3 Key Steps To Running A Spiritual Marathon

by Faith & Life, Holiness, Leadership

Does becoming a saint seem like running a marathon? In our newest video, we talk with Father Conrad Murphy about how the race we are running is a long one, with many highs and lows but this marathon will result in an accomplishment we can not fully imagine. We are learning to “Run as if to win” (2 Cor 9:24). 

The Key To Growing In Holiness

The word marathon can bring about a lot of emotions for people. It can be a great sense of accomplishment for those who have achieved it and a sense of overwhelming dread or downright feelings of inadequacy and impossibility for others. 

It’s a big goal to bite off, but the truth is you can do it. Anyone can. Ok, so maybe you have never run a mile in your life, then yes, the process to get ready to run a marathon will be a little longer and require much learning and training. 

It might take time, but you could do it. Our spiritual life is much the same. Have you ever looked at people who seem to pray “without ceasing,” who have talked about a daily prayer life or thrown around a holy hour in addition to other prayer times and thought they are crazy? 

We whisper, “Good for them, but that’s impossible for me. I’ll never be that prayerful.” We can think Holy Hours, regular daily Mass, daily Rosaries, daily Scripture, and formational reading are for the religious, or maybe the retired, empty nesters but not me. It’s not my Vocation or phase of life to pray like that. 

The idea of daily praying for 15 minutes might sound impossible, let alone anything more. No matter where and how you are trying to grow your prayer life, there are three key steps. These apply to those who want to find 15 minutes and those who already have daily Holy Hours and want more. They are the same steps required to run a Marathon as discussed in our recent conversation with Father Conrad, the host of Catholic Bytes Podcast and Chaplin at Maryland University. 

  1. Training
  2. Ripping the Band-Aid Off
  3. Finding Accountability and Following Through


When you run a marathon, unless you’re Drew, you do a small build-up. You do short runs during the week and build into longer runs over the weekends. It requires scheduling it, building habits, and using resources to grow. Without this, the experience is downright painful, maybe even damaging, and honestly not as fruitful. 

We want to make prayer a habit, which is a stable disposition to do the good. We start with five minutes, purposely putting prayer time or blocks into our daily routines. We want it to become a part of who we are, something that becomes natural and easy to accomplish. For Father Conrad, the seminary drilled this into his daily life. We have to put ourselves on a training plan and stick to it. We have to be looking to grow and to better our spiritual fitness

Start with one extra Daily Mass, Confession, or time in Adoration this week. When we make something a priority, we find time for it. Can we honestly say we don’t have time when we look at our day, was there 30 mins of Social Media, TV, chores that could have waited? If we want our faith to be a priority, to follow the first commandment to love our God, to put him first, to have no other idols, we have to make time for him. 

We have to have the right training plan, one that pulls in the Sacraments, personnel prayer, and spiritual reading or resources to help us learn. Through this, we develop the best running or prayer form. Father Conrad highly recommends A Time For God, by Father Jacques Philippe. If you’re looking to build your prayer life, this is the book. It’s a short, easy to read writing style and yet incredibly impactful.

Another resource is to use the alarm on our phone, set daily prayer times when it goes off if things are crazy, snooze it. But always come back to it. If you turn off the alarm, you are turning off the invitation and commitment you have made to Jesus. It’s easy in the daily grind and busy to forget to pray. But when we purposefully hit cancel, we are consciously choosing not to have time for God, not to put him first. Acknowledging this choice can be powerful and help us choose the good and decide to spend time with him even when we don’t feel like it. 

Through this plan, we can build up our routines and enhance our frequency and duration to receive the grace and love of God. It is little by little that we achieve great things; great change does not happen instantly. 

Ripping the Band-Aid Off

However, no marathon training plan has you run a full marathon before the actual event. If you have never run a mile or ten miles taking the first step, just doing it will be hard. We sometimes have to make a conscious choice and start. We can read all the books, listen to all the talks, and develop all the plans, but we have to move this into actual action. We have to get off the couch and start running. We form our will and intellect through the reading and preparing, the short runs, but it’s time to start. 

Accountability and Follow Through

Once we have started or even as we try to get the ball rolling, having accountability helps. Whether it’s inviting a friend to join you at Mass, Adoration, or Confession, meeting with a friend or accountability partner, someone who will check in on you with what you have agreed to try to do, is enormous in helping follow through. We need fraternal support and correction. A spiritual director is ideal to discuss the content, but anyone can ask you, did you pray today? Can you set up this accountability with your spouse or what friend comes to mind today? Our alarms or prayer reminders through the HALLOW app can all help.

Father Conrad highlights that eventually, we have to choose to do it and keep following through, regardless of the interruptions or changes in our routine, whether that’s vacations or a new child. Praying like an adult requires that we are not just searching for the runner’s high or consolation in prayer. We find through time that it is worth it, and the miraculous moments can reassure us. 

Father further states that we are doing this to run to the race, and it’s a long race. There will be many dry and challenging moments, and that’s ok because those are the moments that help you grow. He highlights Romano Guardini book reminding us that the only way to be open to the Lord, to receive him, is to force ourselves to pray.  

Let’s Run

We can stroll and idly wander through life and even more so the spiritual life. But we want to run to reach the Lord. He is calling out to us in the depth of our hearts. “Deep calls to Deep” (Psalm 42:8). Let’s go deep with the Lord and start developing and following our training plan. Resources for developing your prayer life and those recommended by Father Conrad can be found here at this link. And for more on this and from our recent conversation with Father Conrad Murphy, check out this video:

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