Life and a Marathon – part 2 – Kathy Szymanski

Journal: At Mile 7 you go by the finish line and the next 7 miles or also follow the “return route.” It was a bit unsettling when I got to Mile 7 and realized a fair number of the top runners were already done! And the farther I went, the more the “pack” was close to home. And I wasn’t even halfway yet!

So in life, or in your spiritual life, do you sometimes see people who are much closer to where you want to be? How do you let that affect you? Do you get discouraged? Or can you choose to applaud them and their efforts and hard work, and just keep going at your own pace?

Journal: It started to get harder around the halfway point. The way the route was set up, you don’t “turn around” at the halfway point and you have another 4 miles or so before you “turn around.” At about Mile 14, you veer off onto a loop, so I no longer saw the ones heading back.

Do you ever get to a point maybe midway through your life when the going gets tough? How do you handle it?

Journal: It was very windy with the wind against you the first half; but with you—pushing you—on the way back. I was bit concerned beforehand about heat and humidity. That wasn’t a problem. It did rain in the middle section. I had a little portable poncho-garbage-sack- type thing. I managed to get it on—not an easy feat in heavy wind and rain, without losing your visor and sunglasses while continuing to walk. Rains only last about 10 minutes in Hawaii.

So sometimes in life you have obstacles. Often we expect problems, like I expected heat and humidity, and don’t encounter them. How much energy do we waste thinking about problems that never come up? And sometimes we’re prepared for the problems (like I had the poncho). And sometimes the problems are over quickly. Sometimes using the tools we have isn’t easy (like getting the poncho on).

Journal: I knew I was slowing down, that was okay. I met my husband a few more times. He did a great job of maneuvering around closed roads and so on to get to me. Things were getting tougher. I was tired and had sore feet. I did lots of praying. My mental plan wasn’t working. During my training walks at home (the outside ones), I did “writing” in my head. This came easily. I passed the time quickly as I thought of story lines and details. I figured I’d do that on the marathon. But I couldn’t concentrate at all on that. So when it got hard, I prayed. I tried doing rosaries, that didn’t work, keeping track. So I just did Hail Marys and Our Fathers. Lots. And every time I felt bad I drank (dehydration often makes you more tired and sore).

So, what does this tell me about the spiritual journey? Sometimes we slow down, get tired. Yet God still sends us boosters like John, who kept meeting me. Sometimes we hurt and suffer. So, for me, at that point, I prayed. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to pray, how to pray. Sometimes we’re so absorbed or out of energy, we seem not to be able to even pray. Just like I couldn’t even keep track of the rosary. But I am fortunate to have “rote” (yet effective) prayer to fall back on. No thinking required. And even though I may or may not have done the “correct” amount, that matters not. I was able to put one foot in front of the other, stay the course and recite my Hail Marys easily. As you journey through life, make sure to pray, but also don’t forget to care for your physical self. Had I not kept up the fluid intake, I would have been in much worse shape.

Journal: The thought of quitting never entered my mind. I knew I was going to finish. I knew to get to the finish it involved one step after another. Repeat.

And that’s life. Keep going. No quitting. Doesn’t make any difference how fast you go. The course is marked, so stay on it. You can and will do it. I knew that.

John and I had a long talk a day or so before the marathon. I knew there would be no shame in not finishing for whatever reason. If that’s the way it turned out, that was okay. But somehow I knew I’d finish. And I found I needed to hear John say he believed that I would finish. Not that I could, that I would. Really, apart from him, and God, what others thought didn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter what most others think of you or your goals. Listen to wise counsel, but let any negativity slide off your back.

One thing that was not the most pleasant was the bathrooms. Now with 23,000 marathoners, the organizing committee had plenty of porta-potties. I didn’t have to wait in line anywhere except before the marathon. But, by the time I got to them, after 19,000 people ahead of me had used them, well they weren’t exactly the cleanest. In life, sometimes you will be in places that might be dirty, ugly and stinky. Maybe you can detour and find a nicer place. I could have left the route and gone into a fast food bathroom along the way or something (that wouldn’t disqualify me or anything). But that would have taken me off my path, away from my goal. So maybe dealing with some dirt and garbage in your life is the best way. Just wade through it. Going around, detouring may not be good.

Journal: At about Mile 22 I took a short 5 min break. I don’t know if that was a good idea or not (I think it was) but it was hard to move again.

