Saturday, October 18, 2008

Br. Jason Welle, OFM Runs 2008 Chicago Marathon

Beginning of Chicago Marathon 2008 on Sunday, 12 October in Grant Park

by Bro. Jason Welle, OFM
Bro. Jason recently professed solemn vows as a friar minor on the Solemnity of the Assumption, 15 August, in the parish church of Pulaski, WI, Assumption BVM. He is current ly a student at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago

On October 12th, I joined 33,000 other athletes for the 2008 Chicago Marathon, the fourth marathon I have run as a Franciscan friar. Doing a marathon a year is quickly becoming a tradition for my younger brother Scott and I; we have run four together, shoulder to shoulder, start to finish. This year, we completed the 26.2 mile course through twenty-nine Chicago neighborhoods in 3:45.
Chicago Marathoners running through the streets of the City of Chicago, Sunday 12 October 2008
The unusually hot weather slowed down the field on this flat, fast course which starts and ends in Grant Park. Runners weave through the downtown Loop three times total, after jaunts as far north as Lincoln Park and as far south as U.S. Cellular field.

Great crowds in areas like Pilsen and Chinatown lift the runners’ energy, as do playful signs encouraging us that “Oprah did it, you can too!” and to “find your inner Kenyan.” Running for charity also gave me a boost. For the second time, I ran on behalf of St. Coletta’s of Illinois Foundation, an organization founded by Franciscan Sisters to work with developmentally-disabled children and adults.

I think I’m a little different than many of last Sunday’s fitness gurus. I own neither an i-pod nor an mp3 player. When I train, I usually don’t even wear a watch. I just go out and run, to breathe fresh air and immerse myself in the world around me. I’m often struck by how many people ceaselessly try to escape from their surroundings, hiding behind a cell phone, headphones, a newspaper, or any other means they can find to insulate themselves from the world. I find the true value of aerobic exercise in re-connecting with the world, attentively looking at the trees, listening to the birds, and becoming more conscious of how I interact with it all, through my steps, my heartbeat, my breathing, etc.

Our house of studies is just two blocks from Lake Michigan, so I do most of my training out on the lakefront running/cycling trail, where many Chicagoans come for a bit of peace. Getting out into this world for a time clears my head and refreshes me for our other daily tasks: prayer, housework, ministry at different sites around Chicago, and the perennial tasks of reading and paper-writing that mark a house of studies. In time, I have come to see running as a form of prayer, because it renews me, leaves me in better touch with who I am, and better able to face the challenges of each day.

Of course, running a marathon is a quite different from a daily jog by the lake…and I wouldn’t continue to do it if these rather painful days hadn’t taught me an additional, different lesson about myself. People often tell me that they’re impressed with the determination it takes to complete a marathon, that they don’t think they could do it themselves.

It obviously does require discipline, building up one’s mileage over the course of months to prepare oneself for race day. But honestly, running three marathons in Chicago and one in Austin, Texas, has taught me more about relaxing my discipline than how to build it up.

Many people, especially endurance athletes, seek out new and bigger challenges for the sake of having a new challenge, and can’t live with themselves if they fail to complete these challenges, to meet their self-imposed goals. I hear many runners say with pride that they couldn’t imagine not finishing the race. No matter what happens, they have to finish. Marathoning has taught me that my goals for myself are not God’s goals for me. If I miss my goal time or drop out, God still loves me. That might seem obvious, but the way we often fixate on our goals in school, in work, in athletics, in our finances, or other things demonstrates that many people don’t internalize it.

I entered Sunday’s race intending to finish but knowing that if I failed to, God and my ego could accept it. This gave me the freedom to run hard, to do the best I could, and enjoy the race for the graced moment that it was. Even though we ran our best (I’m still rather stiff and sore…), this was the first race when Scott and I missed our goal time, and that was fine on a very hot Sunday morning.

Right: An obviously relieved and rejoicing Bro. Jason after having completed the 2008 Chicago Marathon -- "thumbs up!"

Left: Bro. Jason (R) with his brother, Scott, after having ocmpleted the 2008 Chicago Marathon!

We did what was ours to do, we ran the good race, and we did it together. And God willing, we’ll probably do it again somewhere next year!

Dear Jason Welle, Congratulations from Bank of America for finishing the2008 Bank of AmericaChicago Marathon! Your recorded finish time was3:45:43 and you placed 3925out of 31,401 finishers.

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