By Kim Constantinesco
Nerves ride high in the minutes, hours, and even weeks leading up to running a marathon. Have I trained enough? Did I get enough sleep? How will my lower back hold up 22 miles in? Those are just some of the swirling questions that pick up pace as race day approaches.
As a pastor and a runner, Rev. Michael Alello, 35, of St. Philomena Catholic Church in Labadieville, Louisiana, has experienced those same concerns before each of his five marathons.
That’s why before this Sunday’s Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rogue, Alello will help ease other runners’ worries and offer a 26.2-minute mass one hour prior to the gun going off. Then he’ll jump over to the start line, and run the distance himself while trying to set a new personal record.
“There will probably be a running clock up somewhere up in the sanctuary just for fun,” Alello said. “We’re shooting for around 30 minutes. If I nail a 26.2-minute mass, it’s gonna be a good day.”
Calming the Prerace Jitters
The idea was fueled when Alello, was in Boston last April to run the marathon. He saw that the city’s Cardinal was offering runners a mass the day before the historic race. He wasn’t able to make it, but the intention stuck with him.
Also, in the morning of the Louisiana Marathon last year, he was staying at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, located mere blocks away from the start and finish line. The bustling noises that came with race day setup woke him up well before his alarm.
“I thought to myself, I’m up already so what better way to start a race than have a little prayer time?” Alello said. “Plus, later that day after the race, I was looking for a place to go to mass.”
So, Alello contacted Rev. Paul Counce at St. Joseph’s about holding a brief service before this year’s race.
A typical Catholic mass lasts about an honor, but by shortening the homily and forgoing the sung hymns, Alello will be able to take it down to around the 26.2-minute mark.
“The opportunity to gather in prayer is always awesome. The opportunity to gather as like-minded people in running and in prayer is even better,” Alello said. “We’ll be able to get our minds right; to really ask the Lord’s blessing on our race that day, and thank the Lord for giving us the opportunity to be able to run.”
Alello doesn’t know how many people will attend his service, but he hopes that it will ease any prerace jitters, including his own.
“There are so many stories out there of people that are overcoming great things,” Allelo said. “For me, that’s why I like distance running. I’m not racing anyone. I’m racing myself.”
Running for Life
Alello began running six years ago, and has lost over 70 pounds on his quest to lead a healthier lifestyle. His workout regimen started with spin classes until a relocation to a different parish forced him to find an alternative form of exercise. Running was his ticket. He started with a 5K, and three months later, he ran his first half marathon.
“My mother keeps telling me, ‘I just don’t understand why you keep putting yourself through this.’ She’ll see me after a long run and your body is beat up at that point. I tell her ‘It’s important to me. It’s part of who I am now, and I love it.'”
Alello ran the 2015 Boston Marathon for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Three years ago, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent successful treatment.
“After that, I wanted to run a race that had some personal meaning to it,” Alello said.
He has his sights set on the Chicago Marathon or New York City Marathon next.
He’s just like any other recreational runner, except he did get recognition in Runners World.
“Who would have thought that a Catholic priest could get a national running magazine to write about a mass and a priest?'” Alello said. “My goal in my ministry is always to help people find a God amid their day-to-day life.”
And step-by-step, he’s off to the perfect start.