That First Mile: Push Past the Initial Effort & Achieve Your Dreams
I’ve always been a runner. In middle school, I ran track – even volunteering myself for the excruciating mile race, as it was my way out of participating in any sort of field event. I was a distance runner, y’all, but I wasn’t about to be jumping into any sand pits or over any bars. And my upper body certainly wasn’t built for throwing objects across a field. My coach sensed my disdain for these field events, and offered up the mile, which no other soul desired to run, as a compromise (read: bribe). So the mile it was.
My love of running continued over the years, including many a 5K race and an attempt to train for a half-marathon eventually halted by a stress fractured foot. While some recognize running as a special kind of torture, for me it has always been a release. I run when I’m angry or sad or in celebration. To this day, I have a scar on my right knee from the night I broke up with a college boyfriend and ventured out, tripping on an uneven sidewalk in the midst of my frenzied run. Running for me is therapy. I think it’s a combination of being outside and the feeling of freedom as I navigate the roads and sidewalks and paths.
A mantra expressed by many distance runners is that you absolutely cannot judge a run by the first mile. Countless runs have begun with a near excruciating first mile. I’ll have been running for months, working upwards of five miles, and then the day comes when, within the first few meters, my lungs will be on fire and my legs seeming bricks attached to my body. In these moments, it is so easy to quit, to chalk it up to an off day, to walk the rest of the route. It is so simple to slow down, give up on my distance or time goal for that day.
Now sometimes, our bodies are trying to tell us something. Sometimes we push too hard, and it is wholly unhealthy for us to heave on through the pain. Sister, if you’re feeling sharp pains down the side of your knee, BY ALL MEANS, slow your roll and walk that path today. You know your body best.
If in the beginning, your body is achy because it is acting like a child who doesn’t want to wake up in the morning for school - don’t listen to it.
There is a very real reason the saying mind over matter is prevalent among athletes. Even those humans who train every single day, who have nutritionists concocting their every meal, and trainers giving them the very best workouts – even they must remind themselves on the regular that reaching the next level means your mind has to be stronger than your body. Your mind has to know when to ignore the fatigue and press on.
It’s often like this during the first mile. Recently I went for a run on a family vacation. It was early in the morning, my very favorite time to run, and I was regularly running five-ish miles several times a week. The geography was unfamiliar to me, and to avoid the busy roads, I had to run through neighborhood after neighborhood, snaking my way back and forth. This type of running always seems to exhaust my body. It’s as if it gets bored with the repetitiveness, and decides to just shut it down.
On this day, I was in that first mile when my body said “Not today Susan. We would like to make our way back to the lake house for a little donuts and sitting on the beach action.” But, because my training told me I could run five miles, easily, I didn’t listen. I didn’t give in to the whiny child my body had become. I knew my body could carry me longer than half a mile. I had trained for this, and I wasn’t going to quit before I even began just because it felt harder on this particular day.
It’s like this with all sorts of things – careers, education, marriage, our dreams. We attend a conference or read a book or listen to a podcast. That fire is lit and we feel as though we can conquer the world. We launch into our endeavor with a type of zeal only reserved for new beginnings. But then, we actually start – we attend that first class. Or come home from the honeymoon. Or start a new job.
And, Lord, it requires effort. It’s harder than we thought. The pomp and circumstance is gone and now we are left with ourselves and our goals.
Did you know they say the hardest time in a marriage is around year three? Year three, you guys. Marriages are still in their baby stages at this point. Nearly half of teachers leave the profession in the first five years. It’s the very same reason why most New Year’s resolutions go caput by the end of January. When the rubber meets the road, when it’s not just an idea any longer, but when you actually start something real, this is when it gets tough. This is where your training kicks in.
When it comes to running, I know I can make it past mile one because I’ve done it over and over again, hundreds of times. I know that this is just the first mile, and it will get better from here. Not always easier, but better. Doable. Sometimes, doable is all it takes to make it to that next mile. Sometimes, doable is all we need to make it to the beauty that lies ahead.
When we get to the point in our beginnings, the point we actually, you know – start, this is the place mind over matter comes into play. How much do we want it? What are we willing to give up to get it? It will be hard, yes. All the good things tend to be demanding, you know? All the good things require effort.
When you look around and see that very few people have a doctoral degree, or an exceptional marriage, or actually live out their dreams, this is because very few people are willing to put in the work to get there.
Most people give up in that first mile when it feels like your body is telling you to stop, when actual effort is required. This is when we need to quit with the excuses and just do the thing already. Do you want to be able to run ten miles? Then you have to finish mile one. And then do that day after day. Do you want to earn an advanced degree? Then you have to put down the remote and read the pages. Do you want an out-of-this-world marriage? Then you have to communicate and be intentional and continue to learn about how to be a better partner every day of your life.
It’s not simple, but the things worth it rarely are. Your goals will require strength and determination on your part. They will most certainly mean times of struggle. There will be miles and days and weeks when it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier, when you aren’t sure you can continue on. But you will. You will find a way. You will dig deep. How? Your training will tell you you’re capable. Your mind will take precedence over what your body feels in this moment.
You will never judge the entirety of your run by that first mile ever again.