As the "Chariots of Fire" theme song was played on the pipe organ, the fit and fleet among the worshipers strode to the altar. They'd come to Our Lady of Victories in Boston's Bay Village for a special blessing before today's running of the 108th Boston Marathon. It was the 18th annual Sunday morning Mass dedicated to marathoners. Each year, the crowd has grown; yesterday, approximately 55 runners came in tightly tied running shoes and brightly colored running jackets to the church's flower-filled altar. There, they faced the church's pastor, the Rev. Philip LaPlante, and about 350 other worshipers.
Before asking God to bless them, LaPlante noted the discipline and determination it takes for runners to complete a marathon, and he applauded the compassion of many who are dedicating the physically grueling task to charitable causes.
"Sustain them and give them rewards," he prayed. "Tomorrow," he said, "run with our runners, support them, love them. They do a great service to mankind."
He was referring to runners such as Chuck Denor, 55, a father of three from Two Rivers, Wis., who is running the marathon for his 23-year-old daughter, Kristen, an Army sergeant stationed in Iraq. During the Mass and during the run, Denor said, he would pray for his daughter's safe return home. "I'm going to ask God to look after her," he said.
He expects to repeat that request many, many times during today's 26.2-mile run.
In fact, Denor is keeping a plastic-covered photo of his daughter in the pocket of his running shorts, so he can pull it out for inspiration.
"With [God's] help, I'll make it, and with his help, my daughter will make it," he said.
Denor also plans to rely on prayers to tackle the course's hills during what is expected to be an unseasonably warm day, with temperatures expected in the 80s. "I believe in prayer. It's worked for me before," he said.
Denor isn't the only runner dedicating the race to a loved one.
Christina Dasher, a 22-year-old New Yorker, is running her first-ever marathon to honor Eileen Shea Lupton, a close friend who died last summer in a porch collapse in Chicago. Her death came just a few days before she was to begin working as a nurse at a Chicago children's hospital. Her death prompted Dasher to train for the marathon, and, in doing so, raise money for The Home for Little Wanderers, a Boston-based service agency for needy children and families.
After the run, Dasher plans to donate about $5,000 in Lupton's name to the group. "Absolutely, Mass will keep me going," Dasher said, before the service began. "That, and being blessed by a priest," she added.
It's for runners like them that LaPlante holds the Mass year after year.
He began the special Mass for a friend who was running the marathon in 1986. Since then, word has spread. Now, Boston-area hotels inform guests of the 11 a.m. celebration.
"Tomorrow, you will run for good deeds to improve the world," LaPlante told the runners at the altar. "Those causes bring tears to our eyes. [They] show generosity and caring.
"We need that in our world," he continued. "Our world is too selfish. We want what we want, when we want it."
He also commended the marathoners' doggedness and willpower.
"If I had to hire someone today, I'd choose one of you," he said. "There are many lessons to be learned from you. To run 26.2 miles requires understanding, courage, and discipline."
With that, the runners bowed their heads to receive LaPlante's blessing.
After the Mass, Neal Workman, 49, from Boston's Back Bay and a parishioner at Our Lady of Victories, said he was glad to have participated.
Today, he'll run his second marathon while his 19-year-old daughter, Taylor, runs her first. Together, they raised nearly $8,000 for the Home for Little Wanderers. Workman serves on the nonprofit group's board of directors.
"We need all the help we can get," he said. After the Mass, "our feet will be lighter."
Christine McConville's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.