Not exactly something you’d hear a Chicagoan runner say… since Cricket “Hill” doesn’t really qualify for its namesake status… but there really is something to running hills.
When I lived in the North Shore for two years post-undergrad, I had no choice. Hills were everywhere. My usual run outside the college where I lived (and worked) had a hill that usually met me at both the beginning and the end of my work-outs. It was hell during a snowy, icy, wintery day, but it was like redemption when I had a good day, when I felt like I could both power up and down it without hesitation. Of course, since returning to Chicago, my hill running has suffered, and if I want to do a long run on hills, I’ve no choice but to trek out to the burbs (not that I mind, but in the absence of a car, this could get challenging…)
Besides the mental challenge of powering through a hill, or maintaining control while running down one, there are a litany of other benefits to hill training — the upper-body strength, the confidence boost, and of course, just getting faster from doing it. You can incorporate hills into a long run for some nice variety, or you can simply do hill repeats, on an actual hill outside or on the treadmill. You really do have a lot of options–no matter your geographic locale.
I’ve been thinking about hills lately because I ran 15 miles with a buddy of mine on Sunday at the Morton Arboretum— a beautiful place, in and of itself, but also an excellent place to incorporate some quality hills into a run. One side of the park is a good 4.5 miles, and the other is 3 miles, making the possibilities pretty endless for how many miles you want to attack in any given day. That, and the fact that I’m knee-deep in Boston training, and Boston is known for its hills — not so much that they’re there but that their timing, late in the race, can mean trouble if you don’t run wisely for the first 16 miles.
Interestingly, my marathon and half-marathon PRs are both on hilly courses: 2008 Austin, TX’s marathon course and at last year’s March Madness half-marathon closer to home in Cary, IL. I’m determined to improve my full- and half-PRs this year, and it seems like hills may factor into the equation. On Saturday morning, the FF group and I will head out to Barrington for 16 lovely hilly miles. I’m truly looking forward to it!
Just like anything else in life, or in running, hills are just obstacles to be surmounted and to enjoy. You can grudge through it, with your head down, bemoaning your existence, or you can accept the challenge and the opportunity that the hill brings.
Yet another way that running seems to be such a perfect metaphor for the glories and tribulations of life…