Stan Cottrell, 78, may be the world’s best example of a person who can’t sit still.
And now this Guinness World Record holder is working on a movie deal based on his 40-year career as a distance runner.
The movie will include perseverance like “Rocky,” whose titular character says, “Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.”
And it will have comedy as in “Forrest Gump,” whose titular character notes that life is “like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.”
But mostly, Cottrell hopes the film will underline his resilient faith as seen in “Chariots of Fire,” where Scottish champion Eric Liddell observes, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.”
Cottrell says, “Hang on — five more minutes,” in his nearly breathless style.
Cottrell is incredibly fast and on July 3, 1980, broke the mark recognized by Guinness World Records for running from New York City to San Francisco — 66 miles per day for 48 consecutive days. And he has been told he set another distance record last year by reaching 270,000 miles of running in his lifetime.
According to Runner’s World, the cross-country record was beat by Frank Giannino Jr. from his run of 46 days, 8 hours and 36 minutes in October 1980, barely three months after Cottrell’s record. Then, in 2016, distance runner Pete Kostelnick completed the 3,067-mile run in a new record 42 days, 6 hours and 30 minutes.
Runners continue to set goals to beat the previous record, but no one has matched Cottrell’s pace as a 78-year-old athlete.
A Brief History
Distance running is an old sport, with historians dating its origin to the first Olympics in 776 B.C. And most people know about Pheidippides, the Greek soldier who ran from Marathon to Athens, about 25 miles, to deliver good news: The Greeks won a battle with the Persians. Supposedly, Pheidippides delivered the report and immediately died.
Hundreds of years passed, and the first Olympic Games featured a marathon with 25 runners. Only nine finished. Much later, running took off in the 1970s with marathons in Seattle, New York City, Vancouver and Boston — with the famous Boston Marathon.
Training programs took off, athletic shoes became popular and athletes such as Cottrell began studying the benefits of nutrition, hydration and systematic workouts. Before long, runners were competing to be the fastest in either a nonstop race or a long-distance race. Records were made, and records were broken.
The New York Times reported that at least 10 people run across the country every summer.
Running for a reason
Cottrell has made his mark with the miles he has logged and races he has run, such as the 2021 cross-country journey of 30 miles per day for 100 days. He has been the subject of hundreds of interviews, written two books and paved his livelihood for four decades by running in 40 countries — he’s run the Great Wall of China and run across the United States three times — but rarely does he get an opportunity to express his deep Christian faith.
“I’ve been interviewed hundreds of times,” Cottrell said from his home in Tucker, Georgia. “But no one seems to pick up on the reason I run. It’s from Philippians 4:13, that says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’”
When he speaks, Cottrell seems to bob and weave, shimmering with energy. “Just hang on five more minutes,” he says, using his trademark phrase as a smile dances along with his eyes, interrupted by an occasional “whoo-wee.”
Originally from farming country in Munfordville, Kentucky, Cottrell uses his Southern drawl and animated style to speak, using motivational phrases such as, “God poured in me, and I must pour it back out,” and, “True friendship is about thought, heart and spirit, THS — The Holy Spirit.”
Cottrell said most people know him as a certified trainer who led the Amazing Friendship Run for his nonprofit group Friendship Sports Association. Fewer know him as a Baptist who is involved in a home student course on getting in touch with the deep truth of Scripture and living a life of faith.
Most recent run in 2021
For Cottrell, the life of a distance runner is one of hanging on. In 2021, he ran along the grim macadam of Death Valley, where the pavement reached 150 degrees. He had to slit holes in the sides to allow his feet to swell.
“When I run, I think of Christ who strengthens me, and I say, ‘Hang on for five more minutes,’” Cottrell said.
At least once, when running a 400-mile stretch along Highway 41 in rural Georgia, a driver leaned in out of his window and tried to smack Cottrell with a nine iron golf club.
“He called me every name in the book,” Cottrell said. “The chase van interceded, and we found out the man was looking for a runner who tried to make a play for his girlfriend. He saw me and thought I was the guy. When all the explanations were finished, the man said, ‘Oh, I am so sorry. Here’s $5 for charity.’”
Hanging on despite the obstacles was the theme of “No Mountain Too High,” Cottrell’s first book in 1984 — ghost-written by neighbor Cecil Murphey, 89, a best-selling writer who penned “90 Minutes in Heaven.” Chapter after chapter, Cottrell talks of the heart of the champion, to endure just five more minutes and then five more minutes and five more minutes.
“Hang on,” he says. “Just five more minutes.” Another smile. Another “whoo-wee.”
That heart is Cottrell’s idea for the movie. He is in negotiations with Erwin Brothers Entertainment, makers of Christian-based films. In 2018, their hit movie “I Can Only Imagine” told the story behind the gospel song of the same name. Bart Millard, the main character in the film, sings “I Can Only Imagine” with MercyMe, a popular gospel band.
Writer Murphey recalled when a fire destroyed his house in 2007. Immediately, Cottrell called and said, ‘You’re staying at my house.’” Murphey noted, “That’s pretty amazing, don’t you think?”
Cottrell called his 2021 run the Amazing Friendship Run and recruited sponsors to support him and make donations to children and veterans. That run was much different from the one he made in 1979-1980, when he contacted 699 corporations for sponsorship — all said no.
“In fact, I didn’t have sponsor until I received a Ked’s sneakers deal six weeks before the run started,” he said. “One week later, the deal with Pfizer promoting Ben Gay came through as well. Truly miracle stuff. God has a unique way of keeping all of us humble. He has an agenda for us — not us having an agenda for God!”
The year of the Amazing Friendship Run, Cottrell raised about $60,000 to make the run, with most of the money used for housing and the chase vehicle.
“I made $2,221,” he said with a shrug and his celebrated smile, his boyish haircut framing his face.
On May 7, 2021, Cottrell’s 78 birthday, he began his most recent run across the United States with lots of sponsors who donated to charities for children and veterans.
Cottrell had to rotate through 12 pairs of running shoes as he pounded 30 brutal miles of tarmac for 100 consecutive days. He prayed his way through the ordeal and repeated the phrase that has become his mantra — “Just five more minutes. Hang in there just five more minutes.”
When Cottrell began the 2021 race, he urged his audience, including senior citizens, to be more active.
“We grow old when we desert our dreams,” he said, waving his arms and nodding his head furiously. “When all hope is gone, that wrinkles the soul.”
Cottrell constantly says he is inspired by others who watch his athletic feats, but he also inspires others.
In nearby Athens, Tennessee, education professor Tricia Ging, 67, said she also uses Philippians 4:13 to inspire her as she plows through marathons of 26.2 miles. So far, she has run 26 of them, winning a few in her age category.
“I repeat these words many times throughout the race,” she said, “and I remind myself that it’s by God’s grace that I am able to run.”
And for Cottrell and herself, she is “hanging on — five more minutes.”
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– Michael Ray Smith is a board member of Magazine Training International, a ministry that helps writers, including Talas, with their publications. In addition, Smith is a research fellow at LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania. He has reported for several outlets, including Inspired magazine and Religion Unplugged. He also authored “7 Days to a Byline that Pays,” among other books. Used with permission.