Husband & Wife Articles


How a 20K Taught Me to Pray

Running and praying take time, planning and discipline

By Sue Haggerty

I have never been able to maintain a consistent prayer life. Most of the time, I go on what you would call “binge prayer kicks” before quickly petering out.

One plan was to wake early, grab a hot cup of coffee and enjoy a quiet conversation with God as the family slept. Inevitably, however, within three seconds of hitting that squeak in the hallway floor, tiny feet would patter and the 2-year-old in the crib would call, “Mommy! Brekfwes!!”

My next plan was evening prayer, but that soon ended with me snoring. So instead of calm meditation, I find my life consists of “frantic” prayers. The ones that you offer at the sight of blood, in the desperation of a crying baby, or the silent pleas for patience as you explain your child’s math homework one more time. I basically abandoned the thought of a meaningful prayer life, shelving it for when my babies were older, until this summer when I trained for a 20K. I realized that I needed to approach prayer in the same way as I did running, and here’s why.

Sue Haggerty and her husband, Pat, are parents to five active children: Moira (9), Orla (7), Aoife (5), Eamon (3), and Oisin (2).

Getting in Shape

I could barely run a mile when I started getting in shape. I was hardly at three miles when I decided to train for a 20-kilometer race (12.4 miles). But I had five months before the race and knew I had time to build up to that distance. How? Slow and easy. Every runner knows that too much mileage too soon causes injury. Or in my case, being so sore that you can’t run again for a week.

How does that work in prayer life? It means making realistic goals. By starting out small, you can build a base and expand. Try one rosary a day or 15 minutes of Scripture reading each morning. Avoid injury. Injury in our spiritual life is called sin. Serious sin is an obstacle to a deeper prayer life. Go to Confession and begin anew.

Making Progress

As I trained for the 20K, my body grew accustomed to the daily workouts. I ran faster and longer. My breathing was controlled, adapting to the longer distances. I made better choices as my training progressed, choosing nutritious foods and drinking more water. By the midpoint of my training, my body craved the exercise highs and my mood reflected the healthy habits.

Not surprisingly, as your prayer life expands, your relationship with God grows and strengthens. As in any friendship, time spent together is no longer a burden, but a joy. Therefore you start carving out extra time to read the Bible, go to adoration, or offer sacrifices for people you love. You find yourself making better choices in your spiritual life. Avoiding gossip, speaking charitably, and being generous become daily habits as your prayer life helps you grow in virtue.

Gear Up!

Every serious runner needs the proper gear to enjoy injury-free running and encourage motivation along the way. The basics of a good pair of running shoes, shorts and dry wick t-shirts might be accompanied by a water bottle waist belt, a watch to track your time, and an mp3 player with a killer playlist.

Similarly, what Catholic trying to improve his or her prayer life would be without a rosary or Bible? Don’t stop there. Add spiritual books, daily reflections or Gregorian chant recordings. The best part about prayer though is you can have a conversation with God without anything at all.


Before running, I had to make sure I had a good meal long before I set out. I drank liquids all day to be adequately hydrated. Right before I went out, I spent time warming up and stretching. I often ran at night when my husband was home with the kids.

Developing a successful prayer life in a hectic schedule takes preparation. Look over your day and plot out the times when you won’t be interrupted. Pray at night when your kids are sleeping. If it takes leaving the house to find uninterrupted quiet time, switch off nights with your husband to visit the eucharistic chapel.

Stick with It!

When I decided to train for the 20K, I didn’t know if I could do it. The day I ran six miles, I felt a sense of accomplishment but knew there were six more miles to go. After I ran nine miles was the first time, I thought maybe it was possible. Doubt followed me the whole time. Finally, it was my daughter who knocked some sense into me. She said, “Mommy you can do it! Just walk if you have to!” From that point on, I had no doubts and I finished the 20K. It was hard, it took a lot of time, but it was worth it.

The lesson is simple. The value of an active prayer life far outweighs the value of an active lifestyle. With heaven as the ultimate finish line, we need to stay focused, keeping prayer an integral part of our life, continuing to challenge ourselves so that we may gain our eternal reward.

Sue Haggerty, a freelance writer from Virginia, is married to her best friend, Pat. They have been blessed with five children who help them encounter Christ.