The importance of lying wisely

September 2, 2012 § 27 Comments

When it comes to lying, we all get a pass virtually all of the time. There’s no other way we’d make it through the day.

[Middle of bike race] “How’s it going?”

[Can barely keep from falling over] “Fine, you?”

[Customer] “Will these wheels make me faster?”

[Clerk] “Absolutely.”

[Guy with a huge inheritance] “Was it good for you?”

[Chick on first date] “It was unbelievable.”

[Wife] “Do these jeans make my butt look fat?”

[You] “No.”

The vast majority of our lies are permissive lies. The person receiving the lie knows it’s a lie, and in fact prefers the deception to the truth. Don’t believe me? Try answering “yes” to that last question the next time you’re asked.

Off limits lying

There is another group of lies that is off limits. You aren’t allowed to tell these lies unless you’re also prepared for a shitstorm of consequences if and when the truth comes out. Fortunately, this type of lie often comes with lots of warning signs. For example, if it says “Signed under penalty of perjury,” even if you don’t know exactly what perjury is, you sure as hell understand “penalty.”

Other little indicators are when, prior to being asked the question, someone commands you to “Raise your right hand.” In the personal sphere, off limits lies may be indicated when the questioner has her hands on her hips, or on a skillet, or on the trigger.

Sports lies and the lying liars who tell them

Political speech has for so long been exempt from any requirement of veracity that it is superfluous to remark after a debate or press release or interview, “He was lying.” Of course he was lying. He’s a politician. If we’d wanted someone to tell us the truth about our crumbling society and the sacrifices it will take to fix it, we’d have hired Mother Teresa.

At the other end of politics, where veracity is punished with getting booted from office, we have the world of sports. For the most part, sports, and especially professional sports, are also filled with lies and liars.

[Coach] “I’m not sure he’ll be ready in time for the big game tomorrow.”

[Player] “I didn’t bet on the outcome of my own games.”

[Announcer] “This game is going to be a thriller!”

However, and it’s a big however, there is one sport where mendaciousness will get you excommunicated once and for all and forever if you’re ever caught in the lie. The sport is running. The lie is about your time.

Why runners are so whacko about times

In cycling, you can pretty much fake anything, even in the “race of truth.” Spend enough money on equipment, or on a coach, or on “supplements,” and you can eke out a marginal improvement over what you did previously.

In mass start events it’s even easier. Get lucky and make the break. Sit wheels the whole race and sprint at the end. Have your teammates work their hearts out so that you can cruise in at the finale. Leapfrog your way from 50th to 25th in the last half-lap.

Running? Not so much.

Running is simply a sport of minutes and seconds, and the great unwashed majority of runners live and die by how much time it takes to complete a course. This is one reason that runners rarely suffer from the “professional masters racing syndrome” common among cyclists. As a runner, you know your PR. You know the times of your competition. They are either within reach (rarely, if ever) or completely beyond anything you could even think about doing in your wildest, craziest fantasy.

The hardest of the hard core

Of all the running disciplines, none approaches the majesty and respect of the marathon. The marathon is such a dreaded and awful event that millions and millions of first-rate athletes will never even attempt it, so terrible is its reputation. Those who do run a marathon invariably mark it as one of their signal athletic achievements. It is a high watermark of ability, endurance, preparation, and toughness, irrespective of the time it takes to finish.

Hence, the finishing time for a marathoner is unforgettable. It’s an indelible number, down to the second. This is partly a function of the horrific nature of the event, but it’s also a function of the preparation that such an event entails.

In order to run a marathon, you have to know how quickly you can run a mile. Those one-mile splits that you become intimately familiar with in training become the yardstick for your finishing time. There has never been a marathoner who did not know, prior to ever doing the race, a close approximation of their best possible finishing time.

In fact, the act of running the marathon is a mental and physical game of hewing as closely to your splits as possible. The worst thing you can do is to start off way under your splits. You’ll melt like cheese on a griddle.

No marathoner has ever been, or ever will be, confused about their finishing time

When you run a marathon, you will either be close to your estimated best time or horribly slower due to weather, injury, illness, starting too quickly, terrain, nutrition, or any other number of factors that can ruin you on race day.

What will never, ever happen is that, after thorough preparation, you will run an hour faster than your best estimated time. It’s not not humanly possible, and it’s easy to see why: If you were targeting a four-hour marathon, you’d need to run 9:10 miles. If you were targeting a sub-three hour marathon, say a 2:55:00, you’d need to run each mile in 6:41.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been beaten repeatedly about the testicles with a giant block of concrete, or if you’ve ever had root canal surgery without anesthesia, or if you’ve ever given birth through your anus, but that’s the pain differential for a person who runs 9:10 splits suddenly having to run even a handful of 6:41 miles.

Let alone the physical impossibility of suddenly churning out a string of 6:41’s, the mental impossibility is much greater, as if it even made sense to speak of degrees of impossibility. What’s clear to anyone who’s ever run a mile is that you can’t suddenly, or gradually, shave minutes off your splits in a marathon.

The anchor in the runner’s sanity

This is why, on average, runners are less batshit crazy than cyclists. They know that there’s no way they will ever go from running 9:10 splits to 6:41 splits, no matter how fancy the shoes, the coach, or the drugs. And because your times admit of so little improvement once you’ve become a conditioned runner, lying about those times takes on an outrageousness that can scarcely be described.

Lying about your race time is not simply ignoble, it is a complete repudiation of the suffering and preparation that is marathoning.

Cyclists, of course, lie all the time about everything. Runners? Not about their marathon times, because it makes a mockery of your fellow runner and, if uncovered, makes a mockery of you. You don’t simply become a gassy liar who can’t be trusted to recount his race time, like some douchebag golfer who kicks the ball and shaves strokes, you become the antithesis of integrity, the noxious weed that, if left unchecked, will overgrow the entire garden.

Once a marathoner gets away with lying about their time, the game is over for everyone, because in running, the game is the time.

How hard is it to run a sub-three hour marathon?

Consider this quote, from a guy who finished his first New York Marathon in 2:59:36. “…that was without a doubt the hardest physical thing I have ever done.”

The runner? Seven-time-strippee-of-the-TdF Lance Armstrong.

Breaking three hours in a marathon is so far beyond the realm of the possible for the vast majority of runners that, if you’re lucky enough and talented enough and dedicated enough to actually do it, it is a lifetime milestone. You would more easily forget the first time you got laid, or your birthday, than you would forget the time of your sub-three hour marathon, down to the second, especially if it was the only marathon you ever ran.

Which brings up another point. Unless you’ve run dozens of them, you remember every marathon you’ve ever run. And even more importantly, if you’ve only run one marathon, there’s no way on God’s green earth that you would ever, ever, ever think that you’d run several. It’s as impossible as thinking you’d gotten both legs amputated instead of just one.

So now the table is set. Dinner is served. Everyone, please come to the table and enjoy a helping of a lie so sick, so twisted, so profoundly fucked up, and so indicative of scumbaggery that when you read it, it should make your stomach turn.

Interviewer Hugh Hewitt: Are you still running?

Vice-Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or [less].

Hewitt: But you did run marathons at some point?

Ryan: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.

Hewitt: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?

Ryan: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.

Hewitt: Holy smokes.

Ryan:I was fast when I was younger, yeah.

As we all now know, Ryan has only run one marathon, not “marathons.” And as we also know, his time was not 2:50-something, it was 4:01, a lie which should now speak, quite loudly, for itself.

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