The First Mile is a Liar!
To most people running seems like a very simple sport. Typically, all you really need is a pair of shoes and you can head out the door. But, how we feel when burning up those miles can confuse even the most experienced runners. This can even happen during the first mile of our runs. We begin our runs and we end up feeling really bad, or really good, and have no idea why most of the time. This is why I’m writing this post. Never trust the first mile!
This first mile can not only confuse us during training runs but also during races. We could feel bad the first mile of a race and end up backing off our goal pace. Or the opposite…we feel really good and end up pushing the pace too hard and sabotage our goal. It can be a super frustrating phenomenon. This situation is most common with new runners and can make it hard for them to trust that their fitness is actually higher, or lower, than they think. The worst part about this is that it will pretty much never change. This first mile has ruined races for even the fastest runners. The difference is that over time you start to accept the feeling of this first mile and eventually trust your fitness.
Let’s first get into why the first mile would feel bad. Why does this happen? From a physiological standpoint it takes about 1 mile for our body to come online. First, our muscles need to warm up. Second, our lungs have to wake up so we can get more oxygen in. Next, our hearts have to shift into a higher gear to be able to pump blood to our muscles. Last, our mind and body have to sync together so they can work together as one. So when we start running there is a big demand that is placed on all these systems. During that first mile, before all of this happens, our body is trying to tell us that it’s still trying to get organized. So what can we do to help with this issue?
Well, we can first start by warming up properly before the run. A good stretching routine goes a long way. We want to give our body a chance to initiate all these systems that will support our runs. Most runners don’t like doing a warm up, even before our standard recovery run. We figure that we’ll just warm up that first mile and that’s where we get it wrong. But, if you want to use that first mile as a warm up, then here is some advice. Start by easing into it. Most runners are not good at doing this. What happens if you force the pace? A few minutes of doubt that you were ever able to run at that pace, then a few minutes of questioning all your life choices, followed by an internal argument about whether you should just stop or endure the suffering. The right way to do it is to actually treat that first mile to getting your body ready for the rest of your run. That means running it slower. Focus on finding a pace that feels comfortable. Yeah, this first mile will slow your overall pace but if you’ve done the training then your fitness is high is enough to allow for a negative split run. Remember, no matter how tough things get, the mental side of the training process will create the courage to carry us when things get tough.
Now, let’s talk about why we overdo it that first mile and go too fast. Have you ever started a race or workout and just shot out the gate like a race horse? It’s like all those nerves have built up and your body just wants to let loose. This is something that can ruin your goal and all the training you’ve done. Typically this happens when our legs are feeling good. They have that pop to them that we haven’t experimented in awhile. On race day, this can happen because our legs are tapered and there’s no fatigue in them. Or, the race atmosphere creates this energy in your body and it just wants to escape that first mile. But, here’s why you shouldn’t listen to your body in this situation. When we start out too fast, you’re shocking your system. It may not feel like it those first few minutes but what happens is that your heart rate is increasing faster than it should and you’re also building up lactate in your legs at a much faster rate. When we build up too much lactate we bring our bodies past our threshold limits and this causes us to slow down sooner than planned. Once you go past your threshold limits there’s pretty much no return unless you slow way down. So, don’t fall into this trap. Be smart and run the pace your training suggests you can handle. A rule I like to tell my runners…I’d rather them start a race or workout being 10 seconds slow that first mile rather than 5 seconds too fast.
These are the reasons why that first mile is a liar! Overall, you just need to trust your fitness! You’ve done the work and you’re ready for your big breakthrough. Be smart early on and your biggest goals can eventually become reality!