New York is setting to one of the country’s, if not the world’s, most popular marathons, drawing more than 45,000 participants who will pound the pavement for 26.2 miles. Whether you will be running this iconic marathon or not, whether you are a runner yourself or know someone who is, then you surely know that everyone runs for a different reason. These reasons – whether it be to lose weight, train for a race, raise money for a charity, or to burn off stress – is what drives runners to push through the miles.
I have my reasons, too. In 2006 my world fell apart. In a week's time my mother passed away from cancer and my wife walked out on our marriage. Not long after, I started to run to help get me through it. But I also started to pray a lot more. Growing up in a Catholic family, I was accustomed to turn to God all my life and now I needed him more than ever.
I took it a step, many steps actually, further. Having run several marathons, although not New York (yet), and two 100-mile races, I felt called to take on the ultimate challenge – to run across America -- and I seemed in the right place in my life last year to make it happen. So I quit my job and started training. But I needed a good reason to do it.
My mom used to run and pray the rosary, and I saw this as a chance to use my gifts as a distance runner to give back to those around me by sharing with the world the importance and power of prayer. Instead of running for a particular charity, I decided I would pray for whatever anyone wanted me to pray for so that everyone would have a stake in my mission.
Thanks to a couple stories about my run before I started, intentions started pouring in from all over the globe. I promised I would pray a decade of the rosary for each intention I received through my website, email or Facebook. My journey from coast to coast ended up taking me exactly four months and just over 3,700 miles. Fortunately, I had thousands of intentions and a great deal of time to pray for them.
I started out alone at sunrise on January 20 of this year at the shores of the Pacific in California. There was no support crew, as this was a solo and unsupported effort. All my supplies were in the 75-pound baby jogger I would be pushing across the country, but the most important item I brought with me was my rosary ring.
To say the road was difficult would be an understatement. I had to constantly battle all types of obstacles including injuries, long mileage days, bad weather, rain, dust storms, wild animals, and loneliness. It seemed that nearly every day tried to give me a reason to quit, but I was motivated by what people were asking me to pray for.
But isn’t life like that? Filled with daily obstacles that seem nearly impossible to overcome. It occurred to me that so many people were at the point in their lives that I so often found myself in physically – the feeling of being unable to continue and totally helpless. I believe the answer to both situations is to ask God for the strength to make it through, and that is precisely what I was encouraging people to do.
It is almost impossible to describe just how taxing the run was both from a physical and mental perspective. As a runner, sometimes those first steps are the hardest after you manage to drag yourself out of bed. It was like that for me often on the journey, but I know that despite the run going down as a solo effort, God was with me every step of the way and that is the only reason I was successful.
On May 20, 12 pairs of shoes and 35,000 Hail Marys later, I finally reached my finish line at the Atlantic off the coast of New York. To celebrate, I ran into the ocean with a huge smile on my face and an even bigger sigh of relief.
While my own run has ended, I know the struggles we all face continue on. I was humbled by what people asked me to pray for -- all kinds of illnesses in loved ones, especially children, as well as economic issues, people struggling with addictions, and relationship problems. I have learned to look at everyone I meet with sincere kindness and compassion because there is always so much more happening than meets the eye.
I sincerely hope that people who are fighting their battles will look to God for help, because if I have learned anything, it’s that all things, even getting one of the lucky lottery numbers to run the New York City marathon, are possible with the Lord.
Jeff Grabosky lives in Phoenix, Ariz., and teaches at a Catholic school. He still runs, just not hundreds of miles a week. He can be reached via his website at www.jeffrunsamerica.com.