Thursday, December 6, 2012

The experience of running just a mile

When I first told my friend Marco that I was embarking on the Runner's World Holiday Run Streak and explained the rules, his reaction was: "Yeah, but if you're a runner, you won't be able to run just a mile."

Marco underestimates my ability to dawdle before work, apparently, but he was right — sort of — that running a single mile would feel weird.

First of all, as Doug pointed out, it seems like it takes you longer to change into running clothes and get out the door than it does to actually run that mile. And with the exception of my PR-setting mile, these ultra-short runs don't make me break a sweat ... more like a gentle glow.

Why does this surprise me? Well, it doesn't exactly shock me, but it does stand in stark contrast to my memories of the mile run in middle school — which was probably the last time before fall 2008 that I ran a full mile.

God, did the mile feel long then. I was completely unathletic and as self-conscious as all of us were during adolescence, so not only did I turn beet red and sweat up a storm, but I also nearly died of embarrassment from doing so.

You had to go around the playground four times. Four whole times. So not only was I miserable — breathless, crampy, hot, sweaty — but I was also bored out of my mind, and I didn't have the lung capacity to chat with anyone to break up the monotony, either.

Basically, it felt like some of the rougher stretches of the half marathons I've done, only with the perceived judgment/mockery of an entire school full of adolescents. (Give me the blistery, limpy, gut-achey miles I've trudged in my first and third half marathons any day over that.)

I compare this now with my out-and-back miles, during which the first half-mile is often over before I even notice. How dry everything but probably my pits and the roots of my hair are. How my breathing is normal by the time I walk from the stoplight where I always begin/end to my door.

How I can let my mind wander far, far away from the act of running, yet spend too little time to have a full range of daydreams (only one or two topics, far fewer than the dozens that float through my head on a longer run).

Running just a mile is weird. I don't feel any more deprived than I do any other time I'm out in beautiful weather or on fresh legs — I just don't feel like I've exerted much effort.

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