This blog is predicated on the idea that there is some bleed-over between the values and practices of running and the values and practices of life. This bleed-over has now caught the nation's attention with the whole Paul Ryan marathon controversy. Even Nobel-Laureate and (let's face it) Democratic party shill Paul Krugman, who I doubt has much experience with running, has weighed in with his opinion.
All of my readers will be familiar by now with Paul Ryan's lopping an hour off of his marathon time. Runners don't like this, especially because Ryan laid claim to the holy grail of recreational running -- the three hour marathon. We know what it takes to run under three hours in the marathon. It's a pretty sacred line to cross as flippantly as Ryan did.
Whether Ryan was oblivious to the sacredness of that line or whether he chose to say he ran in the 2:50s because of that sacredness is something we will never know for sure.
But here's the question that's been nagging at me about this whole thing. There seems to me to be something false about the attempt to deduce a larger claim about Ryan's propensity to the truth in general from this simple statement. Is Ryan's statement a window into his soul or not? Krugman seems to think it is. I am less sure about that.
I've been around enough runners and competitive athletes to want to give Ryan the benefit of the doubt. There is something about overly competitive male individuals (and Ryan does seem to be one of these) that makes them go literally insane when sports are discussed -- much less competed in. I've known many a mild-mannered conscientious dude in ordinary life, who when put into a competitive situation becomes a strange kind of monster, willing to do pretty much anything to WIN. It seems to me that in most cases this sort of character flaw (and it is a flaw, and an odious one) seems to be isolated to the game or sport situation.
Perhaps the classic example of this is John McEnroe. As a sports announcer, the guy is witty, intelligent, nuanced, funny. As an athlete, he was a first class a-hole.
I spoke about this in my last post on Lance Armstrong. For the most part, it's best to keep the lines between sport and life as clear as possible. When they get muddied up all sorts of bad things happen. We start imagining life as a sort of competitive game about accumulating points. And, from the other side, we tend to idolize and hold up athletes as paragons of human behavior. Neither of these ways of thinking are wise.
So, on behalf of the sport/life distinction, I am going to give Ryan a pass on this one as a politician and as a human being. The athlete in me is still pissed that Ryan even considers associating himself with those who take the 3 hour marathon seriously and wonders a bit about his claim to have ascended forty 14ers in Colorado.
But is Ryan a "liar" now? Naw. I'm not ready to go there. I just wouldn't want to play ping-pong with the guy.