Never Trust the First Mile

This morning my daughter showed me the book she just started reading at school – her teacher recommended it, but so far, she’s not sure she likes it. “Mr P said to give it ten pages. I’ve made it to twenty, but I’m still a bit…” *wrinkles nose*. I get it – it hasn’t caught her yet.

I suggested going to fifty pages. (She’s a nine year old – she has the time.)

I used to maintain a personal internal commitment to complete every book I ever began reading. It didn’t matter how slow, tedious, weird or confusing – if I started, I’d finish. As a literature student, it was a useful practice to follow, because some of the books on the syllabus were ones I wouldn’t even pick up off the shelf on my own initiative, let alone actively care to read all the way through.

But life after graduation wore me down, and slowly I found myself ditching books three quarters in, half finished, even earlier. These days – many, many years later! – I value my limited time too much to invest it in any (optional) activity which isn’t building me, thrilling me, challenging me, or strengthening me.

But I still try to get to page 50 – because: you never know.*

Sometimes it takes a while to catch the author’s rhythm, or to find sympathy and connection with a character, or a place. Some books creep up on you slowly, and without realising it, you pick up speed and enthusiasm, until suddenly you’re a few pages from the end, and covering up the paragraphs so you don’t accidentally spoil the denouement, or putting off reading those last chapters to stretch out precious moments with these lives you’ve come to love.

And I find the same can be true for my running. Some days it’s all slog, and I heave myself around my route wondering where it all went wrong.

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  I’m pretty sure Katniss knows what I mean.

But on many, many other days – well, it starts that way… My knees ache. Or I’m huffing and puffing like I’m on sixty Rothmans a week. Or I have a stitch, or my stomach just does that swirling, roiling thing, like there’s a carrier bag of ditchwater carousing around my insides. My hamstring is tight. Or my ankles are stiff. Something is digging into my mojo and I just can’t enjoy this run – I may as well give up and limp home, defeated.

And yet… stay to page 50. Push through the first treacherous mile.

I start to notice the birdsong. Maybe the sun comes out. Or maybe there’s woodsmoke on the wind, reminding me of a hundred campfires and nights under canvas. The depressing downpour I’ve been trudging through becomes a welcome shower, cooling me down and reminding me I’m hardcore because I never let the rain stop me running.

I realise my knees have eased up, and so have my ankles. My insides are no longer threatening to be outside, and my limbs are looser and more relaxed. I may take that extra loop around the park, in fact, or even do the nasty hill section, instead of the easy route home.

That was my run today. (I was okay about it coming to an end. But all in all, it was way better than the first mile.)

Final thought: I’ve talked a little before about fixed / growth mindsets, identity descriptions like ‘sporty’ and ‘non-sporty’, and some of the other mental barriers we face, simply in getting our shoes on and getting out there. I’ll talk about it more in the future, too, because it’s fundamental, and it has a huge impact across the whole of my life.

If you ran today and it was fabulous – good job. If you ran today, and it was rubbish – good job. If you didn’t run today, think about running tomorrow. However it feels, you’ll have done a good job.


*Some books are bad. Some runs are bad. There will be a better one tomorrow.

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