There was a time when Jessie Zapotechne, a coach with Adidas Runners in New York City and founder of Girls Run NYC, was overwhelmed by the prospect of running a single mile. To date, Zapotechne has nearly 50 marathons and ultramarathons under her belt. But as a teenager in gym class, facing four laps around the track inspired feelings of anxiety and dread.

“My first memories of ‘running the mile’ go back to high school and the Presidential Fitness Test,” Zapotechne says, remembering the now-discontinued program designed to assess the strength, speed, stamina, and flexibility of public school kids nationwide. “Even though I grew up playing a lot of sports and being very active outside, and despite being on the track team, running one mile was something I did not enjoy or feel prepared for at that time.”

She participated begrudgingly, dragging the distance out as long as she could as she chatted with a friend.

Now, Zapotechne, who works with athletes of all abilities and levels of experience, has a healthier relationship with the mile, which informs both her coaching and her own running.

“The mile itself is a foundational building block for people who are looking into getting into a running practice. One mile is a perfect place to start,” she says.

Even if you’ve never run before (or your last track workout was a P.E. requirement), you can run a mile without stopping if you want to. It may not happen on your first shot, and your training may look a little different than what you see online. But running a mile is an achievable (and noble!) goal for most people. You just need patience, perseverance, and a plan.

To set you up for success and keep you motivated as you put one foot in front of the other, we tapped Zapotechne and two other running coaches for their best advice for mile hopefuls. Here’s what they had to share.

1. Define your ‘why’

It’s good practice for goal-setting, in general, but understanding why you want to run a mile will help you stay on track, especially when workouts feel physically or mentally tough.

“Not all days are going to feel the same,” says coach Gemma Ward, running training and products specialist for New York Road Runners. “Thinking about what made you do this can help you refocus and shift your mindset,” she says.

Zapotechne recommends using your why to create a mantra or a sentence you can repeat to yourself throughout your run, like, “I’m doing this because it makes me feel strong.”

“I’ve found that sometimes comparison to others or even our former selves can have a negative effect on our mindset, so being prepared with a mantra for that has helped me,” she says.

She’s also a fan of “This is not a race–I run my own pace.”

2. Gear up

Running is challenging enough without blisters, chafing, shirts that ride up, or leggings that sag. Investing in high-quality running gear that fits your body can mean the difference between a fun run and a mile of misery.

Start with the right running shoes.

“There are so many different types of shoes out there, so making sure you are getting the pair that is right for your feet and needs is important. If you go to a specialty shoe store, they will be able to analyze your feet and fit you in the perfect pair. This will also help prevent injury,” Ward says.

When choosing apparel, pay attention to materials.

“You’re going to want to stick to fabrics that are moisture-wicking or quick dry—this will help to keep the sweat off your body,” Ward says.

Fit and style are subjective, but know that looser-fitting clothing with excess material can cause bunching or drag you down, and too tight seams can irritate your skin.

Also, feeling too hot or cold can make you want to throw in the towel early, so if you’re running outside, dress for the weather. In the summer, wear lighter colors and don a brimmed hat or visor, which will help absorb sweat and keep the sun out of your eyes. When temperatures are colder, wear easily removable layers, gloves, and a hat.

3. Start slow

One of the most common mistakes that almost all runners make is starting a run too fast.

“When you start out too fast, you feel your heart rate spike, and it feels terrible, and you want to stop,” Zapotechne says.

Running slower than you think you need to at the onset of a run eases you into the workout and allows you to preserve energy.

To keep your speed in check, maintain a “conversational pace” or a pace at which you can still utter short sentences while in motion (this may be a power walk or jog). Over the course of your run, you can gradually increase your speed so that you finish at a faster pace than you started.

4. Warm up

Every run, regardless of the distance, warrants a warm-up.

“This can include some simple moves like high knees in place, butt kicks, pogo hops, and air squats,” Zapotechne says.

The idea is to increase blood flow, elevate your heart rate, mobilize your joints, and warm up your muscles so that you feel and perform better during your workout.

5. Use a walk-run approach

Sometimes people are afraid to walk because they think it’s somehow ‘cheating,’” Zapotechne says. “I assure you that it is not— and it’s a very powerful tool for getting you to go farther than you thought.”

There are countless ways to incorporate walking intervals into your run, but alternating between one minute of running and one minute of walking is a good place to start.

“When that feels easy, then move up to two minutes of running and one minute of walking,” Zapotechne says. “You can continue to increase the running ratio, with the walk staying at one minute or less.”

