Local priest aims to set world record — more for style than speed — at Austin Marathon

Austin Marathon
David Peters models his cassock. (Photo Courtesy: David Peters)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Episcopal priest starting a new church in Travis County hopes to set a new world record on at Sunday’s Ascension Seton Austin Marathon.

David Peters will have to keep a certain pace to set it, but the real challenge will be completing the race wearing the outfit that will define the record. “I’ve walked in my cassock, but never run in it,” he said.

That’s right — Peters will run the marathon on Sunday wearing his floor-length traditional Episcopal priest garment. Others have set Guinness World Records for fastest marathons dressed as nuns, monks and elves; Peters wants to set a new one for the fastest 26.2 miles in a cassock.

“If I hike the skirt a little bit, it’s a little bit easier,” he explained to his church members at a Wednesday prayer service at a Pflugerville coffee shop.

Peters, a former Army chaplain, was sent to the area by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. His mission: to start a new church in Pflugerville. About a year in, he’s got a group of members who meet at various spots around the city to pray and study scripture; eventually, he’ll try to find a physical location to spread the Biblical word.

He finds evidence of his faith reflected in his hobby, especially in the group he trains with at Rogue Running.

“Running with other people is often like a group confessional,” he said. “We share things that are happening in our lives, things that we’re struggling with, things that we’re trying to work through.”

Combining two passions

Peters’ fastest marathon ever timed out at a little more than three hours. The goal for Sunday is to beat four hours, 16 minutes, the only other record he could find of a priest (a Greek Army chaplain) completing a marathon in a cassock.

The long, black garment will force him to move more slowly, more patiently.

“I don’t know if this will help me be a better runner,” he said. “I know it’ll help me be a better priest.”

David Peters listens to his church members at a prayer meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

He sees his goal on Sunday as combining two passions. “Prayer is a lot like running in that you often have to just do it, get up in the morning and pray,” he said. “The running life and the prayer life is not about great moments of triumph, it’s about the daily discipline.”

The world record

After submitting an application, Peters heard back from Guinness World Records on Friday saying the submission for a new record had been received. Now all that’s left is to run the race on Sunday.

“We’ll be praying and supporting him,” Barabra Haynes, one of his church members, said.

A friend and seamstress altered his cassock’s collar to make it more breathable, but Peters still worries about the humidity this weekend. If the fabric gets damp, it might start to chafe his knees — not something most runners have to deal with.

Running partners at Rogue at a Wednesday morning training session suggested he wear capris underneath.

“I cannot imagine doing that myself,” Rogue member Royce Clark said, “but if anybody can do it, David can do it for sure.”

His journey, like that of many marathoners, will test his resolve. “The emotional endurance, the physical endurance, all that’s spiritual,” Peters said. But he’ll gain strength from the community around him, much as he does in church. “In running, you’re out there struggling and people are cheering you on, they’re saying, like, ‘You can do it, you can make it!’ And that’s what we should be doing for everybody.”

He’ll have to miss his own service to run in the marathon on Sunday, but his members won’t hold it against him. “It’s so David,” Haynes said.

“My tag lines [during the race] will be, you know, ‘I’m late for church!'” Peters said, laughing. “‘Hurry up!'”

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