Is there any lonelier figure than a runner doing a set of hill repeats on their own?
For a few minutes short of one hour today, I ran up and down a local hill. Hard up – recover on the way down – repeat. You have to be ready for this sort of session – you have to see what’s coming and wrap your arms around it. You need to be able to accept the pain with an open heart, because it always hurts and you know that from the start. If it doesn’t hurt, you’re just doing it wrong.
I think I was doing it right today because by the time I made it back to the office I was simultaneously, sick, tired, exhausted, happy and lathered in sweat. Ten repetitions was a good return for a man who’s enthusiassm was questionable from the outset. I don’t do this sort of session every week. I get occasional fits of enthusiasm and do ‘hills’ once each week for a month or so but then my commitment falters.
My hill of choice winds its way through a quiet residential neighbourhood for about 450m and can be approached from either of two different directions. I’ve heard such a route described as a ‘saddle-back’. As I trudge up and down its slopes, observed by the good people who might be washing their cars or clipping the hedge. I wonder what they make of the sight of a middle-aged man beating himself to a pulp on the concrete slope that runs past their front door. I watch them as they watch me – up, down – up, down – up, down. I’m tempted to think that I’m different from them, and they’re absolutely sure.
Running hills is one of the ultimate acts of faith in training. We trust that because we engage in such uncomfortable and difficult work that we shall emerge fitter and faster as a result. We can’t know for sure. We trust. For the moment I continue to trust because I have no choice.