Magazine Features

Running the race

While in high school, Bill Garrett was in the marching band. But every time the cross-country coach tried to recruit him to the team, he declined.

“I said, ‘Running around in circles looked like the most boring thing in the world.’ So, I never signed up. I kind of regret that now,” says Garrett, who today is an officer in The Salvation Army with the rank of major and who has taken up running marathons in recent years.

The Salvation Army corps officer in Lexington, Ky., admits he didn’t do much athletically for several years after high school, but when he turned 40 a decade ago, he wanted to do something to take better care of himself.

“I knew I needed to get into shape because I was not in great shape,” he recalls. “I was carrying a lot of extra weight. Running was the cheapest way to deal with that.”

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” —Hebrews 12:1

Requiring little more than a good pair of shoes and a water bottle, Garrett started running 5-Ks. His first half marathon (13.1 miles) followed about six months later.

“I found out I just loved running distance,” he said. “I loved being outside and running for an hour or more. I felt good and it helped with the weight loss and getting me in better physical condition. I love races too. It’s just a lot of fun.”

Garrett, who was appointed to the Ocean City Citadel in New Jersey at the time of his first marathon, soon graduated to a full marathon (26.2 miles) in Atlantic City. He swore he would never do another one after that long and arduous run, but within four weeks he had signed up for a marathon in Washington, D.C., and he has now completed four marathons.

The last marathon he ran took him four hours and 20 minutes to finish, which is considered a respectable time. Professionals can complete the course in two hours, while others can take seven or eight hours.

“Sometimes I’ll do shorter races like 5-Ks and things like that, but half marathons and marathons are the things I really like to do,” he said.


Hard work pays off

Garrett sometimes runs with others once or twice a week, but he mostly likes running alone. His Salvation Army quarters are seven miles from the corps, and he often runs home from work while wearing a light-up vest for safety. If he is training for a marathon, Garrett will run seven to 10 miles on weekdays and longer on the weekends.

Two weeks before he was scheduled to run a Florida marathon in February, he contracted COVID-19. The virus passed, but Garrett didn’t feel much like running for a while.

“I’ve been slowly working my way back again,” he said. “I don’t like running in the morning. I feel bad the rest of the day. It’s an after-work thing and on weekends for me.

“When I see results, I think that really helps a lot. I think that’s really the thing. Whatever the fitness routine, I feel like the trigger for everyone is when they start seeing some results. Regardless of the pain, the boredom, and the extra time out of their regular work schedule, it just feels a lot more exciting.”


Alone with God

Garrett said running can be a spiritual experience and he sometimes writes sermons in his head, especially if he’s studied beforehand.

“It’s a good time to process the day,” he says. “It’s a good time to process relationships and to do some introspection and to write sermons, but I think it’s much like one of those things when I’m not in control. I can get tired, and I still have miles to go.

“It’s a terrific reminder of how sacred our bodies are to us. It’s given me a much more holistic view about all that God has given us to honor Him with.”

Garrett finds inspiration in the writings of the Apostle Paul, who often uses athletic metaphors in his epistles.

“Our body has got to be just as important a part of that as the spirit,” he said. “They definitely tie together. That’s what Scripture teaches me.”

Garrett has been in Lexington for two years. He is considering starting a running ministry when life returns to normal after the pandemic and people feel comfortable being around each other again.

“We’re on the edge of some great running trails right here in Lexington. There’s running and biking paths downtown, including one that runs right near the corps,” he said. “I’d like to see if we can get some other Salvationists together to show up at races. We’ll have an opportunity to talk about what The Salvation Army is about, talk about our faith, and do some fundraising, all at the same time.”

by Robert Mitchell