As I was entering Mile 6 of the 2014 GO! St. Louis Half Marathon last week, I was anxious to tackle the infamous “Holy Hill”. Black inflatable arches and a priest throwing holy water on runners signify the start of this two-mile segment of the course. As holy water sprinkled my head, Kurt Cobain screamed in my ears. On this day, the anniversary of his death, the irony was inescapable.
Runners know they should include hill training in their regiment to succeed. I’ve sporadically done hill repeats as part of my training. For me though, I like climbing up a good hill and picking off other runners one at a time. This is my own personal challenge during races that began with keeping a “roadkill” tally on the side of our Hood to Coast relay van. So, if it’s not the expanse of uphill and the strain on muscles, what is it about hills that I fear?
In the disappointing wake of my “Holy Hill” build up, it came to me. Simply put…what I fear about hills is the downside. Others speed up and race down hills as if they are counterattacking my uphill pursuit. My pace declines on the descent. My knees tend to hurt, or act as if they know they will soon. I fear tripping over my feet and tumbling down. I even feel like my stride changes unnaturally. This past weekend, I was lucky. A long, slow uphill resulted in a small, almost irrelevant downhill. At that point, I knew the race would end well.
A day later, I opened the mailbox and found theMay 2014 issue of Runner’s World. The editor’s must have sensed that I have been thinking about hills. As I flipped through it, the first article that caught my attention was “Down You Go!” by Cindy Kuzma. It’s about descent training. “On level ground, these muscles shorten as they fire; on declines, they elongate while under tension as they work to control your speed. This creates more microtears in each fiber, which stimulates muscle growth but leaves you fatigued and sore… The muscle you build working on the decline translate into faster paces on any terrain.” It continues with solid advice about the types of slopes to train on, proper form, and when and how often to include descent training leading up to a race. I have a feeling this will be read and re-read becoming part of my training program.
So as I head into a season of warmer weather, it's time to set a new goal: make ascent and descent training a weekly occurrence. I'm not getting any younger but maybe I can get a little faster, correct my stride, and conquer my fear of what’s to come over the hill.
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