Monday, April 15, 2013

Pray, Pray, Pray for Boston

Hi folks,

It's been a long time since I've posted, but I thought if there were ever a case for this community to pray, this is it:

As you have probably already heard, there were two explosions today at the Boston Marathon. Please let's all pray for those involved:
Dear Lord, please bless all those in Boston and their loved ones
Please heal the wounded;
Please console the aggrieved; 
And please welcome the dead into Your Kingdom.

If this is an act of terror, please have mercy on the perpetrators,
Show them the path to Your forgiveness;
and help us all to remember that You bring about the good in all things.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, July 30, 2010

With Experience Comes Wisdom ...

Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Dana Casanave, who is running 52 marathons in 52 weeks to help AIDS orphans in Africa. (Just typing those words hurts my knees). Well, like yours truly, Dana ran the San Francisco Marathon last weekend. Only, unlike yours truly, she did it intelligently. Quote:
Coming up the bridge we had a couple good sized hills. I had already decided to walk any significant hills to preserve energy and I stuck with that decision when I came face to face with them. It's amazing how much energy you can expend trying to run up hills. Knowing that I still had a long distance to cover, I was going to take the smart route. It turned out to be a very good decision….

After the park we headed through residential areas until we got back to the downtown portion of San Francisco. I felt like I got my second wind and had the energy to keep running without needing much in the way of walking breaks. A lot of people had slowed down considerably and I was passing many runners …
… including, no doubt yours, truly. Wouldn’t you know it, Dana beat my time by 4 minutes. I guess she’s learned a thing or two having now run 50 marathons!

Way to go, Dana! Godspeed!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Making God Laugh: A San Francisco Marathon Race Report

“If you want to make God laugh,” goes the old saying, “tell Him your plans.”

I had the San Francisco Marathon pretty much planned to a T. And I made God laugh heartily.

It’s also often said that God works through the kind people He puts in our lives. And over the course of my trip to San Francisco and through the race itself, I saw Him at work in many of them.

Stage 1: The Trip
This comedy of errors begins with the trip to San Francisco itself. I had it all worked out: Because the marathon would take place on Sunday morning, and because I would be flying back Sunday evening, I would take the family to Mass on Saturday evening. I found a church near the airport (LAX) that offered a 5 p.m. Mass. We would leave home at 3, giving ourselves plenty of time to get there, and after Mass we’d speed over to the airport in time for me to catch my 7 p.m. flight.

Now, what is that other saying, the one about the best-laid plans?

Due to various hang-ups at the house, we didn’t get out the door until 3:30. That was later than I had hoped, but still plenty of time, barring any unforeseen difficulties — of which there were plenty.

I was just turning on to the freeway when Mary Kate said, “I think I left the oven on.” So I drove to the next exit, and got off. Being a little anxious, I then made an unfortunate mistake, stopping a few feet short of the stop sign, and rolling the rest of the distance onto the street — right in front of a police car. The officer let me start driving home for a couple of blocks, but sure enough, he then pulled me over.

At which point, we inexplicably couldn’t find our proof of insurance!

But by God’s providence we had the nicest cop ever — we’ll call him Kind Soul #1 — and he let me go with a warning. Still, the whole exchange must have wasted at least 15 minutes of precious time …

After a return trip home (wouldn’t you know it, the oven was off), we eventually made it back on the freeway, and it was smooth sailing for about half the trip, until we hit a horrendous traffic jam. Not unusual in Southern California, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. Eventually we got up to the front and saw what the problem was — a torched car on the side of the freeway.

But as we marveled at the clearing traffic and wondered what could have happened, we somehow missed the next freeway interchange we needed to take! That meant driving on to yet another freeway, further off course. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the little ones needed to stop for a potty break. Time’s slipping away …

To make this long story short, by the time we got to the church, the priest — let’s call him Kind Soul #2 — was making the final announcements. I approached him afterward, and told him of my predicament: how we had tried to make Mass on time, but failed, and how I wouldn’t be able to make Mass if I ran the marathon. I asked him if I should just stay home and skip the race altogether. I didn’t want to miss the marathon, but I was trying to be open to God’s will. The priest looked at me and said, “You did your best. It’s not your fault you didn’t make it. Now go and run for the glory of God!”

