Trail Running with Benedict – Humility and Prayer during the Waugoshance Trail Marathon

Waugoshance Trail Marathon – a lesson in humility and prayer


So, I finally ran a trail marathon this last July.  It was awesome and only took an hour longer than I planned.  I ran the first half in the time I planned, and then I added an hour on the second half.  If you are reading this blog for an account of awesomeness, I am afraid that I will disappoint you.  I am an apprentice to a servant, the Servant, and you would think that I would have learned a thing or two about humility and prayer after thirty years and not need this lesson, but you would be wrong.

Running is something I love.  I don’t suffer runs, even when I am suffering: I love them.  There is little to beat a long run on a sunny day in July along the North Country Trail through Wilderness and the Headlands parks.  So much of the run was on single track that I was shocked by how open two track places felt.

We took off at seven in the morning after camping at a campground with Amy and two of our children.  There are two things you really should know beyond that it is single track: you have to carry liquids with you in bottles or backpacks because it is more than four miles between water stops and the distances vary because of the remoteness of the trail; and for several miles we were warned that our GPS would be wrong due to the hilliness of the terrain, being along old sand dunes now covered in forest.  I lost my watch three miles from the end and should have just used the timer not the GPS, but there you go.

The run began along Wycamp Lake Road just north of Cross Village, Michigan, a few hours from home.  It began along a road that barely counts as one, as I got my parents SUV stuck showing them the road a week ago.  After a quarter mile to sort out who was where, we turned off onto the trail.

Trail running is different from road running a marathon.  In a road marathon, you find a rhythm and you drop into a zone almost like Transcendental Meditation.  It is peaceful and forces a wonderful patience and meditative state.  On trails, especially single track in hilly woods, you have to be constantly alert and mentally flexible.  It is more like Zen mind.  It is reflectively awake.  It is my home mental state.  It is the mind on fire; it is the mind at peace.

I love the dance of the trail like a tango with the earth.  It is sensuous and religious, like incense, chant, bodily sung, and wondrous.  It is so holy and languid.  I always think this, but returning to that state after twenty miles, after throwing up, after the sweating and the deer flies and fatigue.  That is the lover come home to the beloved.  It is an earthly experience of what prayer is like.

You know, if you have been reading along, that running is prayer for me.  I admit that I am not a great pray-er.  I read about the saints and heroes and heroines of the faith praying all night and years in the desert, their hours on their faces, on their knees, or armed outstretched. I read about them, and I hunger for God like that, but I fall asleep, I get distracted, I do the dishes, play solitaire, check messages, and fail.

Prayer demands more from me than running in a way.  It does not hurt the body so much, but it does hurt the ego, strain the mind’s attention, the heart’s priorities.  I can add up the miles on my feet, but the hours before God elude me.  So I run.

But I am learning that my prayer life needs the methodology of my body.  It took me seven years to run a seven minute mile; seven years to do a one-handed push up; seven years to get my deadlift-squat-benchpress total up to 900 lbs.  And none of those things remain as I cycle away from running, working out, lifting, to other priorities.  But prayer I need even more.

I need the patient accrual of prayers, of hours, of days, of weeks of prayer.

And sometimes, dear reader, I feel that lover-returned-to-the-Beloved dance of prayer.  It does not often go five hours, but it does go hours these days.  My prayer life like my running has become sensuous over the years, pleasurable, dancing in the way that only those who are mastering the thing find.

I do not think that I will ever be a competitive runner, but I may be a master runner because I know the realities, the subtleties, the love beyond the strain of the practice, the craft beyond the technique, and I can teach it.  O for prayer mastery!

For that I turn to Martin Thornton and the Daily Office, the disciplines and the joy of the long hours, the faithfulness I have to work so hard for now begins in little moments of inspiration to become something more, something like the joy of runner in the landscape who dances along the cosmos with the Creator of all things, born new and newly creative.

So I didn’t run as fast as I wanted, but O did I run!


*The photos are from the beginning north of Cross Village and the end at the high school in Mackinaw City, Michigan.  It is hard to show the actual trail.

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