Hill Hell: A Necessary Evil

Let’s talk about altitude, shall we?

Before the holidays, I discussed my hesitation to run on my Colorado vacation due to the vast elevation difference from my lovely sea-side Seattle stomping grounds. Fortunately, despite some burning lungs and a mildly slower pace, I was able to keep up on running while on my trip, and I’m excited to carry around some fatty RBC at sea level for at least a few days.

The times I noticed the elevation difference the most was on the hills I climbed during the Colorado runs. If you ever need a good kick in the ego, I highly suggest running up a long, steep street at 6,000 feet above sea level. Oh yes, you will surely find some humility fast. However, after all the heaving and hauling up those monsters, I will admit that despite their mental and physical challenges, hills are not only helpful, but essential to developing as a runner.

I admittedly follow a running routine that is somewhat hill free: I run on a sea wall around a flat peninsula and purposefully avoid the scary hills in our neighborhood. However, per my New Year’s goal to face my fears head on, I am going to be much more intentional about incorporating hill work.

Thus, I present you with the hell I faced this morning:

"Hello Robyn, prepare for me to crush your legs to pieces."

I think the universe knew that I was getting overly ambitious about my altitude-adjusting lungs, so it said , “Ha! Watch this.” Needless to say, that last 500 ft. climb that was seemingly never-ending was done in walk-run fashion, and when I did run it was really just to make the torture go by faster. The kind of exertion we face on hills and the tiring effect they have is incredibly indicative, though, of just how substantial they are to our training.

I already feel like mileage-wise, my cardio shape is pretty good, however if a huge hill is able to wipe that endurance down so quickly, I can only imagine what incorporating these beasts more routinely would do to my training.

{Also, this hill was at mountain altitude, so its difficulty wasn’t entirely due to my wimpiness}

The other thing about hills is that they are incredibly mental. When you start upon a hill you know will be challenging, it is essential to both pep talk yourself and maintain a calm focus. Something I do when climbing a killer hill is I’ll choose a lamp post, bush, street sign, or whatever’s up ahead of me and I’ll tell myself, “Okay, just make it up to that point,” and I’ll look down and keep trucking. Once I reach that mini goal point, I’ll repeat the same thing with a point further ahead. I think it works as both a mental distraction and as a means of dividing a huge goal (the whole hill) into smaller, manageable goals. I also like to repeat the phrase, “Up and over,” in my head as I’m climbing, as it keeps me focused on the fact that once I’m at the top, I’ll be done and my lead legs will be relieved.

Running hills is also a very metaphorical, and we can actually learn a lot from transferring the process of climbing a hill to overcoming other sorts of barriers in our lives. Sometimes we have to walk, sometimes we have to stop and recollect ourselves, but the only way to truly get over something, overcome an obstacle, or regain control when we feel powerless is to just keep on climbing. At times it can feel like we’re barely moving and all we want to do is quit; if we continue to move on, however, slowly but surely we will make it back to the top.

This all being said, I do need some accountability when it comes to my promise to run more hills. If you’re out there and can keep an eye on me, please do—but I am going to make a conscious effort to not let those beastly steep monsters scare me away from developing my strength as a runner.

Question: How do you feel about hills, both literal and metaphorical? Any mantras that you think work well for getting through a tough climb?

 

 

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