Monday, September 03, 2012

Running is Overwhelmingly Honest

It's one of the things I keep repeating: "running is honest', "running is honest", "running is honest". (Imagine I am panting this as a sort of mantra). It is all about personal truth and recognising that whatever dreams you may have about your own special qualities you are never any better than your time. The clock tells how good you are and how you compare with others and it is not susceptible to special pleading. There are no excuses - that is exactly how good you are. How you react is different and a matter of temperament and priorities. You can believe you are capable of much more and so train harder and smarter to improve, or you could accept it and say that you don't (or can't) spare any more time or energy and are happy to be as good as you are within the constraints you have imposed on yourself. Both responses are good, both are honest.

What you cannot do is lie. You cannot make up your times and pretend to be speedier and more athletic than you actually are. It not only goes against all morals and cuts against the reason for putting in the miles. Real runners should not lie. Running is about proving things to yourself. There might be an element of display, talking to others about your times and what you have done, but that happens out of obsession rather that boastfulness. In essence you are trying to find-out your capabilities and that is all that matters.

Running is honest and humbling. You know where you stand in the order of things, The shape of achievement is like a teardrop with most of us in the middle or bottom. For some people, with an inflated opinion of their own abilities (who believe that are born to be special) or a deranged need to be seen by others as exceptional, this is a problem. They might like running but find it is hard to cope with being demonstrably average. So some (I am sure it is a very, very tiny number) are tempted to lie and cheat, ignore the morality of the sport and move to the dark side.

There is a fascinating piece in the New Yorker about a middle aged dentist, Kip Litton, who has gone to enormous trouble to create the persona of a very fast masters runner. Many sub 3s marathons complete with intermediate chip times. However there are few race photos and little corroborating evidence from other runners. There have been doubts and  after investigation disqualifications.The evidence is overwhelming that his times are fictitious but there is still a mystery as to how he did it. He went to enormous trouble to pull off the illusion and even created his own race with other imaginary competitors. But why? I can only guess that he  had some pathological need to be seen as more than a small town dentist leading an average life. I suppose every activity will at some point attract such fabulists.

So what of politicians why would they lie? (Sorry if that seems like a dumb question). They deal in images and pictures, in describing a world that is all sunshine (if their policies are fully implements) and broken and rusting (if the policies of their opponents are implemented). Speeches are full of generalities and suggestion, with the aim of emotional connection rather than reasoned, evidence supported argument. Not quite telling the full truth is a stock in trade. However there is a line between that and telling an outright lie, which is usually observed, even if things are sometimes a bit blurry and sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between a misrepresentation and a falsehood. It is all part of the game. But there seems a chasm in integrity between fudging policy details  and telling a flat-out lie about yourself and your personal history.

Paul Ryan is the vice-president running mate of Mitt Romney and obviously wants to present himself as fit, energetic, and eager. In an interview he was asked if he still ran he replied: 
"Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don't run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or less." When what his personal best is, Ryan replied, "Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something."
Any runner knows this is just not credible. It's not that he might not have been capable of running sub 3 (who knows? He looks very fit) but that if he had done so he would know his precise time. it is not something you forget. You can only run a marathon that quickly after a lot of high quality training. It doesn't just happen. It is the culmination of years of work that dominates large parts of your life and becomes an important part of who you are and how you see yourself. After all that effort as sure as hell you remember your time.

No wonder Runner's World were suspicious and tried to check. In the end they found he had run one marathon in 1990 in 4 hours, 1 minute and 25 seconds. Now that is not bad at all and is a time many people (including myself) would be happy with but it is a world away from sub 3. It is not even the same type of race. It is not fudging your time with a bit of haziness. It is an outright lie

The thing I can't understand is why would he make something like that up. Saying you have run a marathon gets you enough brownie points why would you feel the need to pretend something more? My guess (and it is only a guess based on absolutely no evidence) is that he could not admit to being merely an average runner and was compelled to present himself as super fast. It also suggests he is a fantasist with an inflated idea of his own capabilities. In his dreams he would like to be that quick. So would I but the difference is I know it could never happen. He thinks he can pretend it already has.

I began racking my brains for some British equivalent of a politician who would lie about themselves and thought of Jeffrey Archer and the way he embellished his own biography. The difference is Jeffrey Archer was a genuinely quick athlete who represented Oxford University (although, of course, he was probably not entitled to).

1 comment:

MyRunningLife said...

That was crazy with Paul Ryan, and pretty sad actually. It's a disservice to those who have actually managed to run a sub-3 hour marathon. I like your theme of honesty in running. One thing I thought of was about the honesty of trying to go from one time to a new PB - we might "only" aim to knock 5 minutes off our previous time (although we know how difficult that can be), but we have to work much harder to get there. There is no way to cheat it.

One thing you could have mentioned from the UK, by the way, was the guy in the Kielder Marathon who got on a bus at mile 20...