NEW YORK — Several hundred runners will have the power of prayer on their side this year when they line up for the New York City Marathon.

WCBS-TV reports Monsignor Robert Ritchie has led a pre-marathon Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral since 2006. Ritchie says he started the Mass after receiving requests from marathon runners to bless their sneakers. The church rector says the runners’ Mass has grown from about 50 people to 500.

The 72-year-old Catholic prelate says he waved off requests to join the marathon because of knee problems. That changed last year after knee replacement surgeries. The monsignor walked the marathon, finishing in 7 hours, 41 seconds.

Ritchie says although the marathon is about preparation, prayers don’t hurt. The 47th Annual New York City Marathon will be held Sunday.

Information from: WCBS-TV,