It can be an uncomfortable relationship, the one between sports and faith. It's not something Americans like to mix together, in part because it can smack of insincerity and self importance. Does God (or the deity of your choice) really care whether you make a free throw, a tackle, a catch or win a game? Doesn't the universe have more important things to do?
But there are athletes for whom their faith is an integral part of their lives and separating it from talking about their sport is just plain unnatural.
Such seems to be the case with American marathoner Ryan Hall.
Pretty much every story about Hall which includes any detail will touch upon his Christian faith.
And regardless of your own religious views, there's a much larger picture to what he's talking about.
In a story published this week in the London Times Online, Hall shares that should he win Sunday's New York City Marathon and the $130,000 purse, he plans to give the money away to charity. Hall says in the article:
"If I could change someone's life or have a medal around my neck, then I'd change someone's life. .... Whether you're Christian or non-Christian, you can be inspired by someone running for something different to just sport."
Make no mistake about it, Hall is a driven competitor. Disappointed with his 10th place finish in Beijing he has his eyes on gold for London in 2012. Winning is important.
It's just not the only reason to run.
Hall has used the platform his status as an elite runner created to get involved in several charities. He and his wife, Sara, traveled to Zambia last November with Team World Vision, a Christian organization whose projects include helping African villages establish their own clean water supply.
This year, they launched their own organization, The Hall Steps Foundation, which will work with the clean water project of Team World Vision, help in the fight against human trafficking with International Justice Mission and fund a home in Kenya through Global Children's Movement.
The foundation also has intentions of starting a mentoring running program in the United States pairing runners with at-risk kids and entering a local race together.
Plenty of athletes do incredible work with their not-for-profit organizations. Hall isn't particularly special in that way.
But there aren't many athletes who in a major feature article in Runner's World would list prayer among his five rules for successful marathon training, along with eating smart and getting enough sleep.
He also lists giving your runs a purpose a key to successful training.
"Running for a charity -- in my case World Vision -- has revolutionized my running," he said in the article in the November issue. "Nothing compares to the feeling of going out on a training run and knowing that I'm part of an effort that's touching thousands of lives. I hope to build this into my legacy that outlives my records. I think everyone should run for a cause."
There's nothing wrong at all in running for yourself.
But there's something powerful in running for something else, whether your raising money, raising awareness or just racing with a different intention in your heart.
Perhaps before I run today's 10K race in Chestnut Ridge Park, I'll set an intention for something greater than just my own performance, something a bit bigger than just surviving up the hill known as "Mother."
Saying a prayer, or a whisper of gratitude to the universe, well, that never hurts.
--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz