By Fr. Marty Goetz
“The New York Marathon – a fantastic event.” — Pope John Paul II, 1982
A few weeks ago (Nov. 7 to be exact) I ran the New York City Marathon in six hours, 10 minutes and 39 seconds. That was four hours, one minute and 56 seconds behind the winner. I finished in 42,925th place out of 44,829 finishers. Not a headline maker like the Chilean miner or Al Roker or Meredith Vieira, but not bad for a vocation director from Iowa.
None of that matters. I did it! I finished! My friend Pat O’Rourke and I finished side by side. It took a year of training and my friend’s support to finish the marathon. Because of that, there’s a joy in my heart I wouldn’t trade for the world. It was hard, but worth it! I’m already thinking of my next marathon even though I told Bishop Martin Amos I was going to retire from running marathons. The next opportunity? Des Moines, Oct. 16, 2011 — maybe!
Running in the New York City Marathon taught me two powerful lessons. First, I learned a lot about friendship. About a year ago, Pat and I decided we would enter the lottery for the marathon. In April we learned that we were in, so we began training together. Most mornings before the sun rose we would be on the Duck Creek recreational trail putting in our miles. Some days were easier than others; some days we had to cut the run short. But there was one constant: we always ran together.
We found out about a month before the marathon that we would start the race in different groups, so we agreed to try to meet at the eight-mile mark. Can you imagine how difficult that would have been with 45,000 runners? Luckily, a couple of days before the race, we discovered that Pat could move back and start with me. We ran every step of the marathon together.
In Brooklyn, before the eight-mile mark, I heard Pat say: “Isn’t this an awesome race?” I agreed it was because we were running together. But we had 18 miles to go — and two-tenths!
The second lesson I learned had to do with perseverance. I’m sure there were times when Pat wanted to drop out. There were probably more times I wanted to. At times I was hurting and thought to myself: what is the point of going on? People would understand. After all, 26.2 miles is a long way.
But Pat wouldn’t let me do that and I wouldn’t let him do that, either. I needed to know that my body, mind and spirit could do this after a physically challenging year. Pat’s daughter, Amy, came out of the crowd and ran with us for awhile around the 17-mile mark. Pat’s wife, Diane, and Amy were there again at the 23-mile mark. That encouraged us. And I remembered all the people back in Iowa thinking of and praying for us.
I can’t describe the joy I felt as we made the last turn into Central Park and could see the finish line. I’m not sure what the race organizers were thinking, but we were running uphill at this time. Then it was 800 meters to go, 400, 200, and, finally, the finish line. We did it! We persevered! We endured! A medal was placed around our necks!
When I was back in the hotel after the long walk through the finishing area and the struggle to find transportation, I thought about how much the marathon is like vocations work. A vocation director can’t do it alone. We are all in this together. Every one of us must promote vocations. There are times when the numbers aren’t improving and we get discouraged and might want to give up. But Jesus tells us many times it can’t be that way.
If we really work together there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. And if we persevere to the end the results will be fantastic!