By now you have probably heard that Rep. Paul Ryan lied about his marathon time during an interview last week with right-wing radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. Ryan said he used to run marathons before he “hurt a disc in [his] back,” and that he had once run a marathon in “two hour and fifty-something.” Runners World, being that they are a magazine focused on all things running, decided to check this out. What they found was that Ryan had indeed run a marathon once, but he finished in a time that was over an hour slower than what he had said during the radio interview.
Now, his official finishing time of 4:01 is nothing to sneeze at. It’s certainly faster than both of the marathons I’ve done. There would have been no shame in saying, “Yeah, I ran a marathon once and I did okay.” But such an admission clearly didn’t fall in line with Ryan’s concept of himself as a modern-day Adam Smith with washboard abs, so he embellished. A lot.
Actually, I’m pretty sure that you can call what he did “lying,” although his campaign is saying he “misspoke.” To which I – and millions of other runners – say: bullshit. There is a world of difference between running 26.2 miles at a 9:10-per-mile pace and what he claimed to have run, which is a 6:40-per-mile pace. If you don’t think so, then I challenge you to go run a mile in 9:10 and then run a mile in 6:40 and come back and tell me that again.
When I first heard about Paul Ryan’s fake marathon time, I instantly thought of Rosie Ruiz. It turns out, so did Paul Krugman at the New York Times, so I’ll let him summarize her for you:
Remember Rosie Ruiz? In 1980 she was the first woman to cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon — except it turned out that she hadn’t actually run most of the race, that she sneaked onto the course around a mile from the end. Ever since, she has symbolized a particular kind of fraud, in which people claim credit for achieving things they have not, in fact, achieved.
Ruiz, like Ryan, tried to pull this off even though her deception could – and was – easily uncovered. Ruiz crossed the finish line without a drop of sweat on her body and she couldn’t recall her intervals or her split times. None of the other runners recall seeing her around mile 17 or 18, the Wellesley students who traditionally cheer like maniacs for the leading female runner didn’t see her, and two Harvard students said they saw her burst out of the crowd about a half-mile toward the end.
Ruiz and Ryan weren’t satisfied with just fudging their numbers to make themselves seem a little better than they actually were. No, they had to make themselves seem like preternaturally gifted athletes who possess gifts which most of us will never attain no matter how hard we work. They couldn’t just be a little bit better than themselves; they had to be better than everyone else, too.
So why is this a big deal? It’s a big deal because it shows just how comfortable Paul Ryan is with dishonesty. It shows how little he cares about the truth, especially when the truth tarnishes his golden-boy image. He can toss off such an egregious lie with seemingly little concern for the fact that it can be so easily disproven, and it makes you wonder what else the guy is lying about. (Evidently he’s lying about a lot, as evidenced by the armies of fact-checkers who worked themselves into a frenzy over his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.)
Not only that, but it makes him seem small and petty and breathtakingly immature. As my husband put it, all he needs to know about Paul Ryan is that he’s the kind of guy who lies about running a 2:50 marathon. Strip away the politics and think about Paul Ryan as a guy in your office. No one would defend this guy, and why should they? He’s a fool, a liar, a self-aggrandizer. He thinks he is smarter than everyone else. He’s pretty much the worst guy ever, and no one wants to work with him lest he lie about doing his part and take credit for the whole thing.
In the case of Ruiz, she proved that her faux Boston win was not a fluke, considering that she was arrested two years later for embezzling $60,000 from her employer. It makes sense – anyone who feels comfortable telling such an egregious, public lie in one aspect of their life is sure to feel comfortable telling smaller, less disprovable ones in other areas of their lives.
Can I tell you what else bothers me about this? I mean, besides the fact that a politician I don’t like was busted in a lie, which happens just about every single day. What really bothers me about this is that it is so antithetical to the spirit of running as I know it. Running is about competing against previous versions of yourself. It’s about working hard and training and putting in the time to become a stronger runner than you once were. Your health, your strength of heart and mind, your perseverance – these are not qualities that appear the moment you cross the finish line, but are instead the cumulative effect of all of the miles you ran leading up to the finish line.
When you lie about your performance, you have cheated yourself out of all the very real and powerful benefits of being a runner, just for the sake of a moment of glory. And what a cheap moment it is, too, because in the darkest corners of your heart, you will always know the truth. You may succeed in fooling everyone else, but you will always know the truth about yourself and the kind of person you are.
Paul Ryan could have used running as a means to become a better version of himself. Instead he chose that false moment of glory, and in the process showed all of us exactly the kind of person he truly is.