Sunday, August 25

Killing the Hills

So yesterday's 5k was good by all standards--breathing, endurance, and completion--except speed. But I'm not upset about not getting a new PR. I realized about half way through the race that I wasn't going to hit my target. And do you know why that is?

I breathe really hard going up hills and I usually have to slow way down to catch my breath. Running small hills or flat surfaces allows me to really get my asthmatic breathing under control. I feel so good running now that it's hard to compare it to how I felt a year ago before I really got serious about controlling my asthma.

Hills. They are not my favorite. Unfortunately for me, I live in western Pennsylvania where hills are just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday afternoon I took a run around my neighborhood and challenged myself to run this one road that goes towards my house. It is basically a roller coaster.

Starting out flat, it progresses into a steep turn. It flattens out slightly for about a quarter mile, then there is an S-curve dip (where most cars cross the lines because they take it too fast).

What next? An uphill climb that provides, when you crest it, a beautiful view of your next two hill. Yes, there are more. Up and down until a final downhill coast around a bend. I've included these pictures of my hilly route (in the order they appear). They can't quite capture all the steepness and rolling hill feeling you get while running them.

At yesterday's race, Run Around the Square (Pittsburgh), I know I did better than I did the previous year, especially with the hills. The course is the same. It runs through one of Pittsburgh's parks, so it's part (brick) road course, part trail course.

When I realized I was going up one of the longer hills, I took note of how I felt doing it and recognized that I was doing really well.

I think some of that is due to my work on the *mental* aspect of climbing hills. I used to stare down the crest of the hill. Not anymore. I find little landmarks to stare down. Once I reach the landmark, I pick a new one.

Usually it goes like this:
"Okay, I'm feeling a little tired up this hill. Get to that crack in the pavement. Then you can stop."

Then I reach the crack in the pavement and still feel tired--but not any worse (this is my key). So then I choose someone's mailbox, a certain tree, a road sign, a crosswalk, a rock... whatever. I run to that and see how I feel.

When I get to the top of the hill, I feel like a real champ. Like a million dollars.

What's funny about my new hilly route is that the hills just keep coming! So it's a real mental workout on top of my physical workout.

My goal is to run this hilly road at minimum twice a month (every other week) to build my stamina.

When I include a few other roads from my house, this makes a nice four mile loop. Completely do-able and not ridiculous. I know these are a weakness of mine, so I'm really going to focus on it to come out on top.

Do you/did you struggle with hills? Any other tips on how to master these landforms?


  1. I kind of love hills. I don't know why... because they are hard and they take a lot out of you. But my cross country coach in high school taught me to be an aggressive hill runner and it just stuck with me. Now its my competitive advantage during races. I can pass a lot of people because I just book it on those hills. The more you embrace them as a advantage, I think it changes the way you run on them. Plus, where I live is totally hilly, so I couldn't avoid them even if I tried :)

  2. Alicia, I'm happy to hear from someone with encouragement. I'm in hills no matter where I am in western PA, so I'm going to try to make them my advantage from now on!


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