Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

What Ryan's marathon 'Oops' tells us

By Jeff Pearlman, Special to CNN
updated 12:02 PM EDT, Wed September 5, 2012
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
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
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.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
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.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
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?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT