Certain names can bring chills and shudders to even the strongest-willed runners. I don't mean the names of our competitors, either. No, I'm talking about the names we give to that which challenges many of us the most – the HILLS!
I have had my fair share of run-ins with these naturally occurring "geological anomalies," as I refer to them. Perhaps the most famous hill known to runners is Boston's Heartbreak Hill. I once had pizza at a local shop that was located on Heartbreak. "That doesn't look so bad," I uttered to the rest of my dining mates. Dumb thing to say.
Heartbreak is actually a series of three or four hills that occur in the worst of possible places on a marathon course, between miles 16 and 21. Individually they really aren't that bad. Collectively, however… well, bad things occur there. And after you've made it up, you get the sheer misery of running DOWN into Boston proper. My third year running Boston, 1991, I ended up taking the T back into the city, having dropped out at the very top of Heartbreak Hill. That was also the year of my above "mis-statement."
Other hill names and course names can bring about the same fear, the same aversion and the same dread. Saytr Hill on the old Baltimore Marathon course was one such hill. It was a nasty little bugger that occurred just past 20 mile and it was longer and steeper than Heartbreak. Cemetery Hill is located at mile six of the seven mile Litchfield Hills Road Race in Connecticut. I once passed Bill Rodgers going up Cemetery Hill. Boston Bill is 16 years older than me, but I don't care. I passed him on a hill and I beat him!
I'm not sure why we runners have such an aversion to geological anomalies. I have always viewed them as challenges to be met and beaten into submission. One of my former training groups used a two-mile hill climb in Virginia as our annual "I'm ready to race" workout. The Tower Hill run (yes, it had a name) "unofficial" course record is 18 minutes. I broke 20, but barely. That was the longest two miles of my life, but I savored every step, knowing my fitness was "race ready."
It is true we suffer from a lack of substantial hills in and around north central Delaware, particularly below the canal. But there are still opportunities to defy gravity. Ever run to Townsend and back along Route 71/Summit Bridge Road? Or how about Noxontown Road to Money Road and back? And the canal offers a few opportunities to go up and down, up and down, up and down. Take a partner along, though.
I'm not sure why the hill from the Brandywine Zoo to Rockford Tower in Wilmington hasn't been given a nasty name yet. Many who train for the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon, Delaware Marathon or MS 10k know they will be racing up and down that nearly two-mile climb. But still no nasty name. How about "Andy's Climb"?
Page 2 of 2 - Hills build strength. Hills improve our stride and turn-over. Hills help us adapt to speed and pace. Hills challenge our mental acuity and toughness. And yes, hills increase our depth and knowledge of profane language. I have often referred to hills as "speed work in disguise." For anyone wanting to run further or faster, the easiest answer is the hill.
While in college, almost every workout route we ran was known as a hilly. There was Hilly 6, Hilly 7, Hilly 9, Hilly 11, Hilly 13 and Hilly 16. I hated Hilly 9. In high school, nobody wanted to run at Chambersburg High. That course had "The Wall." But these runs and races steeled our minds and bodies to run faster.
So look at the next geological anomaly you see and beat it into submission. Then give it a catchy name like "you ain't so bad" hill or "I own you" climb. Others will thank you.
Former Lock Haven University stand-out runner Andrew Shearer is the Middletown Athletic Club secretary/treasurer. Shearer has been running since 1978.