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Michael Chitwood had one reason to start running marathons, and it had nothing to do with God.

It was "just me trying to not be fat," says Chitwood, a former elementary schoolteacher. "I had never even run a 5K."

At his first training session for the 26.2-mile event, Chitwood weighed in at 265. The weight came off slowly. And as the training miles increased, so did his sense of God's leading.

"Since my dad died two years earlier,

I hadn't felt much like talking to God. And when I did, what did I get? Static," he says.

But as Chitwood ran, the sense of God's presence grew. He turned off his running mix and tried to listen to God in prayer.

"The change was slow, but there was definitely a change. Not just with my fitness, but deep inside me," he says. By race day, Chitwood had lost 41 pounds.

"The race was great. I felt more physical pain than I had ever felt in my life. I got passed by a guy with one leg. But I finished under 5 hours, 30 minutes."

Less than two years after his first marathon, Chitwood was training for his first Ironman triathlon—a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, followed by a marathon run, no breaks allowed. One day while out on an 85-mile training ride, he was praying when God, he says, prompted an idea: What if I dedicated my next race to raising money to help kids in other countries?

"It was the most personal experience with God I had ever had," he says.

Chitwood says he doesn't even remember putting his bike away that day. He spent the rest of the day writing down all of the ideas that had come to him on the ride. "The ideas came fully and freely, effortless. I knew that not only would ...

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