The Uphill Climb
|February 5, 2013||Posted by Lauren under Marathon Training, Running|
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.
Looks 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.
View 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.
Just 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.
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.