I lumber up the hill, my legs screaming, my heart threatening to beat out of my chest. Every muscle in me protests as I continue—mind over matter—one dogged step after another. I am no longer running as I did when I left my house with the fresh start of a new challenge. I am much slower, less confident, and even less committed than I was as I sprinted down my driveway. “I could turn around now,” I tell myself. “And just stop this nonsense.”
And then a phrase enters my mind, something a friend of mine said to me days earlier. “The first mile is the hardest.” She used to run marathons so she should know. Just get through the first mile, she coached me, and you can make it the rest of the way. With her words in mind, I keep going, determined to go the distance.
Later that day I talk to my friend, the former marathon runner. She is now a mother of four little boys ages 6 and under, running a different kind of marathon. Her days are filled, as mine once were, with demands and needs that seem to never end. Bottles and diapers and tantrums and sleep deprivation define her routine.
She listens to me describe my day—the flexibility to leave the house and go for a run uninhibited, the freedom to run some errands while my older children stay at home with the younger ones, regular date nights with my husband, the reduced workload that comes from having children who are all pretty self-sufficient. She sighs. “Your life sounds so nice,” she says wistfully.
“The first mile is the hardest,” I say, repeating her words back to her, surprising us both. I realize even as I say it that what I am saying is true: difficult first miles aren’t exclusive to marathon runners. They are part of motherhood as well.
“It will get easier,” I tell my friend. Just as she coached me in running I can coach her in motherhood. I have run along the same path she is now on. I know the exhaustion and stress coupled with exhilaration she feels each day. I know what it means to come to the end of yourself over and over again. I know how endlessly the days stretch out ahead of her—just like the endless road that stretched out ahead of me as I ran.
“It doesn’t seem like it,” she responds, a little ironic laugh escaping her lips.
“I know,” I say. Because I do. “But I promise, this too shall pass. And one day you will realize that it was all worth it. The hard work, the long hours, the bodily fluids, the noise. You will look at these people—whole, wonderful people—you produced. You will see their talents, hear their humor, delight in their completeness and you will know that the first mile was the hardest. But the run did get easier. And as you near the finish line, you will think—I promise you, you will—that the run wasn’t that bad. And you will almost wish you could do it again. By then you won’t be the same as when you started but, amazingly, you will be better.”
Her baby starts to cry as he wakes from his nap. Her boys are fighting, their screams making it hard for us to talk over the din. “I better go,” she says reluctantly.
Hang in there, I tell her before we go. She promises that she will. I promise her that I am glad I did. As the dial tone buzzes in my ear, I know that she believes me. I smile as I think of her bravely running one more mile.