Bob Tamasy: Is Life Really A Marathon - Or A Relay Race?

  • Monday, February 19, 2024
  • Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy

How many times have you heard someone say, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint”? Maybe it’s a cliché, but it’s still true. A sprint starts and finishes very quickly, but a marathon is a long, grueling race, requiring perseverance, endurance and determination. A lot like everyday life, right?

However, recently I started considering the “race of life” differently. In Kingdom Men, pastor Tony Evans used another metaphor from the world of track and field – a relay race. Unlike an individual participating alone, a relay race competitor must transfer a baton to a teammate. In all, the baton is passed three times in the team’s attempt to reach the finish line first.

Evans cited the 2009 Summer Olympic Games, in which both the U.S. men’s and women’s 4 x 100-meter relay teams were heavily favored to win. Unfortunately, both teams dropped their batons in their semifinal races, resulting in their disqualification. Total failure because of inability to pass their batons successfully.

We see this baton-passing analogy often in the business world. As an author, I’ve had the privilege of researching and writing books about three family-owned, mutli-generational companies. Two have reached the fourth generation of continuous family leadership, but they are the exception.

Statistically, less than one-third of family businesses survive to the second generation; only 15% are successful to a third generation, and less than 4% survive to the fourth generation. The values, visions and missions these companies once cherished were lost – their batons were dropped – somewhere along the way.

“But I’m not a business owner” we might be thinking. Maybe so. But if we are parents or grandparents, we’re carrying figurative batons we hope to pass along to our children and grandchildren. I’m not referring to a material inheritance. I’m thinking of the family traditions, values, and beliefs we’ve established and modeled through the years.

The most important “baton” of all is a heritage of faith. Moses had this in mind when he told the people of Israel:

“These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all His decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life” (Deuteronomy 6:1-2).

The apostle Paul conveyed a similar idea when he exhorted Timothy, the young man he had been discipling, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). In this single verse the spiritual baton is passed three times, from Paul to Timothy, then to “reliable [faithful] men,” and then to “others.”

When Jesus Christ commissioned His 12 disciples to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), He had in mind mature believers who not only spoke the truth but lived it out in ways that others could understand and emulate. This is important because the outdated adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” is hardly an effective way for leading. Or for successfully passing batons of faith. If we don’t live out what we profess, do we really believe it?

Paul had no idea that many centuries later two accomplished relay teams would lose their coveted gold medals because they failed to pass their batons. He might not have used the terms, but desperately wanted to finish well – and complete his own “relay race” successfully.

He wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Then a few verses later the apostle stated, “But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself might not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Our lives indeed look like an arduous marathon. But perhaps it would help also to see it as a relay race, in which we’re carrying a baton and preparing to hand it off to a son or daughter, the person who one day will take over the job we’ve been doing, or someone we’ve been mentoring or discipling. Let’s pray that with God’s wisdom, strength and direction, we won’t drop the baton.

* * *

Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is His email address is

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