Every year the Comrades marathon has a challenging tagline; last year (2016) it was “Izokuthoba – it will humble you” (it does). For the 2017 Comrades run it’s: “Zinikele – it takes all of you”. It does…it really does and it’s the problem with things like Comrades – it takes all of you. The question we need to wrestle with is – should it?

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Sport is fantastic, it’s a gift from God to keep us fit and healthy, to provide challenges and occasions for social interaction. It’s fun. And in doing sport we can give thanks to God for the abilities he’s given us. Eric Liddell, the Christian Olympic runner was famous for saying: “God made me fast. And I when I run, I feel his pleasure”. Being fit provides us with energy, helps to relax or unwind us – and is (I believe) a good thing for anyone to be.

However, every Christian needs to be aware of the temptation that exists to turn a “good thing”, into a “God thing”. We need to watch ourselves so that the good gift from God we’re enjoying doesn’t itself turn into a little god, demanding too much of us. Our sport is such a thing…like a god, like an idol – it can take all of you. Here’s how:

It takes all your time

Inbetween work, family (if you have one), church and other responsibilities, sport can take a huge chunk of time. When training for Comrades I did 7 hours of running a week. Where do you cut that time out of the day? You either take from your sleep, from your work, from your family, or from God. Not only is this time spent exercising, but then there’s the recovery time (especially on the weekend), the naps or chilling on the couch.

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It takes all of your thoughts

This might not be true for everyone, but I found my training, my diet, my equipment, my spreadsheets and sites like Strava/Endomondo occupied a lot of my time. When I wasn’t running, I was chatting to people about my running, tracking my mileage, and stressing about whether I was doing enough.

It takes all your energy

If you’re training hard, you’ll need lots of rest. Evenings out become tougher to commit to, especially if they run past 9pm (like Bible studies).

It demands from your Christian life

Personally, a tough training regime will most likely mean that your personal devotions suffer. Unless you are really intentional about it – these will disappear quickly. Corporately, Bible study groups will take a back seat because of fatigue. Where you once would have been ok to have a night out until 9pm, thinking about God’s Word, praying with friends (which takes mental/emotional/spiritual focus), you now need your sleep. Then it demands Sundays. Let’s say you are running Comrades, that’s 1 Sunday church meeting. Your qualifying marathon will be 1 more, and you might do an ultra before (that’s 3). If you follow a training programme, you will most likely do your long runs on Saturday and Sunday – and who is up for church after a challenging 30km run between 5-8am? Conservatively take out 5 more meetings. That’s 8 Sundays missed before the day of Comrades – (8 out of 27 Sundays) not including any holidays or illness. Personally, you will struggle to feel as much part of church when you miss so many Sundays…

Remember: Zinikele – it takes all of you

So what to do? How can a Christian enjoy ultra races while still maintaining their spiritual lives? Here are some ideas:

  • Prioritise: Tell yourself what matters most, and prioritise that. Give your sport the time that is left after God, family and church, don’t let it steal from any of them.
  • Sacrifice: Understand what you want to achieve with the event, how much time you have to give for it – and think carefully about sacrificing…sacrificing your pride, your results, your personal best.
  • Plan: Think carefully about which races or training runs you’ll do ahead of time. Modify your training plans so that your longer runs don’t fall on Sundays

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And finally – remember.

Remember there is another who demands all of us. And he does this because he has given all to us. Jesus calls us to follow him, trust him and obey him – so that we can run the greatest race, and finish it. There is more to be had from Jesus than any ultra-race, endorphin or personal best performance. So rather than fixing your eyes on the next marathon, Duzi or Argus, fix your eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith, and run the race set before you. It means more.