Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hills, Baby!!!!

My first attempt at any major “hill” in a marathon was in ’08 at the Big Sur Marathon. Big Sur was a marathon on my radar screen since I ran the Seattle Marathon like, oh, a hundred years earlier; I was at the Seattle Expo and while wandering around, the Big Sur Marathon committee booth was showing a video of the race. It was love at first sight and I knew that someday, I wanted to run this one. I don't know about you, but I'm originally from a part of the country where I thought “rolling hills” were gigantuous. Then I moved to Colorado and good grief, did I learn what a hill was. Still, I didn’t love hills – and I still really don’t. So it’s not like I was actually going to attempt this little race any time soon – not until I got over my fear of running up them mountains in my backyard. I had twins to bare and a life to live, Big Sur was just a mere dream.


Fast forward 99 years, I was out on a little run over at the state park near my house and ran into a long-time running friend (Kathryn) whom I had not seen in ages. We used to run a lot together when our kids were itty-bitty; we’d share babysitting services to split the cost. Man, that seems like forever ago. Her and I had experienced a rather disastrous San Diego Marathon 5 years earlier which landed me in a medical tent with an IV fluid drip due to over dehydration (does one “overly” dehydrate or are you just “dehydrated” – either way, I was a mess!) and her in same tent for salt replenishments. I think I endured the worst lack-of-hydration fate…but it’s not the contest I really relished winning. I gave up marathoning for 5 years because of said little H2O incident; I was scared to death I was going to just do that – die! I’m all about dying doing what you love vs. cancer or some other long, agonizing process, but at the age of 36 with 3 little kiddos at home, now just didn’t seem like the right time.

So Kathryn and I start chatting on a beautiful sun-filled mid-October afternoon and getting caught up in past running memories. Before I knew it, we’re at Starbucks with internet access making hotel reservations, cashing in frequent flyer miles and registering for the Big Sur Marathon. Which was 6 months later.

Good Lord, what did I just do? I hadn’t run a marathon in a bit over 5 years and any sort of race at all was fast approaching 3 years. I was 15 lbs over marathon weight. Big Sur was like nowhere even close to my reach! Yikes!

3 panic attacks later, I hired a personal trainer, I ate perfectly, I strength trained, I gave up alcohol (gasp) ... and I landed in a hospital with another serious bout of dehydration, which for a while my doctor was convinced was “the worst kidney infection I’ve ever seen.” Ha! HA, I said. I’m going to Big Sur and I’m going to run. I got to the start line of that race in the best shape I’d ever been in. In fact, I was beaming with so much confidence in my newly found body revision I was certain I could qualify for Boston.

The allure which makes Big Sur such a desired, sold-out quickly race, is that it’s drop-dead gorgeous. I have been to breath-taking gorgeous parts of the country before and I, myself, live in a state with profound beauty surrounding me. But no beauty has beat my heart faster than that of the ocean along the Big Sur coast. I was in heaven and I ran like I had no fear in the world.

I won’t indulge in great detail about this little lack-of-hill-fear strategy but suffice it to say, running a pace almost a minute/mile faster than I ever had in a marathon and enduring a 2-mile long hill with a 83% grade (really! ;) ) at mile 11 slammed me back to reality (Me at notorious Hurricane Point). Oh, I cranked up that beast and high-fived everyone around me. But by the time the next round of hills came, and they came in abundance, I was leaving my breakfast at mile 18 and cramping with night-time Charlie horses in each calf. Boston at Big Sur? Hahaha, yeah - not so much Jilly!

Um yeah, I was not ready to run those hills in Big Sur. No kidding!! At least not at a neck-breaking pace I envisioned. It took me many months to get over that race and move on but soon, I was racing up Mt. Evans (4000’ up in 14.5 miles) and Pikes Peak (8000’ up in 13.1 miles). By golly, if I can’t beat ‘em, I was going to join ‘em. Still, I was no mountain goat. People ran past me in those races like I was standing still; I was gagging for air, they were breezing by. The last mile alone in Pikes Peak took me 38 minutes. 38!!

But I did them and I continuted more strength training and I ran hills in my daily routes. I still didn’t enjoy these things called hills but I no longer feared them. I entered Boston (finally qualifying in St. George, a downhill race thank you :), 6 months after Big Sur) in great shape again and ready to tackle the hills from miles from 17- 20. I mean, look at the profile, they aren’t THAT bad. A friend had been there the week before on business and said they were “nothing.” Okay, I’m ready, bring ‘em on!!! I finished those nothing-hills in Boston last year and I never could regain my pace again. Leg cramps, stomach cramps and come mile 22, I swore I’d never run another marathon. Ever.

So here I am, 4 marathons later, ready to tackle Boston again. No one ever said I run with all marbles intact but I try to stamp out all temper tantrums I have during a race 2 days later. Those are just well-deserved rants, nothing more. To me, there’s nothing like a bad race to fuel my desire to tackle it smarter next time. One day I’ll be back to Big Sur, that I promise, but the race of focus for me right now is Boston … and not just Boston, but those notorious calf-burning hills to be precise!

