My Brave Mile

Warming up for the big event, my brave mile. Photo by my coach, Cathy Utzschneider
Warming up for the big event, my brave mile. Photo by my coach, Cathy Utzschneider

My mile-training day of reckoning was fast approaching, almost time to put the past several months of motivation, stamina training and speed-work to the test and to see if I had the courage to run a brave mile. I wrote my goal on my calendar in red, but as the date approached, Mother Nature intervened, dropping a thick blanket of snow over the tracks and roads of Boston. The weather turned colder, and a series of damp, blustery days seemed to seal the deal; I would have to wait for spring.

But then, unexpectedly, just as I got used to the idea of trading in my racing flats for snowshoes, the forecast became more favorable for racing, predicting several days of sun and milder air to melt the snow. As if on cue, patches of the orange oval in my neighborhood peeked out from beneath the white cover, growing bigger day by day.

And then I got an email from Coach Cathy: “I think we can head to the track today. Want to try the miler?” 

I was knotted up in a tangle of emotions. Yes, I wanted to try the miler, but the thought filled me with a mix of excitement and dread. I had started on my quest to run a brave mile ten weeks ago. I got the idea after doing a mile time trial in prep for my fall goal race, a 5k on Thanksgiving. I ran that mile in 6:22, which was only marginally faster than the pace I ran in the 5k race. Mulling this over, I suspected I wasn’t performing up to my mile potential and it made me wonder what I could do if I trained exclusively for the mile. And so, my goal fall 5K behind me, I set my sights on improving my mile time.

A month into mile training, I ran another time trial at the end of a pretty discouraging week of training. Following on the heels of a hard speed interval workout that completely wiped me out, my staple 2 x 2-miles stamina workout had been 45-60 seconds per mile slower than usual – ugh!  I wondered if I had what it took to run fast and hard. I was not optimistic for the time trial, and Coach Cathy and I set a conservative goal of a 6:15 mile. I came in at 5:59.68. Now, the burden of living up to that expectation weighed heavily on me. Could I run a mile as fast again, or even faster?

“It’s cold, and there’s a wind,” Coach Cathy told me in the car on the way to the track. “Don’t worry too much about the time. Just run with courage.” Jogging my long, slow warm-up, I tried to reason with myself. All that matters is that I am brave, I thought. And this is not my last opportunity to run a fast mile. I ran a bunch of strides and willed myself to relax. I called to my mind the lion, the image I’d been using to help me face up to all the hard workouts. Without fanfare, I took my place at the start line and began.

From practice, I knew the feeling I needed for first-lap pace to match or exceed the 90 seconds I needed to match or exceed my previous best. I stepped into it readily, feeling strong. Wind gusts pushed against me as I rounded the second curve, though it was early enough in the run there was no difficulty or challenge to them. But coming down the backstretch that first rush of adrenaline started to wane, and the grave awareness of my task set in. I passed Coach Cathy, who was calling out the seconds, and heard my first split, 1:25. I was on target.

Hold it here, I thought. Just hold it here. This lap, I felt the gusty wind around the second turn. It would be the longest lap, the one containing those extra nine meters that would bring me to the mile. Still running bravely, I passed Coach Cathy again and heard my split, 3:00. On pace.

I embarked on the bear that is the third lap. My breathing became labored and I could hear it ripping out of me in gasps. The winds around the second turn slugged into me. Was I slowing just a little, or was I standing still? Fatigue and doubt threatened to erode my resolve. Pushing them away, I got to the backstretch. More than halfway there now! But my split this time was slower than it needed to be, 4:36.

Lion - Louisville Zoo
My inner lion helped me run my brave mile (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s go! I thought, reaching into my reserves to give it everything I had for that last lap. Got to make up the time! My hamstrings started zinging in that way they do when I’m running really fast, propelling me through the wind. I could barely keep my eyes open against the effort. At the top of the backstretch, I heard Coach Cathy shouting out the seconds. I can get there! I thought. I can do it! I sprinted for the line and crossed.

How I would have loved the conclusion to this series of posts, in which I’ve told you about how I trained for the mile, to be a courageous mile run leading to a new personal best. But in reality, I finished one second too late.  My time was 6:00.69.  After the run, as I struggled to fend off the dry heaves and catch my breath, disappointment crept around the edges of my achievement. I vanquished it. My true goal had been to run a brave mile, and I did!

Now when can I do it again?

With all my posts about racing a mile, have I convinced you to give it a try too?