So do we sometimes take a “break” in life? Is that a good idea, maybe or maybe not? But is it hard to get moving again after a break? Usually it is, we want to just continue sitting, not moving. It is very easy to get complacent, and justify not moving.

Journal: Once moving, I just kept going. I knew Mile 23 had a long hill (100’ total elevation). I handled that okay, and was able to enjoy again (for a bit) looking at the beautiful ocean view from high up.

So, again, we’ve been going a long time. We’re tired. And here’s a hill. Not a real steep one, but long and hard. Or maybe your hill is steep. There is beauty along the way, even on the hill. Look for it, see it and enjoy it. Don’t let your pain, tiredness, suffering overwhelm you. 

Journal: It was downhill from here, and not too far. But I was still going slowly. And was okay with going slow. I stopped checking my time about halfway through. I didn’t care about time.

How often do we concern ourselves with things that aren’t important- like time? Do we rush? Does it really make any difference what our “time” is? Does paying attention to time detract from our mission?

Journal: John surprised me, meeting me a bit later, around Mile 24, to walk to the finish with me. That was nice. He had parked at the finish and hiked up and it was uphill for him. Of course, he takes off at his good clip; soon realized mama dear was not that fast, especially after 24 miles and almost 11 hours of walking.

And in life, does God sometimes surprise us with unexpected little bonuses? And do people sometimes try to help in ways that aren’t quite right? Like John walking with me, but at first not realizing he had to move at my pace. But then he did, and his company was most appreciated. Do people sometimes need to learn a bit what you really need before they can help effectively? Give them a chance. I didn’t tell John what to do, that he was going too fast; he just figured it out and pretty quickly. Maybe sometimes we do need to tell people how they can help us, sometimes not.

Journal: Bottom of the hill, into the park, in the finish road… (Geez, they could have made that finish at the beginning of the finish road, not the end, maybe another 3/4 mile). There were a few spectators cheering us on at the end. I had expected to be emotional. I wasn’t. All my energy the last 3-4 hours was in getting to the finish line. And when I did, there was no energy left for emotions.

So as you get close to a finish line—any kind of finish line in your life— does it seem closer than it really is? Does it take you much longer than you think to really get there? Do you have less support than you’d like? Does that discourage you? Keep going. Spectators and how many there are or aren’t makes no difference. Those who were there were quite enthusiastic, that was nice. Maybe you don’t need many supporters, just a few good ones. Does it make any difference that you’re not feeling the way you thought you would?

I wasn’t “dead on my feet,” but plenty tired. One step before the finish line (a timing mat you walk over), I stopped. Intentionally. I looked at it. For about 30 seconds. Then I stomped over it in triumph. Then I went over and sat down on the curb, not thinking much about anything. Looking back, a month later, I can see how my mind was functioning on some level even though the conscious brain wasn’t kicking in. That moment at the finish line was momentous, and something told me to stop and imprint it into my mind. And I did. And later, days and weeks and months later, the emotions I expected then are coming out:  The joy, the wonder, the gratitude, the amazement, the astonishment, and more. (Okay, so I’m crying as I write this—that’s fine.)

There may be significant moments in your life. Take a few seconds or more to recognize them, Let them melt into your subconscious. That finish line moment for me is a snapshot one that will be forever there for me. Don’t worry about your feelings, just allow yourself to “be.”

Kathy Szymanski, a cradle Catholic, wife, mother of 7 ages 8-32, and grandmother to 6 lives in Minnesota. A former missionary and homeschooler, she is now a life coach, marathon runner and writer of inspirational fiction. For ten years she has had neck and throat cancer, has a tracheotomy and is physically unable to speak. She proclaims, “Joy!  A wonderful thing!  I’m all for it!  The only true lasting joy is in the Lord!” She blogs at It's Your Life–It's Your Marathon.


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About Nancy Ward

Nancy HC Ward is a journalist, author, and speaker who blogs about Catholicism, her conversion, and Christian community at,
 7 websites and 7 magazines. She loves to share her faith story and help others share theirs through her Sharing Your Faith Stories seminars, also available on DVD. She contributed four chapters to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion. She facilitates the Dallas/Fort Worth Catholic Writers and a critique group for the Catholic Writers Guild, where she serves as a board member.
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