Those Fearsome Hills

As I sped along the highway between my adopted hometown, the only hometown my children know, and my birth hometown, I enjoyed the drive in my little, stick-shift car. Although I drive a small, fuel-efficient car, it is completely up to any challenge, or so I thought. Certainly the state trooper who stopped me could attest to the fact that it can hit top speeds! With a grandfatherly touch, he assured me he’d have me on my way quickly and even advised me of the speed-traps up ahead. I was careful to obey the speed-limits for the rest of the weekend, but what I didn’t anticipate were the challenges from the fearsome hills of my beloved hometown valley.

Last year, I ran the hilly 5.25 mile race in my hometown. It was the longest run of my life at the time and the distance and hills were a worry. I had been training with the Bridge to 10k program and was near the end, so I figured I had the distance work covered. I added some hill work to my training and felt as prepared as I could be in the time I had to prepare. My main goal was to run it in under an hour and at 57 minutes, I met that goal. In the intervening year, I’ve trained for, and run, four half-marathons, the last one in mid-April. Recently I’ve added strength training and cut back on my running.

I approached the run this year with a more relaxed attitude and more confidence. In the end, I ran it in 57:18. My legs were fine and those hills and the distance weren’t a problem for them. It was my heart and lungs that suffered from the hills, those fearsome hills. I started off slowly, mostly due to the crowd of runners trying to push out of the narrow main street. I was distracted at first by a drone, hovering over us, purportedly photographing the start of the race. Soon enough, I was through town and on the first ascent.

Since the prior year, I’d learned a lot of techniques. I knew when to take the water, to walk while I drank a small portion of it, then to get on running. I knew to lean forward at the ankles and push my way uphill, I knew to open up down the hills to gain ground. I was comfortable with the distance and just kept plugging away. The biggest problem I had was that I’d lost some cardio-pulminary  strength. My legs were fine on the hills, and that’s what probably got me across the finish line at about the same time as the prior year…but then I had to go sit on the sidelines for several minutes to catch my breath.

Afterward, I re-joined my family and drove a group of us back to the hotel so that I could take a shower before we resumed our family reunion activities. This was the first time I’ve driven a manual transmission vehicle on these hills. In all the years I’ve driven a stick shift, I don’t ever recall having to downshift to get up a hill, but in my hometown, several hills required a downshift to third, but one impossibly steep hill took a drop to second to manage. These are the hills I ran.

I learned a few things from this run. The human body is an amazing, adaptable machine, but it requires a lot of maintenance and it requires frequent use.

Find the Joy in the Journey and the fun in taking on the hills in your life!

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