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I will be watching the Marathon race in Beijing a bit more closely this year.  It is not just because I will, Lord willing be running a marathon 6 weeks later, but because of who is and who is not running this year in Beijing. 

America has one of their best shots at getting a gold in this event and the runner seemed to come out of now where.  He is 25 years old and burst onto the marathon scene in London – running his first ever marathon with a world class time.  His second marathon was at the Olympic trials in New York in November where he set an Olympic trials record at 2 hours, 8 minutes and 2 seconds.  One of the commentators for the  trials referred to this runner as, “A distance running machine.”

This runner’s name is Ryan Hall and he lives and  trains in Big Bear, California.  In my humble opinion, it is truly one of the more beautiful places on earth.  Gary and I spent some time there when we lived in California.  It is set in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and has some gorgeous sunsets.  It is a great place to train for marathons as the air is pure and running in the mountains gives you great endurance.  It lets one see the beauty and creativity of God.   One does not develop a desire to run long distances by running circles on a track – but in the great outdoors where you see and experience God first hand.

Ryan started long distances at age 15 and always wondered what it would be like to be an Olympic athlete.  He did not make headlines while he was in college at Stanford, but burst onto the scene with his first competitive marathon.  The Olympic trials course was a course made for a runner like Ryan Hall – full of daunting hills.  He made a decisive move beginning in mile 17 and then  ran his fastest split time in  mile 18 at 4:32 as he was approaching one of those hills.  No one was able to counter his move and he finished the race looking as fresh as when he started.

However the race results were marred for Ryan as he learned shortly after his finish, that his friend and former team mate, Ryan Shay had collapsed on the course at mile five and later died at the hospital.  Shay had trained with Hall in Big Bear for a time before he moved to Arizona to continue his training.  Shay had also been diagnosed with an enlarged heart at age 14, which is typical for athletes of extreme sports.   Shay missed the Athens Olympics due to an injury.  Both Ryans were hoping to run for team USA in Beijing. 

The Olympic marathon race is scheduled for 24 August.  Ryan Hall will be dedicating his race in Bejing to his friend and former team mate, Ryan Shay.  And I will watch as he runs, knowing that 6 weeks later, I will be running on the same World Vision team for children in Africa.