Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Magic in the hills

Today’s run was “hill work” by ordinary, tactical terms. You could call it grunt work, drudgery, etc. I used to call these efforts Lance Armstrong workouts based on what I had read regarding his training methods. It used to provide an exalted attribute level to the burdensome work. You basically are doing hill repeats for some period of time.

Todaywas different. It represented something mystical and provided another breakthrough for me.

Last week, Matt Estes left me a message indicating 10 hills by my house on Tuesday night. I thought, “This guy is insane”. I can’t do THAT HILL 10 times, and I sure can’t hang with HIM on it. Then, a message inquiring last night. Ughh! Do I really need to admit that I’m not up to it? Heck, I haven't done serious hill repeats in years. I just did a 30 miler on Saturday, and he clocked 2:52 at Hyannis on Sunday. He is not human! It sure seemed like a negative attitude, so I thought about a more positive way to attack this challenge. I know that Matt’s training can only help me get better. It’s proven for him and it’s a unique opportunity to train with a great athlete.

OK, I know I can do the hill at least once because I have run it several times. It’s only 200+ vertical feet of climbing and about 0.5 miles in length depending on where you start/stop. So, 5 times is 1,000-1,200 feet of climbing which is respectable anywhere. It’s not 10, but it’s a start. Another flank on the hill gives a straighter shot with less traffic and frankly seems a bit less intimidating (perhaps more sustained, but less steep). I decided to give it a go by myself first to get a baseline.

The first mile was an easy warm up leading to the base of the hill. I held back a little on the first hill, but it was close to my usual pace. It didn’t feel too bad and somehow I convinced myself that 6 would be a reasonable total. I remember climbing this hill for the first time last summer and thinking my heart would burst through my chest. Now, I’m doing repeats on the bloody monster. The second lap was fine. I was surprised that my downhill pace was so close to my uphill pace. It was taking 3:30-4:00 to go up and 3:00 to go down. Hmm, interesting. I’ve been known as a good downhill runner, but not so much on the uphills. Lots of analysis going on in my brain. How long is this hill anyway?

I watched the garbage trucks, and the school buses pass. They must have thought I was crazy. After 4 laps, I could feel 6 would be achievable. Yes! My brain started asking if I could do 8 after the 5th was complete. The rationale was that 8 was close to 10, and would be a good baseline to put 10 within reach for next week. Eight was more respectable and would give me some decent mileage for the day.

I noticed that my pace really had not altered much at all, and realized that I still had plenty left in the tank. I started thinking about the hills we ran in high school and how much I hated them. Jjimmy Stephenson and Billy Felter would lead the way, and the rest of us slugs would bring up the rear. I was one of the slowest and always a disappointment to the coach as they had great expectations for me. I had good form, but no lungs or endurance. My priorities were more social in nature. I ran great when I could get a chance to run with Billy, but that was rare. We ran a hill called the Beaker at Winding Hills Park. It was brutal. I don’t think I ever finished the workouts. Coach would take my pulse and tell me to lay off the last one or two. I was happy to skip them, but also embarrassed in a way.

Back to reality…It’s cold out and this is February in CT. I’m almost 44 years old and still can’t stop competing. I love pushing myself to new limits.

I gave myself permission to drop the pace and walk if I had to, but 9 would be really good if I could manage it. If I included the hill back to the house, I could call it 10 for the day. If 9 felt good, I could consider doing a 10th.

Number 9 was tough, but my pace seemed to be holding steady for each lap. The ups were more like 4 min and the downs were 3-3:30 by eye (I wasn’t actually clocking them).

I decided that number 10 was for all the waddlers in the world, the slow pokes on the cross-country teams, and the people that never push the limits. I started the day hoping for 6 and barely got myself out the door. Now I was on the brink of a full 10 at a reasonable pace. They say you are always capable of more than you think. Today was a perfect example. I coasted down the hill throwing my arms in the air like Rocky Balboa. I rarely show any significant emotion, but I was elated.

Billy Felter would have been pleased. Jimmy Stephenson would have pushed for more. I wonder where they are today and if they even run. As for me, I’m already thinking I want to get my pace down on those hills. Faster! Faster! Faster!

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