Survival of the Fittest


What is it that entices hundreds of men to ride a bicycle some 3500 kilometres over towering mountains in a jostling peloton at skin-grazing speeds in just 21 days (also known as the Tour de France)? My posterior is aching just thinking about it!

Or what about choosing to run 42 kilometres without stopping for a breather, whatever the weather may be (also known as a marathon)? If a cranky rhinoceros was chasing me, I’d have a crack at it, but for now, my legs begin to wobble at the mere thought!

Maybe a walk would be less stressful. Then how about a three-and-a-half-hour walk? Sure, but make sure you cover 50 kilometres over that time (also known as racewalking). My hips are aching at the thought!

Well, let’s try swimming instead. Surely a few laps couldn’t hurt too much? Well, what about swimming an Olympic-sized swimming pool 30 times in under 15 minutes? My fingers are going wrinkly just thinking about that one!

Tour de France, marathons, racewalking and 1500-metre swims are all craziness, I propose.

Introducing “Sporture

Before I go on, I have to rewind to this racewalking business. Who seriously came up with racewalking?

Let’s invent a sport that showcases how fast people can go slowly,” I imagine the Supreme Inventors and Creators of Kinesiological Ordained Sports (or SICKOS) musing one late night. (I’m anticipating a time when the SICKOS will bring in an egg-and-spoon race where an egg must sit in a spoon while you run—and you can’t stop until the egg hatches. But I digress.)

As for the Tour de France, marathons, racewalking and 1500-metre swims, the real events that currently exist, I believe they are among the finest examples of popular sporture you’ll find—the practice of inflicting torture on oneself through the participation, or watching, of sport.

I can comprehend a general degree of fitness is needed to survive in this world, but surely these “sporturious” endeavours are overkill. Although, I will admit that in some real life emergency situations, it would be handy to be a champion in one of these sports.

Situations such as surviving a plane crash in a shark-infested ocean some 1500 metres from shore. Or if a safari truck runs out of fuel in the middle of a lion reserve and it’s exactly 42 kilometres to the nearest petrol station and back. Also, a Tour de France participant could save many lives as a blood bank courier in Europe should a Y3K bug render all motorised vehicles useless.

As for racewalkers, they’ll certainly have the last laugh if . . . ah . . . well, if ever they find themselves as hostages in a prison camp with nothing but their shoelaces tied together preventing them from running away.

Of course, it would be too bad if the marathon runner was in the watery plane crash, or the swimmer stranded in the lion park—all that training for nothing!

A Christian Sporture?

So if participating in such events isn’t for practical purposes, what is the appeal? I guess I’d have to give those activities a genuine go to understand the real highs and lows of such endurance sports.

There is, however, another highly participated endurance event, which for many also defies logic and reason, but of which I’ve given a genuine go at. I’m talking about the Christian lifestyle—not only are there rules that need to be kept, like the Tour de France, marathons, racewalking and 1500-metre swims, it’s also a test of endurance because it’s meant to last the whole of the Christian’s life.

Imagine keeping a set of seemingly restrictive rules—some of which may go against your own desires—for your entire lifetime, by choice.

Rules like practising celibacy until you’re married, and “if someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them” (Luke 6:29), and spending an hour or so in church each week to sing, give money and be “lectured” to. Why would anyone sign up for that?

Some Christians also seemingly have an even longer list of dos and don’ts:

  • Seventh-day Adventists (publishers of SIGNS OF THE TIMES), for example, are advised to stay healthy by not eating meat, drinking alcohol or smoking. Even other Christians think Adventists are extreme for their apparently strict 24-hour Sabbath observance (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset), when church members choose to ignore the activities of the world and focus on worshipping God. This means even after attending church on a Saturday morning, there’s no shopping or mowing the lawn in the afternoon. All because they try and stick to what they believe some old Book says.
  • Then there are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who refuse blood transfusions under all circumstances, even in a life-or-death situation. For nonbelievers, it seems like a pretty torturous lifestyle rule to live—or die—by.
  • Perhaps one of the most famous examples of a perceived torturous Christian lifestyle is that of the Amish. Their rules cover most aspects of day-to-day living, from what kind of clothing can be worn to limiting the usage of modern-day conveniences such as electricity, telephones and transportation.

