NEWARK, New Jersey — Father Manuel Duenas, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark and current vice rector of Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Kearny, New Jersey, was among 33,000 participants in the New York City Marathon Nov. 7.
As he waited at the starting line, he had one goal: to finish the marathon in under three hours. He knew it wouldn’t be easy. He was counting on 30 years of running experience and, recently, 16 weeks of training to manage the 26.2-mile task.
In the end, Duenas finished the race in 2:55:55.
It was a personal best time.
“Maybe at the beginning, I went too fast, and I paid for it at the end,” the priest said afterward. “But overall, I am very satisfied with the race and experience.”
“The race was very nice. It was as tough as any marathon, but it was very beautiful,” he told Jersey Catholic, the news site of the Newark Archdiocese. “I have experienced in my life that you always perform better the day of the race. Very often better than you expect.”
The weather was gorgeous, and supporters crowded the city streets. Among those gathered were former parishioners from St. John the Evangelist Church in Bergenfield, New Jersey, where Father Duenas served as parochial vicar.
“It was nice of them to come,” he said. “It was a very beautiful atmosphere in the streets. I’m already looking forward to the next marathon.”
This year’s race was the priest’s fourth marathon. He has also competed in half marathons, including the New York City Half Marathon in 2019, where he qualified for the Nov. 7 race.
Duenas, 44, was born in Burgos, Spain, and has been running since he was 16. He competed on track teams in high school and college. One of the things he enjoys about running is the peace it gives him. He also loves the thrill of competition.
“I like the possibility that you have to try harder to get better after every race … to push yourself a little bit harder and to see how good you can do,” he said.
One of the things he was thinking about on a recent jog was how running symbolizes living the Christian life. There are many parallels to it, he said, especially when it comes to running a marathon.
“The life of a Christian is basically also like a race,” Duenas explained. “We are pilgrims on this earth and there is a destination. There is a goal. And the crown is heaven. Being a Christian is not something that you accomplish once and for all. It’s a daily challenge. Every day we have to convert.”
The priest referred to the New Testament letters where St. Paul speaks of the “good fight” and finishing the race, keeping the faith and the crown of righteousness that awaits the faithful.
“I think it’s exciting because you run with other people, and there are other people supporting you as you go,” Duenas continued. “This is a beautiful image of the Christian community of the church. It’s very difficult to live faith all by oneself.”
He added: “There are moments when you feel more comfortable and when it seems easier and there are moments when you struggle. We have a community of faith that somehow helps us, supports us, encourages us and prays for us. And somehow, everything becomes easier.”
The priest expects to run in the New York City Marathon again next year. For now though, he plans to rest up and then get back to training.
Agnish is communications manager for the Archdiocese of Newark.