Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 25 Sep 2001 09:12:50 -0400

Warming to the Task


You might think, with more than a half-million subscribers theoretically seeing my Runner's World column and with my web address published at the bottom, reader mail would overwhelm me. It doesn't.

I get more mail from this newsletter's readership than from RW's. This from an audience less than one-tenth of one percent the size of the magazine's.

I'm disappointed when an RC piece draws little or no response. And I'm surprised to hear any reaction to an RW column.

Kevin Casey surprised me. The Australian must get his magazine by slow boat, because he just read the July issue (circulated in the States in late May) in mid-August. He commented favorably on the column titled "Trial Mile."

I wrote there that my longest and most important mile during most runs is the first one. "It takes twice as long to complete as [my] old races and is my slowest of any day. But it's the best mile because it gets me going and keeps me going."

This opening mile is my warmup and my test. And it's a trick to get me up and out the door and on my way. Once I've promised myself to run this one little mile just to see how I feel, I'm feeling good enough for more.

Kevin Casey recalled words from a college professor of his. When faced with students' grumbling about how tough the going would be on an assigned paper, the prof said, "Beginning is half done." The hardest part of any project is the starting, which is pretty much what my column said.

"It's so true," wrote Casey, "that the biggest battle is not the last two kilometers of a run but the first two meters just getting out of the door. How true of life as well.

"We look at our 'in' trays at work or at jobs that need doing around the home and find a reason not to do them. It requires more energy to get a ball rolling than it takes to keep it rolling."

I've come to see lately that the early rolling is best done verrry slowly. My longtime practice of reaching the day's full pace within the first 100 steps wasn't working anymore.

Here was yet another case of a bad break teaching a good lesson. Last fall I fell while running and hurt a hip. I kept up normal runs, and the hip kept hurting.

The pain, not serious but nagging, didn't ease until this summer. That's when I finally learned to get rolling more slowly than ever before.

My July Runner's World column credits a Kenyan, Cosmas Ndeti, for inspiring the trial mile. The three-time Boston Marathon winner ran even less than a mile -- just a kilometer -- as his test of whether this was his day or not. He was willing to stop there and "climb back into bed," but usually found that his doubts and pains eased in those easy early minutes.

In my travels I often stay in the same hotels as Kenyan runners. I see them starting their morning runs at a shuffling nine-minute-mile pace.

I've never seen anyone so fast start so slowly. The Kenyans don't stay slow, though. They work the pace up -- way up -- as they warm to the task.

I'll never be mistaken for a Kenyan. Add multiple minutes to their pace to arrive at mine.

But their pattern, if not their pace, is the same as mine. My first mile is typically a minute faster (or less slow) than the second, and the third another minute better before the pace levels out. The laughably slow start usually allows the finish to be relatively brisk, which is a product of it being pain-free.

Again I've learned from the Kenyans. Learned to shuffle out the door and keep shuffling for as long as it takes to work out the kinks.

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