What my struggles with hill running have taught me

I’ve always kind of hated hills. Mike teases me and says I secretly love them because I tend to get really silent when I’m running up one and focus extra hard on getting through it until I’ve made it to the top. The reality is that most of the time, I’m actually running up the hill at a snail’s pace because the thought of stopping mid-hill always seems worse than run/walk-bouncing up a hill.

Doesn’t look too scary, but this hill is one of the steepest in the village we’re staying at.

I know all about the benefits of hill training. I understand that integrating hill repeats is supposed to translate into great fitness gains. Cool!

… despite that logic, hill running always seems to evoke the most horrifying reaction from me. It’s like running is all fun and games until there are hills. If a route is riddled with ridiculous hills, I turn into a pile of sour grapes. They make me angry and horrible to be around. They hurt. They burn, and they never seem to end (call the whambulance).

A couple of weekends ago, I had a pretty big meltdown. I can talk about it now and laugh, but it certainly didn’t feel funny at the time. It had just snowed in Gränichen, and Mike wanted to try a new route for our long run which started us off by running up a nearby hill. I tried to psyche myself up for this hill, but as soon as I started, I made the mistake of looking ahead and feeling defeated at what looked like an endless climb. Feeling really daunted, my negative attitude just spiraled out of control. Eventually, I slowed to a stop which made me even more cranky. Stopping to walk a hill always feels like giving up. I hate giving up. When I noticed Mike trying to take a photo of me, I just lost it and screamed, “don’t take a f—ing picture of me!”. Too ashamed to face him after that outburst, I turned and continued running up the rest of the hill as quickly as I could. As soon as I got to the top, I burst into tears. I still can’t believe I reacted like that. It was really immature and strange, considering running is supposed to be fun.

The hill that almost broke my spirit.

The thing that worried me about the whole situation is that I don’t need to waste my energy getting worked up over something as simple as hill running. Especially not when it gets in the way of appreciating what I do have – a chance to run through one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever been in. I knew that I needed to shift my attitude and grow up.

This was an awesome run. The fact that we ran up 448m and I smiled the whole time is worth celebrating.

Yesterday, we went for a “little hilly” trail run which included a running uphill for 448m without a break. I made it in one piece without stopping once (hurrah!) and didn’t freak out at all. Then today, we went back to the steepest hill that we did repeats up five weeks ago. Granted my intervals were shorter today compared to the ones I did five weeks ago, but the crazy thing was that the entire workout was manageable… and kind of fun. If huffing and puffing like an asthmatic person can be considered fun, anyway. It was tough, but that was because I pushed myself to run up the hill harder – NOT because I was fighting the overwhelming urge to give up and stop. I attacked the hill, rather than allow it to defeat me. No tantrums or mental battles ensued.

I think I’ve finally figured out why I care so much about this change in attitude: building mental strength – regardless of where it comes from or what it’s developed for – has a positive impact on other areas of my life. Being someone who constantly struggles with confidence and also has a burning desire to accomplish certain things within my lifetime, I need all the mental strength I can get.

After a pretty big motivational slump, this week I finally started to make some real progress in other areas of my life in the way of side projects, start up stuff, market research consulting, etc. I’m starting to think it wasn’t a coincidence.


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