Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Running Thoughts: slow and steady conquer hills

I've recently been running a lot with a friend from the lab, and whenever I run with her we hit the nearby trail.  There are a few reasons: 1) it's very shady in there so we would be avoiding the blazing sun or light rain, 2) it's beautiful in there with the trees, streams, and the Connecticut River, 3) it's soft, which my friend, who underwent knee surgery a few years ago, really liked, and 4) it's got some very nice hills for variety/ practice.  There are two big hills flanking either side of our 1.4-mile trail route, one  has an 80-foot climb over 0.2 miles, and the other has a ~60-foot climb over 0.1 mile.  I consider the former a longer, steadier incline, whereas the other I dubbed "the Big Ass Hill" (BAH).

From my first time running this trail (which was before I came to like running), to the workout we did today, I've climbed the BAH 4 times, and to my pleasant surprise each time I made progress.  The first time I broke my promise that I would run all the way up the hill and walked half the way, the second I went up with full speed ahead and nearly dropped on the ground afterwards, but did not stop to walk.  The last two times I instead adopted a "shut up and run" and "don't think too much about it" method and went up at a granny speed, slow and steady.  I still panted like a horse afterwards but at least I don't fear the hill anymore, and my serious panting started later and later on the hill run.

I've only gone up the steady, gradual hill twice, but there was also progress made between the first and the second time.  The first time I again went up too fast and had to stop and walk.  It didn't help that I ran into a professor in my department walking his dog with his wife right before we were about to go up the hill.  The second (and third, we went up there twice today) time was much better.  I again used the granny method, and just took my time.  And although I would not run out and start my own hill training class, and would still be too embarrassed to run up these hills with anyone else besides this friend, at least I'm going up there, and killing it.

I'm still working on running downhill.  One of the recent RW issue had a little thing on downhill running.  It emphasized the importance of practicing running downhills correctly, placing it right next to uphill training, and provided some tips on running correctly and proper training.  Granted I don't get to choose the hills I run, but I try to follow the directions the article gives on running it properly.  Head up, looking ~15-20 feet ahead, body tilting forward slightly, and all that jazz.  Still can't control the occasional pounding that goes straight to my hips, or my tendency to lean back when the hill is particularly steep (which apparently is bad for your knees).  As usual I can't control my speed.  Not that I don't enjoy flying down the hill like a running champ, I think I ultimately fear the speed more.

And I have to say, I really like going up the hills.  We did the trail loop 3 times today, which meant we had to choose which end we would start, and thus which hill we would run up twice.  We ended up running the steady, gradual one twice, and the BAH once, but I had a hard time making the decision, which means ultimately I really don't give a toss.  I fear the steady, gradual one more because I hadn't practice that one enough and the one experience was kind of miserable, but I see that as more reason I should practice it more.

I often thought that I like BAHs more than the steady and graduals because I like to get over the hills quickly rather than dragging it out, draining my breath.  But I think the truth is that I'm making one of my "Too" mistakes again: too fast.  We can all get up on a hill if we are not required a method.  In the worst case scenario we can just walk up there, though I think it actually takes more effort than slowly shuffle you way up.  But either way, the hills are not unconquerable, and even if you do run out of breath by the end you are likely not going to die, most likely, though I suppose there will always be exceptions.  But if you love your body more than going up a hill, chances are you will survive, and become better because of it.  Here's how I do it, at this stage of my inexperienced, out-of-shape running life.

1)  Mentally, you just can't think of it too much.  Of course you have to know that it's coming, either by running the route before or just by seeing that there is a hill coming up.  I don't think stumble onto a hill and having to adjust last minute helps at all.  But after you realized the fact that you have to go up a hill now, you have to forget, or at least, ignore the fact that you have a hill coming up.  Keep eyeing the top of the hill and worry about how steep it's going to be or how long it drags out is going to make you more nervous; your heart would beat even faster, and sometimes I get a wave of coldness over me that really doesn't help.  I do mentras in my head when I get distracted by the dauntingness of the hill.  The usual ones are either "don't think about it, just go" or "just shut up and run".  Sometime "it's not going to kill you" pops up and that's a good one too.  But the bottom-line is, just don't be too scared of it, it's just a frigging hill.

2)  Of course, I have neither the physical ability nor any competitive pressure to go up any hills really quickly, so I can afford to be fearless.  In terms of physically going up a hill without stopping to walk, it really all comes down to slow and steady.  Back straight, elbows back, head up, eyes straight (of course I stare just a few feet in front of me so I don't see how far I still have to go), and hop up like you are running up a long flight of stairs.  And go as slow as you can without stopping to walk, and just make your way up until you are down.  When going up the BAH my pantings still get louder and louder about halfway up, and sometimes my legs buckle when I make it all the way up, and today, when going down the same hill again just after about a minute of walking around catching up my breath, I had a momentary fear that my legs would lose control and that I would trip and tumble down the hill.  At some point I'll have to go back and work on my speed, but right now this is good enough.

I don't think I will enjoy running up a mountain.  I think running uphills uses a slightly different set of muscles than running on relatively flat ground and the change is refreshing.  So is going down hills, yet another set of muscles. I don't think anyone like to climb 30 flights of stairs, but there are some crazy runners out there who would race up Mt. Washington.  I'm definitely not physically there yet, nor would I like the constant, really long ass steady, gradual climb.  Variety is good.

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