Last year, I participated in my first triathlon. It had been YEARS (probably at least a decade!) since I had been on a bike…so that needed to change! Ruthie found a deal on a bike for me on Craigslist and I started training with Doug, as he’s been a cyclist for quite some time. I was scared of a lot of things-riding in traffic, hitting potholes, remembering hand signals, and, well…falling over! But I was PETRIFIED of hills, but not necessarily because they are physically difficult. Unlike running, when I am completely dependent on my own body (which I can control), I was dependent on more than just myself. All of a sudden, I had to be dependent on this machine, and learn to pair my body’s ability to that of the bike to work together.I have never owned a bike with gears before so I was practically starting from square one. I needed to learn which chain ring I should use, how low or high of a gear to be in, and Lord almighty…I had to get up out of my seat! Basically, I had to approach cycling the hill with a different strategy than just cruising along on a flat road. I couldn’t ride up the hill without changing my effort, my breathing, my stance, and most importantly, my attitude. After lots of yelling, cursing (sorry Doug!), and crying, and primarily with Doug’s help, I realized that the hills are doable and will only make me a stronger cyclist. I just need to be smart in my approach, and have a good attitude about it (that’s the hard part!)
It’s the same with running. When I see a hill coming, or know there’s a hill coming on a familiar course, I have to change my approach. My pace slows. My breathing slows, becoming more regular and more intentional. I become smaller and tighter with my head down and arms tucked. I shorten my stride and try to land more on my forefoot than my heal or mid-foot. I look down at my feet, because looking up at the hill will only make it seem more difficult than it needs to be.
Most of the change in my approach, however, is mental. I read a book a couple of years ago and a quote stood out to me….”It’s not hard, it’s just up.” Well come on now, hills ARE hard AND up, right? Yes…but the more I can do to convince myself that I can tackle this, the better.
I tell myself that the hill won’t go on forever….there will be a point where it levels out and I can catch my breath! Even better, there may be a downhill after reaching the top! Woohoo!
I tell myself that the hills will only serve to make me a stronger, and maybe even faster, runner. It will make the times I’m running on flat/fast roads even easier! And most importantly, it will make me appreciate those times of seemingly effortless running, when I don’t have to concern myself with hills.
And then there’s times when I reach the top of the hill, only to realize that there’s another hill waiting for me. So I hunker down and do it all over again.
I think it was Oprah Winfrey that something something about running being a great metaphor for life. How true it is. Let’s face it…we’re all going to face hills in our life. Challenges. Hurdles.
Illness. Loss of a job. Loss of a loved one. Depression or anxiety. Disappointment. Goals not met. Unfairness. Family strife. Expectations not met. These are hills that no one wants to tackle! It may be something less concerning-maybe relocating, looking for a new job, trying to lose weight or eat better.
When we encounter a hill in our life, there’s not easy way to climb up. Just like with running or cycling, we need to change our approach. We change our mindset, we slow down, we engage in self-talk (I can do this!), we breathe more, we tell ourselves that it won’t last forever and at some point will level out. We tell ourselves that facing this hill will serve to make us a stronger person overall. And, sometimes, just like with running and cycling, we may reach the top of our ‘hill’ only to see that another hill is waiting.
We’re all going to face hills. My hope is that you know that I will run the hill with you. I will run alongside you, encourage you, support you, and reach the top with you! You’re not in this alone.
“The battle of life is, in most cases, fought uphill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honor. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved.”
–Samuel Smiles (Scottish author)