Winning last year’s 26.2-mile Via Dolorosa Trail Marathon, beginning at Holy Hill Basilica in Hubertus and running through the 14 Stations of the Cross and through the Ice Age Trail, gave Robert Meilback a sense of hope and passion.
He attributes that outlook to the atmosphere at the competition as well as his tenacity in the race itself. He won with a time of 3:16.23.
“To win Via Dolorosa meant completing something for its own sake and earning a victory when I needed it most,” he explained. “I was in my final year of grad school at the time, at Concordia University of Wisconsin’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program and was feeling run down from clinical work, odd hours and the looming threat of the licensing exam ahead.”
The Kenosha resident and former student at St. Joseph High School was accustomed to running and participated in numerous meets throughout high school on the JV and varsity teams and into college at Concordia. He also raced in the Lakefront Marathon in 2015 and 2016 as well as the Chicago Marathon in 2017.
“Each of my previous races were road races with relatively large crowds, a consistent course and in warmer times of the year. Via Dolorosa was grueling in a completely different way by being on the hilly terrain of the Ice Age Trail,” he explained. “The beauty of the course quickly turned to suffering during the second half. The challenge definitely surprised me and made the entire experience so memorable.”
From his youth, Meilback’s Catholic faith and resolve is rooted in the awareness that the best things will come with suffering, and that he must strive for success. He said he also learned delayed gratification from his high school coach, Jon Furreness.
“This race was no exception. The journey of a race and the journey of faith are so reflective of one another. It is the events like this that remind me why faith is so important, because without faith, no matter how much we prepare or fight, we will never reach the finish line,” he said. “I am looking forward to racing the Via Dolorosa again this year and training to include building mileage, sustained mileage and being healthy.”
This year’s race takes place Saturday, April 13. With a 350-runner limit, marathon organizer Richard Sosa, director of Music and Youth Ministry at St. Anne Parish and owner of Ten Ten Adventures, encourages early registration to guarantee a spot.
“For several weeks after the race last year, we received many letters, emails, text messages and Facebook messages from participants who thanked Ten Ten Adventures for putting on such a memorable race. Many said it was their favorite marathon to run and they loved the course, the volunteers, the swag and the awards, not to mention, we had some warm, homemade Mexican food at the finish,” he said. “Many also mentioned the spiritual nature of the event as being the top reason why they enjoyed it so much. We’re hoping this becomes a regional tradition during Holy Week.”
The marathon is named after the Via Dolorosa, or “Street of Sorrows” that winds through Jerusalem’s Old City, marking the stations of the cross —the route taken by Jesus on the way to the crucifixion. Tens of thousands of pilgrims retrace Jesus’ path every year around Holy Week, carrying wooden crosses and singing.
“The Via Dolorosa Trail Marathon and Half-Marathon was instituted to meld the sport of running with Holy Week. It was my hope that runners would leave this event with an encounter very different than any other running event they’ve ever done,” explained Sosa. “Last year, as the race drew closer, I didn’t know what to expect and actually, any time you take on something like this, there comes a point where you just surrender all your human gifts and talents to God because he is the one who gives those to us and allows us to use them for his glory.”
One change this year will include additional trail markings after mile 16 to help runners be more aware of their surroundings. Additionally, there will be more availability for packet pick up the week prior to the marathon to eliminate race day package pick up.
“This will free up our volunteers to concentrate on specific race day duties and allow runners to arrive at a more reasonable time prior to race,” said Sosa. “We again have aid stations that provide water, energy drinks and food, as well as 14 prayer stations that recall the Passion of Jesus. There runners can take a break, pray, leave a prayer request or just keep running. We also have sacred music playing at different stages of the course. There is definitely a more somber, prayerful spirit of this marathon, but as runners approach the steep uphill finish line, they will be met with some awesome worship music to lift their spirits.”
If you go
What: Via Dolorosa Marathon
When: Saturday, April 13
Where: Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill, 1525 Carmel Road, Hubertus
For more information: www.run1010.com