For many years, the most difficult ultra-marathon race was the Westfield Run in Australia. The 544-mile course from Sydney to Melbourne was considered the longest and toughest endurance race in the world. Only the top class and most fit marathon runners, usually 20-30 years of age, competed.
In 1983 a 61 year-old man named Cliff Young signed up to run the race. When he showed up for the start he was wearing overalls and work boots. The race organizers tried to discourage him from participating, thinking he could easily die during the agonizing race, but he insisted on running. He told them that, though he did not have much experience in competitive races, he grew up chasing sheep around a 2,000 acre farm in the state of Victoria, so he thought he was able to run the race.
When the race started, the runners left Cliff far behind. Race fans and the media made sport of him and his goofy-looking slow loping pace, with gumboots plopping every step. However, when the runners stopped each night, Cliff kept running. After three days, sometime during the night, while the lead runners slept, Cliff took the lead. Not only did he take the lead, he kept it and won the race, breaking the previous record by 9 hours. Cliff completed the 544 mile course in 5 days, 15 hours and 4 minutes. He crossed the finish line more than 10 hours ahead of his nearest rival.
Cliff was surprised when they awarded him $10,000 dollars in prize money. He gave his winnings to the other runners, saying he only ran to prove to himself that he could do it. When interviewed afterwards Cliff told the reporters that as he ran, he would imagine he was running after sheep, trying to outrun a storm. Because of his enormous feat, he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for long distance running in 1984. Cliff became the icon of endurance running, logging more than 20,000 kilometers in competitions for 16 years after his Westfield victory, even competing in a six-day race in Victoria in 2000, when he was 78 years old. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 81, and today a memorial in the shape of a gumboot is prominent at the Cliff Young Park in Beech Forest, Victoria.
Though there has been a newfound popularity of long distance running competitions, it is really not new. Our term “marathon,” used to designate the modern 26.2-mile race, is rooted in ancient Greek history, named after the Battle of Marathon, in 490 B.C. In that battle, the Greeks defeated the Persians at Marathon, then Philippides, a Greek messenger, was dispatched to Athens to share the news. He ran the 26 miles without stopping, and burst into the assembly, proclaiming, “we have won,” then collapsed and died.
The ancient Olympics began before the 7th century B.C., and members of first-century churches were familiar with several different competitive running and athletic events like the Isthmus Games, held the second and fourth years of each Olympiad. These spirited events were used in Scripture as illustrations of the need of discipline, training, patience, endurance and achievement. God inspired the writer of Hebrews to use the running metaphor to show how believers in Christ were to live the Christian life in this world.
For Christians to live for Christ in this world is not like a sprint of 50 or 100 yards, where the runner exerts himself for a few seconds; but is more like an ultra-marathon, requiring pacing, planning and endurance. So, how can you run the race as a Believer, to the glory of God? To run this race you must:
1) Forsake Sin. Recognize, confess and abandon known sins that entangle and overcome you—“Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us…” (Hebrews 12:1). You could never win a race with a 10 pound weight on each foot. Neither can you run the race for Christ entangled and weighed down by known sin.
2) Endure Hardship. Faithfully and patiently run the race God has for you—“And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1). To live for Christ requires endurance and determination. You must stay the course, tolerate the pain and keep in the race, no matter what the cost.
3) Focus on Jesus. Pleasing Jesus is your goal, so don’t lose sight of Him—“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” (Hebrews 12:2). Live a life patterned after Jesus, His sacrifice, His love, His forgiveness, and His compassion. Never lose sight of the finish line. Stay in the race for the long haul.
4) Don’t Quit. Disappointment and discouragement have lost many races and ruined many lives, so—“Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Think about what Jesus sacrificed for your salvation.
If a 61 year-old sheep farmer can win a 544 mile marathon, imagine what you can do running your race to live for Christ in this world! Remember: The Race is not always to the swift—but to those who keep on running!