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Running That First Mile: How To Get Through The Hardest Part Of Your Run

A few tips for improved performance for novice and advanced runners alike.

You’re all set and ready to go. You woke up to your alarm, you put on your workout gear, you have the perfect playlist ready. You spring into the world, fresh and determined, and begin your run… and… WOW, it’s hard. Like, really, excruciatingly difficult.

…Maybe the hardest part of the run isn’t getting out of bed.

Whether it is your first run, or 1000th, the feeling is familiar: Those heavy feet, that short breath, a tired body. This is where it can be oh-so tempting to just throw in the towel. And many people often do before that first mile is over.

If you are genuinely fit, it is extremely frustrating when your body begins this protest; you may run, say, multiple times a week, yet you still come across the wall as soon as you begin?! What can be even more disheartening is new runners experiencing this feeling, as it may prevent them from ever getting through that first mile, and perhaps even repel them from running all together.

But here is a little known truth that we all need to get clear, since it is one that will really help the next time you go for a run: The first mile of your run is ALWAYS hard. Even for avid runners.

So, why don’t we start strong? It’s simple. Our body is not yet ready.

Think about it: Your body has been used to a steady state, either from a long stretch of sleeping (if it is a morning run) or from a day at work (if it is an afternoon venture). That feeling of heaviness, of pained muscles, of difficulty maintaining that steady breathing felt in that first mile is the result of your body being pushed to a higher level of operating.

Physiology explains this: We are expecting our bodies to perform at an anaerobic state (intense effort), when we have not yet crossed the threshold of the aerobic state (warming the body). When your body gets used to the idea that it will need to be operating at this level for an extended time, it will then activate the mechanisms to allow you to do so more efficiently.

Ever noticed that it feels easier and lighter after the first ten minutes or so? This is because your body accepts that workload is increasing, and adjusts its systems to deal with the state. The muscles transition to a more efficient working state, with breath pace quickening and becoming regular in order to oxygenate the blood and muscles.

This is the main reason why warming up is so important; it’s not just to reduce chances of injury. Warming up also serves the purpose of allowing you to flow with your run, to feel stronger and faster, and to continue with that motivation that got you out of bed in the first place.

In other words: Prime yourself; don’t time yourself. When setting out on a run, getting yourself in the right mindset will get you through that first mile. Many avid runners treat their first mile as a warm up, meaning they don’t time themselves or even consider it as part of their run. While it can be tempting to count that first mile in your run-tracking app (because ‘I just ran ten whole minutes and I’m not even counting it in my stats?!’), it’s not worth it. That first mile is your warm up. It’s your way of priming your body to then be able to feel (and do) your best in your run. Along those lines, here are a few other tips, too.

  • Run the first mile at a steady, easy pace.
  • Keep in mind that, when your body begins to protest, it will only be for a short time. It doesn’t mean the whole run will feel this way.
  • Visualize what is happening in your body in this first mile: It is slowing as it is activates into that prime state. Get excited for when you feel the switch from effort to ease.
  • Don’t record your distance or pace. Turn your run-tracking app on AFTER the first mile.

Running is a physical experience, yes, but it can also be a very powerful practice for your mind. For me, running is a meditative process: Running gives you the chance to move your body, enliven your cells, get healthy and fit—and the opportunity to practice strength of mind and determination.

(References: Here and here.)

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