Why Does the First Mile of My Run Suck So Much?

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By Jason Saltmarsh


Good question. Almost every runner I’ve ever talked to agrees that the first mile or two of a run can be the most uncomfortable. The effect is often compounded if that first mile comes on the heels of a rest day.

Basically, what’s happening is you’re forcing your engine to work (aerobic state) before it’s had a chance to properly warm up (anaerobic state). I bought a Subaru a few months ago, and now I sit patiently in my car and wait for the little blue light on the dashboard to go off before leaving home. That little blue light goes off when the car is warmed up, the fluids are moving around nicely, and it’s ready to go.

As a runner, your “blue light” usually shuts off after 10-15 minutes, or one to two miles of running. Until that point, your sore muscles, heart and lungs, nagging injuries, and the rest of your body may be screaming at you to reconsider things. But slowly they all fall into line and begin doing what you’ve trained them to do.

The trick, for beginning runners especially, is to overcome the initial discomfort knowing that an enjoyable run awaits you on the other side of mile one or two. Easier said than done, right? Even as a veteran runner, I still suffer from cramps, ragged breathing and general fatigue during that first mile on some days. And yeah, it does suck.

How can I make the first mile of my run better?

  • Warm up slowly with a planned walk, jog, or slow pace for the first mile or two before hitting your goal pace for the workout. For example, if you are planning to run four miles at 8:00 pace, think about adding one or two miles at 9:30 pace to warm up.
  • Add dynamic stretching, lunges, and skipping to your pre-run routine.
  • Try a Progression Run. Start slowly and gradually increase your speed throughout the run to build stamina and introduce speed safely and without too much stress on the body.
  • Make sure that you are properly hydrated and rested. If you need a boost, consider a cup of coffee (or two) before your key workouts.
  • Learn how your body responds to a proper warm up routine and use it to your advantage on race day. Arrive at the starting line of your next 5K with a light sweat beading on your forehead, and I can almost guarantee a good race time will follow.

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