With that mandate, I was sure to make the best of things. I sadly bid farewell to Mary Kate and the children at LAX , got on the plane, and was met my by friend Ted at SFO. At Ted’s place I chatted with him and his wife Jane — Kind Souls #3 and #4, who were incredibly generous and gracious to me — till about 11:00, then called it a night.

Stage 2: The Good
The morning went without a hitch. Ted drove me to the Embarcadero at the crack of dawn, and I joined my wave. There was a large SF Marathon sign boastfully touting the recent Wall Street Journal headline: The Race Even Marathoners Fear. That got me even more pumped.

The race started our beautifully, running by the Bay, over the Golden Gate Bridge and back, through Golden Gate Park, and down Haight Street (despite losing a few minutes due to a traffic stop). In fact, one could argue that it started too well.

I took the hills with gusto. I loved the scenery — the tall buildings, the old houses, the pagoda in Golden Gate Park. I high-fived spectators who called out my name. I passed a table manned by the folks at DailyMile and gave them a shout-out. (By the way, have you joined the Running Catholic group on Daily Mile? You should!)

All along, I was worried about my knees. An injury had kept me out of this year’s L.A. Marathon, and I feared it would flare up on the course. Early on I felt some tenderness, and was concerned. But the tenderness went away, and by mile 15, I had forgotten all about it. It was never a problem. Praise God!

Although conventional wisdom has it that SF is a tough marathon, folks say it’s only the first half you have to worry about. That’s where all the inclines are said to be, and the second half is supposedly “easy.” So, when I was feeling great at about mile 16, confident in my belief that the worst was behind me, I speeded things up a little bit. Hey, it would all be easy from here, right? Might as well go for a good time!

Which brings us back to that cliché about the best-laid plans …

Stage 3: The Bad and the Ugly
Then came Mile 22, and the big hill that waited for me there. After six miles of running faster than I probably should have, I just was not prepared. I didn’t have the energy. I ended up walking that hill.

And then came Mile 23, and another hill. I couldn’t help but agreeing when I overheard a fellow racer say, “I’m going to kill the guy who said the hills are all in the first half!” Again, I was forced to walk, and at that point, my tank was empty. The best I could muster for the last few miles — which were excruciating and slow — was alternating between 100 seconds running / 60 seconds walking. Whereas I had been monitoring my Garmin religiously till then, I stopped looking. I didn’t want to know how slow I was going, didn’t want to know how bad my time would be. I just wanted to be done with this.

I kept telling myself: If I go faster, it will be over sooner.

I had prepared a play list of loud, fast music to keep me energized, but by this point I wanted none of it. My exhaustion consumed me. I clutched the St. Francis scapular I had got just for the occasion — which included a list of intentions that I’d glued to the back — and tried to focus on prayer. I thought of my family. I tried praying the Sorrowful Mysteries (fittingly enough). But I found running/walking was all my mind could handle at that point. “I put myself in your hands, Lord,” I thought, and plodded along.

The miles, which had zipped along so briskly earlier, now seemed worlds apart. But there were some happy moments. Ted and Jane were cheering me on from the sideline somewhere around mile 24-5. And shortly after seeing them, I tripped over a curb and fell to the ground.

Yes, I’m listing a wipeout as a “happy moment,” because, amazingly, I was fine. I had heard horror stories of racers who had tripped within sight of the finish line and never made it across. At the moment of my tumble, I thought I would be one of them. But thanks be to God, I was able to get up and keep going.

A fellow runner — Kind Soul #5 — stopped and offered me help, and I was so humbled. I know how seriously marathoners take their times, and here he was — probably jeopardizing a PR — to offer me a hand. Not wanting to slow him down, I said, “I’m good, keep going!” In hindsight, I wish I had said something more thoughtful and appreciative, but by then I was so worn out I couldn’t even think straight. Dear Lord, please bless that Good Samaritan!

Stage 4: Deliverance
Finally, the finish line approached, and I crossed it (and then myself) with a great sense of relief. Through God’s grace, I made it. Hooray! I looked down at my Garmin, prepared to be disappointed.

