Showdown in Motown: Finally Running the Race

Athletic training (and particularly running) is a good metaphor for our most important race as members of the Catholic Church.

Sérgio Valle Duarte, CC BY 3.0
Sérgio Valle Duarte, CC BY 3.0 (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:1-2).

Looks like I’m finally gonna run across that bridge and through that tunnel this Sunday in Detroit.

In 1999, I was all geared up to run the Detroit Free Press Marathon, and I also had good hopes of qualifying for the venerable Boston Marathon.

I remember 1999 well.  I was living in Ohio then, working for Catholics United for the Faith (CUF), and often training with friends from neighboring West Virginia who had either run Boston or were planning to do so.  I was also blessed to train in various notable places that year, including along the Mississippi River in the New Orleans area and also at the University of Kansas track where the great Jim Ryun had once run, as I was in the Sunflower State that summer for the joyous wedding of my friends Ted and Beth Sri.

Meanwhile, my brother Chris was a top-performing stockbroker with Oppenheimer, and I was blessed to join him on a special trip to Paris and then an extension to London.  I will never forgot jogging past the statue of St. Genevieve, the patron of Paris (and also the name of my beloved mother), the Eiffel Tower, and then around the Cathedral of Notre Dame several times.

Plus, ascending Montmarte on an early Sunday morning and paying homage to our Lord at the summit at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, where perpetual Eucharistic adoration has been going on since 1885, (though technically taking an appropriate break on Good Friday and much of Holy Saturday each year).

And then in London, where my running/pilgrimage spots included Hyde Park, where the great lay apologist Frank Sheed used to defend the Faith, the Tower of London, where my heroes Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher were imprisoned before their execution by King Henry VIII, and also at the very spot where the Martyrs of Tyburn made their final offering to God, which is today commemorated by a nondescript marker in the middle of a busy London street.

Alas, it was not meant to be.  Six weeks before the Free Press Marathon, toward the end of a 20-plus-mile training run over Labor Day weekend while visiting my family in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I was reminded of the distinction between “I wish this race would end” pain and, “Uh oh, I think I just hurt myself” pain, as I stepped up a curb near my parent’s home.  Unfortunately, it was the latter, as I reinjured my left Achilles tendon.

So I did not run that year, and I felt like I had to give up my bucket-list goal of running a marathon, including my dream of running Boston.  Not to be deterred, though, I eventually shifted my goals to cycling, in particular a century or 100-mile bike ride, which is the cycling analogue to a running marathon.  I was in Alabama by that time, working for EWTN, and my training included regular scenic and challenging rides up Double Oak Mountain, which is a little south of Birmingham.

Cycling is recommended because it has less wear-and-tear on the body, which is generally true, but not in my case, at least in part, as I unwittingly exacerbated what turned out to be nerve-damage in my seat area.  Would that high-fiber cereal have been as readily available and promoted in my youth as they are now.  I’ll mercifully spare you the details, but I imagine I’d still be cycling had  it been.

So, though I had accomplished my century in 2011, which I made sure to include crossing the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, scene of the infamous Bloody Sunday confrontation in 1965, I had to give up cycling, which was difficult to do, but the only smart thing to do.  I don’t fancy myself a masochist, and if we’re walking with the Lord, we won’t have to look far for truly redemptive suffering.

Now back in my native Michigan and working at Ave Maria Radio at age 54, I thought I’d give running a shot again, and I’ve gradually gotten back into halfway decent shape over the last six months.  I’ve been aided by my Fitter First slant board, which I’d highly recommend to anyone who’s ever had Achilles, calf or plantar fasciitis issues.

Which reminds me of Indiana Jones’ famous line from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, with slight modification: “It’s not the years.  It’s not the mileage.  It’s both.”

And it’s been good to get back running in a couple of local running groups.  God’s words regarding Adam, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” apply to humanity in general, as we all do better when we benefit from fellowship and solidarity in our various life endeavors.

So this Sunday, I thank God that, barring some unforeseen calamity, I’ll finally get to run across the Ambassador Bridge into Canada and then back though the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

I’ll only be doing the half-marathon, but I figure that’ll be a great accomplishment, all things considered, and then we can reevaluate my future afterward.

In any event, I’ve also been reminded over the last several months and 17 years that running in particular—and athletic training in general—is a good metaphor for our most important race as members of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s Catholic Church.  May I persevere on Sunday, and may we all in the larger race that applies to all of us.

Please say a prayer for all of the runners in Detroit this weekend.  I’ll let you know next week how things go.