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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.

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

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