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The Uphill Climb

There’s a road by my house that climbs gradually uphill for almost 6 straight miles. The hill isn’t awful or intimidating. It doesn’t zap all your energy or leave you feeling like it’s the hardest route you’ve ever taken. In fact, the incline is so slight in those first few miles that you may even think you’re just running on flat ground.

t_road_pondsLooks pretty flat, right? (Obviously not a recent photo…)

But it’s the type of hill that wears you out slowly. That leaves you feeling a little more tired than you expect, and makes you wonder why your paces seem so off. As the miles stretch on, the grade gradually gets a little steeper until you finally realize that you’ve been gaining elevation all along. Just before 6 miles, you arrive at the summit…and that’s where you turn around. Because to continue on means running down a steep “mountain” only to have to turn around and climb back up for 2 miles. This is the not-so-fun part about the run. We’re not going to talk about that part today.

For runs under 12 miles, this is my absolute favorite route. Not only because it’s beautiful or because it’s actually the flattest run I can do these days, but because of that moment when I get to turn around. That one moment when I realize that it’s literally all downhill from here. I love telling myself that if I put in the work during the first half, the rest is a piece of cake. It’s not always the truth, but it sure works wonders for my motivation.

t_road_bridgeView on the run (taken while not running)

The very first time I ran this road last summer I thought I was just really out of shape. I couldn’t believe how tired I felt when, according to my watch, I was keeping a pace that should’ve felt easy. My legs were heavy and my motivation severely lacking as I slowly trudged out to the 2 mile mark, lamenting about my long road back to any sort of endurance.

And then I turned around. Suddenly it was as though I had gotten a second wind. I was filled with energy, my pace dropped significantly, the lead left my legs and I was flying. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe I was fitter than I gave myself credit for! I had a few moments of bliss, patting myself on the back for essentially being such an awesome runner. Those months of forced rest had nothing on me.

Until I looked to my right. And noticed that the river and I were actually traveling in the same direction. I was running downhill. (and yes, my observation skills often leave much to be desired…)

Not the joint-jarring type of hill that automatically gives you crazy speed or fast turnover, but enough. Enough to make you feel lighter. Enough to make you want to push harder to see just how fast you can make it back home.

t_roadJust enough of a hill to make you feel slower on the way out without realizing why

I don’t always have the best run of my life every time I head out in this direction. Running is often hard, and even the assistance of a slight downhill all the way home doesn’t change that. But no matter how tough the run is going, I like to tell myself that I only need to make it halfway. If I can just hang in there until the turnaround, running back will be a breeze. The first half is the hardest — the second is the reward for all that hard work.

This is how I feel about training as well. I think about this road as a good metaphor for a training cycle. That first half of any training plan is a struggle — to regain fitness, to find the motivation, to get yourself back into a routine, to hit your paces…to feel like the strong runner you know you can be.

Those first few weeks are more about surviving runs than enjoying them. It’s an uphill battle to get myself back to where I need to be…to the point where certain paces come easy and every double distance run doesn’t wipe me out for the entire day. To the point where I’m craving a hard workout instead of simply trying to struggle through it.

But I keep putting in the work because at some point in the cycle, I make it to that turnaround. Where suddenly, things start to click. My runs get faster without much effort and I finally hit paces I’m proud of. It’s not always easy from that point on, but everything just feels better. Running becomes natural again.

t_road_fence

I’m not there yet. I’m still running uphill every day, and expect to do so for awhile. It’s a gradual climb, but one that leaves me worn out and wondering when the speed will return. I have glimpses of how it will be — moments during a run when everything clicks and I feel as though I could go forever. Times when I feel awesome. But those moments are more the exception than the rule these days. Most of the time I count simply making it through as a victory.

I’m sure the cold temperatures have something to do with it. Facing single digits (or even the treadmill) every run just adds to the whole “uphill battle” feeling. But I’m hoping that if I keep climbing over these next few weeks, things will start clicking around the time the temperatures start rising.

What’s that thing they say — a fast spring is built in the freezing winter? Or something slightly more profound than that… Well let’s hope that a fast spring is built on gradual uphill climbs as well. Because I feel like that’s my specialty these days.

