The Marathon No One Signed Up For

Share on email
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on facebook

Step, step, step, breathe. Step, step, step breathe. Step, step, step, breathe.

This is the rhythmic pace of running. After a while it becomes almost hypnotic as one’s mind drifts from thought to thought only to be interrupted by some sort of discomfort or pain.

Step, step, step, breathe. Step, step, step breathe.

As a runner and prior track cross country and 4-minute mile runner (in High School average pace was 4:08 – 4:12, undefeated for three years), I assure you this is the breathing pattern, I was trained. As were my friends who are runners like Ed Deutschlander, CLU®, CLF & CEO of North Star Resource Group (who gave me the inspiration for this message recently.) Ask any long-distance runner and they will tell you the mind games are simply part of long distance running and we all have to find a way to overcome them to finish. We must force our self to go back to our own pace and remember to step, step, step breathe.

Most of us can relate to this as we are all finding our new cadence and routine. Shelter-in-place and work from home have been going on for months now. Similar to a marathon, the initial few weeks flew by both figuratively and literally. The beginning of a marathon provides a shot of adrenaline to runners, seducing them into a more hurried pace than their training was. Before long, a good part of the race is over and now a different reality enters. But to finish the race they must fall into their own pace and stride, and keep that step, step, step, breathe rhythm. They must learn to shut off the negative thoughts of “this is too hard, this is too long, my body feels a pain, I am not sure I can finish.” On my long runs, now normally 5-7 miles, I must still go through the routine of step, step, step breathe, brain stop thinking of negative things, let’s sing a song, let’s think about goals, what do I need to get done this week, wow look at that view, what’s that down there in the distance, if I make it to that sign, I am a champion, and the list goes on of the mind games I play to keep my pace and finish my run.

Step, step, step, breathe.

This is a marathon no one signed up to run. This is also a marathon where the mile markers and finish line are neither distinguishable nor discernible. Yet as this race continues, glancing at our fellow “runners,” we may find solace in that we are all having the same experience and going through the same emotional roller coaster.

Step, step, step, breathe.

As we navigate this marker-less course the challenges increase. Mentally it is taking a toll. The voice inside of our head was mute at first as we burned through the initial wave of endorphins. That voice is slowly becoming a kettle drum and each step, each day, we not only hear but feel the vibrations coming off of the large drum being struck with every step we take.

Step, step, step, breathe.

In the world of running, what we are experiencing is known as, “The WALL.”

It is a sudden wave of extreme fatigue coupled with some doubts and fears that creep in and are amplified when one is under long periods of prolonged energy exertion and stress. It is when all “pre-race” plans go out the window.

This is a race where the “wall” can’t be avoided. The reason is because this is a race that no one ever trained to run. What we are going through has never occurred in any of our lifetimes. The phrase, “times like this” really don’t apply. There have not been “times like this.”

Some of us have hit the wall, the rest of us will hit the wall at some point.

Having run numerous marathons and half marathons there are several key lessons that will help us through this tough stretch:


Even though it may seem there is not an end in sight, there is an end to every race. I have never run a race in which I did not know where or could not see the finish line at the beginning of the race. The finish line usually appears only at the very end of the race, but we always knew where it was or how long it was to get to the finish line. One will run perhaps 5 miles, 10 miles, or 26 miles, but eventually will be able to see the finish line the last few hundred meters. What enables the runner to carry on is knowing there is a finish line. This too has a finish line. It most likely isn’t around the next corner but one needs faith to know that a finish line is ahead and will be crossed.


Every runner and marathoner has a reason why they are running the race. The reasons vary for as many runners as there are, but there is a reason someone elected to endure the difficult task of running a marathon. This is no different. All of us have our reasons for our careers. We all have responsibilities, obligations, goals, commitments, promises, role-modeling and a host of many other important reasons as to why we do what we do.

In challenging times, it becomes even more important to draw, focus and reflect on these priorities and values, in essence our “WHY,” to keep us as strong as possible when fatigue sets in and makes us more vulnerable to not finishing the race.

What is your “WHY?” What is going to pull you through? What is your win going to be from this experience? Focus on the person you will be at the end of the race and how much better you will be for completing this race. Don’t focus on the temporary pain or setbacks that are inevitable with any growing and worthwhile endeavor. STAYING POSITIVE during this fragile stage of the race is imperative and makes all the difference.


The most important part when “hitting the wall” is simply to keep moving. Don’t stop. If you must walk a bit, go through the “water station” slowly and have an extra cup of water, but the key at this stage is to “keep those legs moving.”

Just as we started this journey together with the cadence of step, step, step breathe, it is that same cadence that will have us cross the finish line together. I don’t know many people who run marathons in isolation. It is easier and better to run with others. Support is what pulls one through, and the continued support of the entire Gateway Leadership and Administration will have us all collecting the finisher medals of this race.

Yes, this is the marathon no one signed up for, but when I look at my life there have been many “races” I didn’t sign up for, and I know the same is true for ALL of YOU. Yet I crossed every one of those finish lines a better, stronger and more capable person. I know it also has been the same for you. This race will be no different in that regard, we didn’t sign up for it, we didn’t train for it, yet we will finish it and be the better for it.

So let’s keep taking our steps and breathing.

Step, step, step, breathe.

Shane Westhoelter, AEP, CLU, LUTCF
Gateway Financial Advisors, Inc

For more helpful advice from our partners at Gateway Insurance Group, Inc. click here.

Securities offered through Registered Representatives of Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a brokerdealer, member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser. Gateway Financial Advisors, Inc., and Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. are not affiliated.

You might be interested in these related articles...


Let’s get started...