In fact, most people do not lie, said Michael Sachs, an exercise psychologist at Temple University. That is one reason athletes often are so outraged when they catch someone who fibs about his or her performance in a competition. And these lies are easily discovered now that race times are posted on the Internet. Often athletes are quite cognizant of these results, tracking one another’s successes and failures.
So it should come as no surprise that Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, was called out recently when he told a radio interviewer he had run a marathon in around 2 hours 50 minutes.
Runners reacted with some scathing comments. “He probably omitted the ‘Half’ portion of the race title,” said a poster to a forum at LetsRun.com. Mr. Ryan is not alone, of course, in substantially misstating his achievement.
“Everybody like me who has been doing sports at a high level since they were teenagers can give you four or five or six examples” of extravagant liars, said Dr. Michael Joyner, a Mayo Clinic researcher who competes in triathlons. But gross exaggerations seem to be the exception. More common are those who shave a few minutes off their times or perhaps add just a few pounds to the amount they can bench press.
Often there are milestones — bench pressing 300 pounds is one, Dr. Raglin said, or breaking 4 hours or 3 1/2 hours in a marathon. Some who just miss are tempted to say they made those milestones. “They want to present themselves in an overly optimistic way,” said Dan Ariely, a behavioral economics professor at Duke who has studied lying. Often, he added, those who shave a few minutes off a marathon finish rationalize that the faster time actually was their real time: They were just delayed a bit because they had a cramp early in the race, or they did not feel good so they stopped for a couple of minutes. They decide they can honestly just discount those few minutes when they state their time.
“People find excuses,” Dr. Ariely said, and those who dissemble often start believing their own lies.