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The Workout: The Wrath of Runners

Running controversies have been in the news lately. But why would anyone tell a lie about running, especially when members of the online running community are so quick to catch it?

Runners are an odd breed. Even though running is an activity that, for the most part, they do simply for the fun of it, they take the sport very seriously.

When someone breaks the runner code of conduct, they start angrily buzzing like a swarm of killer bees. With the advent of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and various other on-line forums, it doesn't take long for dozens or hundreds of runners to chime in with an opinion.

Alas, Paul Ryan inadvertently stepped on the running hornet's nest when he “misstated” his marathon time, shaving off over an hour. The mistake violated one of the first commandments of running: Thou shalt not fib about race results.

The whole incident began innocently enough. As reported in Runner's World, radio show host Hugh Hewitt noted during an interview that Ryan was a runner and asked him his marathon time. Ryan replied “Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.”

Runners were impressed. For your average runner, that's pretty fast. In fact, to get a 2:50, he would have had to run at a six-and-a-half-minute-per-mile pace for 26.2 miles. No easy feat. Runner's World magazine was ready to declare him the fastest marathon runner ever to stand for national election.

Don't get me wrong, I'd kill to have a 4:01 finish time, and it's still quite a feat. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that he broke the runner's code of conduct.

Alas, he was mistaken. The amateur detectives at the Let's Run message boards, as well as the starff at Runner's World, soon got to work and found no trace of Ryan's sub-three finish. Runner's World managed to find results for Ryan that put him at a slightly less impressive 4:01.

Don't get me wrong, I'd kill to have a 4:01 finish time, and it's still quite a feat. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that he broke the runner's code of conduct.

Unfortunately, there have been marathon deceits on both sides of the aisle: John Kerry falsely claimed several years ago that he ran the Boston Marathon. He did not, breaking another cardinal rule: do not claim to have run a race that you have not, in fact, done.

John Kerry's boast, however, came several years ago, before race results were readily available on the internet, and before there were forums like the ones on Let's Run and Runner's World where individuals can share information and opinions instantaneously. These days, someone caught blurring the truth can expect a swift comeuppance online.

For a quick primer on the power of the online running community, Paul Ryan would have done well to read the recent New Yorker article about the bizarre case of alleged cheating involving a Michigan runner named Kip Litton. It's a fascinating read. 

Even a slow runner runner such as yours truly could probably finish a marathon in the time that it would take to manufacture a fake one.

The Litton controversy first came to public light on the Let's Run message boards, an online community for runners to share information. As the New Yorker article chronicles, a runner began a thread on the forum questioning Litton's marathon accomplishments. Let's Run readers were on the case quickly, examining race results and race photos online to uncover some unusual things: abnormal split times, no photos of the runner in question during the middle of races, and in some cases, complete outfit changes between what the runner was wearing at the start and what he was wearing at the finish, including different shoes.

The readers of the Let's Run forum investigated more. In what has to be the most bizarre twist, they discovered that some of the races Litton had claimed to run (and one he claimed to have won) didn't even exist.

That's right: Litton apparently created a fake marathon. There was a fake website with a fake race description and fake race results listing the names and hometowns of fake runners. There were even fake reviews of the fake race posted by fake participants.

It must have taken hours to create. Even a slow runner runner such as yours truly could probably finish a marathon in the time that it would take to manufacture a fake one.

Which brings us to the question of why? Why would anyone lie about running? Why bother? In the case of Paul Ryan, and the earlier incident involving John Kerry, it was most likely a spur-of-the-moment slip instead of a deliberate choice. Still, the running community was not pleased and howled in protest.

Will Ryan's mistake have an impact on the election? Probably not, but I don't expect runners will let the issue die. Already some quick-witted folks have seized the opportunity and created the very clever Paul Ryan Marathon Time Calculator.

One thing is certain, though. There are plenty of runners out there who are fiercely loyal to the sport and are happy to spend hours tracking down anyone who is suspected of cheating. Once they are on the scent, no one, no matter how fast, can escape them. So to anyone who might mis-state, mis-remember, or plain old make up results, to appropriate a phrase from Nike, Just Don't Do It.  

2:5?! September 08, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Unverified Rumor: Ryan's new Secret Service code name is "TwoFiftySump'n".

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