Once again, my expectations proved false! My time — 4:38:29 — was short of the 4:30 I had been hoping for, but still 10 minutes faster than I had run L.A. a year earlier, and on a tougher course! Given that I wasn’t even sure my knee would hold up all 26.2 miles, I was surprisingly pleased.

I was even more pleased when I caught up with Ted and Jane a few blocks away. They brought me back to their place, and I was able to take a hot shower. That did wonders for my aching legs!

Ted & Jane

From there, we ate a quick lunch, and I expected we would have to hurry to the airport. But once again, reality didn’t meet up with my expectations. Somehow, even though I thought time would be very tight, we had time to kill, and Ted decided to show me one of the big churches in town. When we got there, Mass was going on! I never expected that! And while I wasn’t able to attend, I was able to witness the Consecration, to see Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, and to thank Him for getting me though the race. That was a wonderful consolation.

From there, we went to the airport. I slept the whole flight back to L.A. And once on the curb at LAX, I was delighted to see a minivan full of Kind Souls #6-10 — my beloved Mary Kate and our four wonderful kiddos, all of whom had sacrificed so much to make this possible. How I had missed them! We had a delicious family dinner at In-N-Out Burger, and I presented Joe with my finisher’s medal, which he has been wearing pretty much ever since!

The race went nothing like I thought it would. My logistical planning flopped. My worst fears about my knees never materialized. And the course wasn’t at all what I expected. But I was surrounded by God’s love, His goodness, and His grace working through His people.

No doubt I made Him laugh more than once. But I hope that in some small way I was able to live up to that kind priest’s advice, and that I ran for His glory.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Marathon Completed, and I'm Still Alive!

A detailed post is forthcoming, but suffice it to say, the San Francisco Marathon went (mostly) well. It was a tough, challenging course, but I got through it, and shaved 10 minutes off my only other marathon (L.A. 2009). So I guess I PRed!

More later. Now, bed.

Many, many thanks to all my dear online friends for their prayers.

Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Steep Thoughts

This is something I didn’t need to see.

After I finally decided to run the San Francisco Marathon — despite fears that my knees aren’t ready for that city’s infamous hills — a friend just had to tell me about a recent Wall Street Journal article ominously titled The Race Even Marathoners Fear.

Oh boy.

Quoth author Kevin Helliker:
Every year, marathons in New York and Chicago draw some 40,000 participants each.

But not the San Francisco Marathon. The race, which takes place July 25, attracted fewer than 7,000 runners last year, and open slots for the upcoming event remain plentiful. The reason: San Francisco’s famous hills, which draw tourists from around the world, are a bear for runners to traverse. “To put it tactfully, this course is not for the casual runner,” says Jenny Schmitt, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Marathon.
Just reading that puts a knot in my stomach. But that’s a good thing.

As I’ve written before (see here, here, here, and here), part of what I love about long-distance running is it makes very tangible to me how utterly dependent I am on God. There’s nothing like a daunting challenge to confirm that, on my own, I can do nothing, and conversely, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

And just as all suffering, no matter how minor, can draw us closer to Christ in His Passion, so too can fear and anxiety bring us closer to Him in his agony in the garden.

So, I’m going into this marathon with confidence — confident that God will give me what I need to get through it, unless His will is greater served in some other way.

Meanwhile, I’ve started up a novena for the prayers of the patron saint of San Francisco, the great St. Francis of Assisi, which just so happens to include one of my favorite prayers:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith ;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy

O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Dear Lord bless, us with peace! St. Francis, pray for us!

(Photo credit: hao$ / flickr)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Shattered Glass

Those looking for signs from God are likely to find them pretty much anywhere — sometimes real, sometimes imagined. Therein lies the danger in assigning too much supernatural import to natural occurrences. Case in point: My broken glass.

A little back story:

I’ve been wavering for some time now on whether I should enter the San Francisco Marathon. I started training for the race while recovering from the injury that sidelined me from running L.A. Now that I’m as ready as I’ll ever be (ran 20 miles last Sunday), I’m inclined to go for it. How cool would it be to run across the Golden Gate Bridge — and back?

