NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — When it comes to getting through the New York City Marathon, never underestimate the power of prayer.

Eleven years ago, soon after he became the church rector at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Monsignor Robert Ritchie got an odd request.

“Somebody comes up to me and he says, ‘Father, give me a blessing I’m going to be in the marathon tomorrow.’ ‘Father, bless my shoes.’ About 10 people asked me,” Ritchie said. “I thought about it and I said, ‘You know, next year, I think we’ll do something special.'”

And with that, the annual pre-marathon Mass was born.

Monsignor Robert T. Ritchie

Monsignor Robert T. Ritchie rubs ashes onto the forehead of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, while celebrating Ash Wednesday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on February 13, 2013. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The first runners’ Mass began with 50 people.

In 10 years, it’s grown to 500.

“Each year, the runners would say, ‘Hey Father, why don’t you join us?’ And I had very bad arthritic knees and I said, ‘Oh I can’t I got bad knees.’ Eventually I had them replaced,” Ritchie said.

His doctor cleared Ritchie to walk the 26.2 mile route, and last year he surprised his flock by finishing the race in 7 hours and 41 seconds.

He told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond that the marathon is all about preparation, but a little prayer doesn’t hurt either.

The 72-year-old monsignor has hosted popes Benedict and Francis at St. Patrick’s, but it’s that marathon medal he’s most proud of.

“All of my friends know that when I die I want to be buried with the medal on me. If they don’t do it I’ll haunt them or something,” Ritchie said.

The 47th Annual New York City Marathon will be held this Sunday.