“Marathon Heart”

Neal Pollard

A protein called “troponin,” indicating heart damage, is typical with the majority of runners tested after running a marathon.  Malissa Wood, a Harvard-affiliated cardiologist who has competed in four marathons says that the danger comes in not training enough, running forty-five miles or more each week.  Her pithy summary was, “Use your head when you use your heart” (William J. Cromie, Harvard University Gazette, 12/18/06).   Elite distant runner and hopeful Olympic marathoner, Ryan Shay, died November 4, 2006, from an apparent enlarged heart aggravated by intensive athletic training.  The month before, an amateur running a marathon in Chicago, also dropped dead with heart-related problems.

It is no news flash when heavy smokers or extremely overweight people die of heart disease and heart attacks.  It is expected.  Yet, most of us are shocked to get the news that athletes capable of running ridiculous distances dropping dead.  That just seems to defy logic.  Aerobic exercise is supposed to be good for the heart.

The Bible uses the heart to refer to the center of a person, his or her feelings, thoughts, desires, will, and more.  We expect that people out in the world have spiritual heart problems.  The world’s world-view has self at the center, with no regard for a higher standard or authority.  So, it thinks, says, and does so much that naturally and destructively follows spiritual heart problems.

As Christians, we need to be careful to monitor our hearts.  That applies to even those who are regarded as spiritual giants, leaders, and ones seemingly impervious to heart problems like those seen in the world.  No doubt, David is the greatest Bible example of this.  As you recall, he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22).  What a strong heart!  Yet, he had a nearly fatal fall while running his course (2 Sam. 12ff).  Have you ever known Christians who you never dreamed would commit adultery, be arrested on child pornography charges, abandon the church, steal money from a company or organization, be jailed, or something similar?  What happened?  They developed heart problems!

The good news is, spiritually, that intensive heart training will not result in catastrophe.  You cannot over-meditate on the Word.  You cannot be overly-engaged in prayer.  You cannot too actively combat impurity in your heart.  In fact, it is the way to spiritual survival.  There is likely still quite a distance between you and your finish line.  It is not a sprint.  It is more like a marathon, that race you are running (1 Cor. 9:26; Gal. 5:7; Phil. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 12:1).  Spiritually, at least, you need a marathon heart!

2 thoughts on ““Marathon Heart”

  1. As one who has trained with a team and run a marathon, I add that knowing how to pace oneself also plays a key role in finishing the race. One does not run the marathon sprinting as one would a one hundred yard dash. A steady pace, consistent in speed with one’s preparation, and a focus on reaching the goal, are imperative. Also critical, listening to warnings from one’s body keeps one aware of when to slow down or stop altogether, just as listening to one’s conscience or heeding signs of burnout aid in living as a Christian. Thank you for the article. Are you a runner?

  2. Yes, since 1998. I’ve run more half-marathon distance runs than I can count, but no marathons. I run 15-20 miles per week now and have never been sidelined (to this point) for any length of time since I took it up. Great observation and application, brother.

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