Willpower – Amy’s Marathon Journey

On April 13th, my wife, Amy, ran the Carmel Marathon, her third race at this distance.  She finished in 4 hours, 13 minutes, about 2 ½ minutes off her personal best time 11 years prior.  Midst a busy, busy life with 8 kids and countless responsibilities and demands, the training had taken her from October of 2023 through race day, more than 6 months. 

Days removed from the marathon, she found herself reflecting on a number of key components that sustained her throughout the training and the race.  In the article below, she further describes how 5 particular aspects of willpower, featured in our newest book Turning Free Will Into Willpower:  The Opportunity of a Lifetime, provided the foundation for her marathon endeavor. 


It was an unexpected start to a journey I didn’t know was awaiting me.  Although I had competed in some endurance events in the past, it had been quite a while since I had undertaken the rigors of marathon training.  A little seed was planted when my sister mentioned training together for a marathon the previous spring, but my first reaction was a big laugh and a hard no.  How in the world would I build in the time for training or motivate myself psychologically for such a feat among the already overscheduled and intense life of raising 8 children and trying to support my husband’s great work as well as give of my time to our parish, kids’ schools, and our community?  I entertained the idea a bit, but concluded that it certainly wasn’t the right time. 

I received a call about 1:00 AM on an early October day from my sister.  She had taken my mother to the emergency room after some unusual symptoms, thinking it was related to her A-fib or perhaps a stroke.  But to our utter shock she was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, an aggressive and terminal brain cancer that doctors told us had no treatment options outside of surgery, which was incredibly risky.  It was devastating news and it hit me like a ton of bricks.  My very independent mom needed 24 hour care and my five siblings and I decided we would split our time to care for our beloved mother.  There was absolutely no question that this was where I would now be spending a lot of my time and energy, and it truly was a gift to be able to spend intentional time with her during her last months.  It was at this time that my husband, Jim, encouraged me to consider increasing the miles I had been running per week and create a more intense exercise routine in order to help alleviate the obvious stress I was under.  But the reality was that now my time and mental energy was even more stretched.  Any rational person would actually cut back on things that weren’t absolutely essential, like running, in order to meet the newfound demands of taking care of a terminally ill family member, right?

That’s what I thought.  But through prayer and more discussion with Jimmy, I was able to take on a new perspective, allowing for more insights and courage to attempt what didn’t seem quite logical to most at the time.  As detailed in Jim’s and his co-author, Vanessa’s, book, Turning Free Will into Willpower: The Opportunity of a Lifetime, perspective is one of the nine components that are essential in turning free will into willpower.  When my sister asked me about completing a marathon with her and then when Mom became ill, my perspective was focused on the impossible task of finding the time to run.  Slowly, however, as my heart opened to a change in perspective, I was able to instead focus on the possibilities that marathon training could offer me: quiet time alone with God, decreased anxiety levels, a positive goal in one of the most difficult periods of my life.  I realized it could also provide an example to my children of living a healthy lifestyle and taking on big challenges in life with a positive attitude.  I believe that they were able to witness some of the steps, like a change in perspective, it took me to turn my free will into willpower. 

Another of the nine components of WILLPOWER that quickly became apparent to me was the need to withstand the obstacles I would face during my long months of training.  I was initially intimidated by the thought of the obstacles, but as each of them came, I had to remain present-minded so as not to be tempted to give up.  When I finally decided to take on this challenge, it was overwhelming to think that I would need to be running mileage into the twenties in a few months.  That would take hours!  But part of standing withcourage and resolve requires being in the moment and tackling the challenge that lie before us and not looking ahead to what we can’t control. 

Providentially, the ability to do this throughout the months of training was very helpful during my marathon race itself, as I could not think of mile 26 when I was on mile 8 or 13 or 20.  It truly was one mile at a time.  And so with my training, it was one obstacle at a time.  It took perseverance to be able to find people willing to watch my younger kids so I could get my miles in. It took resetting my perspective when I became too focused on what I couldn’t get to during the day because of my training hours.  It took grit to continue lifting one foot in front of the other when my legs felt like they were bricks.  It took thinking outside the box when I had injuries come up so that I could prudently create a training regimen that would strengthen me for the long run and not derail me in the short term.  So often I thought to myself, “missing this one run probably won’t hurt my training too much?” But I had made a commitment to see this training through, and I knew from many other people that good training makes all the difference in the world come marathon day.  So even when I was tempted to take the easy road, I remained persistent in putting in the work.  However, at the same time I needed to be flexible, like when I became sick for a couple days, or I had to change my schedule a bit because I would be out of town on my normal Saturday long run.   Ultimately, I learned that through persistence and flexibility, always keeping the goal in mind, each step remained possible.

