H is for Hills (and F should have been for Falling)

HEveryone hates running hills, and I am no exception. Hills hurt. Even going downhill, which seems like it might be far easier and more rewarding than running uphill, carries its own perils and pains. My daily running route of late has not been very hilly (because I’ve come down with a bad case of lazy)—but over the past year, my usual loop included a lot of ups and downs, none very long or terribly extreme, but with enough variety to keep me in pretty good hill shape. Or so I thought.

In February, I ran my first (and possibly only) trail half marathon with my pal Cami who has done a lot of marathons. I wanted to sign up for the 10k, but she talked me into doing the half . . . “It’ll be fun,” she said. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be that much fun, but I acquiesced, not wanting to appear wimpish. How bad could it be?ft ebey 1

Bad. I’d never run a trail race before—not a single-track race where five hundred people share a mere two-foot wide path, a hilly, winding, steep up, steep down, muddy trail. In all the time I’d been running up to that date, I had not ever fallen down while running. Not once. Yet I fell twice during that trail half marathon—once while running up one of the bazillion hills, and once while running on the flat.

The first fall surprised me early in the race when I still had a fair amount of energy. I took a muddy uphill switchback too fast and my foot slipped. My face landed in the muddy trail in front of me, but I jumped up quickly, brushed myself off, and moved on. The second fall came sometime after mile eight, by which point I felt exhausted. I could barely pick up my feet and that’s what caused the fall. I hit a root and went down hard. I did not bounce back up quickly.

I slogged on through the final five miles, up and down, down and up. Relentless. With less than a mile and a half to go, the course opened up along a bluff overlooking Puget Sound, and just when the going looked easier (and breathtakingly beautiful), we came to one final uphill: a foot wide, completely vertical sandy path that wound endlessly skyward.

I could see the finish line over my left shoulder—I could stop here, skip this final hill, and call it quits. Or, I could complete the climb and follow the rest of the runners back into the woods and finish the race.

Quit or forge ahead? I’d come this far, I told myself, so I dug in. I could climb this final (I hoped) hill. I channeled The Little Engine That Could. I visualized all the hills I normally ran every day and strung them together in my mind, and I got to the top of that damn cliff.

ft ebey 3Climbing the hills makes us stronger and gives us stamina for the long flat stretches. We can always catch our breath on the backside, on the way back down.

What awaits us at
The top is unimportant.
‘Tis the climb that counts.

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