Running up and down hills is just part of a trail runner’s lifestyle, right? That quad-burning, breathless sweat torture is what we eat, sleep and dream of, am I wrong? Some of us momma trail runners get their climb on between potty training, scrambling eggs, 5th-grade word problems and the 9 to 5. We must love it!
* Loud-screechy-tire-skidding-braking-sound *
Love it? Not necessarily.
Welcome to part 1 of my 3-part series on running hills
I want to share with you my experience with running trail hills in hopes that I can help you enjoy the ups and downs of trail running, no matter where you are on your journey. Let’s use the ol’ myth-busting strategy to get a deeper look at the mindset of running hills and sprinkle in practical tips to getting up and over those mental (and actual) hurdles.
Myth #1: If you are a trail runner, you must love running hills
As you might already know about me, when I first started trail running, I kinda hated it.
Up, down, no rhythm, no breathing, legs hurting, no fun. Have you been there? I saw them as a means to an end; if I did the climb, I got the view. Hills were the necessary evil in the sport I otherwise was growing to really enjoy.
I was a trail runner who did not love hills. (Anyone else out there like me?)
I didn’t let on, however. Some friends and family already thought I was crazy, so why tell them that I actually didn’t like what I did every weekend for hours on end?
This made me start to feel like a phony. After all, I had running friends who craved hills, picked only races that were mountains stacked on mountains. Like the walking routes to school your parents’ told you about; uphill both ways!
Truth #1: Hills happen
Somewhere in my journey, though, I figured out that hills happen. They’re everywhere! It’s just that my head was really dead-set against going up them.
So, I signed up for a trail marathon. I figured that if I had to train on hills, I would somehow catch the “love-running-hills-bug” by race day. I ran a bunch of hills in training.
The race was hard. Beyond hard. The first 10 miles was UP. We’re talking ONE, 5,000 foot hill.
At the start of the race, I was quickly reminded that I did not love hills. Smiling people ran past me. Lots of people ran past.
Almost ALL the people!
My only comfort was the thought in my head that I would not have to run this race again.
I still wasn’t sure how I was going to avoid hills and be a trail runner though, because, even after all the training and the race, I did not feel the love.
I felt something else though
Strength. Even though I wasn’t super happy with my hill performance that day and I didn’t fall in love, I did feel pretty kick ass! I finished! I felt strong. That’s kinda like love, right?
It was close enough to make me want to tackle that big 10-mile hill again 2 years later. I know! Cra Cra!!
Except this time, I didn’t want to feel like I hated that hill. If I couldn’t fall in love with it, I would at least have a crush on it, get along with it or see it eye to eye somehow. With help from my fabulous and amazing coach, I started a new training plan.
Here’s what I did differently the second time
1. Training specificity: I didn’t realize what it meant to train for that kind of hill. I wasn’t prepared the first time around. Sure, I did a bunch of hilly runs during my training sessions, but I didn’t run the type of hills that were in my race. The second time, I ran looooong hills with a similar grade to what the race offered. That gave me the physical stamina as well as the mental stamina I needed.
2. Segmenting the trail: I mentally split the race into sections so that I could focus on one part at a time. The big hill was first, but after that section, I let it go and shifted into the next phase of terrain, then the next. Segmenting helped me focus on the task at hand and simplified it for my brain.
3. Creating a relationship with the trail: This is just as important as the other two strategies. Carrying that “I don’t like running hills” feeling around with me for years was a barrier to working with the terrain, a barrier to feeling, to enjoying and running in harmony with the hills I so often encountered. When I started to view hills as a partner in my runs, in my race, it lifted the barrier and let me embrace my own strength and my own special relationship to trail running and running hills.
What happened next?
Magic trail running rainbow unicorns of course!
In all seriousness, my strategies worked and I had a 30 minute PR. But that’s not really the important thing. The most important thing is that I let go of my resistance, my fear of never being good enough and my worry about being a phony because I didn’t love hills. I embraced exactly where I was in my relationship with hills, then learned to work with them, not against them. Did I turn into a hill lover? You’ll have to read the rest of the series to find out.
Just like the variety that trail running gives you, your relationship to it changes too. Next week, we’ll chat more about hills and some practical tips on running form.
What has been your struggle or breakthrough with hills? Is it a love-hate? I would love to know. Throw me a comment below.