Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Reality check in the form of a Hill

When we runners get together and talk running, the talk always – eventually - turns to training.

At one of those conversations recently a friend asked me: “Do you do hills when you run?”

I made what I’m sure was an indignant face. “Sure.  Of course I do hills,” I replied. What I did not say was: “Of course I do hills.  How can you run 12 miles and not run up a hill or two?”

After all, I run so far, how could I not do hills?  I run up Broad Street – and that’s a mean mother of a hill.
Um.  Slight caveat.  That’d be a big hill in Hudson.

I was lucky enough to be traveling for the past few weeks and had the privilege of running on various terrain and in different parts of the country. It is my way of exploring and getting to “know” the place where I am. 

It’s why there is always some old pair of running sneakers in my car.

Over the years, I have run by the Atlantic Ocean, in all the New England States, along the eastern seaboard, Florida, and recently in Hershey Pennsylvania.

But right before Hershey, I was in upstate New York - in a campground right outside Cooperstown New York to be more specific. 

One morning, I slipped on my sneakers and headed out.  Turning right as I exited the campground, I hit a short steep hill.  At least, I had hoped it was short.  It sure as heck was steep.  It felt like somewhere around a 75 degree incline and stretched for miles and miles. 

As I continued, I felt a small flashback to Heartbreak Hill and the marathon.  Only this wasn’t Heartbreak Hill. And it wasn’t ending.  My breathing became labored like I haven’t experienced since I first started running.  Sweat was pouring off me.  I was drenched.   My lungs had no air; my breathing was rhythm-less. 
Could I touch the clouds?  How high up was I?  Were my ears really popping?  Was this “hill” ever going to peak?  Was someone going to find me on the side of the road, useless and rubber legged, unable to breathe or talk coherently? 

And then the voice of my knowledgeable running friend came back to me.

“I know you run far, just hills are different,” he said as if sensing my indignation. “They work different muscles. Running hills gives you a whole different workout and can really help build power for the rest of your running.”

Eventually, I did reach ‘the top’.  Or at least, what I am going to refer to as the top (for my own ego's sake). 

I told a friend of mine – who was camping there too -  that I had done ‘the hill’.  Her response: “Phew.  I was exhausted driving up it” she laughed.   But there was truth in her voice. 

In the ensuing days, I did do that hill, again and again.  It did get more manageable – but it never got easy. I guess it was really making me stronger.

The great part of being atop a hill is you can not only see where you came from, but all of the places you can go. Too often, when we are in the valley, we only see what is around us and we have to assume the rest.

I guess the Broad Street hill was not getting it done – metaphorically or in reality.

So, the next time some well-meaning friend asks me if I add hills to my workouts and runs; I will take a bite of Humble Pie, listen to all the benefits, and honestly answer ‘No’. 

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