Life and a Marathon – part 1 by Kathy Szymanski

I participated in a marathon in December 2011, just a few weeks shy of my 57th birthday. I have cancer of the neck and throat, and have had it for 10 years. I also have a tracheotomy and can’t breathe through my nose or mouth. I present all that as background. I want to share some lessons I learned through doing the marathon, and how it parallels life and a religious journey. The parts in italics are from my “marathon report,” written while the event was still fresh in my mind. I conclude with some reflections gleaned several months after the event.

Journal: I’m not calling it a race report; it was never my intention to race. My goal was to finish the marathon and enjoy (at least some of) it.

Is this not the goal of life? I had to ask myself, before I embarked on this journey (or went very far): Why I was doing this?   I discerned that I was doing it because I felt it was God’s will for me. I was unsure really why, and uncertain of all the reasons why he wanted it. I had written on the back of my marathon shirt  I wore that day: For His Glory. That’s why I did it. I hadn’t planned to write that; it was a spur of the moment thing. I had some of my own reasons for doing it, but by far the over-riding reason was I believed it was God’s will. It makes me think of the old Baltimore Catechism question and answer: Why did God make me? The answer is: to know him, to love him, to serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next.

Life isn’t a race. It’s there, in part, for us to enjoy. The fastest marathoners were done in a little over 2 hours. That’s great, but how much did they see along the way? How much did they enjoy? I recall more than one moment when I thought to myself, “This is really wonderful. This is beautiful.” Being in Hawaii in December when you’re from Minnesota? A no-brainer! Sunshine, fresh warm breezes, birds chirping, surf churning.

Let me set the stage a bit for you. It was a few years back, when my husband, John, said something about doing a marathon. He was talking in jest since neither of us are physical fitness buffs, much less runners. That comment was a seed planted, probably by the Holy Spirit. I did some research and found out the most walker- friendly marathon was in Hawaii. Aha! That sounds good. So we kind of made it a goal to do the Honolulu Marathon in 18 months.   Walk it, not run. That gave us plenty of time to get in shape. As it turns out, John stepped back and chose to do the 10K “Fun Walk” instead of the marathon.

As it got closer, friends and family had varied reactions.  Most were supportive and encouraging.  A few said not to do it. Some said you “can’t” do it.  Do you sometimes have people in your life who laugh at you or your goals, who tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t do them? That you’ll fail? Those kinds of things are for “someone else”? Someone better qualified, better able. Think a minute here how Jesus used all kinds of people who were “unqualified.”   Peter was an ignorant fisherman.  Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.

Journal: Marathon Day: I hadn’t slept well the last few nights (long travel trip, jitters, time changes, etc.).

That didn’t matter. How often do you plan to do something in your spiritual life and for a lot of reasons, it’s not quite as easy as you had hoped or expected? Things get in the way like the time changes and all did for me. All that doesn’t make any difference, you do it anyway.

Journal: Wake up call at 1:30 a.m. marathon day. (Am I nuts? Yes!)  Sometimes in your spiritual life do you have to do things you don’t normally do, things you don’t like to do, maybe even things you can’t imagine yourself doing—like getting up at 1:30 a.m. to get in place to walk 26.2 miles.

Journal: I got everything on, ate, etc., left at 2:30. Caught a bus to the start (mind you, now it’s about 3:30 a.m., still dark.) I had to wait in long lines to use the bathroom.  Finally it was approaching 5 a.m. and we all lined up. They put the fastest runners first, up front, slower turtles later (fine by me).

In life in general, and in regards to the spiritual life, it is  usually a good idea to surround yourself with people more or less where you’re at, maybe a little more advanced than you. They’ll challenge you to be better, but not run you over or leave you in the dust.  In the marathon, and in life, size and shape, age and appearance really matters little.

Journal: Your actual time doesn’t start until you cross the start line (I was 12 minutes back). There were 23,000 for the marathon plus a bunch (I don’t know how many) doing the 10K.

Life has lots of people in it, lots of people on the same journey as you.  But remember, it’s not a race (for me, anyway). And so what if you’re “starting late.” Probably for our Lord, like the marathon was set up, he’ll “start” your time when you cross the “start” line. If you’re 50 and just coming to realize who he is, great!   If you’re 20 and raring to go, great!

Journal: The 10K walkers started farther back. I fully expected John to catch up to me as he walks faster than I do. He never did; he ended up walking slower with some 90-year-old retired farmer from Iowa. That was fine.

So in life, maybe sometimes you expect to meet certain people, walk with them, have them catch up to you. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.  You could slow down to wait for them, or you can continue on, eyes forward, looking always at the goal. Sometimes waiting is the right thing; sometimes going on your way is best. In this case, no doubt I was to forge ahead.

Journal: After the 10K, my field thinned out considerably. All the faster folks were ahead of me; all the 10K folks were done.  

So in life, some people only go so far, some are only called to go so far. That’s fine. Those who are called to go farther are not necessarily any better, just called to serve God differently. The key is to do your best, no matter how far you are called to go.

Journal: I was going well, about what I had expected. John had our rental car. We had driven the route the day before, and had a pretty good idea of where he might be able to meet up with me.

If you know where you’re going, if you know the route, or at least have some idea of it, the going will be easier.  Before we left for Hawaii, I spent a fair amount of time on Google Earth, looking at the route, studying it. Then, like I said, we drove it. Think of how that parallels life.  If you have an idea of your route, how long it is, what the terrain is like, where obstacles or trouble spots like hills might crop up, you will be better able to deal with it all.  It pays to spend some time looking at life, your life.  Make a plan and design a route. You can change and adapt it, but a plan gives you a starting point.  I had a plan of how I anticipated handling the marathon. The route was laid out; I knew how to deal with the hills, the distance and so forth. So, John was planning to meet me at certain points with food, encouragement, and so forth.  I wasn’t sure exactly where, as we really wouldn’t know where he’d be able to drive. With that many people, they had roads closed. Even the freeway was closed for about 5 miles, as that was part of the route. He knew where I was going, and could figure out where he could meet me.

Journal: I met him first at 9 miles (he had things like chocolate, drinks, etc.) They had aid stations and passed out water and Gatorade, but no food, and I knew I’d need to eat.  I was doing GOOD, walking pretty much the speed I had planned.  And truly enjoying it!

Does God sometimes place very special people in your life who will help you along the way? Have you thanked him for those people?   Have you thanked them for being there?

Continued in Life and a Marathon part 2

and Life and a Marathon part 3

Kathy Szymanski – 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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