So I should probably tell you how the race went, hmm? I finished! Deo gratias! My first, and likely last (but hey, never say never…) marathon took a grueling and grace-filled 4 hours 55 minutes and 56 seconds, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better, the Lord is so good. I set out four months ago to complete my training and this marathon by praying for my sponsors. But it was your prayer that sustained me for 26.2 miles, my friends. As of today my fundraising page lists 202 sponsors and almost 29% of my goal, and I can’t thank you enough. You all are seriously my angels.
I spent Thursday night, and much of Friday & Saturday in prayer at St. Michael’s Abbey. Its funny how I’ve now been there just a handful of times, yet each time I drive onto the property or step into the church, its as if I’m entering the home of a close cousin or brother. And I suppose if we boldly look toward the future, that is what I am doing when I go there. There is a sense of peace and serenity that flows throughout the whole Abbey, similar to what I feel each time I return to the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph to spend time with my future sisters. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and briefly chat with a few of the novices/seminarians and priests, and come to find that each of these men is fearfully, wonderfully, and uniquely made to dedicate their lives to the glory of God. It is clear that they are seeking holiness, and this is such a comfort. Even in the limited time I have spent at the Abbey, I have gained such an appreciation for the fraternal bond between the community that lives there and the community I will be joining. While they are separated by a grille (most of the time) and a couple hundred miles, these communities are united in prayer, “…by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” The ease and comfort I felt at St. Michael’s during this second visit served only as more confirmation of my vocation to enter the Order of Premontre.
I asked for as many people to sponsor me by May 2nd as possible, and I was delighted at the gigantic number of prayers I recorded over the two days before the race. It was so humbling to revisit each and every individual prayer request over a two-day period, and to pray for your specific intentions both as I was recording, and of course as I was running. On Saturday night while the men of the Abbey were at recreation and the lay community began filing in for Compline and Eucharistic Adoration, I sat in the parlor finishing up the Litany in preparation for the next morning. Just before I began packing up to head into the church for prayer, two of my dearest friends – who came to Orange County to cheer me on – walked in and presented me with a gift that I will cherish forever. Suffice it to say that they let me know about dozens of people who were going to be praying for me during the race, and any last minute reservations I had about running were suddenly gone. I went to Compline, sat with Jesus and thanked Him for you all for a little while, and then drove to my parents’ hotel in Costa Mesa to bib up my race shirt and go to sleep.
The alarm went off about 3:50am on Sunday morning and I was out the door at 4:25 to catch my shuttle to the starting line. Despite the rainclouds rolling in and carrying their impending doom, I took my breviary and God was so gracious that I even had time to pray Matins and Lauds before I got off the shuttle! I was so afraid I wouldn’t have time… thank you Jesus! I wrapped my bag (full of flip flops, Neosporin, Band-aids, in view of my soon-to-be messed up, post-race feet) in plastic, dropped it off in the designated storage area where thousands of other runners had already been, and then joined them in taking my place among those with finishing-time goals similar to mine – to stretch, pray, update this blog at the very last minute, and prepare to start. In that hour before the race I also received a few encouraging messages from some dear friends, and I have to say that these became some of the most motivating factors of the whole race. The gun went off at 5:30 as I made the sign of the cross, popped in my ear buds and set out just behind the 4 hour, 30 minute pace group.
I didn’t do a lot of interval training over these last four months. No sprinting for 30 seconds, walking for two, etc. etc. Rather I trained mostly at a constant pace on most of my training runs – some days going maybe a minute or so faster than my targeted mile time. So when the 4:30 pace group started off running much more slowly than I was used to, it was of course quite tempting to pull ahead. But in the week prior to the race, I had spent a good deal of time discerning that if I’m going to enter a life where I’ll be spending most of my time in community with women who share my pursuit of holiness, it might be a good idea to run in community with others who share my running goal. Now granted, and 4:30 finishing time was a little ambitious. When I began training I set my goal for between 5 hours and 5:30, but I was feeling so good in the few days before the race that I thought I’d trying a push myself a bit.
At each mile I pulled out my phone out and began playing a new set of prayers for all of your needs. It was such a grace to have enough prayers to fill up about 4-6 minutes of each mile. The rest of the time was spent offering rosaries, Divine Mercy chaplets, and/or Memorares to Our Lady for you. I was able to stay with the pace group for about two hours, or the first 12.5 miles before I slowed down a bit, and eventually lost them as they pulled ahead. But that was alright! There were about 10-15 people who consistently ran next to or near me for those first couple hours, and after a while many of them became so familiar to me that I felt like I was running with friends J. It was, of course, a blessing to run with them at the beginning. I’m positive that if I hadn’t done so, I would have gone much faster toward the start and been running on fumes by the end. But our wonderful pacers kept me in line and I’m so thankful that they helped me conserve my energy so that I could finish strong! Of course… the praying whole business helped a little… :P
Once I had gone through the Litany prayers for each mile I decided to take my ear buds out as I continued to pray on my own until the next mile. I unplugged in the middle of Mile 14, after praying for all of your intentions, and a lovely girl ran up and joined me as I walked for about 30 seconds. She told me that she had been with me in the 4:30 pace group, and how great I was doing, and that I had been motivating her to keep going. It’s funny how a kind word from a stranger can make all the difference. We ran together for about half a mile and chatted about why we were doing the marathon, then we said goodbye as we hit Mile 15 and I popped your prayers back into my ears. Please pray for Candice, this weekend she checked off one major accomplishment on her pre-college-graduation bucket list!