What am I doing differently? Well, first, I’m doing a lot of hill repeats. Not at neck-breaking paces, but at a pace that feels challenging yet doable. I’m running my recovery runs with some hills in them. I’m relaxing my upper body and not tensing it when I attack upwards. I’m keeping my arms at my sides, pumping me forward and not swishing across my chest like we do with normal running. And the key component I think that’s helping me, I’m doing a sh*%-load of glute and core work: 3-way lunges, glute bridges, leg press, dead-lifts, step ups. Oh man, I feel the muscles in this aging booty getting stronger; yesterday I finished my 12x400’s @5-7% feeling amazing. Huh??? ME??? Hell yea, me!! I think this is the confidence that anxiety- ridden me needs when I get to the start line of Boston this year.

I hear I have a little party awaiting me when I cross that finish line on Boylston Street; but more than I want to celebrate that it’s my birthday on Boston race day, I want to ceremonialize conquering those dag-nabbit stinking beasty hills starting in Newton and finishing at the top of Heart Break that broke my spirit last year. I will not let them defeat me this year.

Upward and onward, friends!

Here are a few HILL facts I found:
1. On average people run 23% slower up hill and only 13.8% faster down hill.
2. You can pick up speed if you got better at running downhills.
3. People slow down about 0.082 m/s for every 1% change in gradient.
An interesting point the researchers noted was the “memory effect” of gradients. After an uphill, it took an average of 78 seconds on level ground before runners resumed their normal speeds. After a downhill, runners maintained higher speeds for an average of 23 seconds. The goal should be to distribute effort as evenly as possible. So you might want to go a little slower on the uphills and then focus on resuming your “normal” pace as soon as possible after the hill (precisely the opposite of the way I’ve always raced, I’m sad to say!). And go a little harder on downhills instead of letting yourself recover

35 comments:

Irene said...

Great post. Yeah, I think you're prepared for a few hills, and maybe a mountain or two...

I loved this post! It makes me want to go out and run hill repeats!

Char said...

I hate hills too. I'm so bad at them but if those pics are an example of the views I don't blame you for running them. If you ever get to Australia to race Great Ocean Road Marathon has great views too.

Marathonman101108 said...

That is one of the most heartfelt and inspirational posts I have ever read. I was with you with every word I read. I live in Connecticut and am going to do my best to go support you and my other blogging buddies at Boston. This 53 year old man is (almost) motivated to run another marathon after reading this. The key word is "almost!" Thanks for a great start to my day. Continue to stay focused the next 73+ days. "Eye of the Tiger" Jill. Darn, now that sog's stuck in my head...

ajh said...

wow! You are such an inspiration. You keep going with numerous challenges that ordinary people would give up on. It sounds like you have hill figured out! Great luck at the Boston Marathon and rock it on your birthday!

Julie said...

Hi Jill,
This is a great post on hills and it gave me a little more information about you personallY:) I love your posts because of the little details that you share! Way to tackle and get up those hills! You are ready for Boston and you will do awesome! I really wish that I could go to Boston and cheer on everyone that is running! I love the pictures! Good Lord Jill, you have awesome strong and toned legs:) Have a great day Jill!

Jenn said...

Wow-very informative post!! I know nothing of "hills" but I'm feeling a little more confident now that I've increased the leg training and incorporated a lot of incline into my treadmill runs! The marathon I ran gets similar reviews to Boston as far as hills go so I'm hoping I'm not in the shock tank at mile 17. You will do awesome!! I can't wait for your party!!!

Jamoosh said...

I love the line "15 pounds over marathon weight." Only a runner would say that!

Staci Dombroski said...

Okay, I need to go do some hill work now! I feel like I am underprepared :-)

C2Iowa said...

Like everyone said, wow. Like the pics. You definitely provide an inspiration.

TMB @ RACING WITH BABES said...

Wow! That was a great post. Love the facts about hills. Makes me want to go do a hill workout now!

Running Through Life said...

Way to tackle those hills!

Marlene said...

Excellent post! I love your story and some great advice too.

I want to run Big Sur so badly.... it looks and sounds just incredible.

The hills of Boston will be your bit*hes.

Teamarcia said...

Wow that is everything I've ever wanted to know about hills and more! Me? Enjoy them? Um not so much. I knew Big Sur was hilly but not that hilly. Thanks for this post. You have great perspective. You'll be long gone but I'll celebrate at the Boston finish line in honor of your bday too! : )

candlerun (htabby) said...

I really enjoyed this post! Full of thought, emotion, and just sharing your experience was quite the interesting read.

Thank you! :0)

ShutUpandRun said...

Oh yeah, you have certainly tackled those hills. Mt. Evans and Pikes Peak? You are a monster, but all of that hard work has made you the running stud you are today. Nice recap of the past few years...

Anne Marie said...

Wow! Okay, first love that you have twins (me too!). Also love that your b-day is on Boston Marathon day- so cool! And thx SO much for the hill facts, especially focusing efforts to go a bit slower up, to go faster down.

elaine said...

Letting it all hang out on the downhills is what qualified me for Boston. Every marathon since has been slower. I totally need to redeem myself at Boston this year! See ya there.
E

onebadrunner said...