One of the hugely important components of WILLPOWER for successful training was my lifestyle as I needed to create an environment and a routine that would be sustainable.  A healthy, mostly whole foods and non-processed diet with proper nutrient balance and regular water intake became a priority.   One of the simplest ways to do this was not to purchase food and drinks that would go against this, because if they were in the house, it would be much more tempting to consume them.  This gave me a great opportunity to further teach our children to be aware of the types of foods they are consuming, as they are certainly like a lot of American children who gravitate toward the sugary cereals and empty calories of processed foods when they are available.  I also had to learn a lot about the types of nutritional supplements needed during endurance training to maximize and maintain strength and avoid an energy crash.  An essential lifestyle factor was getting proper sleep.  My kids have begun calling me a night owl, which I inherited honestly from my mother.  So to get enough hours of sleep each night required a shift in my schedule to some degree.  Again, I was often tempted to just shrug off the need to get to bed early because night time is a great time for me to get things “caught up.” But I learned that the best way to restore the musculoskeletal system, maintain my energy and avoid injury was to get a full night’s sleep.  Creating a sustainable schedule for my runs, bikes, lifting, and core strength routines was a crucial piece of my lifestyle during training.  By following a cross-training schedule and not overdoing the running, I was able to maintain the training without major burnout or injury.  I also had a lot of support from family and friends who would run with me and help with the kids and simply share in this journey in my life.  My favorite memories from this whole experience are the times I was sharing the pavement with Jimmy, Zach, Emma, Matthew, Noah, Will, Louis, Samuel, or Kate!   They definitely supported me and my lifestyle as it kind of became theirs, too, and I am so grateful to them for this.

Marathon training allows for much reflection time, yet another component of WILLPOWER.  And in those hours upon hours and miles upon miles of reflection, God reinforced that my identity (another component)lies first and foremost in being His daughter.  Even through the pain of losing my earthly mother and father, I understood how blessed I was to have been born to two loving parents and to have grown up in a stable, faithful home.  But for every single one of God’s children, no matter our life circumstances, we remain sons and daughters of an infinitely loving God.  This awareness of my identity often rose to the forefront when I was out there moving, ultimately moving toward Him.  When the miles became difficult and the pain became real, God called me into a place of gratitude.  Sometimes it even happened before I started a training day.  If I felt myself becoming negative or wishing I didn’t have to do a particular workout, my free will shifted into willpower when I called upon the gratitude within, and I continued on.  Offering up my training for those I knew and those I didn’t know, especially those who were going through illness, loss, loneliness, and depression, also reminded me of the supernatural power of prayer, and that I can unite my suffering to His; in that way, it became redemptive suffering.  Two months into my training, and two months after her diagnosis, Mom passed away.  I still am in awe of the strength and trust my mother lived throughout her life, but especially in the last days.  Mom trusted in God’s will and the last words I remember hearing her speak clearly were during the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer when she was receiving daily Eucharist the day before she passed….while she mouthed the words to the entire prayer, the words, “Thy Will be Done,” were proclaimed in almost a shout! 

All of the nine components of WILLPOWER were foundational in my ability to use my God-given free will to develop the willpower needed to achieve the goal I had set, and in reality, the goal God had set for me.  And in that way, it was His will.  I ran across the finish line with Samuel and Kate beside me.  They told me I looked like a penguin because of how badly I was waddling.  It was true; I did look like a penguin.  When Jimmy pulled the car down from the parking garage and I began to step inside, it was all but impossible for me to do so independently.  When I finally sat down on the seat, I realized I couldn’t lift my legs.  This is when the emotions hit.  Not only was I taking in the fact that God’s and my goal had been met successfully and the purpose of all those days and weeks and months of training and prayer had come to fruition, but one of the first memories I have of taking care of Mom after her diagnosis was helping her lift her legs in the car, just as Jimmy was about to do for me.  It had come full circle.  As he lifted my legs and my mind flashed back to that surreal moment when Mom’s diagnosis became more than words on paper and I saw right before my eyes that my strong mother was losing her ability to move, I felt her presence so palpably.  It lasted only a moment, but I knew she had been with me throughout my journey. 

On 4-13 I finished my marathon in 4:13.  And truly, it was because, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  —Philippians 4:13

2 Replies to “Willpower – Amy’s Marathon Journey”

  1. Kristine Schroeder

    What an inspirational article. I especially loved how your training and marathon coexisted with your journey through your Mom’s illness and death. Your journey is a beautiful tribute to your parents. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Jeanne Ethridge

    Your training journey is spiritual, powerful, and beautiful; an inspiring look at your beautiful self, your family, your spirit, their support, and your beloved mother.
    May God be with you and your family, today and always.


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