I continued to see Candice and several other faces which became familiar to me from there until the end of the race. I didn’t really hit “the wall” at any point, but around Mile 18 my calves began to spasm (which had never happened before in my life… if you’ve ever had that happen you know how weird it is!) and I began to worry that I might not be able to make it to the end! At one point I pulled over and stretched for just a few seconds as I prayed, but a man ran past me and said very simply and directly, “Don’t stop for too long, get back on the road.” He didn’t say it in an excited or even particularly encouraging way. It reminded me of how I felt in my few years of working in health clubs, when fellow personal trainers would bluntly tell me that what I was eating or the way I was performing an exercise was not to my benefit. Rather than being offended, I was always thankful that there was someone who was looking out for me without feeling the need to sugar-coat the truth. I didn’t need someone telling me it was “okay” to have a cupcake every once in a while, or that I should lift lighter weights if I felt tired. I needed to be pushed, and I needed to be disciplined, and I was constantly made stronger by the help of those who were more experienced and motivated than myself. With more than 7 miles left to go It was just a matter of fact that I needed to get back on the road, and this man knew I needed to hear it. I was so appreciative and fell back in line immediately.
As I came up to the marker reading “Mile 20” I was bit intimidated realizing that I was about to pass the longest distance I’d ever run. Just as I was about to begin playing the Litany for Mile 20, a text message from one of my dearest friends appeared reading, “Keep running Jenn! Run as to win the race for his Glory!!!!!!!” … and it was just what I needed. Even while running and praying for all of my sponsor’s specific needs, I think at that moment the Lord knew that I would require a little reminder that and the end of it all, everything we do should be for His glory. I did pray and still am praying, of course, in petition for all the things you asked me to pray about, my friends. But to be honest, after I ask the Lord for what you need or desire, I always add that I am really only asking these things of Him if they are in line with His will for your lives. For our lives. More than anything, I ask Him to give you peace in whatever blessings or struggles you may undergo according to His will, and that you trust in His great design for your life. And I pray the same for me. J. So as the final hour of the race approached and the prayers I listened to began to increase in intensity, I remembered that all the things I asked were for the sake of your sanctification so that ultimately you might take your place among the saints and angels, praising the name of the Lord for all eternity in heaven.
There was an older gentleman who leapfrogged with me for about the last 4 miles. Like my lovely friend from earlier, he also told me how great I was going, and let me know that his goal was just to finish and try and keep his heart rate down. He wasn’t in particularly spectacular shape, but I could tell that this wasn’t his first race. During those final miles of the race I found myself surrounded by all sorts of people. This older gentleman, some women around my age who seemed to be in great shape, a mother running with her son, the man who had been sitting next to me on the shuttle bus from the hotel, friends running together for various causes, a lady whose daughter and husband joined her on bicycle for Mile 23, and even the pacers for the 5 hour finishing mark came up right behind me at Mile 24! I stuck with them until just before the end. In those last few miles I felt a sense of solidarity with all of these people who were about to finish at the same time as me. I knew that they were all running for different reasons and, whatever our motivations, we were nearly at the end.
I had passed two friends who came to support me at Mile 12, as well as my amazing parents at Mile 17. I didn’t expect to see anyone again until the finish line, so imagine my joy when my two friends popped up just as I was finishing the Litany for Mile 22, and ran with me for half a mile! The last time anyone ran and prayed with me was during the kickoff leg of the National Life Runners’ A-Cross the Country Relay, which I ran in San Francisco back February. So, what a blessing it was for my friends to run (well let’s face it… by Mile 22.5 I was doing more of a trotting or jogging thing at best. Maybe hobbling. Lol..) next to me and even offer to pray a Divine Mercy chaplet to help me get through the rest of the mile. I know I’ve said it countless times, but I truly have the best friends in the world. And not just those two. Others… all across the country and globe. You know who you are.
The Lord had filled the sky with rainclouds, which never broke, over this usually bright and sunny coastal region. I won’t even hear of someone who tries to say that these clouds were not a result of divine intervention! It was the most perfect running weather anyone could have asked for. It wasn’t VERY LAST quarter mile of the race that the sun broke through, and it beat down so hard that I just knew I would have been miserable if it had shown up any sooner, haha! Thank you Jesus for shielding us runners from the blazing heat for almost five hours!
Spectators held signs, clapped, cheered and shouted such encouraging words as I rounded off Mile 25 and implored Our Lady, Bl. JPII, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Padre Pio and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati to come to my assistance, along with all of the other saints and angels in heaven. I hope that all of those people who lined the final mile knew how very much it meant to the runners. Or… how much it meant to me at least. I tried to say “thank you” as much as I could to people who cheered throughout the race.
