The First Mile is a Lie

No matter what the first mile tells you, it’s a lie. Sometimes the lie is benign. Things get better. Sometimes the lie is less helpful. Things get worse. But that’s skipping over some other truths that deserve airing.

First, the mile itself is a lie. Do we even know what a mile is? The Romans, it seems, devised the mile, a measure of 1000 paces where a pace is actually two steps, right/left. It’s a cute way to measure distance that skips entirely over the fact that people’s paces are of different length.

As an aside, all you tall people are cheating at these miles. Shame on you.

Eventually the Romans cottoned onto that, so they standardized the pace to the length of the Emperor Agrippa’s strides. It’s not 100% clear how tall Agrippa was or how spry, but I think we can all agree that it’s insane to calibrate our runs to an arbitrary distance based on the stride length of a megalomaniac that most of us have only just heard of in this very paragraph.

It gets better.

The English, of course, came up with their own mile. Then other countries did the same. The Welsh mile (the land of my own heritage) was actually three miles, which explains a lot how I feel on long runs.

There’s a Russian mile, a Dutch mile, a Scots mile. The variation between them says a lot about why collective human action is such an elusive power for positive change.

It wasn’t until 1959 that the countries still using “English” measures got together and agreed on exactly how long a mile was, 5,280 feet or 1,760 yards. I’m glad we could finally nail that down. It’s still arbitrary as all hell.

I was one of those kids who was taught the metric system in 1970s and told it was the future of measurement for our country. That, too, was a lie.

So we run, and we measure those runs in miles, but I’ll be honest with you that I don’t really care exactly how far a mile is. For me a mile is a feeling. It’s about that far, you know, the distance it feels like. It takes about that much time to run it. Precision doesn’t do much for me.

The first mile, at any rate, is a lie. My right ankle hurts and my hamstrings feel like someone’s been at them with the small side of the box grater. I feel tired and heavy. I suspect that today’s not my day. Those are the things the first mile sometimes says.

But then it all loosens up and settles down and I come good.

Or not.

Or, I feel amazingly well. I’m gliding. Are my feet even striking the Earth? How fast are we going, because it feels fast? I’m unstoppable today, one with the trail and clear in my cluttered head. Maybe we should go extra long today.

And then mile two delivers the bad news. No. You’re still you, middle-aged and carrying 30 years of minor injuries, all in some stage of partial repair. Mile two is the teller of truths. Actually, a mile probably isn’t long enough for you to hear all the truths you need to hear.

No bother. Mile three is coming.