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The Most Important Mile of my Life: Karen Crowley

Karen with her daughter and husband at one of her first 5Ks in 2011.
Karen with her daughter and husband at one of her first 5Ks in 2011.

Mother runner Karen Crowley, 38, who writes candidly about living with a rare blood cancer at Adventures of a Cancer Girl, has vivid memories of her very first mile ... many, many years ago. 

The first – and only – mile I ran during the first 35 years of my life was in eighth-grade gym class in 1989. My teacher was Mr. A, an extremely fit, extremely scary man.

We would “warm up” for every class by sprinting across the parking lot. I came in last every day, huffing red-faced to the finish line while the other kids rolled their eyes impatiently and Mr. A barked at me to hurry up. Toward the end of the year, Mr. A made a terrifying announcement: In a few weeks we would run “The Mile.”  Even worse: Anyone who stopped to walk would have to return during study hall or after school for a do-over.

As scared as I was of “The Mile,” I was even more scared of having to attempt the thing more than once. I was determined not to stop.

And I did it. I ran the entire thing. When a group of girls quit and started walking, I kept going. I came in last, but I hadn’t given up. I’d finished something that other people couldn’t.

But at the time, I didn’t see that. All I felt was relief that the dreaded mile was over, discomfort because I was tired and sweaty, and humiliation because I’d again finished last. I didn’t run another step until I was 35 years old.

I’ve been a runner for three years now, and I've just completed my first marathon. I think back to that first mile all the time, and I wish that 14-year-old had been able to see the value in determination, in refusing to give up. I wish she could have known that these qualities are far more important than speed.

It took me 20 years to see the value in that first mile. I’m glad I finally did.

At the end of 26.2: "As I was about to cross the finish line, my daughter jumped in and ran across it with me!"
Karen (wearing pink) at the end of the Kansas City Marathon earlier this month: "As I was about to cross the finish line, my daughter jumped in and ran across it with me!"

What was (or will be) the most important mile of your life? We want to know.

We’re going to make this an ongoing feature on the website (and potentially include some important miles in our yet-to-be-named third book, out in spring of 2015). Best way to submit is to email us your story with a picture: runmother {at} gmail {dot} com with “Most Important Mile” in the subject line. Please try to keep your mile stories under 300 words. Thank you!

7 responses to “The Most Important Mile of my Life: Karen Crowley

  1. While my gym teacher/classmates weren’t as outwardly judgmental, I definitely remember all those horrible negative feelings 🙁 Hooray to all of us who’ve come so far since then!

  2. Karen, you are awesome! I hope millions of girls and women read this and realize that it only gets better. We can’t all be fast, we can’t always be strong, but we CAN all be runners!

  3. I had a nearly identical experience in high school. I will never forget that “mile.” And I just started running in my late 20s. I wish someone had said, “Jenn, keep going, mile two is better and it’s the same distance no matter how long it takes you.” I hope I am an example of that to my daughter.

  4. This is my favorite of all the First Mile stories I’ve read, Karen! I can so relate. I really hope my kids learn the lesson you describe, about not quitting, sooner than I did. I’m definitely going to follow your blog–your story made my day.

  5. Now that is cool! What a great way to finish your first marathon. KUDOS!! I wish we could teach every young girl just how important the qualities you describe are and that “speed” in life is not really important.

    Way to go!

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