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.

1 comment:

  1. We must have started running about the same time. However, for me anything after 14 miles becomes less fun, after 18 miles--much more so. But God's grace always gets me through. Having run a total of 30-something miles in the last MONTH, I've really forgotten what those long distances feel like. But I'm sure it'll come back to me.