Anyone who has seen a graph of world record times will understand why athletics is considering a bold proposal. Steady improvement across the sport has clearly been altered by the development of anti-doping tests. In some disciplines, changes to testing has led to drops in the average performance by as much as 5 per cent.

Many world records, set when testing was more haphazard, are now viewed with suspicion. The public has lost the trust that forms the foundation of all spectator sport. So, in the absence of absolute proof, athletics is considering a blanket “reset”, scrapping the older world records.

But many object strongly to this proposal.

Part of the problem is that numbers – time and distances – have become the prime motivation for many athletes. They train hard and compete with nothing else in mind other than pursuit of numbers. And once they have beaten a world record they are naturally very reluctant to release their grip on that particular prize. For them, the world record is all important.

A different approach

But some athletes set off in pursuit of something different: the achievement of a target that they have set for themselves. For them, the target may still be measured by numbers and have a prize, but the reason for achieving it has more to do with their own character and capabilities. Using performance enhancing drugs would be a betrayal of their own achievements.

These athletes discover the depths of their resilience and their ability to withstand pain. They value the experience of being a top-class athlete while shrugging off the significance of the numbers. They ‘enjoy the journey’ as much, if not more than obtaining the ultimate prize. Even if the blanket “reset” is imposed, they will still value the experience.

A good example

The media reports of the 2017 London Marathon were filled with a truly inspiring story, how one man selflessly helped another achieve his goal. Spotting a fellow runner struggling to complete the race, he put his arm around him until they both crossed the line together.

There is a clear analogy with the ‘race’ we are running as Christians.

Our race is not a sprint, measured by record-breaking numbers. Like most marathon runners, we don’t expect to win, but we want to finish. Helping others do the same may slow us down, but it makes it a better race. The apostle Paul described this sort of ‘race’:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain concept. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (Philippines 2:3-4 NIV)

Paul spent most of his life ‘running a marathon’, overcoming every obstacle put in his way. With the end of his run in sight, he gave us this guidance:

“I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [the prize]. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me…” (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)

The prize Paul wanted was a place in the Kingdom of God when Jesus returns. It was so important to him that he “pressed on” to the very limits of his ability. 

That prize can be ours too…if we really want it!