Mario Runs a Marathon: Facing Doubt and Finishing

Let’s revisit mile 19. As stated in the first part of this series, that was when the mental game became an issue. I was tired. Tired of the wind. Tired of the heat. Tired of the focus. It was around 11:30 and I hadn’t eaten anything substantial since 5:30 that morning and only the Lord knows how many calories I already burned up to that point. 

Give up. Just stop. Why are you doing this to yourself? Quit.

Finding a compelling reason to continue was difficult. But after a few minutes of debating, I silenced that voice by reminding myself why I was doing this. I was running for you all. I offered my training for my clients, listeners, and readers. I take very seriously that God has called me to serve through these various platforms and I wanted to offer up the pain from the running to help you get through your pain and doubts.

That’s truly what my show is about. It’s my place to be able to talk about faith and suffering in a way that isn’t cheap, cliche, or callous. I honor the reality of doubt while holding to the truth of the Church. Hope isn’t the absence of anxiety or fear, but rather the recognition that it is all temporary. Hope is actualized in our suffering. Without it, we give up. With it, we keep going. 

So, I kept going. I put the doubts aside, said a prayer for my listeners, put my head down, and got back into the race. I knew I was close. Most of the mileage was behind me, now it was time to continue the focus and push my body beyond anything it wanted to do.

The last six miles were grueling. The wind was rough. But I would run until I couldn’t, then I would just walk for a bit, then run again. By this point, there was a group of us all doing the same thing. An older gentleman in a white tank top would pass me. Next, a group of still-chatty 20-something girls. Followed by some tough mother who was running barefoot. Crazy bunch we marathoners are. Then, I would start running again, pass them up until my legs gave out, walk, and get passed. Rinse, wash, repeat. It wasn’t a race as much as an exercise in futility. Endurance for its own sake. Survival was its own reward. 

Soon enough, City Park was back in view. We were getting close. Our entrance into the park emerged and the final .2 of the 26.2 was at hand. As I entered that last stretch of the race, I saw my family waiting for me at the finish line: Kristin, my four sons, and my in-laws. They met me at mile 15. Then Kristin alone at mile 23. But here they all were cheering me on as I crossed the finish line and completed my first marathon. Heaven.

As I walked through the chute, I grabbed a banana and a bag of Cheez-Its, passed a couple of yellow jacket-wearing security guards and nonchalantly announced, “Hey, I just ran a marathon.” They smirked like, “yeah idiot, so did everyone else who just walked by.” I walked back to Kristin and the Boys (which would be the name of our family band, if we were at all musical). They ran up to me with their signs of encouragement and gave me hugs and congratulatory sentiments. The moment was beyond words. Pure emotion that could only find one expression… tears. They came out unexpectedly and were hard and ugly. Like Saturday night on a youth retreat crying. Uncontrollable tears, mixing with snot, falling on my dried-sweat laced body. 

It all came out. The years of dreaming. The months of preparation. The four-plus hours of intense focus. The 26.2 miles of running. The goal accomplished. God’s goodness overwhelmed me and I didn’t fight it. It is amazing how so many various strings can come together in a singular moment. Finally, a sense of coalescence, not entropy. For so long, I have felt life being sucked from me, God demanding more than I could give, and not feeling successful. Yet, in that precious moment, the energy of life was filling me up and I felt more whole than I had in a very long time. Burnout was a distant memory. Life was good. God is good. 

I don’t know how long I cried for, but I didn’t hide it from my boys. I wanted them to see what it felt like to accomplish a major goal. I wanted them to know that hard work does pay off in the end, that suffering for a purpose is worth it, and that success is possible in life. I knew that whatever I was experiencing was not just for me, but to be shared. I hope that moment blessed them, too. And I knew that I would eventually share this experience with you, my reader and listener. When God blesses us like that, rarely is it just meant for us alone. The Gospel is about community. In God’s economy, what is good for one of us, is good for others, too. 

Running this marathon was never about the race itself. It was about the pursuit of desire. I knew that before I started but didn’t fully understand it until I had finished. I didn’t do this race to prove anything to anyone, I did it because I wanted to know how far I am willing to go to respond to a God-given desire. Properly ordered desires are indeed holy! Temperance is the virtue that lets the holy desires stand above the unholy ones. Still, the choice to respond to a desire (even if it is holy) is entirely within our free will. Sometimes we don’t engage because of fear or insecurity, but we always have a choice. The choice to run a marathon was a response to an idea implanted by God long ago. It was him loving me, my response to that love, and together accomplishing this tremendous feat. Therefore, I praise God for the desire to run this race, the physical health to do it, and the mental stamina to accomplish it. God’s graciousness shined through it all. 

Dr. Mario Sacasa

Dr. Mario Sacasa

Associate Director of Faith and Marriage

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