Who is The Greatest Runner of All-time?

This morning, while enjoying my breakfast, I was reading Luke and came across the passage telling the story of the disciples of Jesus getting in an argument about which one of them is the greatest. In response to their argument Jesus brings a child before them and tells them that the one who is least among them is great. I have found all throughout Jesus’ teachings our typical view of what greatness is completely flipped on what we typically think of as great. Jesus, in my opinion the greatest man to ever live, tells us to be great we must become a servant of all. Far from our typically definition of greatness.

As I was reading this morning I was thinking how this passage would be translated in a RV (Runners Version…what a cool read that would be). I know when I think of the greatest runners of all-time my thoughts immediately go to guys like Bernard Lagat, Haile Gebrselassie, Hicham El Guerrouj and others. But who would Jesus tell me is the greatest? Who would He pull in front of me and tell me I needed to be like in order to be the “greatest runner of all-time?”

I feel like I would be surprised by who Jesus would sit in front of me. I think I probably wouldn’t have read their name in Runners World or watched them win an Olympic medal on television. I think He might put an ultra runner in front of me who maybe has never run a race in his/her life but soaks in every joy-filled step of their day to day running. I have a feeling that He would pull someone out of the Chicago Marathon who trained very hard for months, transforming their out-of-shape body into one that can cover 26.2 miles even if it takes them 4, 5 or 6 hours to cross the finish line. Perhaps he would put one of the many runners who run for a cause or in memory of a lost one. Maybe He would put that person that only runs because they want to spend meaningful time with friends and family out on the road. Maybe he would put Bart Yasso in front of me who travels over the world to encourage runners often going out on the course where no other spectators are just to shout some encouragement there way. Whoever Jesus would put in front of me I am confident of this: that it would be the heart of that runner that God see’s as great and the ability they have to run with a heart full of love for God, self, and others, not the speed of their legs.

“He does not delight in the strength of the horse; He does not take pleasure in the legs of a man. The Lord favors those who fear Him, Those who wait for His lovingkindness.” Psalm 147:10-11

This entry was posted in Inspiration. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Posted September 14, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Beautiful article! Thank you!

  2. John Murray
    Posted September 14, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Wonderful application of the Word of God to running! Thank You!

  3. Cindy Gates
    Posted September 14, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Ryan, I’d say Dick Hoyt who pushed his son in his wheelchair! By the way, I grew up in Big Bear. Mom was a teacher, way before you were in school. Good luck with your training.

  4. Ryan Robertson
    Posted September 14, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    EASY ANSWER – ALL TIME???? ELIJAH. See following:

    1 Kings 18
    v. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. 46 nAnd the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of pJezreel.

  5. Posted September 14, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Or perhaps a special Olympics runner!

  6. Corey Pearce
    Posted September 14, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Wow, love this blog. Greatest runner indeed! My short & long runs turn into praying/praise runs…it’s great for it I find.
    BTW..my son (19yrs old) will run Houston 26.2 in Jan 2012. Hope to meet you and get your autograph as well.

    Thanks and keep, keeping on!
    Corey Pearce

  7. Drmackem
    Posted September 14, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Just love thoe reflections. Keep the faith and keep running with the right heart.

  8. Lewis Smith
    Posted September 14, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Awesome… This is why I got up early to go see you and Sarah at the Rock n Roll Half in Va Beach! Great stuff here and loved the well placed verse at the end!

  9. Posted September 14, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    It’s pretty humbling for me to hear that you would look for the greatest runners not in the Olympians and champions, but in the runners farther back. It’s a good reminder for us too – to not thoughtless idolize these winning finishers, but rather redefine what we consider winning.

    Running reminds me that I’m more than my autoimmune disease or obstacles I’ve over come. There will always be someone faster than me, but there will be no one else who’s been what I’ve been through and still keep running. I have to remind myself when I’m disappointed at a race time that every race is a victory.

    God bless.
    “I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

  10. Posted September 15, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Ryan – what a great blog to remind us all of the greater perspective distance running fits into. This came at a great time for me as I’m about to start tapering for Twin Cities marathon ~2.5 weeks away. My “distance runner OCD” is starting to bubble up and it’s easy to over analyze every split from every workout and try to force my own plan rather than listen and follow God’s. Psalm 147:10-11 is a new favorite of mine!

  11. Posted September 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    This warmed my heart! The world certainly does not need any more leaders – we need more servants.

    I once told my Bible Study group that I was *just* a mom. I didn’t have any great job and I wasn’t doing anything currently spectacular. In fact other than running and my children, there isn’t much else I have time for. I was reminded that being a mother to my children is an important job and the one God created me for. I am serving him, by raising them. I like God’s idea of greatness MUCH better than the worlds.

