STEUBENVILLE, OHIO—“Long distance running is like a life-long vocation: It’s an adventure with beautiful experiences and extremely difficult experiences,” says Father Gregory Plow, TOR, of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
Father Plow, the chaplain of the men’s and women’s cross-country teams at Franciscan University, will run in the Wild Idaho Ultramarathon on August 3. The endurance run through the Boise National Forest is made tougher by the location’s extreme elevations and temperatures. Runners are allowed 19 hours to complete the 53.4 mile race.
Father Plow’s ultramarathon will raise funds for the Spirit of St. Francis Scholarship, a newly established full-tuition scholarship for incoming freshmen to Franciscan University who are academically qualified but financially constrained.
As a child, Father Plow was able to attend a Catholic elementary school through the financial assistance of his pastor.
“I might not be a Franciscan priest today were it not for the generosity of others who helped me attend a Catholic school,” he says. “I am hoping to raise enough money by running this race to substantially assist students who can qualify academically to attend Franciscan, but could not imagine attending the school given their financial situation.”
Seeking exercise while studying for the priesthood, Father Plow began running eight and a half years ago. Since then, he has completed 11 marathons and many shorter races, averaging a little more than one marathon a year. The Wild Idaho run is Father Plow’s first ultramarathon, and he will spend the week leading up to the race on a spiritual retreat at a cabin in the Idaho wilderness.
Father Plow offers up the difficulties of running for spiritual intentions. As coordinator of the student faith households at Franciscan University, he says he will offer the first 48 miles of the ultramarathon for each of the 48 households. Miles 49-52 will be offered for future recipients of the Spirit of St. Francis Scholarship. The final length of the course will be dedicated solely to God in thanksgiving, he says.
Father Plow has trained by taking long runs on Ohio Valley trails and hills. Besides the distance, the ultramarathon boasts hot and unpredictable temperatures, elevations up to 7,700 feet, a cumulative elevation gain of 16,000 feet, and even mountain lions and bears.
“Last year, I was on a 13-mile run through the same national forest and I ran into a huge black bear,” says Father Plow. “Thanks be to God, he was more scared of me than I was of him.”
To contribute to the Spirit of St. Francis Scholarship, contact the Franciscan University Development Office at 1-800-783-6447. You can also donate online.