Steubenville’s Franciscan Friars Run for the Glory of God

“Running an ultramarathon is a natural continuation of the Christian life.”

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Franciscan University of Steubenville announced that two religious associated with the university, Fr. Gregory Plow, TOR and Brother Zachary Burns, TOR will compete July 27 in the Burning River 50-mile Endurance Run and Relay to raise money for scholarships. Fr. Plow is director of priestly discernment at Franciscan, and has competed in 15 marathons and three ultramarathons, including Burning River. Brother Burns just completed his apostolic year at Franciscan; this is his first time at Burning River.

Although running was not initially an interest, when Fr. Plow entered seminary he found he had transitioned into a sedentary life, spending much of his day sitting in class or chapel. He explained, “That’s good stuff, but I needed a hobby and exercise. Also, as a Franciscan, I needed something inexpensive. So, I thought, ‘I’ll run.’”

Brother Burns first became interested in endurance racing after watching the documentary, “Where Dreams Go to Die,” which focuses on the now-infamous Barkley Marathon in the backwoods of Tennessee.

Both have served as chaplains for Franciscan cross-country teams; Fr. Plow has also been a chaplain for Life Runners, a pro-life running club. 

To prepare for marathons, Fr. Plow likes to run in the open country when possible, particularly at state parks. Being in nature has led to some interesting experiences. Once, while running on a fire road in the wilderness of Idaho, he came upon a large black bear. He recalled, “I think I scared him worse than he scared me. He ran away as fast as he could.”

Another time Fr. Plow was running pre-dawn up a narrow mountain road up the face of the Grand Canyon. It was still dark, and he was using a headlamp. He stopped as he saw a pair of eyes reflecting back at him. He said, “It was a young deer, and deer can be dangerous. We both froze in our tracks, looking at each other.”

Fr. Plow backed down the trail and let the deer pass.

Both men have incorporated spirituality into their running. “We spend hours in prayer, we fast and we seek silence in a noisy world,” noted Brother Burns. “In that sense, running an ultramarathon is a natural continuation of the Christian life.”

“It's an incredible opportunity to suffer both physically and mentally,” he continued. “Running represents one of the most basic opportunities for man to master himself.”

Fr. Plow said of his training, “Prayer is what I mostly do. I pray at the beginning of my run for safety and protection, and that my run may glorify God.”

On longer runs, he said, he prays the Rosary and a chaplet; at the end of runs, he prays the Glory Be.

Donations in support of Father Plow and Brother Burns’ ultramarathon run can be made to www.FriarsRun.com.