Life and a Marathon – part 3 by Kathy Szymanski

Journal: I did it! I finished. I achieved my goal. I wasn’t last, but even if I had been, that’s okay. I finished, and I enjoyed it—most of it, especially the first 10 miles. I was surprised looking today at the results that there were almost 150 behind me that finished and that there were several thousand that dropped out. The first 20 miles or so of the walk I pretty much did what I had hoped and expected time-wise. The last 6 or 7 miles were much slower than I had anticipated or expected.

Your journey may not be quite what you expect, the way you expect it, at the speed at which you expect it to flow. It makes no difference if others finish ahead of you or behind. You do your best. Maybe they have different talents, abilities, temperaments, whatever, that allow them to finish ahead of you. No matter. While walking, while on your journey, you don’t need to look around a lot at others, seeing what they are doing or how. Don’t mold yourself into their mold. Go your way. The way God wants you to go.

Let me talk a bit about tools. I had various tools to help me achieve my goal of doing the marathon. A good coach, quality shoes and even special socks, shorts, shirts, and bra, and something called Body Glide to prevent chafing. Sometimes it is not the big things, like sore thigh muscles that will get you down, but the tiny things, like the waistband of your shorts rubbing. I had a supportive husband (and my family and others). I had people praying for me, both before the marathon and during it. There were aid stations along the way, passing out water and Gatorade. There were First Aid stations, which I didn’t need. There were some cheering spectators, especially early on. I had Google Earth and a marathon map to have an idea where I was going and what the terrain looked like. Without those tools, I may not have made it. They made a significant difference.

What tools do we have in our lives, our spiritual journeys that parallel that? Well certainly if you’re Catholic, the Church. Think of a good priest or confessor or spiritual guide as a coach. Even something like EWTN or Catholic radio. Just as I had water, Gatorade and various foods provided, we have the Eucharist. Prayers to sustain us, help us focus. The rosary, sometimes considered boring, to carry us through times when we can’t think to pray. The Word of God to encourage us, verses we can cling to. I had a few affirmations that I would repeat, more before and during the training, than during the actual walk. We have people around us, maybe just a few, maybe a lot, who care, support and encourage us. The Church gives us a map. She says go here; don’t go there; go this way, not that way; do this, not that. We have Churches with Christ present where we can go to pray and meditate. We have retreats. Like my coach had her experience in working with many walkers, and runners, and marathoners, the Church has many holy men and women, saints and the early Church fathers who we can look to for advice. She has more than 2000 years of leading people to Christ. We’d be fools not to pay attention to her.

Sometimes we think we know a lot and don’t need much advice. And we can be surprised. My coach suggested compression socks, the knee-hi ones people who have surgery are advised to wear to help circulation. Not during the marathon, but during the long plane ride and for the first few days after the marathon. I had never thought of that. She was exactly right. They felt so good with sore muscles. Sometimes the Church might suggest things, like maybe Confession monthly. We may think we don’t need that—we have no mortal sin on our souls, it’s not Christmas or Easter. Yet if we go, we may be pleasantly surprised at how well it makes us feel. Listen to the Church.

What about training? The months I spent training were as much a part of my marathon as the day itself. Many lessons learned with that. It was the training that allowed me to finish, and achieve my goal. My coach set up a training schedule for me, based on where I was and what the goal was. Every day (except for rest days) it was walk this far in this time. The Church does this for us: sets up a training schedule. Go to Mass each Sunday. Go to Confession (ideally a few times/month). Read the Bible every day. Pray. And so on. We have a spiritual “training” schedule. If we follow it, we will be in much better shape to follow the will of God in our lives.

I didn’t doubt or question my coach. She knew what she was doing; she’d been there, done this marathon many times and coached many people. I didn’t dismiss her recommendations. I didn’t argue or question. I just did it.

Do we sometimes question or resist what the Church tells us to do? Do we think we can get by with less, or maybe doing it “our way”? Isn’t that trusting our own judgment over that of the Church? There were times I’d bring up questions to the coach, or have a minor injury and ask if I should adjust my training. But that is different from questioning her judgment, her schedule and her wisdom. My coach helped guide me, and provided information I needed to achieve my goal. The Church does the same. We are prudent to pay close attention and follow the recommendations. Maybe I would have made it anyway. But why do it the hard way?

The many, many hours of walking as part of my training were hard. Long. Boring. Time consuming. Not what I wanted to be doing. But I never cut them short or skipped them because I knew doing it, as outlined, would help me achieve my goal. And I was committed to the goal. As I said at the beginning, I felt this was what God wanted of me. That made me completely committed to the goal.

The key for me was commitment. I mean true, serious commitment. Think about something. Is getting to heaven your goal? How committed are you, truly, to get to that goal? Are you willing to put in long hours, many days, weeks, months, years, decades to achieve it? Even when you’re tired, sore and it’s cold outside? When you’re called to do things that are hard, when you’d rather be doing something else?

If you’re not totally committed, are you going to make it? Being committed is a choice. Make it. And then follow through on every last bit of training outlined for you. There were times I screwed up, counted miles wrong or something and didn’t do what I was supposed to. But it was never intentional and the mistakes were few. I was diligent about knowing what was expected and doing it.

In a way, doing this marathon was like a vocation for me. Not many are called to this vocation. That doesn’t make any difference. If you are called to a vocation that few are called to, answer the call anyway. A vocation many are called to, such as motherhood, is one of the noblest ones out there. Walking or running a marathon is also a noble vocation, though less common. One vocation is not better than another, but follow his call, wherever it leads you.

Life is, in essence, a marathon. Not easy, but doable and enjoyable, with many pleasures along the way. It involves delightful people and experiences and surprises. Go for it.

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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