Something new for American runners

As a fan of long distance running for almost 35 years, I cannot let this day go by without remarking on how wonderful it was to see the performance of American men in the New York marathon Nov. 1.  An American immigrant, Meb Keflizighi, won, the first time that has happened since 1982.  And another American, Ryan Hall, took 4th.  In fact, Americans took six of the top 10 spots.  That has not happened since the 1970s.

Why is this noteworthy?  Well, first of all, long distance running has been dominated by Africans and South Americans since the 1980s, especially the New York and Boston marathons, the premier U.S. events.  Meb pointed to his racing singlet, which said “USA” on it, proudly in the last half-mile to highlight the return of American long-distance running.

But there was also something new:  both Meb and Ryan Hall are openly and proudly religious, and this is definitely something new for American long-distance runners.

Meb crossed himself repeatedly after he finished and even a few times during the race.  He is a proud Catholic and had a high-profile (for a runner) Catholic church wedding.

Ryan Hall is perhaps the most famous evangelical Christian runner since Eric Liddell of “Chariots of Fire” fame.  Hall says he was inspired by God to run, and he has some of the single greatest American long-distance performances of all time, including the American record in the half-marathon (59:43) and a 2:06 marathon time.

Such open displays of religious fervor are unheard of in the world of long distance running, at least among the champions of the last 40 years.  Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar were not at all openly religious (although Salazar went through a very interesting religious conversion after his top years as a runner).  It is worth mentioning that perhaps the greatest Mormon marathoner of all time is Ed Eyestone, who went to BYU.  I don’t know if he ever discussed his faith as part of his running the way that Ryan Hall does.

I mention this because for some of us (ahem!) running is a truly spiritual experience.  One of my first feelings of being in touch with the Holy Ghost came one day while I was running.  When I go on long runs, I always stop in the middle and try to pray, and some of my best, most sincere prayers have come during these times.  Even runners who are not religious discuss how running helps them meditate, reduce stress and work out problems.

So, personally, I love the fact that I am not alone:  the best American runners today are openly religious like I am.   And they are FAST  (unlike me), among the fastest in the world.  It’s a wonderful thing.

Note:  There are several mentions of top Mormon runners in this book of top Mormon records.    Another great Mormon runner is Henry Marsh, a top American steeplechaser for many years.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

12 thoughts on “Something new for American runners

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve done any running, but I agree with your point a lot. I listen to podcast and music while running, and remember being in the last few miles of my half-marathon when the MoTab singing “Faith in Every Footstep” came up and I almost cried. Running is very emotional, as you leave your comfort zone and push yourself to do things the natural man would just as soon not do.

    Another somewhat prominent runner who is openly religious is Steve Runner, who produces the Phedippidations podcast, and is very Catholic.

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  3. I’ve found that with a good BYU (BYUI, BYUH, or LDSBC) devotional, Women’s Conference talk, scripture mp3, Conference session, etc. I can run much farther, much faster, and with less distraction. For some reason, when listening to these I can get into a spititual Zen state that focuses my concentration.

  4. Earlier this year, I gave up running in favor of the elliptical due to ongoing foot problems. I miss the high I get from running. After reading your post, I think I might have to go see my foot doctor again and give running another try.

  5. I love how Ryan Hall says (in the attached) that he prays while he runs. All indications are, btw, that Ryan is a truly nice guy, somebody whom everybody really likes. There are plenty of top-level athletes who are jerks (Lance Armstrong, for example), but not Ryan Hall.

  6. When was the vote on greatest Mormon Marathoner of all time?
    I have some very impressive 4 plus hour finishes that should be considered.
    Great to see all the top ten finishes and Meb’s win. Too bad Ryan couldn’t have dropped below 2:10.

  7. Thanks Geoff for the post. I’ve actually taken up running since June, and I really enjoy it (see my log here). I’ve had moments on my runs when I have felt the Spirit strongly. It caught me off guard, but I think I understand. Running helps me be a better person, more healthy, less stressed, more focused, invigorates my mind, and I think the Spirit is telling me that I’m doing good, to keep at it, and it will benefit me.

    In a couple weeks I’m going to start training for my first marathon, the Utah Valley Marathon, on June 12, 2010. It’s going to be an exhilarating and tough experience, but one that I think will put me through the refiner’s fire, and I will be a better person because of it. I’m going to use the Galloway method. I’m looking forward to it. (Anyone in Utah Valley want to train with me?)

    One of my great-great cousins was a track athlete and record holder, who has been mentioned in General Conference several times. His name was Creed Haymond. His story is almost always told in conjunction with the Word of Wisdom, since he refused to take alcohol the night before a race, and ended up winning the race and setting a record, while the rest of his team fell sick. He is my inspiration to keep running.

  8. TStevens, when you have multiple sub-2:15 finishes, I will reconsider my claim that Ed Eyestone is the greatest Mormon marathoner of all time. Just step back a minute and think about how fast that is. A 2:10 finish is BELOW five minutes per mile. For 26.2 MILES! When I was in high school I trained like a maniac to do one mile in 5 minutes. Yikes.

    Bryce, I can definitely recommend the Galloway method for doing your first marathon. I probably would have done better if I had done the Galloway. Instead, I ran too fast in both marathons and ended up really slowing down the last 10k. Funny story: at New York, I was wearing a t-shirt saying “Geoff from Miami.” At mile 24, I just could not keep going, and I stopped and sat down. The crowd started screaming at me, “Get up, you SOB. C’mon Geoff from Miami, you loser, don’t stop, you mofo,” etc, lots of other bad words. Anyway, I didn’t want to be sworn at anymore, so I got up and jogged/walked the rest of the race. Marathons are painful. In more ways than one.

  9. Yeah, but he was young and healthy while I was a fat old guy with limited training – much more impressive :-)

    I split my running life into two; pre-mission and post. I was a little faster in the early days.
    And a 100 pounds lighter than now.

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