As Father Michael Tobin ran through downtown Boston during the final few miles of the Boston Marathon in October, he was fully in the moment. He saw the historic buildings, heard the crowds cheering and felt the pavement under his palms as he stopped to do a series of push-ups meant to slow him down.
Father Tobin was determined to “run the right race” and “take it all in” because he felt he’d focused too much on crossing the finish line during his first race in Boston two years ago, he said.
Father Tobin, pastor of St. Rita and St. Luke churches, participated in the 125th Boston Marathon to raise funds for the David Ortiz Children’s Fund, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide life-saving surgeries for children. Runners who participate on behalf of a charity don’t need to qualify for the marathon.
He was one of at least two local Catholic men who ran the prestigious race. Dr. Joseph Jim Creely, who is a member of St. Bernadette Church in formation to become an ordained deacon, also ran the marathon. A story about his faith and the role it plays in his pursuit of running will appear in next week’s edition of The Record.
Father Tobin has been a serious runner for 20 years and he’s participated in more than 30 marathons. This was his second charity race in Boston.
“Children suffering appeal to my heart,” said Father Tobin. This year he dedicated his race to Baby Mila, an infant who was born with swelling of the brain.
While the money he raised will not benefit Mila directly, Father Tobin said the infant inspired him. Father Tobin has raised more than $90,000 for charity since 2019, including $17,000 he raised running the Boston Marathon this year.
While Father Tobin enjoys running, he said he believes there’s more at stake than beating the clock.
“Running a race with faith is more than running to reach a time. If you’re running to reach a time, then you put faith in yourself, you train and you go for it,” he said. Running with faith is “being open to however God wants to reach you as his instrument. I was attentive to all the ways God gave me to be a witness and disciple.”
But that wasn’t always the case. Father Tobin said he didn’t always bring his faith to the starting line.
In 2019, Father Tobin ran in the Boston Marathon for the first time. He finished within four hours and 20 minutes. The average finish time for a male runner in the marathon is three hours and 45 minutes. Though he’d done well, he said he didn’t enjoy himself — he was completely focused on finishing the race and on the pain he felt as he pushed his body to the finish line.
“I was obsessed with time and being a good runner,” he said. “After a few months, it occurred to me, ‘Why haven’t you put your medal and racing bib in a frame?’ I wasn’t proud. I didn’t run the race I wanted.”
He realized he’d missed out on part of the race, he said.
“I couldn’t recall the neighborhood. I never heard” the cheering crowd, he said. “It was only later that I realized that was about faith.”
Father Tobin said he’s thought a lot about the 2019 marathon and how his experience can be true not only of running a race but of life in general.
“If our whole focus is on beauty or success, do we miss out on love, charity, faith?” he asked.
Father Tobin said he returned to Boston this year because he wanted to “run the right race. I wanted to take it all in.” And this time, he said, he did.