From the Archive: Finish Times Don’t Matter: Integrity Does

This column written in 2012 actually never saw the light of day.  It was a little too controversial for a happy little running column.  So I shelved it where it has sat for five years.   I stumbled upon it this afternoon looking through my archives and was surprised by how relevant it seems today.

Let me be clear- while this is about a political candidate, this is NOT a political post.  I am NOT advocating for the right or the left (although if you know me at all, my political leanings are no secret).  In fact, when I wrote this I was rooting for the Republican nominee.  In my voting life I’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans equally. With the exception of the most recent presidential election, I have voted for the winning party every time since Bill Clinton.

No, this column is about honesty.  It’s about integrity.  It’s about owning our successes outright.  It’s about celebrating the sacrifice, dedication, and effort that goes in to running a race- not the finish time.  It’s about telling the truth.

Read on to see what politics has to do with running.

I really hate it when worlds collide.

Remember seeing your teachers out in public? Seeing them at the grocery store was like spotting a giraffe in the garage. Very unsettling.

So imagine how shaken my reality became when recently the two very separate worlds of politics and running crashed into each other.

Running is my refuge. It’s where I turn to when I need to clear my head and release the tension that has built up in my neck from the day’s stressors. It’s the one place I can go to escape the non-stop political discussions that seem to dominate the news feeds. Yes, it is election season, but we all could use a breather once in awhile.

But with Paul Ryan’s recent claim to marathoning fame, it was a little harder to find that escape. The issue causing upheaval in the running world? Ryan’s claim that he ran a sub-3 hour marathon years ago. He stated he couldn’t remember the exact time. Around 2:50-ish, he said.

This being a presidential election cycle, and Ryan being a V.P. candidate, every fact must be checked and double-checked. What was uncovered was the fact that he did, indeed, run a marathon but at a much slower time. It was a 4:01 finish.

Now, let me be clear. I am in no way advocating for one political party over another. My idea of purgatory is a non-stop political debate. But this incident sparked hot debate among runners, so allow me to throw in my two cents.

What this has to do with the election is up to the individual. My problem with this situation isn’t political. My problem is with the implication of the lie. The first- running a sub-3 hour marathon is easy. The second- running anything slower is awful enough to lie about.

And it was a lie. To non-runners, this really is a non-issue. I’ve talked to many and they really don’t see what the big deal is, and to an extent they’re right. There are far more important issues to address before we cast our votes.

But bring this up in the running community and you will get a discussion as heated as any on bail-outs or immigration. I’m only slightly exaggerating.

Ask any runner who’s run a marathon what their first marathon time was and they will tell you down to the second. Many can even recite to you their mile splits as well as a mile-by-mile playback of every side stitch and blister they encountered along the way.

Some made the feeble attempt to explain Ryan’s “mistake” by claiming he ran the race so long ago that his memory is bound to be a bit unclear. I’ll admit that there are some races I remember deep in my bones and others I remember through a veil of fog. It’s understandable, after many years, to forget precise finish times, but the difference between a 4-hour marathon and a sub-3 is huge.

Running a sub-3 hour marathon is hard. So hard that only 2% of marathoners ever run their way into this exclusive club. It takes more than talent to run this fast. It takes discipline, dedication, and some really good running genes.

There is nothing wrong with a 4-hour marathon. That is quite a good time, in fact. It’s still above the average finish time, and those miles are earned as much as those run by an elite marathoner. You can’t fake your way through a marathon. Whether you’re running three hours or six hours, you still train. You still sacrifice. You still suffer. Those miles are earned. No matter what your finish time is, you’re always faster than those still sitting on the couch.

Runners are upset because Ryan claimed something he didn’t earn. Why he would lie is unclear. There isn’t a marathoner out there who wouldn’t respect a 4-hour finish.

For me, running is a competition against myself and the clock. For others it’s an escape and they never race, but they are runners, nonetheless. There is no need for exaggeration. There is no need to fudge times to impress other runners. To lie about a finish time is to say that the result wasn’t good enough. It casts a shadow on those who own that finish time. It also diminishes the accomplishments of those whose talents and sacrifices did earn them those sub-3 hour finishes.

I commend anyone, politician or not, who takes care of their body and mind with a good run. Speed isn’t a factor. Integrity is.

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