Running and Religion

In my last post I mentioned my displeasure about praying before a race, and it got me thinking about running and religion in general.  Maybe it is because of Ryan Hall and his standout performance at this weeks Boston Marathon, but I spent most of my run yesterday thinking about what role God or more precisely a belief in God might play in running.  I should probably add here that I am Jewish and an Atheist.  I will now use that bane of college professors everywhere, Wikipedia, to explain that seeming contradiction: . Jewish atheism is practiced by atheistswho are ethnically, and to some extent culturally, Jewish. Because Jewishness encompasses ethnic as well as religious components, the term "Jewish atheism" does not necessarily imply any kind of contradiction. Based on Jewish law's emphasis on matrilineal descent, Orthodox Jewish authorities would accept as fully Jewish an atheist born to a Jewish mother.[1] . Being born of a Jewish mother, I am 100% Jew even though I do not believe in God.  Ryan Hall however, is a devote Christian who left his training group to train under God's guidance and talks often and extensively about his belief in God as a guiding force in every aspect of his life which of course includes running.  I am sure he is not the only runner who feels that way, and indeed I have heard many professional runners thank God for their triumphs on the track and on the roads.  I think the interesting thing about Ryan is that he talks about God in relation to his training and preparation for racing, where as many other professional athletes only seem to mention God once they have won something.  You don't ever hear the loser of a football game say God didn't want us to win today, but Ryan does often discuss God even in his defeats, saying it is part of a larger plan.  Being an atheist I think it is absurd to believe God plays a direct role in someone winning or losing any sporting event (obviously because I don't think there is a God how could he have a direct role in anything).  What I do believe however is that if someone believes that God is helping them, and that belief gives them the mental resolve to train and compete at their best, that believing in God can help them run faster.  I don't think that belief however, would have any more power than say a belief in ones self, but it does have power. . I am no theologian, but of the religions I am familiar with I think Buddhism would probably lend itself best to running and racing (and apparently golf).  The Abrahamic religions on the whole seem a bit to fatalistic to serve as a good guidelines for hard training and racing. I will now shamelessly cherrypick from Buddhist teachings to this point. The first of the 4 Noble Truths: Life as we know it ultimately is or leads to suffering/uneasiness in one way or another. Can we not simply replace the word life with the word running? The 2nd Noble Truth: Suffering is caused by craving. This is often expressed as a deluded clinging to a certain sense of existence, to selfhood, or to the things or phenomena that we consider the cause of happiness or unhappiness. Clearly this suffering in runners is caused by a craving to run faster, we are often deluded in our expectations of how fast we can run.  We also believe as runners that is we can just run x time we will be happy. The 3rd Noble Truth: Suffering ends when craving ends. This is achieved by eliminating delusion, thereby reaching a liberated state of Enlightenment.  When we stop clinging to our arbitrary goals and just train as best we can each day suffering ends. The 4th Noble Truth: Reaching this liberated state is achieved by following the 8 fold path laid out by the Buddha.  Unfortunately the 8 fold path is not a divinely inspired training plan that will help you BQ, but there is some good stuff in there.

  • Prajñā is the wisdom that purifies the mind, allowing it to attain spiritual insight into the true nature of all things. It includes:
  1. viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be.
  2. intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness.
  • Śīla is the ethics or morality, or abstention from unwholesome deeds. It includes:
  1. speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way
  2. acting in a non-harmful way
  3. a non-harmful livelihood
  • Samādhi is the mental discipline required to develop mastery over one's own mind. This is done through the practice of various contemplative and meditative practices, and includes:
  1. making an effort to improve
  2. awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness, being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion
  3. correct meditation or concentration, explained as the first four jhānas


    Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.-The Buddha.