Outdoors · Running · Sports

Upward and Onward

“Hills are your friends,” my high school cross-country coach used to say to us before we took on a challenging course or practice. We all knew that was a load of crap, but we smiled and pretended to enjoy pumping our arms and laboring up those annoying mounds of earth.

I don’t know if I’ve come much further in my friendship with hills, but I have come to see their value just a liiiiitle bit more.

If you run at least five or six days a week, running the exact same route, especially if it’s flat, gets – admit it—downright boring. And boredom does not a lasting relationship make. The occasional hill workout provides a break in the monotony. It offers a change of scenery (maybe even a lovely view, depending on your elevation), a change in effort, and certainly a change in how you feel afterwards.

Everyone has different daily running routines. I’m not talking about the route, now, I’m talking about how they go about it. How often does a runner step out at the same time every day, trot off at the same pace, travel about the same distance, maybe wearing a watch, maybe not? How often do people on those daily runs let their minds drift to the same subjects over…and over…and over again? How often do we get a slightly absurd amount of glee just from wearing a running outfit that actually matches? (Bully for all of you who are more stylish than I am and feel that glee on a regular basis). How often do we totally ignore every other runner/walker/sweating person we encounter?

Hill workouts are a splendid way to snap out of it. You pay attention to your pace – there isn’t much ignoring it when a wall of a hill reduces you to a shuffle. A watch, each interval locked into its memory, quite cheerfully reports the cold, hard numbers. And they may show no mercy, but you learn from them. The fine art of pacing isn’t fun to learn, but the lesson – no matter how long it takes to sink in – is priceless. The same applies to focus – let your mind drift too far during a hill repeat and you’re liable to start running backwards down the hill.

And the whole self-conscious thing? Whether the issue at hand is your outfit, or body image, or just appearance worries in general, after a couple hill repeats, frankly you stop caring. Getting up and over the hill becomes the primary concern. Clothes don’t matter, weight doesn’t matter, having vast spans of flesh covered in sweat, spit and snot in varying stages of the drying process – NONE of it matters. The only thing that does matter is the confidence gained by doing it.

One of my favorite parts of hill workouts lies in the renewed awareness of fellow athletes. There’s a certain small comfort in glancing to the side and seeing another runner, or a cyclist, toiling up the same hill. During a recent hill workout, on my last repeat a cyclist pedaling along nearby complimented my strength as a runner. It made my day!

Victory has a lot of faces with a hill workout. It could arrive in the form of doing one more repeat than you thought you could. Or finishing that last one faster than all of the others. Or not drawing genuine alarm from passersby. Or just doing the thing. Some may be trivial, but who cares? Let those that judge continue to plod along with their routines of flatness. Take the workout, and take the victory.


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