There are certain people who I knew were praying for me just as I approached the finish line and I realized that, while I had set out to run this race with the motivation that I would be praying for your… it was really your prayers that sustained me, my friends. How sobering to receive a shower of grace and love through your prayers for me as I ran that last quarter mile, and I was reminded that this race, like everything else, was accomplished not by anything that I did – but through the prayers and work of the whole Body of Christ. I didn’t expect to see my family in the crowd as I approached the finish line, but there they were. My mother handed me the Vatican flag that I brought home from World Youth Day in Madrid, where I first heard the call of the Lord, to religious life. I carried it through the finish line as the clock hit 4:55:54, Ave Maria!
I said a prayer of thanksgiving on the grass and then hobbled over to stretch and nibble on things from my post-race goodie bag while I waited for my family and friends to find me. While I was waiting, the man who was trying to keep his heart rate down came over and congratulated me, as I did him. He asked if this was my first marathon, and I replied, “First and probably last.” Of course he didn't know the reason I wouldn't run another marathon, but I’m sure he took that to mean that I didn't enjoy the experience as he replied, “Ah, just wait, in a couple weeks you’ll be ready for the next one!” And perhaps he was right.
The marathon is done, but the race is far from over, my friends. I cannot thank you enough for all of your support through the last few months. Your prayers and encouragement in both my training and my vocation, and been a constant and ever-increasing gift which gives me strength to persevere on this road to the monastery. There is a long journey still ahead and while I can’t say for sure whether the road will end where I think it will, traveling is one of my most favorite things to do, and I am happy to keep going for as long as the Lord desires.
I resolved a long time ago that I would continue running after the marathon. As of today my debt is down to $36,909 and I have just under 4 months left until my entrance date, August 28th. I need your prayers now more than ever, my brothers and sisters, for I know that if the Lord wills for me to enter on that day, He will show me His plan for how my debt can be resolved. For now, I will continue my work for our dear diocesan seminarians as I continue to pray for you and the salvation of the whole world. After a couple more days of recovery (Praise Jesus, I did not walk away with blisters half as bad as I had anticipated! Feet are still a bit swollen though…) I will be back on the road this Monday. I plan to run 3-5 miles, 4 times a week until I enter, offering a different mystery of the rosary each day for my sponsors. Please continue to spread the word about my vocation my friends! My 26.2 miles are over, but I continue to pray for you. I will keep my fundraising page www.gofundme.com/litanyrun open so that you can continue to track my progress and, God willing, people can continue to sponsor me as my Litany grows and I take your prayers on my short and humble neighborhood runs.
After getting cleaned up from the race and an awesome Cinco de Mayo lunch with my parents and friends, I said goodbye and headed off to spend the night in Tehachapi. I hadn’t been there since Easter and when I pulled up to the little parking lot in front of the guest house, a sense of peace washed over me. I felt the relief of one who has been on the road for weeks and finally returns home. I know it’s not my home yet, I do. But it sure does feel good to be there. I spent the evening and Monday in prayer with the community and got to take one last tour of the latest developments on their new building before they move in and it becomes cloistered. Mother Mary Augustine is so generous in allowing me in to see the rooms where I will one-day sleep, work, study and pray.
I could only stay for a day this time around, but that was enough. Well it’s not really enough… I wait in joyful anticipation of the day I can go and stay forever, haha… but I at least feel recharged having had the opportunity to pray with the sisters for a day. I gave Mother an update on my finances and we chatted about my experience running this marathon. While I am not as close to resolving my debt as I thought I would be by the end of the race, Mother reminded me that the Lord has a reason for everything and that it will be taken care of when He wants, not necessarily when I want. And of course, it’s better for my soul that way. I do have some other fundraising plans for the next couple of months, which I will write about soon. But if it is God’s will that I not have my loans paid off in time to enter in August, then that just means He has more work for me to do in the world. More running to do and more people to pray for! I thank Him for this gift of continuing to pay off my debt, as it provides me with work with haste and devotion, to do the Lord’s work and gain more souls for His glory right now!
In these few days of prayer and reflection since the race God has given me so much hope. I have so much to be thankful for. So many people who have loved me and assured me that the Lord is working through my vocation already. I have to say that as each day passes and more graces are revealed, confirmation that I am being called to the Order of Premontre grows stronger and stronger. After everything the Lord has shown me and given me over the last few months, it’s difficult to imagine that this is not His will for me, and now it’s up to me to do my best, in every moment of every day, to respond to this call as generously as I can. My Lord sacrificed everything for me, and my greatest desire is to give my whole life to Him. Ultimately I must resign myself to the fact that He generously provides me with everything I need, and that He will grant me my heart’s greatest desire when the time is right. My responsibility right now is only to cooperate with the grace He gives me.
Oh Lord, make me like clay in your hands. Cast me into the mold of my Blessed Mother and make me of such substance that when the pressure of Your palms is released, I may keep my form and stand as a beautiful model of Your grace and love.