You are amazing!

Can you help me? I don't have a hill within 100 miles of me...literally. not one. no hills. none. i run stadium steps all summer.

and ps - I had a fleeting thought about doing another marathon & I yelled "Damn that JILL!"

Adam Culp (Crazy Floridian) said...

That is awesome Jill. You are going to tear up the course this year, I feel it.

Tony said...

That was one of the best posts I have ever read. Wow. Thank you for that. Those hill facts were really interesting.

Katie A. said...

"An interesting point the researchers noted was the “memory effect” of gradients. After an uphill, it took an average of 78 seconds on level ground before runners resumed their normal speeds. After a downhill, runners maintained higher speeds for an average of 23 seconds. The goal should be to distribute effort as evenly as possible. So you might want to go a little slower on the uphills and then focus on resuming your “normal” pace as soon as possible after the hill (precisely the opposite of the way I’ve always raced, I’m sad to say!). And go a little harder on downhills instead of letting yourself recover"
Sorry to cut a paste such a large section, but this really, really got me thinking! WOW! I am so a product of all of this. No matter how hard or well I do on an up hill, it still takes me while to get back to pre-hill pace. I have some work to do!

I loved reading about your Big Sur journey - but it also got me a bit nervous! I bit off a big chunk, didn't I! But your post gives me strength...I am sure I will be chaneling my inner-Jill out there! You have a remarkable way with words - thanks for sharing :)

I cannot wait for Boston! I catch myself daydreaming about it alllll the time! It seems so far away, like it will never happen, but then I see our ticker on our blogs and it says less than 75 days! OMG!

And yes, we will have a huge party at the finish for you! I can't wait!
(((huggss))) to you my friend!

Slomohusky said...

Nice post Jill. I found heaven on earth twice - Bali and the Cali Coast. Big Sur is my long term running goal. Maybe next year?
Thanks for the Hillfacts.

Glenn Jones said...

Interesting post Jill. I've heard a lot about the Big Sur Marathon. I love it up there - but for sightseeing - not running!

I think the key that I walked away with is the "challenging yet doable" pace.

Psyche said...

New reader, here. I really enjoyed this post, and look forward to following you on your journey to Bean Town. Have a great day:)

Tara said...

Jill! I will share my 40+ ounces of water with you any day; just ask!

I love this post, it's so REAL and honest. Did you seriously say 83% gradient? Holy cow. I thought Colorado hills were bad.

I really like your hill facts. I find it incredibly interesting that people slow about .082 m/s for every 1% change. Living in CO, there are so many gradient changes, no wonder I'm so damn slow. I am also working the opposite way of the "memory effect" of gradients. Hmmm...interesting.

Tina @GottaRunNow said...

Nice Big Sur pics! I can't wait to run there this April. I read your hills post just before my hillwork this AM, but didn't have time to post - had to run! Thought about it on the run - thanks!

jacqueline said...

thank you for sharing and motivating me to do more!

AZ said...

Boston is more down than up so be sure to practice running downhill too. Your quads will thank you.

Mikey B said...

I remember reading a runner never gains back the time running downhill that he/she lost running uphill. I didn't know the numbers behind that, however, and now I feel a lot smarter. Shame that upgrade in intelligence won't translate immediately into physical ability to run up those hills. :)

I loved the Big Sur story and you painted the perfect picture with your words. The photos, as always, compliment the tale nicely. Thanks for sharing.

I think you learned how to prepare well during Tucson's run, so I have no doubt your next marathon will be attacked with all the vigor your body and soul can muster.

By the way, you are the ONLY reason and person who could convince me to sign up for Chicago. (notice I picked a flat course after reading this blog!)

Mikey B

Meg said...

Love the post, Jilliete! I just started back with hills today and I felt kind of happy to be back to them. The going up is a challenge but the going down is where I feel freaky; do I go all out to build strength and speed or do I take it easy and let my body ease into the training. I feel like it's still a little early for me...anyway, I loved your details on Big Sur, that's one I definitely want to try! Hope your week went well!!!
megsie

shellyrm aka jogging stroller mama said...

Great post. You are the mountain master! (not hills...mountains!!)

Great facts...I did not know them. I love to great smarter!

Jennifer said...

Great comments and tricks about hill climbing! I am going to work with some of them when next I do any hill workouts. Nice images BTW, what an amazing landscape to run in! Cheers!

Adam said...

B2B is totally worth it for the hills. I'd do that one in a heartbeat.

Pumping your arms is the ONLY way to get up hills. Works great at any distance from 1M to marathon.

Mel -Tall Mom on the Run said...

Oh how I LOVE LOVE a nice long flat run. but to become the runner I want to be I have to embrace the hills.. I have turned on the positive attitude toward hills which is helping. course does not make me any faster.. Have a great weekend!

Anonymous said...

Great post Jill. Hope life is better this month. Been thinking about you all week. Stay positive and hang in there. Sorry i can't be there for your birthday. I am still kicking myself after missing it by 2 minutes at Ogden. i am training hard to try and make it next year. Be good. JC