18 Responses to The Uphill Climb

  1. I’m also a fan of running into the wind for the first part of my run so I can get that tail wind on the way back.

  2. First of all, your pictures are beautiful! Awesome job challenging yourself! It will make you tougher in the spring for sure.

  3. I love reading your blog! More often than not, running has been an uphill struggle for me. I love it, but definitely not because it came natural to me. After years of pushing uphill I finally feel like I’ve turned a corner. It’s still a challenge every time I run, but it’s a challenge I have learned to enjoy and appreciate. Running is such an amazing sport that challenges your body and your mind.

    • That’s awesome! It’s that turnaround point that makes running worth it. Glad you feel like you’ve finally turned that corner :)

  4. I feel like I’ve been “running uphill” for the past 6 weeks! From being sick, to starting to run again, and then being sick again, it has been quite the uphill struggle. It’s hard not to feel impatient about getting to the point where things click and start to feel a bit easier and more enjoyable. I am so looking forward to those days. Again, I feel like I’m starting all over, what the hell is wrong with my immune system?

    Happy to finally be running again for sure, I am 95% better and I’m focused on my VCM goals! I want to run this route when I visit :)
    Steph´s last post ..Winter Marathon Training

    • I hear ya – I was sick right after Christmas and then again a couple of weeks ago. Makes winter training even harder.

      And I will take you on this route whenever you want! Just get up here!

  5. I love this post. And am jealous of your gorgeous running route. Breathtaking views.

    As I transitioned from my marathon training to focusing on my half in 6 weeks, testing the waters of where I am speed wise has been slightly defeating. No way I could run what I did in November, and beating that time seems a bit of a stretch but here’s to training and eyes on the prize!
    Gianna´s last post ..ING Miami Marathon: Recap

  6. You’re incredible for starting every run uphill! And doing so for 6mi? Not sure I could do that!

    I’m just getting back in shape after being sick most of the two months and it kind of sucks. But I’m glad you reminded me that it’s only a matter of time before I reach the downhill.
    Jen´s last post ..Kids’ races

    • haha, well I don’t really have a choice. The only route that isn’t uphill from the start is one that I usually avoid because the road is more narrow and heavily traveled than the rest of them. Moving to VT meant a forced end to my avoidance of hills!

  7. This is a great perspective to have, especially when approaching a new training cycle. I really appreciate this perspective. Thank you for sharing.
    Naomi´s last post ..2013 Kaiser Half-Marathon Race Recap

  8. Yes, I totally agree. In the beginning I looked at my schedule and how I felt and was wondering how I was going to manage even though it really was not that much different from any of my other schedules. Finally I feel like I am starting to get close to the midpoint. Maybe I am not quite there yet but it’s leveling off and soon hopefully everything starts clicking.

  9. Lauren, I love this post! Good for you. Sometimes there are ups, and sometimes there are downs. (In life and in running).
    Brittany´s last post ..Operation Love Handle – An Update

  10. What a great post!

    I’m in week 7 of marathon training and am finally starting to feel like my body is getting the hang of it. It can be really frustrating, but it’s nice to hear that even fast runners like you go through this. Thanks for sharing!
    Megan @ Megan’s Miles´s last post ..January 2013 Recap and February 2013 Goals

  11. This run looks beautiful!!

  12. Great post! And oh the photos are beautiful.
    Cathryn´s last post ..A day-trip to Paris

  13. YES!! This is SO SO SO true. The first few “long” runs I did post baby were NOT fun. They felt like a struggle and my pace was SO not where it was prior to being pregnant. It’s hard when your mind is ready but your body is lagging behind…
    I love this comparison – I am slowly approaching the halfway point, I think. Workouts are FUN again. I’m excited to do hard workouts again. And long runs are becoming easier. All downhill from here, I guess =)
    Michele @ Nycrunningmama´s last post ..Go Big or Go Home

  14. I love this Icon — thank you for writing! I’ve been struggling with these first few weeks of training thinking that lower mileage should equal easier running. But…this makes me feel a lot better. Can’t wait for the downhill :)
    Laura´s last post ..on meaning

  15. Winter miles bring spring smiles.

    Such a true statement!

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