The First Mile

I assigned my students the task of taking a moment in their lives that somehow shaped them into who they are today, and drafting it into a memoir. When they struggled with this, I wrote them an example. A memoir is autobiography as the author remembers it, meaning details can be shifted and changed to fit the story. It's history reframed as literature. This isn't 100% accurate, but it's true. Here's my story.

When people learn I'm a runner, their first reaction is always, "Oh, I could never!" and I immediately think back on my own experience. It started in high school.

The mile run.

No gym activity is more daunting. I remember the immediate defeat I felt on those days. A whole mile! So far! Why even try? Zero-to-mile with no preparation? (These were in the days before I realized running and distance could happen gradually.)

On those dreaded days, I took my place at the back, a skinny little thing, puffing and wheezing and blaming my asthma. Twenty minutes. One mile. Sweating only because it was noon on a September day in Florida.

Years later, I learned something amazing - you can build yourself up. One day, you'll run a mile, and it will be earth-shattering.

I made my way through college without much exercise, but grad school was a different story. The stress of full-time classes and work was too much. Watching lithe runners on the UF campus in January, I made my decision.

"I want to learn to run. Really run. Outside, not on an elliptical, not in a gym."

My fiance was already nodding along, already becoming my biggest fan. "I think that's a great resolution."

My first run, in tennis shoes two years old and only ever used for volleyball, was with a friend from school. We agreed to do just one mile and walk when necessary. We hardly got a quarter of the way in before we were walking. I convinced her to come along for the second run, but from then on, I was on my own.

But I was determined. Stress drove me out of my apartment. I walked-jogged the same 1.25 mile loop four times a week, coaxing myself to each new landmark - the stop sign, a lamp post, the speed limit sign, the house on the corner...

I didn't register my progress. I just zoned out to my music, running when I could, walking when I had to. Then, one day, it happened. I made it home without even one walk break.

Elation filled me as I rounded the last corner, and I could hardly get upstairs fast enough. I wanted to shout it to the world, but all I could do was call M.

His reply to my jubliance was predictable. "I'm so proud of you, babe!"

Not every run after that was successful, and I learned about the challenges of running the hard way, completely blindsided by each setback. But I kept on. Valentine's Day and my birthday in February brought gifts; M and his mom presented me with a new iPod, running shoes, Nike+, and armband. Finally, I could truly record my progress.

"Your love is music to my ears," the engraving on the iPod read. Love and appreciation pumped through every song, filled my bloodstream, powered my heart, moved my feet forward.

My running schedule was spotty that year, but I became a runner. And as I learned to go farther, my love for running bloomed. Like any relationship, we fought, running and I, but we always made amends.

Little milestones taught me what being a "runner" - not "someone who runs" - really means. Craving. Mood swings. Cramps. Limps. Loss of sleep. Elation. Fear.

As the road stretched before me, the world unfolded. Jumbles of thoughts in my head lined up. Priorities shifted and became clear. My life emerged, at first tentative, unbelieving, then with confidence. My runs expanded - two miles...three...four...races...eight...nine...a half marathon, three half marathons...Limits became a thing of the past.

Running somehow wormed its way into my very being - my soul. It became a lifeline. An escape. A journey. A gift.

More than any physical gift, running lifts me. I soar above the mundane minutiae of the daily grind. My mind is free of shackles. I fail and rise again; I succeed even when I fail.

And now, a mile run is never, ever enough.

I've retired this iPod, but will never get rid of it.


  1. I really love this. Im a new runner and this is what i needed to hear. I started 'couch to 5k' on january cliche, but ive kept with it.
    It is such slow going but i just plug along. It is so incredibly difficult but when im finished it is so incredibly wonderful. Im not in graduate school....far from it, but its a small world because i work at UF!

    1. I wish I had known about C5k when I started running; it would have made my journey a lot less stressful. I'm glad this spoke to you :o)

  2. are an amazing writer and seem to capture the emotions of the moments and bring the reader into your story and leave them craving more! Your words/experience mimic mine all to closely! Thankfully we both realized the errors of the early school days and had the chance to fall in love with running! It truly is a gift!

    1. Thank you Courteney...that's so, so nice of you to say! And yes, running is truly a gift; I'm glad we both found it, even if it took us awhile!

  3. This is such a great "about me"! And small world! I also started with C25k and I also went to UF for grad school! go gators!

    1. I wish I had known about C25k when I began would have been easier to have a plan to follow! Thanks for stopping by!