The Casual Runner

The First Mile: The Day That I Changed My Life.

December 23, 2011, a day that will live in infamy. Ok, maybe my story is not that dramatic, but it was certainly a day that changed my life for the better and – hopefully – forever.  Notice that I did not say the “day that my life changed.”  I meant what I said, it was the day that I changed my life.

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One of the early additions to my growing race bib collection, 2012 Youngstown Peace Race.

Taking a step back, I was never much of an athlete, and nobody would ever mistake me for one.  I have battled weight issues my entire life, and more often than not I find myself on the losing side.  In high school I started walking and eventually started a moderate ad-hoc running program. In those innocent days before the internet, mine was a completely solitary endeavor and I did not know anything about proper training methods, clothing, shoes, or really anything. I just made it up as I went along. I lost more than 75 pounds (aided largely by the benefit of a teenager’s metabolism), but it was not a lifestyle that I would sustain.  Over the next 15 years – through college, law school, and the first several years of my career – I would dabble with running, but I never had a consistent plan or program, and I was losing my battle with weight and physical fitness.  As a young lawyer, I worked, a lot.  It was common for me to leave my house at 7 o’clock in the morning and not return home until 8 or 9 in the evening. Not only was exercise not a priority, it was rarely on my radar.  Focusing on my career, I never made time for myself, and I was definitely the worse for it.

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Spectators gather at the finish line of the 2012 Youngstown Peace Race in downtown Youngstown, Ohio.

Returning to December 23, 2011.  A glitch in the calendar meant that I had a rare day off of work while my family and friends were all working.   Even rarer for Northeast Ohio, that December day saw the mercury top 60 degrees and there was wall to wall sunshine.  All of my Christmas presents were bought and wrapped; my house was cleaned and ready to welcome my family for Christmas morning; and my contributions to the Italian family Christmas feast were prepared.  I had nothing else to do, so I figured, why not go for a run?  After all, I ran around the neighborhood in high school, and I “ran” since (not really, but I was fooling myself), so why not? I got up off the couch, put on some cotton – yes cotton! – “running” clothes, pulled a pair of tattered sneakers from the back of my closet, and grabbed my IPod.  Out the door I went and turned right out of my driveway.

I started jogging down the sidewalk.  It was great, the sunshine, the fresh air, and then…the wheels came off.  My side started splitting, my legs and lungs ached, my breathing was heavy.  I did not make it to the end of the block before I stopped.  Full disclosure: my block is not that big and I live in the middle of it.  To not make it to the end was, in every sense of the words, a complete and utter failure and embarrassment.

Defeated, I turned around and went home. I plopped down on the couch and turned on the TV, but I could not tell you what was playing.  I sat and stared at the wall. I was angry…at myself. I was only 32 years old, how could I have let myself get like this?  How could I be so grossly out of shape that I could not even run half a block?  I have no idea how long I sat there being angry at myself, but after some period of time, I decided to stop stewing and start moving.  I got up off the couch, I put those tattered sneakers back on, and I headed back out the door.

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Crossing the finish line at my first 10k: the 2012 Towpath 10k in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

I did not have a plan. I did not do any research or seek have any advice.  I was determined to just get going and to make it up as I went along, but I was not going to keep defeating myself.  Using the stop watch on my IPod, I started an impromptu interval program.  I jogged for 30 seconds, and then walked for 30 seconds.  Before I knew it, an agonizing 30 minutes had passed and I was exhausted.  I have no idea how far around the neighborhood I ran that day, but I had done it. I had conquered my inner demons and changed my life.  Although I did not realize it at the time, I had just run my first mile.

In the ensuing months, I scoured the internet for training advice, downloaded running aps, went through several wrong pairs of running shoes, and swapped out my cotton running clothes for tech fabrics. All the while I kept tweaking my intervals and kept on running.  The following October I ran my first 10k.  By the time of my first runnerversary, I had logged several hundred miles and shed more than 30 pounds. I was hooked, I was committed.  Though, I still never considered myself to be “a runner.” What I did not realize was that I was something better, I was a Casual Runner.

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Crossing the finish line at the 2012 Youngstown Peace Race, Youngstown, Ohio.

In February 2013 I toed the line at my first half marathon. When I crossed the finish line, I was overcome by my emotions.  I could not believe how far I had come. I did not appreciate how far I still had left to go.  Casual Running was now a part of me, and it was making me a better me.

Later that spring my friend Melissa was preparing to run her first half marathon. She and I started our Casual Running journeys separately, but supported one another along the way. As a part of her Team In Training race program, friends were asked to send letters of support and encouragement.  I sent my letter to her husband (and my good friend) Chris, and asked him to give it to her as she was entering the starting corral.  My letter and my message to her was simple:

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The medal haul from my first year of entering race events.

A couple of weeks ago you asked me which mile is the toughest mile in a half marathon.  At the time I told you that it was somewhere between miles 8 and 11, and I gave you whole list of reasons why. But in the back of my mind I was saving the real answer….So, what is the toughest mile in a half marathon? It is the first one. Not the first run in the race, but the first one that you ran when you decided to get up off the couch and change your life for the better by becoming a runner.  You already conquered the toughest mile. Now, the next 13.1 miles are far easier than that first one.  I am proud of you and all that you have accomplished in getting to the starting line…now go out and enjoy every one of the next 13.1 miles on your journey…you got this.

This has not been an easy journey.  I think back to the many times that I tried to get back into a healthy exercise routine, and failed. I think of the times my brother tried convincing me to commit to running a 10k as a fitness goal, and I never stuck with it.  But most of all, I remember the one time that it worked, the time that I completed my first mile on my path to becoming a Casual Runner. And it has made all of the difference.

Are you a Casual Runner who has a first mile story? Please share it with us. You can send an email to us at, or contact us through our Facebook page.  You can also share your comments below.



10 thoughts on “The First Mile: The Day That I Changed My Life.

  1.'Lee Ann Carothers

    Knowing you for over 20 years, I was amazed by your determination. Yes, you weren’t the perfect picture of a ” runner” , and I was surprised to learn that you were finally taking the time to do something for YOU! I am still amazed at your progress. Keep going Mike! The first mile was the hardest and we are extremely proud of you!

  2.'Suzi (Jeren) Lantz

    Great article! I’m so inspired by your determination and all that you have accomplished. I know you’ll continue to inspire others as well. Glad Chrissie and I “ran” into you at the 5K in Poland.


    Mike – fabulous and inspiring article! I am so glad that I will be able to continue hearing about your triumphs through this website. A casual runner is the best runner – no pressure, no fear of defeat – you are running for you and only you and at your own pace. Keep it up!

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