OPINION Paul Ryan: Why Lie?

September 6 2012, 2:59 PM

When the news about Paul Ryan’s exaggerated skills as a marathon runner broke, I couldn’t help but wonder if any more of the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee’s athletic accomplishments were exaggerated. I was, especially, intrigued by the vague claim that he’d climbed 40 Colorado fourteeners. It seemed like an impossible feat for a busy politician who doesn’t even live in this state. Unpredictable weather, alone, would make this boast unbelievable. (I wasn’t the only one who second-guessed him; see this, this, and this.) So I sent a friendly request to the Mitt Romney campaign to learn specifics about Ryan’s hikes. Yes, I wanted to fact-check the number of summits, but I was also interested in his favorite Colorado hike, the one that brings him back to the Centennial State year after year.

I’m still waiting for a response, but Ryan’s team is already amending the claim to other news outlets. As they should, because I’ve lived in Colorado long enough to know that “misremembering” athletic accomplishments is verboten. As in, don’t do it. Ever.

Each time you brag about a run or a bike ride, the person sitting next to you at the bar has done the same workout, probably twice that morning—and twice as fast. Running a marathon isn’t all that impressive. Climbing up—and skiing down—all of the state’s fourteeners is becoming more common. And who doesn’t know someone training for a Half Ironman?

In my experience, people are often as interested in how much/how far/how high as they are keen to hear about how you felt about it. Would you do it again? What’s the best time to go? Is the trail crowded? What’s the sunrise/sunset like at the summit? Turns out, for many Coloradans, it is about quantity and quality. Ryan should take note.

I do understand where the hopeful Veep is coming from. During college, I ran a marathon. At the time, I was so darn proud that I nearly tattooed my time on my left foot. (I ran out of money, thank goodness.) More than 10 years later, I don't remember my time. I’d have to tear through old boxes of personal files to fact-check myself. But here’s the thing: I’m not going to guess. I’m not going to make something up. And I’m not going to lie about some super-human sub-3:00 time. I’m not going to do these things because I’ve forgotten—and I’ve moved on.

But I use the lessons learned during long training runs every day. I'd never be able to report and write an extensive investigative narrative if I hadn't run that race. While writing doesn’t have the physical impact—except for the occasional cramped muscles from sitting too long—the mental stamina needed to ease into a rhythm so that I can tackle a big topic, like foster care or the juvenile justice system, is the same.

I also use that training on Colorado peaks. I’m not an avid climber, but I’ve bagged two fourteener summits…and I’ve failed two other times. Once, while hiking up the backside of Mount Evans, bad weather turned the peak into a windy mess. I’d made the rookie mistake of wearing shorts, and my thighs were covered with red, inflamed welts earned while walking through brambles at the beginning of the hike. I was cold, exhausted, and just not ready to make it to the top. I turned back. And then I returned on another day—with long pants and a better weather report—and made it to the top. That’s the truth. 

So, Mr. Ryan: It's cool that you ran a marathon. It's cool that you tackled some of Colorado’s peaks. But what would really impress me is if you told me the truth. (For the record, I fact-checked myself: I ran the 2001 Fortis Marathon in Rotterdam in 4:36'29.) This isn't a pissing match. One mountain or 40, it's something we'd have in common. Lying about it, though, isn't.

—Image: Mel Brown / Shutterstock.com

Follow senior editor Natasha Gardner on Twitter at @natashajgardner or on Pinterest.