“Run like that lady,” the gym teacher at my neighborhood elementary school would instruct his fourth and fifth graders as he pointed toward me. I was known as “the running lady” in my neighborhood because I ran at the school’s dirt track every morning.
I was in my forties then, and I would lope along at a comfortable nine-minute-mile pace, lap after lap, until I had completed my three-mile daily run. The kids clearly thought my way was too boring, and they would sprint past me, stop to catch their breath, walk a bit, and then sprint again. The teacher would shake his head in dismay that the kids could not see the wisdom in pacing themselves.
Having a running routine taught me a lot about myself, and I am grateful to my running mentors who encouraged me along the way.
I remember running with my friend Bob Hickey who would give me tips as we ran. He loved a run with a hill at the end because he said it “builds character.” I remember wanting to stop mid-way up those hills and Bob saying, “You can do it,” and I did.
Bob was part of the Hash House Harriers and he was always looking for a “rabbit” to catch—someone up ahead who was just a bit slower. Overcoming other runners taught me about setting goals and then pushing myself to achieve them.
Establishing a running routine and setting a pace that I could sustain was also how I approached my prayer life.
I remember my first spiritual director, Sr. Catherine Quinn, SHCJ, suggesting I set a specific time every day for prayer. “Just fifteen minutes a day,” she would say. I was resistant, telling her I thought that a routine like that would somehow stifle the Spirit. I finally followed her advice, and the Spirit didn’t seem to mind.
In both these practices, I can look back at my resistances and see how yielding led to greater freedom. I can see how setting aside time every day for exercise and prayer has made them as integral to me as eating and sleeping.
My doctor tells me, “You are my patient I don’t worry about,” because my vitals are good, and I don’t take any medication. Some of that is genetic, of course. But I think the daily exercise and prayer have helped me become more centered, less encumbered.
During both exercise and prayer times, I gain insights into where I am resistant and what is holding me back. I reflect on my day and where I am feeling drawn toward God and where I am feeling pulled away.
That awareness helps me to lean into my fears and anxieties, to let go, trusting that God is with me, encouraging me and sustaining me.
I am turning seventy this week and I can look back and see how my exercise and prayer practices have impacted my life; and I am grateful for the people who encouraged me in both.