"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run,
but only one gets the prize?"
I Corinthians 9:24

The apostle Paul often used examples of athletes when making a point, particularly in regard to runners.  My
take on Paul, was that he wasn't necessarily athletic himself, but I suspect he was influenced by the olympics
of his day.  His fascination may have been because he was a wanna-be runner.  Rome was known for
hosting gladiator games and similar events in the coliseum.  Paul was a Roman citizen, and would have likely
attended some of them.

The Grecian Olympics became official in 776 BC, however Homer's Iliad indicated that there were olympics of
some sort as early as the 12th century.  The first olympics held marathons and other running events only.  
Later the scope of activity broadened.  The various competitions were not team events, but were all
individual competitions.  It was a great honor to win, more so than being a hero in battle.  Wreaths, garlands,
and other trophies were awarded to those who excelled.

If Paul were a big fan of runners, perhaps having his favorites, he probably was following their competitions.  
Certainly some athletic event was on his mind when he wrote of pressing toward the mark and reaching for
the prize.  
Or stating that he had not run in vain when referring to his life of service to Christ.

He may have experienced a good deal of running himself, although of another style.  His boldness in
proclaiming the gospel wasn't exactly low profile.  He had to get himself out of town time and again, and in a
big hurry.  On one occasion he was chased out of Thessalonica and wound up in Berea.  The first thing he
did was find the local synagogue and set himself up to continue boldly preaching.  Berea was a picturesque
countryside town near a lake.  There he would soon encounter a group of magnificent Greek women who
experienced powerful conversions to Christ.  An example of another running event ending with a prize worth
the effort.  

Paul never stopped running in one way or another his whole life.  His close friends either ran with him or fell
They all rejoiced in suffering for the sake of Christ, running the race set before them.  Hundreds of early
committed to Christ, turned the world upside down.

"Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in."
(Hebrews 12:2 – from The Message)