Eight miles into this week's 15-mile run, I met an old friend: A hill.
As long as I can remember, hills and I have gotten along quite well. (I thank my high school cross country coach, who dragged us to Heartbreak Hill, Nashoba Valley Ski Area and other God-forsaken spots for hill workouts.) In crowded races, I almost always pass folks on hills and often use them to begin a surge or, if nothing else, regain momentum lost.
This hill hit me hard, though. I don't know why. My route was a familiar one (heck, it used to be my drive home from work), I was running well (I'd eventually finish 20-plus seconds faster than my target pace) and the temperature had finally dropped to a relatively comfortable level.
For eastern Massachusetts, it's a decent hill -- probably half a mile, and steep enough that your quads burn even after the terrain levels. As I ran on Wednesday, I remembered ascending the same hill a couple winters ago, when it had been about 70 degrees colder, quite a bit darker and a teensy bit more slippery.
Suddenly the present didn't seem so bad. As I have many times before, I held form on the hill and coasted home.
Don't get me wrong. Hills suck. But powering through them will only make you a stronger runner. There's a reason I remember those workouts from high school, along with the topography (but not the name) of several streets in my hometown. Simply put, those workouts worked.
The next time you do a familiar run, scope out the hills. The time after that, turn the run into a fartlek workout: Sprint up the hills and rest in between.
Or, if there's a hilly neighborhood nearby, and a street bisecting it, run intervals on the side streets. Initially, aim for a pace that makes you breathe hard but isn't an all-out sprint -- after all, you should do several intervals. The stronger you get, obviously, the faster you should go.
Hills take a toll on your quads, so be sure to stretch well after your run, and don't do hills more than once a week. After a few weeks, those hills will get a bit easier -- and, in your next race, you very well may find yourself leading the charge up the biggest hill on the course.