Mom of three kiddos and a black lab, running enthusiast, sports-med-doctor-in-training. I love the science and sport of running and all things related.

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  1. Have you considered entering a mile/1500 indoor track race? There are plenty of meets at BU that you should be able to get into. You can definitely get way under 6 if you have people around you!

  2. You ran hard and brave! The series has been really good understanding what it takes physically and mentally to run a brave mile or any distance. Congratulations!

    1. I totally agree! I love how both times you overcame negative distractions to push yourself! And agree the entire series was really great and showed that pursuing excellence through running is more than high mileage and fast marathons. Thanks for sharing the journey … I’ll be patiently waiting for the epilogue 🙂

  3. Honestly the thought of running 1 hard mile scares me more than a marathon does. I enjoyed reading your posts on this and definitely believe you accomplished the goal of running hard and brave. I haven’t raced anything shorter than a 5k since college, and admittedly I think I’d freak out if I had to it right now! There is a summer track series around here, maybe I will have to challenge myself and run the mile this year and get over that fear!

    1. That would be awesome – go for it! Racing the shorter distances is such a different challenge than racing the marathon – I’ll be interested to hear about what you think.

  4. Congrats! I could relate to the way you described your experience. We have similar PRs and the feelings and emotions on each lap felt the same to me as what you wrote. In fact, it helps to see “how” track pain is supposed to feel. Ugh, that third lap is so stinky but isn’t the 4th one the best! That’s when the lion sets in. Looking forward to more stories!

    1. Thanks! It just goes to show you how much the mental aspects play into things – so much easier to be bold when you know you have only one lap left than to let your boldness kick in earlier! That’s one thing I want to work on for next time….running faster halfway through lap 3 instead of waiting until the start of lap 4. Are you going to be running some indoor races this season?

      1. Good thinking! Yes, I’ll be doing a mile and 800 indoors on Feb. 20th. I entered with conservative times since I am not sure about what kind of shape I am in but I do plan to push myself!

  5. WOW. That is so amazing. I’m working on my fastest 1.5 mile right now and being brave is really hard. Thank you for helping me see it is possible.

  6. Great job, Garlic! I’m so glad you tried this and wrote about it. I hope you can find a race because I think the competitive aspect will really help you realize your potential!

  7. To Salties…..

    Having coached Rebecca for the past few years, I particularly enjoyed reading her blog and am writing to add perspective about Rebecca and her training. (It may help you.) Rebecca has and will continue to make fantastic progress in her running and here is why…..

    She is courageous. That courage to face the fire in the third lap of the mile is what helped her lower her mile time so much. I say to runners all the time “ETU – Embrace The Uncomfortable!”. Why not meet your lion?

    Rebecca also has the courage to listen to her body and to back off. She is not afraid to let me know when she feels tired – at which point we modify her workouts.

    She focuses on improving her own times. Sometimes runners can get too competitive with others, leaving them distracted or dispirited. Rebecca honors her own tasks, giving them 100%.

    Rebecca is committed without being obsessive. She is on time for sessions and ready for the challenge of the day.

    Most important, she has a sense of humor. That allows for resilience – critical, as you know, for success in running. In a sport as measurable as ours, any setbacks have to be understood as learning experiences for further success.

    Rebecca will be racing the mile on the outdoor track – which, with fewer turns than the indoor track and with competitors to hold on to – will lead to her next PR. And meanwhile we are planning for a half marathon at the end of February. I have full confidence in a PR on that one, too. 🙂

  8. Hello,

    First of all, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with the mile! I think is a great distance and it is fun to race.

    I ran the fifth avenue mile on 2013 and managed to score a 5:59 time (I was 40 the time). I’m seriously considering running it again this year and I’m returning from an injury on my left foot from a year ago, so I’m trying to build my base and then will start with some speed work.

    Do you have a training plan for beginners or intermediates that I could follow? Most of the information I have found on the internet is confusing and not many of those plans focus on the mile.

    Thanks in advance!


    1. Hi Jose,

      Thanks so much for your comment, and good luck with your comeback!
      There are a couple of other posts in this series that can give you an idea of how I trained for the mile. They have some suggested workouts you can try. My typical schedule was an interval workout on one day, a stamina workout on another day, and a long run of 10 miles with some “plus pace” running, with easy runs in between. I run 6-7 days/week, but the easy runs can definitely be replaced by cross-training if that’s what your body needs instead.

      Here are the links to the two posts that detail my training:

      I hope that helps!