Running a sub-3 hour marathon is an impressive feat. It qualifies you for Boston (in any category). It puts you in the same hour slot as the world record holders. It’s the kind of time that makes you a serious contender in any race. As if completing a marathon isn’t enough cred for bragging rights, completing one in the time it takes most people to complete a half-marathon also gives you enough cachet to do things like wear your race jacket to black tie events, accessorize every outfit with your finisher’s medal and get a tattoo of the road runner meeping “see you sucker!” on the back of your calf so that in future races everyone can admire it as you pass them.

There’s something else about running a sub-3 marathon (or running a marathon at all) that you should know: It’s incredibly hard to lie about. American Vice Presidential candidate* Paul Ryan found this out the hard way a few days ago when he laid claim to a finishing time in “the high twos” in a radio interview and somehow forgot about the invention of the Internet. Runner’s World magazine called his bluff – not hard to do since race times are meticulously tracked and recorded for posterity (or political fact checkers) on the web. It eventually came out that Ryan did indeed run a marathon but it was over 20 years ago and he finished in just over four hours, an accomplishment that would have been impressive… had he not said the other stuff first. Ryan later released a statement saying,

“The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin—who ran Boston last year—reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-three. If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three. He gave me a good ribbing over this at dinner tonight.”

I bet Tobin did! So was this really just a rounding or memory error? Eh, my guess is that Ryan exaggerated it, a time-honored practice in sports. Unfortunately, unlike buffing up your home run record on your intramural baseball team or talking up that one snowboard jump you did that one time on that one hill, race records are not hard to verify and people get exceptionally testy about faking them. Remember all the hullabaloo about Katie Holmes running a marathon a few years ago? Even though she was essentially filmed every step of the way (a time the paparazzi actually came in handy?) people debated for months whether she really ran it, really finished it or really did it without a sports bra (the latter allegation at least appears to be true – my girls chafe in sympathy for her).

Being both an inherent dramatist and a runner, I kinda feel for Ryan. I remember after the very first race I ever ran, a lovely scenic 10K, calling my dad (who was also a runner in his day) and crowing about my awesome time. “I even ran the last mile under six minutes!” I enthused. My dad congratulated me on my race-day adrenaline coup and all would have been fine if I hadn’t kept bragging. Finally one of my friends, who was also in the race, pointed out dryly, “All your splits are online Charlotte.” And so they were! There wasn’t a sub-6 mile anywhere in them. I’d estimated based on my heart-rate monitor watch and “rounded” a couple of minutes off and came up with a time that while it wasn’t an hour+ off the mark, was still not factual. I was really embarrassed, mostly because it wasn’t just a simple mistake. I had exaggerated and I knew it. And that’s not the only time I’ve fudged something. No other examples come immediately to mind but my family is so renown for our embellishing capabilities that my husband has a name for it: “Hilton [my maiden name] hyperbole.” What can I say? I love telling stories.

The thing is, I had recently run a (single) mile in under six minutes — something I was super proud of since my best time in high school was over seven — and had that accomplishment tainted by a couple of friends who swore they too could do it despite not ever running or training for it. “It’s easy!” they bragged as they took off sprinting around the track. They stopped two laps short of a mile. “We beat your time by like 30 seconds!” they boo-yah’ed. “But you didn’t run the whole mile!” I exclaimed. “Yeah, we just got bored. But we totally could have finished those two laps at the same pace.” “But you DIDN’T!” “We could have!” “No you couldn’t!” and so it went on. I was ticked off about that argument for years afterward and that was just arguing with friends about running around a local track.

Bragging and sports (and politics) go hand-in-hand, always have and always will. But we’re not deep sea fishing. We’re not in a hot dog eating competition. We are running and when you run, all you have is your time. Faking your time inherently reduces the accomplishment of everyone who ran and didn’t lie. That was something I had to learn the hard way and I hope Ryan has now too.

What do you think of Paul Ryan’s gaffe? Have you ever exaggerated an athletic achievement? Anyone else naturally prone to exaggeration? Have you ever done something fun/crazy/kooky to commemorate an awesome personal record?

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