The title of today’s blog thingy is a reference to a post I made last year called “All Hail the King”. If you haven’t read it and would rather skip the back story, feel free to just substitute the above title with “Argh! Hills!”
(Ideally, you should just do this using the power of imagination; I don’t want to be held responsible for people scribbling on their computer screens in permanent marker).
Anyway, what I want to talk about today is the practice of running up things and then running down them again, sometimes at varying speeds. I refuse to call them “hill sprints”, and anyone who’s actually seen me run will understand why. There’s a world of difference between “sprinting” and “flailing about like someone’s put me in lead diving boots, which they’ve filled with soldier ants before setting them on fire*”.
It started off as an impromptu Sunday afternoon plod. Despite my attempts at imbuing my runs with a sense of structure, this one was just a case of finding myself with an hour to spare and deciding to head out and play. As I set out from home, my aims were nothing fancy, just a steady five miles. But then a mile in, my eyes were drawn across the road to my left. Blueberry Hill. Blueberry HILL. I’d read about the benefits of hill training, and they were fairly high up my To Do list, along with tempo runs, fartleks, strides and numerous other types of training run. I’m not sure if any of the regular visitors to this blog are non-runners, but if so I could have hours of fun making up new and convincingly-titled types of run, and they’d never know. But I won’t do that, because that’d be cruel and very immature.
Anyway, as I was saying, hill training was one of things I was planning to put into my training schedule, along with Giraffe Sprints, Flying Dookies, Barefaced Albanian Banjo Thrusts and, weather permitting, some Transdimensional Shuffles.
So, hills it was. Buzzing with that lovely feeling you get when allowing yourself an unexpected detour, I crossed the road and minutes later found myself crunching down a light gravel path, pungent blueberries to my left and right. One of the reasons I wanted to have a go at some hillwork was that I’d yet to properly establish my maximum heart rate. I’d read that standard formulas of 220 – Age or 205 – (Age/2) aren’t always accurate, so instead of doing sums I’d decided on the much more caveman approach of pushing myself to the limit on some hills and seeing how high my HR went at the peak of exertion.
What followed was half an hour or so of hilly fun, or undulating tomfoolery at least, as I ran up the uppy bits (I’m reluctant to use the word “sped”) and gently ambled down the downy bits. I repeated this half a dozen times (on TKOTABD, for those of you who’ve read All Hail the King), but while it was nice to finally have a proper(ish) crack at some hillwork, it wasn’t the HR test I’d wanted it to be. On my first half-marathon my heart rate had peaked at 181bpm, but today my legs started to tire long before my heart and lungs gave so much as a grumble, and I only managed to bring it up to a relatively limp 170bpm. I think this was probably caused by my overcooking my training a bit over the last couple of weeks coupled with a general lack of hill experience. There’ll be other runs, so I’m not going to lose sleep over it.
One little bit of social awkwardness (because none of my runs would be complete without one) came from the fact that I was far from alone while doing my hill repeats. Although I usually pretty much have Blueberry Hill to myself, today was different. Sharing my supposedly secret route was a couple walking their dog and also, bizarrely, a security guard in a little golf-buggy type thing with a flashing orange light on top. Where it got really odd was in the fact that, rather than carrying on in their respective directions, dog couple and security guard were also turning every now and then and hovering around the same quarter-mile stretch as me. During the course of my run we each crossed paths several times, and because of the nature of my training these crossings often involved me turning around at the top/bottom of the hill and (seemingly) chasing after them for a bit, before turning back around at the last minute. You know those bits in Scooby Doo where the monster/ghost/disgruntled lighthouse-keeper is chasing them along a corridor and they all keep going in and out of various doors, and sometimes it all gets muddled up and now and then we see Scooby and Shaggy inadvertently chasing the baddy? At one point Shaggy will be (hilariously) pushing a wheelbarrow with Scooby and the baddy both sitting in it. Anyway, wheelbarrow aside, that’s pretty much what this scene may have looked like to the casual, cartoon-fixated, observer.
The only other thing of note from this run was the journey home. The route from Blueberry Hill to my house is a straight line of just under a mile. So far in 2012 I’ve been alternating 11min/mile LSRs with 7:30-12:00min/mile treadmintervals (told you that phrase would stick). I wasn’t expecting to see any results from this any time soon, and my pace on the home stretch of this particular route is usually around the 9min/mile mark at best. It certainly felt like 9 today, but as I glanced down at my watch I was shocked to see that I was cruising along happily at just over 8min/mile. Out of curiosity I tried kicking it up a gear and my legs just did as they were told (and they never do that), purring like contented twin panther cubs** as the numbers on my Garmin dropped away until reaching a steady 7min/mile. It might not seem a lot to some (most) of you, and it only lasted for a few minutes before I slowed down to walk the last hundred yards to my door, but for me it was an achievement. Not so much for the speed itself, but more for the way it felt; no discomfort, no sense of ungainliness. It was like turning a tap on, or cranking up a volume dial. Not effortless, but natural
Running, for me, is stuffed full of joy and wonder, and this is never more profound than in these little moments.