Mario Runs a Marathon: Entering the Back Half

The Rock n’ Roll Marathon in New Orleans starts downtown, heads uptown on St. Charles, turns around at Audubon Park, goes back down St. Charles, through the French Quarter, and up Esplanade Ave to City Park. 

And that’s just the first half of the race. 

Esplanade is a classic New Orleans boulevard with a wide median (or “neutral ground,” as they call it in these parts), oak trees, historic homes, and strangers offering you free vodka and beer. Gotta love this city. 

As the racers made the turn onto Esplanade, the full-marathoners were directed to go to the right side and the half-marathoners ran on the left side of the median. This was intentional because at the end of Esplanade was City Park, the half marathoners would turn left head to the finish line and the full marathoners would turn right continue their trek up towards Lake Pontchartrain for the back half of the race. As the half-marathoners turned towards their finish line, I said to myself, “Now it gets real.”

As I mentioned in the last post, my long runs weren’t kind to me. So, I had genuine apprehension going into those last 13 miles. Would my hamstrings flair up again? Will I hit the dreaded wall at 22? Would I be able to finish? My game plan on race day was to drink plenty of electrolyte-laden fluids, keep my heart rate manageable, and keep my cadence (steps per minute) high. If I could run efficiently throughout the race, then I felt confident that I’d get it done. Sure enough, the last 8 miles were brutal! The wind was tough and it got very warm for February in New Orleans. But the hard lesson learned from the previous long runs spilled over to the race: back off when I was hurting and re-engage when feeling good. That’s how I ran and finished this race. 

Yet, even more than the apprehension of the race itself, there was something very impactful about seeing the half-marathoners turn towards the finish as the rest of us continued our insane trek to 26.2. Seeing them leave the race, felt like I was saying good-bye to a part of me. It felt like the turning of a page, the end of a chapter in my life. I was leaving the familiar terrain of 13 miles and heading into something more. Just like my life, when I turn 40 in July, I’m leaving young adulthood and heading into something new (and beautiful), just unknown. If we are honest, getting older brings its own vulnerability and apprehension. They say that 40 is the new 30, but come on, we aren’t supposed to be adolescents forever. I feel healthier now than I did at 30, but unless science allows me to live to 150 years, I am approaching the middle age of my life.   

Truth be told, I’m ready for my 30’s to be over. I’m ready to let them go and move on to the next decade. It was a hard decade where I reckoned with the reality of sin and a humble acknowledgment that while God’s grace is freely given, it can also be freely rejected. I have learned a lot about myself in the process; how to navigate my anxieties and expectations I place on others. I recently heard that people in their 60’s are generally happier than people in their 30’s. I hope for that. I guess that by that point in life, you have figured out which ideas are valuable and which are distractions. 

Running this race now, at this juncture of my life has prepared me for the next phase of life. The main tension of getting older is the balance between nurturing what you have established and pursuing new ventures. You can’t do everything at the same time. (Believe me, I’ve tried.) You cannot just pick up and go wherever, because you have to consider the needs of a family, those who rely on you, and other practicalities. Still, we need fresh initiatives to keep moving forward. If you lean too much one way, you get complacent. Lean too much the other way and you become selfish. Wonder, exploration, and lofty goals aren’t things that we should stop seeking just because we get to a certain age. However, wisdom teaches us which of those dreams are anchored in reality. That’s the gift of getting older. 

I’m learning that the key to happiness is knowing how to see the providence of God in each moment. It all matters. Every heartache, success, failure, frustration, and elation… God has allowed them all in your life for a reason. Just like the variability in marathon training, all had a specific purpose that I didn’t fully understand until I approached the back half of the race. Doing slow work builds your heart’s ability to pump more blood. Speed workouts help you go faster. Long runs get your legs ready for the distance. God has a plan and purpose of your life, but just like any other relationship, it takes time to know him and his subtle movements within your heart. Pay attention and be patient, things will make sense in due time.

So, yeah, I’ve learned a lot as I trained and ran this race. That or I just had too much time alone during the long runs! Regardless, as I turn to the back half of life, I feel ready for whatever may come thanks in part to this marathon.

Dr. Mario Sacasa

Dr. Mario Sacasa

Associate Director of Faith and Marriage

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