Over time, gradually reduce and eliminate walking intervals so that you’re eventually maintaining a running pace for a full mile.

6. Vary your training

Switching up your workouts not only keeps your training interesting but it also triggers different physiological adaptations that can help you run a mile without stopping, explains Raj Hathiramani, a certified running coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City.

“Longer conversational efforts will help you enhance your entire physiological system—including blood flow, energy production, bone and muscle strength—while giving you mental confidence needed for a one-mile test,” he says.

For example, you may use a slower pace or a run-walk approach to cover distances longer than one mile.

“Shorter ‘tempo’ efforts will help your body increase the time it takes to accumulate lactate [a byproduct of high-intensity exercise] and fatigue. Whether a power walk or jog, these should feel ‘comfortably hard’ where you can only say a few words and you feel breathy,” Hathiramani says.

He also recommends incorporating interval training, aka “speedwork,” regardless of your actual speed. “It helps you improve your endurance by making you quickly adapt to different speeds and become a more efficient runner.”

“Be patient with yourself. Everyone is going to progress at a different speed, and that’s totally okay. Keep to your plan and trust the process. It is going to click eventually.” —Gemma Ward, New York Road Runners

7. Focus on diaphragmatic breathing

“Breathing is often what makes people feel that they cannot run,” Zapotechne says.

Huffing and puffing, or the sensation of being unable to take a full breath, can be uncomfortable, so runners stop, slow down, or avoid running altogether.

If this sounds familiar, you may be defaulting to “shallow” or “chest” breathing, which is less efficient than diaphragmatic or “belly” breathing, which engages your diaphragm, expands your chest, and makes room for your lungs to take in air.

“Practice [diaphragmatic breathing] while walking or before running, and then add it into your running,” Zapotechne suggests. “It takes a while to make it feel normal, but it’s also a very effective tool for lowering your heart rate while exercising, and this will help with endurance.”

8. Consider your course

A mile is a mile, whether you run it on a track, a park trail, or on the treadmill. Experiment with different running environments and pick a course that appeals to you.

You may enjoy running a loop or an “out and back” in your neighborhood, or you may appreciate the climate-controlled predictability of a treadmill run.

“The track is nice because you can run four loops on a 400-meter track, and that’s a contained environment that’s usually cushioned,” Zapotechne says.

9. Set two goals

“Feel free to also set two goals, one that is more realistic and one that may be more ambitious to keep you motivated,” Hathiramani says.

For example, a more easily attainable goal may be to run a half mile. Accomplishing that can help you generate momentum toward running a full mile.

Or, if “thinking big” keeps you inspired, set an even bigger long-term goal—like running a 5K in the next six months—and use your one-mile goal as a stepping stone to conquer it.

10. Track your runs

Recording your workouts, including metrics like distance, time, and how you felt, can help you organize your training and recognize your progress over time.

“If you have a running or fitness watch, that’s a great tool, but it’s not necessary for everyone. If you’re not using a watch that tracks time and distance, then you can use an app on your phone,” Zapotechne says.

There’s also the analog option of a simple notebook and pen.

Even if you’re still working toward running a mile without stopping, it can be encouraging to look back and see that you completed the same workout in less time, took fewer walk breaks, or simply felt better while running.

“The more we practice and stay consistent, the ‘easier’ it is going to get,” Ward says. “By taking that first step, you have already done so much. One day you will look back and see how far you have come.”

11. Find a buddy or join a group

Running with a friend or group adds an element of accountability and, more importantly, fun.

“Use this time as a way of connecting with them and yourself,” Zapotechne says.

Ending a run with a shared treat—like breakfast or a cup of coffee—will give you something to look forward to.

“Remember that it doesn’t have to be serious all the time, and if you can make it fun, you are more likely to do it again,” she says.

12. Remain patient and flexible

Achieving any running goal is rarely a linear pursuit. There will be setbacks and bad days, and injuries happen to beginners and pros alike. The runners who continue to make progress amidst the ups and downs keep the bigger picture—their overall health—in mind while remaining patient and flexible.

“It is crucial to prioritize health and continuously make adjustments, such as switching a harder effort to a different day if you didn’t get enough sleep, incorporating specific strength exercises for aches and pains, or swapping a walk or run with cross-training, like biking, doing the elliptical machine, or rowing,” Hathiramani says.

Even under optimal circumstances, achieving a running goal takes time, Ward says.

“Be patient with yourself. Everyone is going to progress at a different speed, and that’s totally okay. Keep to your plan and trust the process. It is going to click eventually.”

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