A well-known saying among marathoners is that “There are two halves to every marathon—the first 20 miles and the last 6.2.” While not mathematically accurate, this saying is correct in that it takes as much effort to complete the first 20 miles as it does the last 6.2. <!–split–>
I have been fortunate to complete a few marathons over the years, so I know how difficult the final miles can be. Actually, it’s miles 20-25 that are the most difficult because once you get to mile 25, you get a psychological lift that the finish line is not far away. At mile 20, though, you are exhausted. The runners are no longer talking to each other (a complete change from earlier in the race) as they are conserving every ounce of energy they have in order to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
The people cheering them on also disappear around mile 20 because spectators need to hurry to the end themselves to watch their friend or family member cross the finish line. Those last miles are lonely, and your mind plays tricks on you, raising doubts about whether you will be able to finish.
This all came back to me when I realized how exhausted I am feeling by this pandemic marathon we all are running right now. None of us signed up for this marathon. And none of us could have prepared for it because we had no idea it was coming. We have no way of knowing if we are now halfway through this race because no one can say for sure how much farther it will be to the finish line. Even if we are metaphorically at mile 20, the remaining miles will likely be more challenging than we can imagine.
I went online and researched some tips for first-time marathoners, looking for specific recommendations for the “second half” of a marathon. I share these tips with you here because I think they are timely for our current situation.
- Hydrate and refuel often. Runners all have their favorite drinks, gels, and energy bars. They know from experience what boosts their energy best. We, too, know what boosts our spiritual, emotional, and physical energy and need to intentionally consume as much of that as possible right now.
- Stop at every aid station, and get medical attention if needed. Marathon organizers add extra aid stations in the final miles, spacing them closer together. Medical tents are also available if needed. aid stations in a pandemic can be a phone or Zoom call with a friend or loved one, a walk around the block, meditation/prayer, or participating in an online offering that boosts our spiritual and emotional well-being. Unlike a marathon race, we may need to create our own aid stations, being proactive, and spacing them more closely together. And if you do need to visit the medical tent because you are in pain, know that it is a sign of wisdom and strength to reach out for support from someone trained to help, such as a therapist, clergy person, or medical professional.
- Slow down and walk when necessary. Listen to what your body, heart, and soul are telling you. Feeling exhausted? Slow down. Take a break. Learn to rest, not quit.
- Focus on short-term goals, rather than just the finish line. Some runners make it their goal to just make it to the next aid station or mile marker. Others focus on running for two minutes and then walking for 2 minutes. This week, I talked with someone who said their goal right now during COVID was to take a shower and get dressed every day. I applauded that goal. We are thrilled to read the good news about vaccines, and we so very much want the finish line to be just around the next corner. Right now, though, we need to focus on shorter-term goals and merely putting one foot in front of the other because letting our guard down now could risk not making it to the finish line or preventing others from not getting there.
- If you see another runner struggling, stop, and offer support. Everyone has a story of why they run a marathon, and except for the few elite runners that are competing to win, everyone is cheering for and helping each other along the way. I will never forget once when I was walking and struggling to finish a race, and several people stopped and walked with me for a moment as they offered an encouraging word. It made all the difference.
This pandemic is an endurance event like no other we have experienced. We don’t know exactly how much longer we have to go, and the second “half” is likely to be every bit as challenging as the first. So let’s remember these marathon tips and do all we can to help each other get across the finish line, arm in arm, together.
Your Parish Nurse, Kara
–Used with permission by Living Compass