WAXAHACHIE — Tracking a path on foot as long as a one-way-trip to Fort Worth or a round-trip visit Dallas, one local is making Waxahachie history.
Running his age, former Southwestern Assemblies of God Dean of the College of Bible and Church Ministries, Dr. LeRoy Bartel, has set out to complete 70 miles in less than a week in recognition of his 70th birthday.
“I started doing this on my 65th birthday, and now this one is 70. I added on one mile per year, just kind of proving I can do it,” Dr. Bartel explained the reason behind the distance.
Although his birthday isn’t until early April, Dr. Bartel decided to earn his stride ahead of schedule in a five-day crunch.
“I’m turning 70 on April 8, but because I have some conferences and some speaking engagements that require air travel, I usually do it the week of my birthday, but this year was different,” Dr. Bartel explained. “So I broke it down so that it’s achievable for me. This year, I’m doing six miles in the morning, six in the afternoon, so it’s 12 miles a day for five days that gets me to 60. Then the last day I’ll do five and five,” he added, laying out his plan for the daring objective.
HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING
Developing a love for the aerobic exercise is a continued, hard-earned pattern that began in Dr. Bartel’s youth, intersecting into adulthood.
“I started running cross country in high school, and it was my sport, and I enjoyed it,” he recalled his first encounter with his ongoing hobby.
After graduating Trinity Bible College in 1964, and later becoming a pastor, life’s demanding agenda brought about a season of self-improvement, urging Dr. Bartel to adjust his physical condition.
“During my early ministry years, I got away from running, and I woke up one day to the fact that I was fat and ugly more than I wanted to be,” Dr. Bartel admitted honestly.
“I had a minster friend who had done Bible conferences for me at the churches I pastored, and he said, ‘Don’t forget your body. Serve God but don’t get so tied up with ministry that you forget that your body is a temple.’ So I started running and did several 10-K’s and worked my way up again,” he recollected.
Going back to school, Bartel received a Master of Divinity degree and Doctorate from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in 1982, developing his biblical linguistic education further.
“I’d gone back to seminary after I had been ministering for awhile and I was taking languages. If you know anything about Biblical languages, the approach that is used, you are expected each day to do translation and then defend your translation, why you translated what you translated,” Dr. Bartel described.
“So I’d get up at four in the morning and prepare myself for Biblical languages, and when I finished my course, I was washed out. So I ‘d take a nap, and I would always wake up with a groggy hangover – is how I’d describe it,” he added, recalling the advice of a fellow classmate. “He was an army ranger preparing himself for chaplaincy at the time, and I said to him, ‘Man, I get up early, do this and wake up with a hang-over,’ and he said, ‘Bartel, listen to me. You get out and get yourself a good sweat and run, take a shower and you won’t need the nap.’ And he was right."
In a recent health article by Active, it states that long runs assist the body in storing a greater amount of glycogen, which is where the body gets energy during a long, hard effort. As the body depletes its glycogen stores, it then goes to the fat stores for energy. Once this transition occurs, running trains the body to store more of that glycogen, increasing the ability to run longer without getting fatigued.
Not only is running a great physical stimulant, but also an improving mental incentive for enhancing brain health, one of which Dr. Bartel accredits.
“I’d go out, put in my miles, get a good sweat after my classes, and then go study. It got me through seminary,” he affirmed.
According to a Harvard Medical study, brain regions that are involved in memory function release a chemical called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). In simple terms, BDNF rewires memory circuits, so they work better, heightening cognitive skills of multitasking, concentration, cognition and memorization.
“You leave thinking about something you need a solution to or a problem you need to solve, and you throw prayer and thinking into your run, and more often than not, when I get back I’ve got a solution,” Dr. Bartel agreed.
Although BDNF isn't available in a pill, only the brain can make it with regular exercise. That means 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, ideally performed five days a week. The threshold for brain benefits occurs when the heart rate is raised to 70 percent of maximum activity – one of which Dr. Bartel exceeds the limit, experiencing “runner's high” from time to time.
“Any runner that runs quite a bit, they’ll talk about ‘runners high.’ It’s when you finish your run and feel like you can run forever but you can’t. So you finish the run and say to yourself, ‘I could do five or seven more miles,’ and you can’t, but it’s a wonderful feeling,” Dr. Bartel acknowledged.
