Mile Markers

That Run When Coach Cornell Made Sarah Run One Mile {Mile Markers}

Screen capture of several highway mile marker pictures.

Today’s post is a part of my ongoing Mile Markers feature. The purpose of this (almost) weekly feature is to recount the memorable and meaningful runs and races that serve as signposts on our running journey. If you have a story of your own to tell, you can find the writer’s guidelines and my contact information on the Mile Markers page.

I’ve only been running “seriously” since graduate school, but most of us, if you think about it, have been running our entire lives. I especially remember running the mile in elementary school gym class for the President’s Challenge, a series of physical agility tests that act as a barometer for student fitness. In my memory, I only rocked the sit-ups and shuttle run. The mile, v-sit reach, and flexed arm hang were not my best tests. In fact, they were probably the only tests I failed in school. And by fail, I mean I got a B.

But I digress. This is supposed to be about my first one mile run. I was definitely in elementary school because we ran our mile in the gym rather than on the high school track, which is where we ran in high school and middle school. Twenty laps equaled one mile. I’m sure my fourth grade mind thought the equivalent of, “Holy hell, this is going to be impossible.” *

Impossible because, to a ten-year-old, a mile was a lot of running. And because this particular ten-year-old wasn’t in the least bit athletic unless you call sucking it up in ballet and acrobat classes every week being an athlete. ** But I had no choice; everyone had to run the mile. And because gym class was only 30 minutes, we had to complete the mile in less than that time.

Coach Cornell blew the whistle and off we went, boys and girls, round and round the gym. An Adam or a Jake or a Brad were the fastest boys, and a Kristen or a Michelle or a Chelsea were the fastest girls, and they all ran lap after effortless lap. They passed me and finished. But I kept running, and as well as I can remember, I finished and did not come in last place. And that was that. I don’t even remember how I felt that day except that I was thankful gym class was over and I was thankful I didn’t come in last. Because to a 10-year-old girl, that would have been the end of the world.

But now, I am thankful for that run. Coach Cornell gave me my very first bit of running advice and I’ve never forgotten it: Don’t clench your fists. Relax your hands instead with the tips of your thumb and forefinger together, like you’re holding an egg. Advice aside, I’m not sure that this particular run was the run that planted the seed for me to be the runner I am today, but for some reason, it resides in my memory, and that has to mean something, right?

* To be clear, I did not curse (and where I come from, the word hell is considered a curse word) until I was in sixth grade. I now curse with frequency and gusto, much to my husband’s chagrin. Because swears (thank you, Jennifer Luitwieler) are fun.

** Over the next several years, I would fail awesomely at softball, volleyball, basketball, ballet (some more), and swimming. In high school, I joined the tennis team, and as my mother told me this weekend, I was finally pretty good by my senior year. And I’d like to point out that I was the fastest drill runner on my team. And I was on a team of track and cross country girls.

Did you complete the President’s Challenge when you were in school? How did you rock the one mile?

Want to read more Mile Marker stories? You can find them in the Mile Markers Archives. Got a Mile Marker to share? I want to publish it! You can find my writer’s guidelines on the Mile Markers page.


4 thoughts on “That Run When Coach Cornell Made Sarah Run One Mile {Mile Markers}

  1. I remember the president’s mile test very well. In elementary school we had to run 26 times around the gym! We split up into partners so one person could run while the other crossed off laps on a piece of paper. Then we switched. I must have done ok because I know I got a certificate. It was the pull-up test I had trouble with. I could only do the flexed arm hang, not a full pull-up.

  2. I couldn’t do a pull-up either. In fact, I don’t even remember pull-ups as an option for the girls; we just did the flexed arm hang. Some girls could go two or three minutes just hanging there. I remember hating those girls in middle school, but I really admire that strength now.

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