On Sunday I found myself considering a run in the foothills. The distance I was considering was the longest I’d run since the marathon, and it had been even longer since I had run in the hills at all. After a teensy bit of hesitation, I made up my mind: summertime heat or no, grasshoppers or no (seriously, check it out: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/06/03/grasshoppers-new-mexico-weather-service/9906329/), it was time for a reunion with the trails.
I always forget how long that initial ascent across the Bear Canyon open space can feel, especially after a lengthy separation from it. I took it slowly this time, trying to appreciate the beauty of nature around me as my body began its gradual reacclimation to summer running (after years of experience, I can confidently maintain that I’ll be reacclimated by mid-September). Finally, I reached what I call the “foothills proper” — steeper hills, yes, but also prettier views.
I continued on, trying not to let my breathing and/or appearance cause too much concern to folks I passed. Yep, nothing like getting back to hill workouts!
When I got to my turnaround point, I paused, took in the view of the hills around me and the city below me, and murmured a slightly wheezy “thank you” to God, to myself, frankly to anyone who was within earshot. Then I ran back down the hill.
What else is there in running that compares to going downhill after a long ascent? I’m not talking about those super-short, crazy-steep numbers, I’m talking about looong doooownhills.
When we’re running uphill, we’re focused; our movements are driven; all else falls aside in the wake of Getting To The Top. But sometimes, on really long ascents, the focus…erodes. Our confidence dissipates, and the only thing moving us onward and upward is…what? Muscle memory?
Not like muscle memory is a bad thing, because hey, it Gets Us To The Top. And at the top we can revel in the moment and do a totally-earned victory dance. But then what? If we stay at the top for too long, those muscles that carried us to the top will tighten up. We’ll get cold. Mountain bikers might run us over. No good.
The downhill is essential. The downhill loosens our muscles back up. The downhill gets our blood flowing again, but in a way that doesn’t exhaust us. The downhill provides an opportunity to relax, regroup, and refocus. Our breathing no longer frightens strangers, and everything falls back into place.
After the beautiful, hectic blur that was May, my life is in a brief but lovely downhill stretch. I’m no longer living out of a suitcase. I’ve more or less re-entered my pre-May routine, as far as working, sleeping, and living go. I’m running on a regular basis again — I’ve challenged myself to run every day in the month of June, and I’m determined to do it. And it will be a full two weeks before my next road trip!
It’s the little things.
So, to anyone who is engaged in a long uphill climb of any kind right now, rest assured that you will make it to the top, and you will get your downhill, and everything will fall back into place.
And somewhere in between, I really, really recommend doing that victory dance.