When Lance Armstrong, always looking for a way to keep his public enthralled and credulous at his athletic exploits, retired from bike racing and decided to encroach on my chosen pain-infliction delivery mechanism and run the New York City Marathon, I’m sure I wasn’t alone among runners who harrumphed at the publicity stunt. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who hoped his showing was less than stellar.
Runners well know that running is hard, that even casual running can be a challenge. But riding a bike is as easy or hard as one wishes to make it, and it is nigh well impossible to safely get a good workout on a bike on a public road that hasn’t been closed to vehicular traffic. Riding a bike is better than doing nothing, but a mile of running is about the same as ten on the back of a bike, weaving in and out of traffic, coasting down hills and stopping for traffic lights (on the rare occasion that a bike rider actually accepts that traffic lights apply to him as well as cars).
As it turns out, Armstrong finished his first NYC marathon in just under three hours, which really isn’t half-bad, even for a professional athlete in a conditioning sport. A couple of years later, he ran it in two hours and forty-six minutes. But a buddy of mine, one of my son’s youth soccer coaches, finished the NYC in just two hours and thirty minutes the first year Lance ran it. A regular guy with a real job and real family obligations who is actually a few years older than Lance beat the golden boy by about half an hour. I told my buddy after his feat that he was my hero.
I’ve run one marathon. No, I did not break three hours. I’m much slower than that. I did it in just under four hours, which is actually not bad for a first-time, non-professional runner. I finished in the top third of the whole field, and in the top quarter of my age group (I was 44 at the time). It was pain. Lots of pain. So I dropped back to half-marathons after I worked my way up to the whole enchilada. I might try another one. I turn fifty this year, so might punish myself for the privilege by running another marathon. But maybe not. I’m not sure I have that much masochism left in me.
Paul Ryan recently claimed in an interview (as reported in a Huffington Post article) that he’d run a marathon in less than three hours–“two hour[s] and fifty something” as he put it, implying that it was his best out of several. He was lying. He’s run only one marathon, in 1990 in Duluth, Minnesota, and it took him over four hours. Now I wonder what else is he lying about, and about how smart he really is. Lying about your time in a marathon is just plain stupid. In these internet days, anyone can easily do a fact check on you. And nobody, but nobody, would forget about running a marathon in less than three hours. It is better than a seven-minute mile pace, the rough demarcation line between racing and just running (though the fastest run six-minute miles or less). It was a bald face lie, almost Freudian in its instinctiveness. Ryan wanted to impress. His little id so badly wanted the world to love and respect him, that it fabricated a lie, perhaps one he’d been telling himself for awhile, and then managed to get it past his reasoning censures and into the public sphere.
Conflict, stress, athletic contests, hardship, even political campaigns, are all sometimes credited with building character. Instead, they more generally just reveal it. Ryan lied to make himself look good. What else might he be lying about? It’s a fair political question, as Paul Krugman, the former Enron adviser and economist turned political shill, correctly observed (if for the only reason that it was a Republican who was caught in the lie).
While Ryan flits about the country building support for his candidacy, scaring old folks with his plans to re-engineer Medicare, there is a delicious irony in the name of the marathon he ran and lied about. It was the “Granny” Marathon. It’d be hard to make this stuff up.