What Christians Can Learn From a Marathon Cheat

News commentary: A woman who lost her gold medal at the St. Louis Marathon last week offers a lesson about shortcuts.

What Christians Can Learn From a Marathon Cheat

, speaker and director, It Is Written

A 26-year-old woman was banned from this week’s Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest and perhaps best-known marathon, after judges stripped her of her first-place medal for cheating in the St. Louis Marathon days earlier.

The woman apparently ran to the finish line from the St. Louis course’s last checkpoint on April 12, following the lead of several other marathon cheats.

In 1980, Rosie Ruiz was declared the winner of the Boston Marathon, only to be stripped of the title eight days after people began asking why she had not broken into a sweat like runners normally do after racing 26.2 miles (42 kilometers).

Ruiz also lacked the physical shape of a typical marathon champion, and her record time was 25 minutes faster than her finish in the New York Marathon six months earlier. Unsurprisingly, a subsequent investigation revealed that Ruiz hadn’t completed New York either.

A British runner gained notoriety at last year’s London Marathon when it came to light that he had run 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) less than the regulation distance. His time for the second half of the marathon was only three minutes shy of the half-marathon world record.

It seems that the marathon cheats’ lack of success didn’t deter the “athlete” who claimed victory in St Louis. The woman apparently had cheated before. In taking back her gold medal, the St. Louis judges also tossed out her third-place win in the same race in 2014, a win that had qualified her for the Boston Marathon.

Winning by Finishing Last

In contrast to her “effort” is the incredible story of a 39-year-old Venezuelan man, Mickey Melamed, who completed the Boston Marathon with the remarkable time of 20 hours. Melamed has muscular dystrophy, which severely impairs his mobility. He completed the Boston race — his sixth marathon — at 5 a.m. Tuesday, the day after it began. He finished last place and almost 18 hours after the winner.

Melamed battled through pouring rain, thunderstorms, and bitterly cold weather to cross the finish line. He doesn’t actually run. His physical condition makes that impossible. Still, he found a way to will himself by foot around the difficult Boston Marathon course.

Completing a marathon is a significant achievement. Rob de Castella, the Australian runner who won the marathon at the 1983 World Championships in Athletics, said: “If you feel bad at 10 miles, you’re in trouble. If you feel bad at 20 miles, you’re normal. If you don’t feel bad at 26 miles, you’re abnormal.”

It’s tough stuff. Marathon runners typically train long and hard. Even though thousands of people run marathons every year, many others would if not for injury, pain, or some other insurmountable obstacle.

There is really only one way to complete a marathon. One step at a time. Often one painful step at a time.

No Shortcuts With Jesus

The Bible describes salvation in a similar way. Matthew 24:13 says, “He that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.” A life lived with Christ is just that — a life lived with Christ. It’s one step at a time. Often one painful step at a time. And unlike what our friend from the St. Louis Marathon believed, there aren’t any shortcuts.

In the typical Christian experience, people face trials, injuries, disappointments, and failures, much like marathon running. But quitting does not need to be an option. Even though there are ups and downs, victories and defeats, good days and bad days, even though your faith experience can seem at times like 20 hours of struggling in cold Boston weather, there’s a finish line ahead.

Jesus is coming soon. Ours isn’t to long for an easier journey, or a shortcut to the finish. The privilege of the believer is to hold onto Jesus by faith, believing that we’re going to spend eternity with Him sooner than we may think.

Certainly the comparison between running a marathon and living a life of faith is imperfect at best, even though the apostle Paul used athletic imagery to teach lessons about faith in God (1 Corinthians 9:24-17). When running a marathon, the only person who can will you to the finish line is you. You rely on your strength, your ability, your planning, your strategy. When it comes to faith in God, we rely on Christ’s strength, Christ’s ability, and Christ’s power to get us to our goal.

Perhaps this is why so many fail in their Christian experience, why so many drop out of the race even with the finish line in view. People get weary, discouraged, or overwhelmed by their own weakness. The Christian must remember that his or her weakness is not a liability in matters of faith because Jesus’ “strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Faith relies on Christ for strength. It takes hold of the One of whom Paul wrote, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

There aren’t any shortcuts in a faith relationship with God. And we don’t need them. All that is needed is a constant connection with Jesus. In His strength even the weakest believer can experience victory. Faith holds onto a God who will never let us go and who will carry us to the finish, where he will give us not a medal or a wreath but a crown of gold.