Overcoming the first mile is by far the hardest part of any run. Whether it be the repetitive motion of the treadmill, or the endless road stretched out before you, the first mile always seems to be the most daunting and difficult. Because of this, I have come to regard this as the “first-mile fatigue.” Not only does the first mile seem to be physically the most challenging, but it can also be emotionally and psychologically difficult.
Physically, it makes sense why the first mile is the most difficult. Your body is adjusting to rapid motion that it had not previously been experiencing. Your knees and feet begin to feel the impact of hitting the ground and forcing your weight forward, while your lungs try to keep up with your new need for air. Psychologically, the first mile poses a challenge because it marks the first accomplishment in your run. Once you have made it past the first, it is easier to convince yourself that you can make it through the second, third, etc. Emotionally, the first mile is where you release the feelings and thoughts you have been holding in. I find that my mind begins to wander on the first mile, and often begins to process my thoughts, questions, and emotions.
Today, I ran in Golden, Colorado with my friend Josh, and was quickly reminded of this concept of “first-mile fatigue.” As we ascended the trail, I felt my heartbeat rapidly increasing. My breathing grew shallow, as I desperately gasped for remnants of oxygen in the thin air. Josh soon informed me that the entire first mile was uphill. I could feel the stiffness in my legs, as I tried to push myself up the steep path, over rocks and past the outstretched blades of tall grass. I began counting every step in my head, trying to measure the distance between me, and the top of the mesa. As I jumped over another rock and tried my best not to land directly into a puddle of water, I noticed that my thoughts had shifted. I could see the top, where a group of people sat, looking out over the city. “Let’s run to the lookout,” Josh explained, effortlessly leading the way. I breathed deeply and continued the ascent. I felt the warmth of the sun beating down on my face and the cool breeze that gently nudged me forward. The air felt weightless and clear as I took a long inhale. I looked out over the mesa, admiring all of Denver to my right and the Rocky Mountains to my left. I noticed Josh running a few feet ahead. I was happy to be running with him in this incredible place, that we had both recently come to know as “home.” I looked around at the complexity of the mountains, how big the world felt around me, how small I felt. But, in the midst of such intricate beauty, it was simple; I was happy.
When we finally reached the top, we stood, looking out over the city. We stretched and talked a bit and then decided to continue on our run. The rest of the trail seemed easy. Granted, we were running on flat earth, but it was almost as if pushing through the first mile had restored my confidence in my abilities. I didn’t think much about the distance after that point. I didn’t notice my body aching or much of how I felt at all. I just ran with the trail guiding me, the wind pushing me forward, and Josh beside me.
First-mile fatigue may never be something I fully conquer, but maybe it’s part of what pushes me to become a better runner.