But I’m not sure I should. There are some practical considerations: Do I drag my family some 400 miles up to the Bay Area and back? Or do I go without them (something I hate to do)? What about the cost? Are my knees healthy enough? After running almost exclusively on flatlands during my training, could I handle the hills? (My friend/running buddy Tim assures me the hills won’t be so bad. So, if it doesn’t work out, I can always blame him!)

Amidst all this indecision comes the broken glass.

It happened Tuesday night while I was doing some work in my bedroom. One of my dear children, who shall remain nameless, dropped a water glass on the kitchen floor. I heard it shatter, but no one was hurt, so I returned to my work and quickly forgot all about it.

Meanwhile Mary Kate, desperate to get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour, put off cleaning up the glass until they were all tucked in. Made sense: They were all headed off to their bedrooms anyhow, and it’s much easier to clean up a dangerous mess without little ones around.

But soon after forgetting about the glass, I decided to head into the kitchen to refill my water bottle. And, as is my tendency, I was walking barefoot. I walked straight up to the sink when — uh-oh — I felt it: Shards of glass pressing into the sole of my left foot.

My first thought was:, “Well, so much for San Francisco.” Visions of a night in the ER rushed into my head.

But then I looked down to discover — amazingly — that none of the shards had so much as broken my skin. I had felt the glass early enough and thus not stepped down any harder. Crisis averted.

And of course, that led me to the next thought: Clearly this is a sign that God wants me to run San Francisco!

Er, maybe. More likely this is a sign that I’ve found evidence to support doing what I already wanted to do. But who knows, He works in mysterious ways.

Meanwhile my friends Ted & Jane have generously offered to put me up for the night, to drive me to and from the airport, and even to pick up my race packet for me. More signs?

I think I’m Bay-bound. St. Francis, pray for me!

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Last weekend was one of those weekends — a birthday party 60 miles away, hosting out-of-town relatives for Sunday brunch, a planned family birthday celebration. In other words, too many good things squeezed into too little time. I wasn’t sure when I would be able to fit in my long run.

Mercifully, this long run was a relatively short one. After 20 miles (cut to 18) the previous week, my training schedule called for only 13 miles. That’s right, I said “only” and “13 miles” in the same sentence. I still can’t believe that when I finally headed out the door on Sunday afternoon and gave Mary Kate a kiss, I said, “This one will be short; I should be back in about two hours.”

Amazing what time will do to one’s perspective.

Like many “adult-onset” runners, I still can’t quite believe that I now routinely do what I once considered unimaginable. In high school, when my body was much younger than it is now, I couldn’t muster a mile. A little over three years ago, when I took my first run, I couldn’t go for more than a few minutes without having to stop and walk. My first race — just a few months later — was a 10k, which left me utterly exhausted and walking for the last mile or two. (I started out way too fast. Typical newbie.)

Now some of my “short’ runs are 8 miles. And 13 doesn’t faze me in the slightest. In truth, I don’t really think running gets fun until about mile 12.

Through God’s grace and with effort and training, we can do things we once thought impossible. But the key is in making the effort slow and steadily. You increase your miles gradually, and you do your workouts faithfully. There are no shortcuts.

I’ve seen this in the spiritual life, too. There was a time where many months, indeed probably years, passed when I never went to Mass. There was a time when I was so habituated to certain sins that I truly considered it impossible, or at least laughably unrealistic, to think I could ever break out of them. There was a time in my adult life, not too long ago, really, where I knew less about the Faith than my older children do today.

None of which is to say I’ve approached anything near sanctity since then, but only that — again, by God’s grace — I’ve inched along in the right direction. In the spiritual life as in running, I’m a plodder: someone who came to the race late and who’s a lot slower than most the other folks on the course. But as someone who was, both figuratively and literally, sitting on the couch not too long ago, I’m grateful for the progress.

This is something I try to remind folks of all the time, whether it’s non-runners who want to take up running, but think they’re too out of shape, or would-be believers who consider the rigors of the spiritual life and Catholic moral teaching too daunting: It’s not as hard as you think. God gives us the grace. And it’s OK to move in baby steps.

Ultimately, anyone can run a marathon — and we’re all called to be saints.