    I think that you have been blessed with the gift of running, but also equally blessed with the gift of word. Keep running strong and keep spreading the word of the Lord :)

    Romans 8:18

  12. Kevin Kwilinski
    Posted September 17, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink


    We met through the Hall Foundation and I joined you for dinner after Boston this past April. I fell well running in late spring and fractured my sacrum. I am now about two months back to running and I really missed it! This past week I had one of those great training runs and wrote the poem below later that night. I thought I would share it with the blog. Good luck in Chicago! I will be running Chicago pacing my wife for her first BQ. She and I will then run NYC in November for fun. In December I will attempt to BQ again and set a PR running the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL. God Bless!

    Some runs are bad.
    A bad run is exhausting.
    It takes more from the body than it gives back.
    Only the mind is strong enough to finish a bad run.

    Most runs are good.
    They serve their purpose.
    Good runs build the body up.
    The mind is free to wander on a good run.

    Few runs are great.
    A great run is spiritual.
    The body and mind separate.
    Awareness becomes acute.
    Aware of the effortlessness.
    Aware of the raw speed.
    Aware of the ability to do anything.
    Everything becomes easier.
    Easier to love.
    Easier to believe.
    Easier to forgive.
    A great run is a true gift from God.

  13. Geoffrey
    Posted September 17, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    I continue to put Mike Gray near the top of the list. He “ran” three times a week with me when I went through chemotherapy. It was more like trot 1/4, walk 1/2, repeat. Oh, if the run was long enough, he would recite Galatians.

    Godspeed to you, no matter how fast that is. :)

  14. Connie Loy
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    This blog (and your book) are coming at just the right time for my 16 year old son. He has apparently hit a wall in his running and is very discouraged right now. My prayer is that he “soaks in every joy-filled step in his day to day running” and not get so caught up in how he’s currently performing! Thanks for being such a godly example to all these young runners!!

  15. Hillary
    Posted September 27, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    This is my first visit to your blog and won’t be my last! I have been training for my first marathon, the St. George and pulled my groin last week on a simple 3 mile run….it had been site got 3 weeks & being a beginner I ignored it. I am not a quitter though and don’t know that I will be able to commit myself to this again so I am going forward, hope all goes well. I was looking to be inspired as I searched the Internet and I was, thank you!

  16. Posted October 13, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I would love to have a RV version of the Bible. I highlight a lot of passages in my Bible that mention running and endurance! Yes I think Jesus would pick a runner that is the least of these, not one seeking fame or praise, but one with their eyes on the prize. Thanks Ryan! You’re very inspiring.

  17. Posted December 6, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    You have a gift that far exceeds your remarkable running accomplishments; you communicate your thoughts and beliefs without preaching or even philosophizing. Your speak from the heart.

  18. Posted December 29, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Awesome, awesome post. Please post more! So inspiring!

  19. Meg Ishikawa
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Tonight on Dec. 31, 2011, Jim Ryan came to speak at our church here in Okinawa, Japan. The message was powerful as Mr. Ryan went from talking about running to forgiveness – in Christ and also the kind we must live under according to the Gospels. Listening to a runner from my generation like Jim Ryan made me think of you, a runner for my children’s generation. We will purchase, Running With Joy to inspire them to run and to run for His glory! Thank you!

  20. John Paul Inres Sepe
    Posted January 26, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Well written and very inspiring, Ryan! I’m very sure you always feel His presence when you are running. Continue doing the good work! God bless you and your family!

  21. Posted January 27, 2012 at 3:20 am | Permalink

    Absolutely. As a TEAM in Training marathoner the greatest runners I’ve met are those who are not runners the day they sign up to complete a half or full marathon with a commitment to raise money to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in honor of or in memory of a loved one with cancer but along the way overcome all the obstacles and pain to complete that event. I’ve seen some miraculous transformations in these new runners.

  22. Jessica Dunham
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I definitely think Jesus would send Eric Liddel down from heaven to be among the greatest runners whom ever ran. He ran with HEART and served the LORD with all the gifts he was given. Ryan, I think of you as being the modern day Eric. You have a GIFT and you use it for the glory of God, not to exalt self, but to exalt Him. Keep your focus there and he will strenthen you. Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength they will rise up on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not grow faint. The Lord can reach so many people through you and I pray that more people, through you will come to know Jesus as there savior. Truly, as you know, there is no greater freedom or gift one can recieve.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.