Sunday, September 02, 2012

Paul Ryan, Kip Litton and why you can't run away from running lies

I blame Kip Litton and Paul Ryan for making me miss my long run this morning. I was ready to go to bed last night before midnight, hoping to get up early to escape the heat in DC but I made the mistake of following some links on a social media site. By 2 a.m. I was just putting away the fascinating reading about the unrelated cases of a vice-presidential candidate and a dentist in his late 40s.

Paul Ryan, as it turns out, gave a radio interview recently where it came out that he once ran a marathon. When asked, he said, casually, that he had done a 2:50 or so (um, wow?!). As it turns out, he ran a 4:01 when he was 20, as reported by RW. (I love it when Runner's World is doing U.S. campaign coverage and sparking a bunch of coverage about his fib.

Kip Litton, long the subject of blogs and discussion boards, was the subject of a very lengthy New Yorker feature that was published in early August. The absolute page turner (or in web terms, a screen scroller) sees journalist Mark Singer detail the Michigan man's stunning turnaround into a sub-three marathoner. In short, it asks "Is Kip Litton a Marathon Fraud." It's a runner's version of a short mystery.

Go read the pieces now if you haven't. See you in an hour or so :)

Both Ryan and Litton can't run and hide from the truth. In Ryan's case, it took some digging and reporting to find his past marathon result. For Litton, it proved more so a challenge and it there seems to be a lot of evidence of course cutting (and in one case, when he actually created a race, submitted it to Athlinks, and had a website built with race results). Again, the Internet sluths were on to him.

Me running the MCM in 2009.
Another example (and well documented) is the case of the Jean's Marines, where a group of runners cut the Marine Corps Marathon course so they could 'beat the bridge', a point in the course you had to be past by a deadline so you can finish the marathon.

I've run more than 80 races, 20 marathons and even during in the last 30K, I thought about the runners' code. Long distance running, as a course, can't be governed, every last square inch.  Plenty of opportunities to turn off the path and cut corners. And in races where thousands run, you really hope that the Rosie Ruizs of the world are an abnormality.

Technology in part has helped us create an honor system with some checks. As the Litton case showed, fellow runners used race photographs (now in most races) to piece together the puzzle. Chip timing mats, I believe, are a great check. We may decry gadgets and what they are to running, but most serious runners have a GPS device that will break down any race by the metre. I have every marathon I've ever run on some sort of device or computer.

We runners race against ourselves. We know our limits and we work hard to get faster. Both Litton and Ryan threw up sub-three marathon numbers like they are an easy add to a running resume. As a runner who aspired (and worked, and earned) to run Boston, I see nothing in that cavalier attitude but a big slap to the face to the rest of us, including those who work for running careers just to get to that point. The pain they suffer and the miles they put in the roads are just too much to ignore such dubious claims by others.

In Ryan's case, there is no doubt that there is a world of different (and pain) between a 4 hour and three hour pace. Four hours is tough, three hours is hard for most runners to even aim at.

My PB (and every runner who has them should be able to tell you) is 3:12:36, a time that was earned on the streets, on the course, and though it may be my peak, there's no running away from it.

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