The Casual Runner

Guest Contributor Steve DeGenaro: My First Mile

Guest Contributor: Steve DeGenaro, Poland, Ohio

This is the second piece in our series of reader contributions to  Last week we heard from Jen who shared her First Mile story with us ( Today it is Steve’s turn to share the story of his First Mile and his journey to becoming a Casual Runner. If you would like to share your Casual Running story with us, please contact us via email, Facebook, or Twitter using the links at the bottom of the page. 

Steve - My First Mile Pic 1

A relic from the “Glory Days.”

Truth be told, I probably have over a dozen different First Miles, without even counting those dreaded Presidential Physical Fitness tests from grade school.  I ran cross country and distance events for track in high school, and, as many people are prone to do, I did not necessarily keep in shape in between seasons.  This led me to a painful realization before each season started that I was out of shape.  That agonizing feeling of a run while out-of-shape always felt like a First Mile, no matter how many times I let this scenario happen.

However, none of those dates count as a First Mile to me.  Instead, my First Mile is rather recent: July 1, 2014.  The significance of that date has some necessary back-story.  I just came off of three years of law school at Notre Dame (put away your pitchforks people: Jed Bartlett went there, it can’t be all that bad).  During my time, I had continued my high school tradition of occasionally running but not staying committed to doing it on a regular basis.

Steve - My First Mile Pic 2

“If you don’t run ‘cause you think it’s gonna be too hard or you think you’re gonna lose — well, God, Jed, I don’t even want to know you.” Mrs. Landingham: track coach?

By my third year, things at law school became either easier or less impossible, depending on your perspective.  I figured I would use this windfall of time to finally dedicate myself to something I could never make stick and start consistently running.  Even better, I had the opportunity to start this change with a meaningful first milestone: the Notre Dame Holy Half, an annual half marathon held on one of the most picturesque college campuses.  I could finish off my tenure at law school by completing my first half marathon.

Alas, I was unable to achieve this goal.  By the time I got half-way through a training regimen, Notre Dame released the date of the race, March 29.  Just my luck: it conflicted with a test I needed to pass in order to become a lawyer.  Left without a choice, I sat and eventually passed the test on the day of the race and was left with the consolation of seeing a number of my friends who did run the race upload their pictures to Facebook.  Sure it was nice to see my friends’ achievements, but I wanted to be right there with them at the end of the race.

Steve - My First Mile Pic 3

Bar exam study materials: I can only speak to half of the equation, but I suspect this is far more painful than running 13.1 miles.

Fast forward to this summer.  I was in the middle of a different marathon of sorts – studying for the bar exam – and I just so happened to hit a wall with studying that day.  Turns out the subhect of commercial paper is not something that most people can find interesting for three straight hours.  I set out for a short 3-4 mile run around my neighborhood just to blow off some steam and I discovered something.  I had somehow miraculously retained the ability to get through a shorter run without completely killing myself. More amazingly, I was actually excited to go out and run.  Somehow, this time felt different.

The same thing happened the next day.  And the next.  Pretty soon, some switch had flipped in me.  The thing that I used to dread was the highlight of my day.  Other than being a tragic commentary on my current situation of studying for eight hours a day during perfect Northeast Ohio weather (seriously, was it just my perspective behind the bars of bar prep, or was this one of the better summers recently?), this felt like a major change.

At some point, I came back re-energized from a relaxation run and my thoughts turned to the Holy Half and that unfulfilled goal from law school of running.  Inspired by my recent stretch, I searched around the web to see if there were any events that I could enter.

Steve - My First Mile Pic 4

Picture of the “Cinderella Bridge” located in Mill Creek Park, the location of my next big challenge.

As luck would have it, I found something.  There was an event scheduled for September 14th in Mill Creek Park in Youngstown Ohio, the 2014 Green Cathedral.  This half marathon caught my eye as a race with equal significance to the one I missed in March.  During high school, our teams would often drive to Mill Creek Park to do some of our longer runs there because it had a nice mix of both flat and hilly trails.  So I would not only be able to get my first half marathon in by the end of 2014, but I could also make my inaugural race somewhere that carried great personal significance to me.  Best of all, a quick glance at the calendar told me that I could start training in week 2 of a fairly-reasonable 12 week running plan and be ready for the race come September…so I immediately signed up….on July 1, 2014.

And that is why July 1, 2014 will stand as my runnerversary.  It was the day I decided to put money down and enroll in my first half marathon.  It was the day I decided I wouldn’t keep wishing I had run in that one race, and actually signed up for another.  It was the day I decided I would always make sure to set aside time for myself, even when I had a lot of other things that were keeping me busy.  But most importantly, it was the day I made what will hopefully be a permanent change in my life.

Yes I had been a runner before, but I hadn’t been A Runner, much less a Casual Runner, (or perhaps the problem was I was too casual…).  I didn’t enjoy running back then nearly as much as I do now.  Even when I was on a team, running felt like a chore.  Now, I cannot wait to go out running.  If I am going out running alone, I relish the chance to take 40-60 minutes off from the world and just let my mind wander.  If I go running with friends, it gives me the chance to catch up with them, and it gives me an excuse to not skip a run when I don’t feel 100% percent in the mood to go out.  As always though, the important thing is going out.

To this day I am in week 9 of dedicated half marathon training.  My first real race is now less than a month away, and I am already hungry to figure out when my second one will be.  I am sure there will be times ahead where I feel like I am too busy, or not feeling well, or will have some other excuse to miss out on a run.  But even when I miss one, I am confident that I won’t miss number two.  Because now I’m a (Casual) Runner.



10 thoughts on “Guest Contributor Steve DeGenaro: My First Mile

  1. Mike

    The 14th seems to be a popular day for races…lots of us will be logging 13.1 that day. Mine will be in Pennsylvania.

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