"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
June 26, 2013
Running Our Race
by Marian Stoddard

We attended the Institute graduation for our youngest daughter at the University of Washington a few days ago. The Institute director, Todd Knowles, spoke of the process of graduation, which is going on in many, many places this month, as also being termed “commencement.” Though it is the completion of one stage of life, one set of goals, it is also the beginning of another: to enter into, or commence, the next part of our progress.

He told a personal story. He likes to run. He runs marathons, and trains thoroughly and hard. There is a challenge with that, because he has an inflammatory intestinal disease, and the two do not go well together. When his illness is quiet, he can push himself, but when it flares he’s in trouble.

There is a marathon in central Washington, going around Lake Chelan. It’s a beautiful setting, a gorgeous place, and last September about 400 runners participated. He didn’t say what year this was, but Brother Knowles wanted to win it, as he had won this race one of the years before. He knew that he could push the last five-mile stretch, which he described, and he trained for the terrain. He had a plan and a time that he needed to beat for a personal best. As the kids would say, he was pumped!

He allowed that he becomes very competitive. He drilled, he focused, he trained, and he was feeling pretty good about his chances when the all-too familiar early warning signs hit him the night before the race, that his body was going to be fighting him. His illness was asserting itself, and its timing was lousy.

Brother Knowles talked with his son, who was going with him. He talked with the Lord, who knew how much he wanted to run. He wasn’t ill, actually — yet — but he would be. The only question was how badly, and how quickly. It was hard to give up on all the preparation and anticipation, and he finally decided that he just wanted to try. He couldn’t bear not to.

He did everything possible to be safe, to stay fed and hydrated, and to be able to endure the distance. At the halfway point he told his son, who was running with him to that point as a half marathon, that he wanted to continue. His son wished him the best, but he wasn’t going any farther himself. Dad would be on his own.

Brother Knowles had managed to pull out ahead of the other runners, except for a very few. As he hit that last five mile stretch, the piece of terrain he had planned for and trained for, there was only one other runner with him, and he was confident that he could pull out a burst of momentum and take the lead. This was exactly what he was ready for! Victory was in sight if he could just keep it up.

But as he began to gain ground on the other runner, his vision started to go dark on the periphery and pull in towards the center until he realized that he would black out. Worse to him than the prospect of passing out and falling, possibly being injured, was the realization that if he passed out they wouldn’t let him finish the race.

He slowed to a walk for a few moments and his vision cleared, so he tried to speed up again. The same thing happened, and again a third time, and he knew he could not sustain the speed he needed to win. It wasn’t a matter of will or gumption or determination or choice. It simply couldn’t be done.

He did finish, running a little, then walking a little through those last five miles. The runners he had left behind did not overtake him; only the one runner he was neck and neck with came in ahead of him, pulling out steadily. Even with all this, he did beat his target time for a personal best. But he didn’t win.

He told us that he wondered what the lesson was that he was supposed to learn in this experience. He pondered several possibilities, as he endured the flare-up of his illness, which did set in, as it receded, and as life settled back to normal. He said his answer came a little later:

You can’t run today’s race on yesterday’s nourishment.

Now, he knew it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t have the nourishment he needed for that race. He was conscientiously taking it in, and his body was not able to absorb it because of his illness. But the fact remained that his body couldn’t sustain the demands of the marathon without having what it needed, now. Yesterday’s nourishment was not sufficient, when his system was working better. He had to have today’s nourishment today.

This was Brother Knowles’s parting counsel to the students he had taught, shepherded, and loved for four years, who were departing this richly nourishing spiritual environment. Don’t neglect to nourish your souls as you leave here for work or other pursuits which may try to absorb all of your attention as you make the next transitions of life.

You can’t run today’s race on yesterday’s nourishment. We all have our own versions of the race, we all run our own course. What are we counseled when we are having a tough time? Pray and read your scriptures. Maybe we feel like we could just chant that automatically while thinking that’s not the point. Don’t want a formula, you say, you want some help?

Prayer and scripture study, that’s what we always hear — for a reason. As counsel, it’s always true. It always makes a difference. If we realize that it’s more than a formula, if we make it a searching, heartfelt process, we will find food for our spirits and stamina for our race, whatever it may be. Then as answers are offered to us, we will be better able to hear them. He promises that he will speak to us in our need, but we have to draw near through the means he has given us.

Thank you, Brother Knowles, for the testimony and example that have sunk deep into the hearts of your Institute students. Thank you for nourishing their souls.


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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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