THE STARTING LINE
Putting distance to the test, Dr. Bartel continued his dedicated routine, preferring to stick to the great outdoors during his training, running on a daily basis.
“The idea of running on a treadmill is a last resort because I feel like a gerbil,” he chuckled.
“I like to run outside, and I have probably five or six regular runs that I do. The most regular run is to run from the SAGU fitness center to Getzendaner, and then run down to the overpass with the big cement columns, right by Fresh Market coffee shop. That’s six miles to make that loop,” he calculated the distance.
Over the years, Dr. Bartel has completed four marathons, countless 10-K races, and one of the longest and largest relay races in the U.S., called “Hood To Coast.” Stretching 199 miles through a track from Mount Hood, Oregon, to the coast in a span of 35 hours, a team of 12 must cross the finish line intact to complete the race.
“I’ve done what’s called ‘Hood to Coast’ twice. It’s one of the ultra relay races,” Dr. Bartel confirmed. “You have a team of 12 runners and two vans, and you run three legs of five to seven miles. You run 24 hours until you’re done, it’s about the equivalent of a marathon, but it’s done in three layers. I’ve done that twice, and it’s wonderful,” he expressed. “I was running at night with a light on my head, and I was on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, and this kid comes up, runs beside me, and we start a conversation.
“We were having this great conversation, telling me about his dad and life, and we’re running along. This kid is probably 13, running ‘Hood to Coast,’ and he says, ‘Well, it’s been nice to visit with you,’ and he dropped his body into overdrive and pulled away from me – there’s no way I was going to keep up with him, he just stopped to chat."
What seemed like a personal fitness goal would soon turn into an opportunity of encouragement for Dr. Bartel, meeting one person at a time. Sparking a unique passion within him, a listening ear and attentive heart would change his runs forever.
Merging his physicality with spirituality, Dr. Bartel began to pray and run during his regular jogging routes.
“This year especially, I combined running with prayer. I’ve done that regularly in communities I’ve lived in and so on,” Dr. Bartel said, incorporating Facebook into his prayer circle. “I’ve invited people to tell me their prayer needs, and I’d pray for them while I ran. So I prayed over the whole city this week, prayed for the Mayor, the council, all the schools, and homes."
Embracing an idea from a friend, Dr. Bartel took it on, making the uncommon pair his own.
“It was an idea that entered my mind, I thought, ‘Why don’t I do that?’ because people do prayer walks, and then Becky Hennesy at Trinity Church, she talked about doing it, and I said, ‘Becky, that’s a wonderful idea. Let’s do it!’”
Through the power of social media, word got out about his prayer runs as requests flooded Dr. Bartel’s inbox.
“I would post on Facebook my progress and invite people to send me their prayer requests, and I’ve had a big response to that. I’d say, ‘If you have any need, message me. I promise you it’s confidential and I’ll pray for you on my prayer run,’” he assured.
“I got all kinds of responses. I mean, really serious issues people were facing, illnesses, parenting challenges, jobs, and houses that needed to sell. Then I prayed for every house in the area when I would run by it,” he disclosed, later expressing that many prayers were answered.
Pastoring on the move, Dr. Bartel continues this trend, maneuvering through the streets of Waxahachie with a mission to bless his community.
After retiring from 30 years of teaching at SAGU, this pastor, professor, and devoted runner sees no end in sight.
“I’m retired – whatever that means,” he joked. “I taught for 30 years and retired, but I’m still teaching. I have five doctoral students I’m supervising, teaching two graduate classes, and I’m still teaching a distant education Bible Study class,” he listed.
From conducting classes to sprinting his age, and sincerely interceding on behalf of his community, Dr. Bartel is a rare Waxahachie cornerstone.
Completing his 70-mile goal Saturday, March 18, Dr. Bartel is sprinting towards what tomorrow brings, adding miles to the soles of his shoes.
“I had a smart-aleck student say to me the other day, ‘What are you going to do when you’re 100?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m going to keep running,’” Dr. Bartel teased.
“I’ll do this every year for as long as I can. I don’t know how long I’ll do it, but when I do it, I run every step. As long as my body will let me, it’s good, and I’ll do it,” he finished with a nod and a raised fist.
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer