I grew up in places with hills. With real, honest, ridges and valleys and hills. Sure, New England isn’t exactly the Rocky Mountains, but when someone says “go to the top of the hill and make a left” there’s usually an actual change in elevation. My highschool was built on the top of a hill, such that the second building containing floors 4-6 matched up to the basements below floors 1-2 at ground level near the front. I went to college in Pittsburgh, a city known for steel, bridges, rivers, and hills. It should probably be the other order though, because there are some streets in Pittsburgh that they couldn’t pave, presumably because hot asphalt just pooled at the bottom every time they tried.
But when I packed my post-college belongings into my brand new car and headed west to Detroit, it didn’t take long into the drive to notice that Ohio and SE Michigan are so featureless that there seems to be, in every direction, a view to the horizon. And no, it’s not the high desert, or the wide open plains of the fly-over states, but for a rolling hill kid from out east, it looked, well, flat.
I wasn’t a runner then, not for many years to come, so I thought of it as mostly a geographic curiousity. I would point out to visitors when we passed a landfill, saying, “Look, that’s what Michigan calls a hill!” or regale them with the story of how there is skiing and snowboarding in SE Michigan on an old landfill that has since been turned into “Mt. Holly”. Not even kidding. If you want to ski within an hour of Detroit (which, let’s be clear, you don’t) your only option is to ski on well settled rotten garbage.
All kinds of running plans call for hill training though, touting it’s benefits for general cardiovascular challenge and ‘knee pickup’ (which I presume means not shuffling along like a mental patient). So, I decided to seek out a hill, in SE Michigan. Something to run hill repeats on. Anything. Preferably not a mound of garbage or, as my wife suggested, the ramps of a parking garage.
A friend at work suggested the Middle Rouge Parkway along Hines Dr. as having a good hill. She’s a runner, and at least not a native Michigander, so I figured I could trust her to have it right. After initially not believing her, based on the surrounding topography in google maps, I just bucked up and drove out there today, for my first set of “hill repeats” as I train for the Brooksie Way Half in early October.
Lo and behold, there was an actual hill there! I won’t guarantee it wasn’t a landfill, but it was clearly a local hotspot for experiencing the dread pull of gravity; there was a dirt track worn in it in just the right spot for doing hill repeats! (And, as I found out later, for bombing downhill on a bmx bike. Party on, kid.)
Elated, I immediately set off in the opposite direction.
(I had to warm up, before taking on that beast!)
After a 1 mile warmup, I felt ready to the task. I charged up the hill. I haven’t done this before, so I just did whatever felt natural, which probably meant gallumphing up with my arms flailing, my back at what looks like a crippled angle, and my face turned up to the sky in a mixed look of supplication and despair. I reached the top and punched the lap button on my watch, seeing that the hill run had taken about a minute. Only then, did I realize that the far side did not have the gentle roll down that I had imagined jogging at a reasonable pace around to my next start. There was an equally steep downhill on the other side.
So I gingerly (and with a subtly different sort of gallumphing) descended the far side of the hill, reached the path, and said to myself, “Well, how many times do you think you can do that?”
In the grip of newly warmed up legs, a nice evening and what can only be described as adrenaline-haze, I arrived on 8 as a good number. 8 didn’t seem that bad. 8 wouldn’t take that long. I ran around again, stopping at the top of the hill this time, to check my math, and seeing I would get a decent 5 miles in if I ran 8 repeats. By taking that breather/math break at the top of the hill, I was restored to charge back down headlong and heedless. Along the descending hill there were two guys doing heavy bar lifts, squats and other exercises. I complimented them on a great idea, and returned to the task at hand. How would I divide up this run? Did my downhill time matter? How fast should I run the cooldown? Was 8 too many repeats, or too few? Am I awesome for doing this voluntarily, or merely amazing?
Soon I settled into a rhythm, interrupted only by a couple of black Labradors running around unleashed and happy while their owner looked on from atop the hill. The repeats came fast and were enjoyable. Just enough time to recover before taking the hill again, the downhill presenting its own challenge, the recovery jog letting my heartrate return to normal before I jacked it into the stratosphere again.
According to my GPS (with the elevation correction feature from Sport Tracks that uses USGS data turned on) it was a 0.11 mile repeat with a 35 foot rise, which would be a 6% grade if smooth, but since it was rather abrupt peaks out at more like 8%. I was overjoyed to see that this spot will be so perfect for hill repeats. Even though I’ll only be doing them on alternate weeks, I think the unique challenge will be a nice addition to my plan.
Also, I’m going to try to use a reliable marker to start and stop my watch for the uphill sections, so that I can analyze my performance over the next two months of doing this, which should be a total of 5-6 of these repeats, which should be enough to show a trend.
Oh, and to wrap up, I took a look at my monthly numbers last night, which I also tweeted when I was struck by how monumental they seem in hindsight.
Miles Ran: 122miles
Avg Pace: 5.6mph
lbs lost: 6.5lbs (estimated from averages)
Calories burned: 24,000
More on this, and other numbers I’m thinking about, coming up.