Ask anyone who runs with any sort of regularity and they’ll probably all tell you the same thing. It doesn’t matter how far or fast they go, that first mile is always the toughest. That may seem like a lot of hyperbole, but there is actually a good reason why this old adage remains true, even among those who have been running for years.
The main reason that the first mile or so of any run feels slow and ponderous is because you’re taking your body from an anaerobic state to an aerobic one. In simpler terms, when you begin your workout your body doesn’t have enough oxygen in it to keep up with the demands you’re placing on it. As a result, you end up breathing harder and find it more difficult to maintain a faster pace.
But as you run, your lungs and heart begin to work harder, and as a result, more oxygen is brought onboard. Over time, your body actually catches up to the increased demands of the faster-paced activity, and things naturally start to get easier. After you’ve achieved a high level of oxygen saturation, your performance gets much better too, as evidenced by the fact that the miles that follow often seem a lot easier in comparison.
It is because of this natural process of the body that a lot of runners will do a warm-up run before they compete in a race. This helps them to transition to the aerobic state ahead of time so they’re not struggling early on in their event. Even elite runners need a bit of time to warm up, and by doing so, they’ll arrive at the starting line ready to compete.
So is there anything that can be done to help prevent this from happening? In a word: no. It is a natural part of running, and even when you’re in tremendous physical condition, you’ll still have to overcome the challenge of that first mile.
That said, there are a few things you can do to alleviate the condition, the first of which is to do some vigorous exercises before the start of your run to help jumpstart the aerobic process. Doing things like push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, and burpees will help to loosen up the muscles and get the blood flowing, which can be beneficial once you actually start the run itself. You’ll still have to overcome that anaerobic state, but at least your body is a bit more prepared for the challenge.
Another option is to start your run at a slower pace as compared with your usual running speed. This will also give your body a chance to warm up, and it should help to make the transition from an anaerobic state to an aerobic one much smoother. Once your breathing becomes more controlled and the strength returns to your legs, you can start running at a level of quickness that you’re more accustomed to, which will seem much easier with that first mile behind you.
Alternatively, you could adopt a progressive running style in which you run slower than your average pace for the first half of the run and faster over the second half. That way you’re able to maintain your target average and allow yourself plenty of time to warm up. Even at the slower speed, you’ll find there will be some challenges when you first get started, but at least you’ll still have some gas in the tank for that second-half kick.
These remedies for “first-mile syndrome” can help make the run a bit easier, but ultimately you simply have to get through the warm-up phase and move on from there. As with most things in fitness and health, there are no shortcuts.