Who could forget last summer's Olympics, as Usain Bolt consolidated his reputation as the fastest recorded man ever?
Or the exploits of the Blade Runner, Oscar Pistorius, whose fame for speed and determination may yet give way to notoriety in the face of the most serious and tragic of allegations?
Running is one of the most basic of sports. It can be done without special equipment, alone or in the company of others. It developed as a sport out of necessity: runners escaping danger, runners carrying messages, runners hunting food or chasing enemies. Notwithstanding the wisdom of Ecclesiastes - 'The race is not to the swift' (9.11) - we're firmly of the opinion that faster really is better. The first to complete the distance wins.
St Paul used running as an illustration: 'Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it' (1 Corinthians 9.24). Winning a race doesn't just happen. It requires dedication, self-discipline, focus, and the time and effort of training. The very things needed for true discipleship.
But what does it mean to win in St Paul's terms? Surely 'all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved' without difference or degree? It's not really a competition, is it?
St Paul continues: 'Athletes exercise self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.' It's clear from uses of the word elsewhere by St Paul that the 'imperishable wreath' isn't so much our own salvation or glory or reward, but the people who make up the Church. The prize we aspire to is the commitment of other people to Christian faith in a world of competing faiths and ideologies. The other running teams are secular humanists, Buddhists, pagans, Muslims, political activists of varying shades, anarchists, and so on.
That's not about coercion, or crusades, or moralising, or seeking the reigns of power in the world. It's about living out our faith as if we really mean it; living out our faith in such a way that others find it appealing. Our willingness to listen and to love, to give and to receive, to belong together in community and to worship and serve are the hallmarks by which others will recognise our authenticity - and be attracted by a faith which is genuine, compelling and profound.