I’ve been wanting to write about running hills for a week and every time I do I think this is the stupidest blog topic ever. But then someone will say something about how my stories about running the real journey I’ve been on inspires them and I think…what the hell. So, here it is. I’m sorry if it bores the crap out of you. If you’re a new runner though, I think you’ll totally relate.
When I started my first Fleet Feet 13.1 training class 2 years ago, I whined when we had to run on the actual course one day in our training. Donnie was confused with my whining. He said, “That course is flat. Why don’t you want to run it?” I freaked out on him, “THAT COURSE IS NOT FLAT. THERE ARE TONS OF HILLS. IT’S AWFUL. SHUT UP!!!”
Now, anyone in this area that is familiar with the Huntsville Half marathon will reassure you…IT IS TOTALLY FLAT. But I was new to running so any slight uphill slope nearly killed me. If you look at the elevation data (below) you will see that it’s basically a 300 ft elevation increase over 13 miles. That’s an average of 23 feet of uphill a mile. That’s really not a big deal at all. Imagine climbing three flights of stairs spread out over a mile. That’s nothing.
But for a new runner? Those two hills right there in that profile felt like insurmountable mountains. When I ran/walked that race in 2006 I walked it. I looked at it and it looked AWFUL so I walked it. When I ran it again after proper training in 2011, I ran it, but it still felt awful. It seemed so very steep. And so very long. And it pissed me off that my husband said it was “flat” when it was OBVIOUSLY not flat. Jerkface.
After I started trail running I learned I needed to tolerate hills. Although, by “tolerate” I mostly just walked them. That was enough tolerance for me.
Then I helped with and participated in 13.1 training groups that focused on hills due to goal races with hills named things like “Whiskey Hill”. If you’re training for a race with a hill that has it’s own Facebook page you better train on a lot of hills where you can. Our coach found several great courses around town with great hills and I found myself almost enjoying them. If you can believe it. ALMOST. I will say this, for the first time ever? I found myself avoiding flat courses. They’re boring!
And then the me from 2011 who wanted to kill my husband? Came back and punched me in the face for calling flat courses boring.
And now? It’s summer. I’m not going to run as many miles per week so I’m determined to make the miles tougher. I decided to brave a course around my end of town that everyone calls “Everest”. Here is it’s Map My Run page if you’re curious. It has two level 5 inclines, although I don’t know what qualifies as a level 5. It has almost 600 feet of elevation gain spread out over 8 miles. That’s twice as much as the half marathon I mentioned above which Map My Run says has NO climbs. Basically, if you had shown me that course back in 2011 when I was actually training for that flat half-marathon? I would have thought you were joking. No one runs those type of hills, right? NO ONE.
And here we are, the second Sunday in a row that I’ve done just that…run that course.
Now…my “running” uphill is probably slower than most people walking up the same hill, but I’m doing it. I’ve been to clinics about hill running and I’m keeping my steps short and I’m basically bouncing in place up the hill on my toes. That’s my “running”. But I’m doing it…I’m running these killer inclines and I’m enjoying it. The same person who yelled at her husband for calling a flat course flat, is now running a course called “Everest”. We’re actually even running it together. If by “together” you mean “starting and finishing at the same location”. Because he runs about an 8-minute pace the whole time where I don’t even hit that pace on the downhills.
But still! I have fallen in LOVE with this course. It makes me feel so entirely badass I can’t even explain it. It’s tough as hell but when I’m done I feel like I could conquer the world. I’ve gone from only running flat courses and crying if someone throws a small hill out there, to intentionally running a course called Everest for FUN. Because I LIKE it.
It does happen. Your attitude does change eventually. Things that seemed impossible become fun. I’ve learned this lesson 100 times on my journey as a runner and every time I’m still pleasantly surprised to see it manifest.