:01 marathoner insisting he broke three hours is the equivalent of a .220 hitter speaking of a .310 average. It's a retired small-town mayor looking back at his time as a U.S. senator; a dive-bar rock band bragging of once opening for KISS at Madison Square Garden. In this world of ours, there are exaggerations ("She looked just like Halle Berry!"), there are boasts ("Hell, gimme a week in the pool and I'll destroy Michael Phelps!") and there are flat-out, straight-up, no-holds-barred lies.

This is a flat-out, straight-up, no-holds-barred lie.

Of course, in and of itself, perhaps Ryan's fib isn't such a big deal. The world is filled with once-upon-a-time jocks recalling glory that, truth be told, wasn't all that glorious. (Isn't this what high school reunions are made for?)

But when it comes to Wisconsin's favorite son, a lie -- in this case about a marathon time --isn't such an isolated occurrence. In case you missed the Republican convention, Ryan's speech was an unambiguous ode to mistruth. Among other dandies, he ripped the president for ignoring the Simpson-Bowles commission recommendations -- even though Ryan voted against its final report; claimed the American people were "cut out" of stimulus spending when, actually, more than a quarter of all stimulus dollars went for tax relief for workers.

On and on and on and on.

Here's the strangest thing of all: A 4:01:25 marathon is no joke. OK, Paul Ryan was never going to be the next Alberto Salazar or Rod Dixon. But there's something to be said for the mediocre jock who trains his butt off, loads up on energy gel and fights his way through 26.2 miles. Just as easily as lying, the man could have talked about fighting through the wall at 18 miles; about seeing his family cheer him on from the side of the road; about crossing the finish line and feeling downright (hey!) Reaganesque in the moment.

Truth be told, there's no shame in being average.

There's only shame in refusing to accept it.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeff Pearlman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1842 GMT (0242 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 0035 GMT (0835 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT