Learning to Love Hills Again
|March 20, 2013||Posted by Lauren under Marathon Training, Running|
Like many runners, I have a love/hate relationship with hills — meaning I love when a nice gradual downhill helps push me along to a fast pace…and hate when those climbs slow me down and leave my chest heaving.
When I moved to Vermont and realized that hills were going to become a part of my everyday running reality whether I liked it or not, I kind of learned to embrace them. I’ll even go so far as to say that after awhile I grew to prefer rolling runs to flat land. Case in point, during last August’s Hood to Coast relay, my least favorite (and slowest!) leg was also my flattest.
But then the holidays happened and this endless winter descended upon us and my love for hills slowly faded away. I don’t really know why or how it happened, but somewhere along the way I completely lost my hill running motivation. It’s impossible to avoid all hills around here (unless you run inside every day), but I quickly figured out how to steer clear of the worst ones. All winter long I finagled my routes — sticking with the slow, gradual climbs and the nice flat treadmill. When you live in a town with approximately 4 roads and only one of them feels flat for any significant stretch of time, running gets boring pretty darn fast.
Not only did my runs grow stale and boring, but my “hill terrors” haven’t exactly been helping my training. Because there’s also a tiny little problem of that marathon I signed up to run in May. It’s not flat.
So last week, after giving myself approximately 2,000,000 pep talks, I finally got pumped up enough to tackle one of the hilliest out-and-back routes around. A route that starts off with a steep climb and continues going up for over a mile. A route that doesn’t have a single stretch of completely flat road but is instead a constant roller coaster of ups and downs. A route that I used to be strong enough to do tempo runs on last fall but I’ve been avoiding like the plague ever since 2013 began.
I strapped on my Garmin to record the data but told myself that I wasn’t allowed to even peek at my splits until the turn around point (which just so happens to be at the base of a very long climb). Then I turned on my most motivational playlist, took a deep breath…and off I went.
I’m not going to lie — it sucked. That first climb, the one that I have to get myself all psyched up to even attempt, was worse than I remembered. And it wasn’t like it got easier after that. Every single incline seemed to have grown steeper and longer in my absence…while the declines were too few and far between. I felt like I was crawling. I couldn’t even pick up much speed on the downhill sections. My legs were so tired that even convincing them to increase their turnover on the declines seemed like too much effort.
It may not look like much according to this chart, but I swear they feel harder in person…
Hills in elevation chart are larger than they appear
Turns out that when you avoid all major hills for over 3 months, you lose a whole lot of your hill-running fitness. Pretty deep and insightful observation, right?
But even though the run left me wondering how I ever managed to get in quality workouts over this course just a few months ago, it wasn’t all bad. Because there’s a moment on this particular run when you reach the top of the very last climb and the world opens up. You see rolling farmland on your right and mountains ahead and you know that it is quite literally all downhill from here. A moment when every single climb you tackled becomes worth it — for the view, for the fact that you get to cruise down to the finish over a mile away, for the pride you feel knowing that you survived the roller coaster. It was at that moment when I finally remembered why I loved that running route so very much. And where I resolved to start embracing the hilly runs again.
To keep good on my promise, I headed out on Saturday to tackle another hill that I’ve been working hard to avoid. Remember how I said this run was my favorite route for runs that are under 12 miles? Well, that’s because around mile 6 the road takes a very steep, long drop down for almost 2 miles — which means if I head out that way, I need to turn around and run back up the awful thing. That long, winding climb is the very definition of “soul crushing.” The only thing I can do when I’m running up it is focus on getting through one turn at a time, promising myself that I’ll walk once I make it through that particular section. I haven’t actually walked yet (though my pace may suggest otherwise!), but I’m still awaiting the day when I can run up that hill like it’s nothing. I’m not really expecting that day to ever come…
No the road doesn’t end there. It just drops sharply downward.
But I am going to keep climbing. This post serves as my promise (or my source of public shaming if I don’t follow through). For the rest of my training, I’m going to be tackling these hills at least once a week (probably more). Hills make you stronger, they make you faster, and they give you confidence. If I can tackle these hills in training then surely I can tackle the hills on race day. And I will be a better runner for it.