From an outsider’s point of view, like the sporture events I outlined earlier, these Christian lifestyles may seem like an endurance event for those who choose to live a lifetime of self-inflicted suffering. Not only that, while no doubt the sporture stars attract some teasing for their chosen strenuous activities (guilty as charged!), Christians receive a far larger serve of ridicule.

From mainstream media, to scientists and even next-door neighbours, put downs and sledging follow the devout followers of Jesus Christ, as if their supposedly miserable lifestyle wasn’t enough punishment.

Reasons For Believing

So why do Christians do it? Why do they willingly choose to live the way they do, contrary to the “easy” way of life of most? Why do they forgo the freedom to do anything they want and try to follow the rules of that old Book, and endure it for their entire life? Why do they stick to their guns—I mean Bibles—contrary to the world’s popular lifestyle and beliefs, and amidst all that ridicule too?

I propose that the reason for the dedication of endurance athletes and Christians is somewhat similar. For starters, there’s probably no way to portray the joy both the athletes and Christians feel about their chosen lifestyles unless you’ve given it a genuine go yourself.

Having said that, there are those who have tried endurance sports or Christianity but never found the joy in it. So perhaps just trying such extreme lifestyles is not enough on its own. I believe that ultimately, you have to come to a point of fully believing in the purpose of what you’re doing. Only then will you find true joy.

Whether riding the Tour de France, running a marathon or being a Christian, unless you 100 per cent believe what you’re doing has some positive outcomes, all joy is lost and you actually become a slave to whatever the other reason is that makes you participate.

For my part, perhaps some time this month, I should sit through a few nights of the Tour or watch a whole marathon during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow without switching channels. I could learn more about these sportures (oops, I mean sports) and come to appreciate these courageous people for what they achieve though their sport.

And perhaps the same could be accomplished for Christianity. Before we dismiss Christians or ridicule them, we could learn more about their denomination’s beliefs, perhaps even trying them out for yourself, and come to appreciate these courageous people for what they achieve though their faith.

The concept of keeping the Sabbath seemed impractical at first to A J Jacobs, a man who experimented and wrote a book on living biblically for a year. But his attitude on the Sabbath changed once he gave it a go.

I’m a workaholic, so not being able to work for a day was like going cold turkey,” he says. “But it turned out to be one of my favourite things about biblical living. It’s a beautiful ritual—the Sabbath—no matter what your beliefs are.”

It is easy to make fun of athletes and Christians without having experienced their lives. And while not everyone is going to try endurance sports, nor become a Bible-believing Christian, at the end of the day, if everyone could just respect the beliefs of these people through learning what and why they do what they do, everyone could benefit.

More Endurance Events

  • Ultramarathons: A running or walking event of a single day distances up to 16 kilometres, and multi-day race of 16000 kilometres and longer.
  • Endurance Riding: Long-distance horse races of up to 160 which a winning rider will complete in 10 to 12 hours.
  • Extra Mile Edurathon: Participants walk a course for as long as they can. Whoever walks for the longest amount of time, wins the competition. Competitors have walked for more than 100 consecutive hours!
  • Quadrathon: Four individual disciplines that are completed in succession. The long distance course includes swimming (4 kilometres), kayaking 920 kilometres), cycling (100 kilomteres) and running (21 kilometres).
  • Yokon Quest: A 1600 kilometre sled dog race, runs every February between Whitehourse, Yokon, and Fairbanks, Alaska. A team of six to 14 dogs race for 10-20 days. Temperatures commonly drop as low as -50 degrees celcius.
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