September 22, 2014

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Cor. 9:24, 25

I’ve heard about ultramarathons, runs that go for more (usually much more) than the usual 26.2 marathon miles. And I recently read about ultramarathoners who are increasingly taking to the trails of the national parks for their epic adventures. And why not, since these places are among the most beautiful landscapes in the country.

While I hate to run, and the thought of all that sprinting over miles and miles makes me want to take a nap, I was fascinated to read there’s a website that unofficially keeps track of the FKT, or fastest known time, of different ultramarathon challenges not just in America’s national parks but all over the world. It seems to be an online community that shares information on different routes and comes up with new ones every year, and is also a place to claim bragging rights.

The problem with bragging rights, though, is that they often last only a short time. Being the greatest feels terrific, but as Solomon said, time and chance take their toll (Ecclesiastes 9:11), and FKTs and other such distinctions eventually matter not a whit in the eternal scheme of things.

In the verses I quoted at the beginning, the apostle Paul compares our lives to the Isthmian games, with which his readers in Corinth would have been very familiar, since they were held in that city every two years. The games were in honor of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea (his Roman name is Neptune). Athletes—men and women—competed in footraces, wrestling, boxing (and not the gentlemanly kind either—it was brutal), discus, javelin, long jump and chariot racing, as well as poetry reading and singing (!). Participants trained rigorously. All competitors took an oath to abide by the rules of the games; if they violated that pledge, they were disqualified. And at the conclusion, there were no silver or bronze holders—only one person won each contest. He or she received a crown, in the early years one of celery leaves, but in Paul’s day a wreath of pine, supposedly sacred to Poseidon.

God recognizes that we are all ultramarathoners in our life race, and through Paul’s words, He tells us what have to do to win. Physical exercise is important, but we also need to train ourselves spiritually, recognizing that our biggest struggles are in our heart, mind and spirit (Ephesians 6:10-12). And we must vow to follow the rules—God’s, not our own, since He’s the final arbiter (Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 3:16, 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15). To do both, we’ve got to know the “rule book,” that is, the Bible.

When we run our life His way, God promises us not a crown that withers away, spoils or fades, but one that is worth more than any precious medal, reserved in heaven just for us (1 Peter 1:4, 7; 5:4).

Then we can say with Paul, as our earthly FKTs, honors, awards and laurels fall away, and we look toward our final reward: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7, 8).

Keep running!

P.S. And think about visiting a national park this Saturday, when entrance fees are waived for National Public Lands Day.


  1. Al Schlaf says:

    You may not remember it, but 1st Corinthians 9.24 was Dad’s favorite verse. He used to hit me with that a lot.

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