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4 Reasons Why The First Mile Is The Hardest; And 4 Tips To Over Come It

Why is the first mile the hardest?

When you go out for a run, or start running on race day, have you ever noticed it always seems like the first mile is really tough and you don’t really start to hit a rhythm until you’re into your second mile?   It’s not just you, it’s a well known issue that new and experienced runners face.  The reasons are pretty basic, but just knowing them may help you get through that first mile a little easier.  

Here are 4 reasons why the first mile is often the hardest.

1. Aerobic Shift

Before your run, especially early in the morning, your body is in a fairly restful state, referred to as an anaerobic state.  Because of this your blood oxygen levels are too low to fuel a high level of activity.  After a short period of intense activity your heart and lungs get going and your body starts ramping up it’s oxygen levels to accommodate the higher demand.  This higher oxygen state is referred to as an aerobic state.  Once your body gets here you are getting the oxygen you need to perform at a high level, and you should have an easier go of it.  But it often takes 10 minutes or so for that oxygen level to ramp up to meet your activity level.

2. Starting Off Too Fast

It’s incredibly common to hear runners talk about getting out of the gate too fast.  You’ll glance down at your watch or phone in mile one and see that your pace is great, the next thing you know you are sucking wind and feeling those legs and lungs burn.  Many runners have a tendency to come out of the gates too fast as their legs are fresh and excitement is high; especially on race day.  Much like in reason #1, you burn through your body’s oxygen and energy stores, and your body quickly has to look for more fuel.  This transition can make the second half of mile one, into mile two, feel really tough.

3. Getting Your Mind Right

Some people love waking up hours before they have to just to go on a long training run… for everybody else, it takes some strong self-motivation and negotiation to get out of bed.  Whether its a training run or race day, this can make the first mile tough as you are painfully aware that you would much rather still be tucked away in your warm bed.  Or if you run in the evenings, perhaps you’d rather be hanging out with friends or family, or watching TV, etc.  A mile or two into the run you have forgotten those thoughts and you are more focused on the run, and you know you’re in it for the long-haul.  No turning back!

4. Waiting For Those Endorphins To Kick In

Anyone who has done any serious running or training can attest to getting the “runner’s high”.  That elated feeling that you sometimes get mid-run and after a tough run.  This is from a release of endorphins into your blood stream.  The first wave of endorphins starts to ramp up after about 10 minutes of activity. This positive, happy feeling is often enough to sharpen your focus and improve your motivation, making your run feel that much easier and enjoyable.  Endorphins also help block your pain receptors and gives you “pain amnesia”; the effect that has you sign up for another marathon, despite the immense discomfort you were in last time.

Tips To Make The First Mile Easier…

1.  “Run” Before You Run

The best way to jump start your body is to do a short, 3-5 minute run about 10 minutes before your run/race.  We recommend doing this run at about 75% effort to your race pace.  Just enough to get your blood moving, and start ramping up your oxygen and endorphin levels.

2.  Breathe Deep

Another trick from the pros is to have a deep-breathe regimen before you run.  Most people don’t consider their lungs when they want to warm up.  Taking deep breathes and holding it for a few seconds will help expand your lungs in preparation for running.  When you’re lungs expand it dilates the capillaries in your lungs that absorb oxygen.  These deep breaths will help up the oxygen level in your blood right before you race.  You can also through in some yawns and coughs to work those lungs in different ways.

3.  Kinetic Stretching

You want to loosen up your body and stretch your muscles to avoid injury, but not over stretch your muscles.  When you employ the traditional “static stretching” where you stretch and hold for 15-30 seconds, you are creating small tears in your muscles.  This is what lengthens your muscles over time and makes them more flexible.  This is not a bad thing in general, but it can be on race day.  Shortly after creating those tears, your muscles are less elastic and can feel “dead” or like lead when you start out on your run.  Also, those little tears need to be healed so that diverts your body’s nutrients to repair versus being stored for energy.

Try incorporating some “dynamic stretching” into your pre-race routine.  Dynamic stretches are basically stretches while in motion.  That could be high knees, leg swings, leg kicks, etc.  This will loosen up your muscles and get your blood flowing through your muscles with out being a nutritional distraction, or impact their elasticity right before you need them.

4. Start Slow

If you know your adrenaline will take over and rush you out to a fast start, keep that in mind when you race.  Start slightly slower than your race pace and ramp up to it over the first half mile.  This will allow you to stay stronger longer as your muscles won’t have to play catch-up on nutrition and oxygen.  Or if you feel you have warmed up well before the race, at worst start at your race pace, and maintain throughout. 

Follow these tips and you might just find that race pace is manageable and you might have more in the tank for the final kick.

Have fun out there and pace yourself!

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