From Connections:
He went thataway
By Darlene Warren

On the plain of Marathon in 490 B.C., the Athenian army faced a Persian army twice its size. Desperate for help, the Athenian general sent his swiftest messenger, Pheidippides, to Sparta. He reached the city to find that the Spartans were in the middle of religious observances. However, they promised to send troops to Marathon when the festivities were completed.

Pheidippides carried the disappointing news back to the Athenian camp, a round trip of 300 miles. The day of battle came, and the Athenian lines rushed at the more numerous Persians. Surprisingly, the Persians proved no match for the Greeks, but were driven to their ships which were anchored nearby.

The ships set sail in the direction of Athens. The Athenian general then feared that the Persians, who had been so unexpectedly defeated, would reach Athens and, claiming victory, demand that the city surrender. To prevent this, he called again for Pheidippides (who was still weary from his 300 mile Sparta trip) and ordered him to run the 26 miles to Athens and deliver the news of victory.

Pheidippides went. He was exhausted when he reached the crowds at the city, but he managed to gasp out his last words, "Rejoice, we conquer," before collapsing. Thus ended the first marathon.

If you've ever done any serious running, the thought of running a marathon has probably crossed your mind. Most likely the thought did exactly that--it crossed your mind in record time and exited just as quickly the next time you went for a morning jog. Your body told your mind: "I'm sorry, but there ain't no way I can do this for 26 miles."

There is a select group of people who don't let their bodies tell them what to do. They have conditioned their bodies and their minds so well they are able to conquer the marathon, 26 miles, 385 yards. They can run a mile faster than most people, and they continue that pace mile after mile. How do they do it? What keeps them going?

The training, even more than the race, is a test of endurance.

In the fall of 1973, when running was just reaching the peak of its popularity in the United States, Ambassador College (some of you may have heard of it) formed its first marathon team in Big Sandy, Texas. Although there were marathons held on campus before this time, to my knowledge this was the first actual team.

Even though running was popular in the country as a whole, in Big Sandy basketball reigned. If you were good enough, related to the right people or had a string to pull, you too could play basketball.

There wasn't such a long line at the marathon­sign-up table. When the marathon team traveled, it was by van. The first marathon was in Albuquerque, N.M. The marathoners drove out there, set up camp up in the mountains, slept on the ground and then got up the next morning to run their race. The race director refused to let them run because they had such high pulse rates. Only after much wrangling was Al Hicks (the team's coach) able to convince the director that indeed they were all in excellent shape and that the reason for high pulse rates was they had spent the night at such a high altitude.

To train for that race they ran six days a week, averaging between 100 and 120 miles per week. You can't run that kind of mileage and spend that much time with your buddies without developing a kinship that's hard to erase. They were a team. They all had a great desire to win, to outbest the other. That's what kept them going; that's why they kept running day after day.

They pushed each other to do their best. They helped each other over the rough times, times when certain ones may have felt like quitting. You know, even the best runners have days when they lose their motivation, times they feel like they're not improving. You may be the best runner on the team, but when it comes to little aggravations like headaches, sore knees or sprained ankles, no one is immune.

One year at a Big Sandy marathon, things got a little confusing, and some of the front-runners took a wrong turn and wound up in Gilmer, several miles off course. Those runners were just a little perturbed to find out that the runner just behind them took the correct turn but never bothered to alert them. Who knows? Maybe he figured he didn't have enough oil in his vessel. I never said they were saints. Coincidentally, he wound up winning that day.

Do you think we as Christians could learn lessons from a marathoner? Have we forgotten we're all teammates in the most important race of all? We're in this race together, and the great thing is we can all win this one. All we have to do is finish.

How are we treating our fellow Christian teammates? A runner coming up behind you and passing you in a race would never say: "Man, you're looking bad. I don't think you're going to make it."

Or, if you see a fellow runner who is so tired he has slowed to a walk, you'd never say: "You may as well give up. There's some really tough hills coming up. And, as dead as you look, well . . ."

If you've ever run any type of road race, you know the camaraderie that develops among the group. It is common for fellow runners to encourage each other. As they pass you. it's "Keep it up, you're almost there" or "You're doing good, you're going to make it." After all, who knows better how you're feeling than someone who is experiencing the same cramps, dry mouth and blisters as you?

Let's not let church corporations, hierarchies, lone wolves or anyone divide us and convince us we're not in the same race. Why can't we help each other reach the finish line?

My boy friend was on that marathon team back in the '70s. I know how much those guys and girls endured together. Jim Todd, Dave Sutton, Wayne Janes, Ron Berlin, Pete Leschak, Mike Pettit, Terry Kennebeck, Malvina Kardos, John Warren and others through the years. They've all gone their separate ways, but they're teammates just the same.

One more thing. It has always been a common courtesy among runners, and especially that team, to cheer each other on as they crossed the finish line. They didn't rush off to take showers or bask in their glory just yet. There were still runners coming in. As long as someone was still out there, you waited for them. After all, they were part of your team.

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