The Power of Running Hills

Like many people who change their minds, I used to hate running.  It is well documented in this blog, but in short, I tried dozens of times, but would typically get all fired up, go run a few blocks, then quit.  Last January that all changed, and along with it came a very lucky consequence.

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Jim Schwan is the reason I’m now a runner and triathlete.  He put in silly hours by my side with relentless encouragement and support.  He volunteered for the Nashville Running Company Couch to 5K program that started this mess and I have literally never looked back.  But along with the boost and support of friends came an added bonus — the streets of East Nashville are loaded with hills.

I have been running hills since day one.  I wouldn’t call them monsters, but it’s hard to run more than a few blocks in East Nashville without shortening your stride.

At first I dreaded the climbs (even the descents) but now . . . I am not kidding when I say I prefer to run hills.

It’s similar with the bike.  There is something about hills that engages the competitive spirit in me.  Running or biking a long flat drives me bat shit crazy.  You just cruise along at the same rate with the same stride, using the same muscles over and over and over, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised if people who only run flats get more injuries.

The reason I love triathlon is that it works the whole body.  In the course of a race, every muscle is tested and running hills gives you a better overall leg workout.  Not to mention, you typically run with better form.

When you tackle a hill, your mind is focused.  You’re not talking about the Royal baby with someone cruising along next to you.  You are in a zone, focused on your stride and breathing.

I really think concentration is the most underrated part of good workouts.  You’re not drifting off to songs on your iPod, or reading a magazine on a Stairmaster, you’re meditating in motion.  And when you’re in the moment, results are always better.

When I run hills I am in an intensely in the present.  I’m focused on the next step and the next breath.  Hills also create mini “ends” within the race because there is nothing as awesome as getting to the top.

Tonight, I had a hill repeat workout on the schedule.  20 minute warm up, followed by 6 x 3 minute climbs with 5 minute descent between.  Cool down to equal 60 minutes.  The worst part of that run, by far, was the flats leading up to and following the hill portions.

The run course at for my recent Half Ironman in Muncie was rolling, but the hills barely fazed me.  There were, however, tons of people who opted for walking.  These are the times when I feel lucky that I started my training in East Nashville.

I finished 17th overall in my age group at Muncie, but only 10 out of 88 ran a faster 1/2 marathon time.  I believe that is a direct reflection on not only running hills, but my growing desire to seek them out.

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