Rittenbach Shares Spiritual Lessons Learned From Running

October 26, 2015 | Kim Strobel

“I run to stay healthy,” says Gary Rittenbach, Walla Walla University (WWU) academic computing director. “People think our bodies are like cars, but they’re not. They don’t break down the more you use them. The more you use it, the stronger you become.”

When Rittenbach crossed the finish line of the London Marathon last April, he became one of only 428 runners worldwide to be named a Six Star Finisher of the Abbot World Marathon Majors. This title is awarded only to runners who have completed the big six marathons: New York, Chicago, Berlin, Boston, Tokyo and London.

Rittenbach has logged more than 10,000 miles during the last 10 years. Hours spent training have given him time to think about the connections between running and living a Christian life. He shares a few lessons learned:

1. Help and encourage each other.

“At a marathon, thousands of spectators shout encouragement to the runners: ‘Good job,’ ‘You’re almost there,’ ‘You can do it,’” says Rittenbach. “Church should be like this — Christians encouraging each other on life’s way.”

“[Let us encourage] one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).

2. Don’t be overwhelmed by the size of the whole task. Get started in simple ways.

“Running a marathon may seem impossible now, but it will seem more possible after running a 10K or half-marathon,” he says. “When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, the water didn’t part until their feet got wet.”

“Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing” (Joshua 3:15–16).

3. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Focus on what needs to be done today.

“Don’t worry about all the runs and miles necessary to be ready on race day,” he adds. “Just do the run in your plan for today.”

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt. 6:34).

4. Persevere.

“The race isn’t over until you cross the finish line. In 2010, when I ran the NYC Marathon, my wife took a picture of a runner who collapsed a few hundred feet from the finish line and had to be carried away. In 2011 when I ran the Chicago Marathon, a 35-year-old firefighter collapsed at the mile-26 aid station, just 385 yards from the finish.”

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness …” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8).

Read more of Rittenbach’s spiritual lessons learned while running and his tips for a successful running program and race preparation at wallawalla.edu/running.