That first mile.
At some point, each of us made the decision to slide on some cotton socks, slip on our cotton t-shirt, grab our walking shoes (because they’ll be good enough to run in right – I’m not serious about this after all), tie up the laces and hit the road. No Garmin. No iPod. No pace per mile plan. Nowhere for the sweat to go but – gasp! - cling to your shirt. Hell, not even thinking - or knowing - about a fartlek.
Rookies. So young. So naïve.
The first mile is always free. You’re trying something new, fresh, and fun. You’ll just do it once to see how it feels. You aren’t going to turn into that weird guy you see running everywhere around town. You pass him on the way to the grocery store. The next day, you see him on the way home from work The guy with the head and armbands, shirtless with the split side running shorts exposing a little too much of his thigh and completely soaked in sweat. These are family streets after all. Cover yourself!
But you felt pretty good after that first run. That first mile left you tired but thrilled. The adrenaline rush! Your heart was pounding. You wanted more but you knew your body couldn’t take it. At least, not right now.
Feeling a little guilty, you made quiet plans to do it again. To give into the urge. But you need better equipment. Those shoes won’t do.
So you sought out the local dealer specializing in running shoes. You felt safer with their products and expertise. They were friendly. Happy to see you. They offered you a first timers discount.
With your new shoes, you did another mile and felt even better. It was a little easier this time but the thrill was just as strong. You did another mile a few days later too.
In fact, over the next few weeks you did it as much as you could. You even smiled and waved to another, more experienced running addict as you passed. Kinship. There are others like you. This doesn’t have to be your little secret.
You return to the local running apparel dealer. You realize that the cotton t-shirts are making you look like an amateur, a rookie. You buy some moisture-wicking shirts. Some moisture-wicking socks. Shorts to hold your house key and, maybe, a few dollars in case you go a little farther away from home. But you don’t get the side split shorts that are attached only by a little thread at the hip. You aren’t that into it. It’s just for fun after all.
You are getting adventurous now but you tell yourself that you can quit at any time.
The local running apparel dealer tells you about a race. A 5k. The dealer, with his big wide toothy grin, convinces you that you can do it. As you fill out the race form, you get the vague notion that the dealer’s friendly smile has turned into a sinister sneer and that he’s trying to suppress a cackling, finger tent pitched laugh with hell fire shooting up over his shoulders.
You show up at the start line of that first race a little scared. The other runners in the starting den look more experienced. But happy. Everyone is talking and laughing together except for the real sick addicts at the front of the pack who sprint out and then return to the start line area to do some high knee kicks and then sprint out a few steps again. They are serious. No one talks to them. They are hooked and beyond help.
The 5k was a blast of fun! You didn’t know you could do it but, as you crossed the finish line, you realized you were further along with running than you thought. This realization both scares and thrills you.
You keep returning to your local running dealer for more supplies. And more races. 5k’s, 10k’s, 15k’s, your dealer has everything you need to make it happen. You are going longer now. More miles. More joy. More pain. One little mile just doesn’t cut it anymore.
You get to know the creepy guy with the split side running shorts by name. He’s at every race. You’ve started to pass each other when out on runs. You realize he’s not much different than you. Just an old pro at this game with a few more miles.
You begin to realize that you can’t quit running. At least, not cold turkey. You love it too much. You love the feeling it gives you. You even welcome the pain and soreness. But maybe you can cut back on the miles. Gain control over this thing before it gets out of hand.
And then the running dealer mentions a half marathon with a little sparkle in his eye.
Can you do it? Yes, you can. You do. And it feels euphoric. The medal draped around your neck is a monument to your determination and resolve. It hangs proudly in your home. You no longer hide your addiction. You wear your race shirts everywhere. Everyone refers to you as “the runner.” And it makes you a little proud.
Then, a marathon. Several marathons. You are too far gone. There’s no turning back. You’ve purchased the split side running shorts. You recognize the same cars passing you on every one of your runs as you go by the grocery store or go out for an after work run. At each race, you find yourself closer and closer to the front of the pack now. Closer to the serious guys bouncing and sprinting and too far gone.
You’ve even begun to recruit others. You’ve brought your wife, your kids, your friends and neighbors in to see the local running apparel dealer. For some, they’re hooked immediately. Others resist the urge. Always, the dealer is super friendly and smiles widely as they try on shoes. He casually mentions an upcoming 5k planting the seed to the addiction.
It doesn’t stop for you. You can’t quit. You no longer try. You schedule your life around long runs. More races. More marathons. You even entertain the idea of an ultramarathon. Can you do it? Your local running dealer says you can. He knows you can and he has everything you need to make it happen.
It all started with that innocent little first mile. Then it spiraled out of control.
And you’re so glad it did.