Tag Archives: hills

Pork Chop Cologne & Wile E. Coyote

Last night, Steph and I packed up to do my hill repeats up on the only hill worthy of the name in the area. As I think I mentioned last time around, it’s a sled hill, basically just an unexplained bump in the middle of a park, with wooden logs pressed into three sides forming a sort of staircase for wintertime, and a gazebo (complete with cliche grafitti) on top.

As any discontinuity seems to, this place acts as a magnet for things going on. People seem to love to walk their dogs around, up and over the hill, whether for exercise or novelty. This time around it was dogs, and what I can only describe as a self-propelled para-sailer. (para-sailor?)

The dogs were no different than dogs always are on runs, you’re moving fast(ish) you smell interesting (like balls. Dogs like balls) and you’re not looking at them. Much like singles night at a crappy bar, this is a recipe for being irresistible to dogs. So every owner had to tug on a leash as I loped uphill by them. Only one inconsiderate guy made me run the 6 feet in a circle around him so that I didn’t test how well behaved his pooch was, everyone else was an absolute saint. Still, I felt like I had pork chops in my pockets.

Pork Chop

The other entertaining encounter was a guy who asked me, on the downhill side of my second repeat, “Which way is the wind blowing up there at the top?”. Not having prepared for a meteorology pop quiz, I vaguely gestured that it was blowing against the direction I was running, and kept running. Each repeat for the next 2-4, was like watching the part of the WB cartoon where Wile E. Coyote establishes his amazing trap to catch the Roadrunner. First, the guy was unpacking a mega sized duffle with cords, and harnesses and nylon. Next, he was shouldering and stepping his way into this harness, and the contraption was beginning to take shape. Finally, I saw him unfolding a parachute, checking the lines, and then trying to catch a breeze and take off, by running down the hill, into the wind. Every once in a while, I’d look up and see his multi-colored parachute fill with air, and hold my breath, hoping that I’d soon see that nutcase go hovering overhead.

Wile E. Coyote

Sadly, it was not to be. Something about the wind going the wrong direction. The guy told me a bit about his hobby when I stopped after my last repeat, but I have to admit it was pretty full of the kind of jargon hobbies accumulate, so I wasn’t entirely sure how it worked. But I do know that in other, better times, when his motor was not out for repair, he goes flying with a 44″ fan strapped to his back.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. I’m glad I found this place, for the blog posts, if nothing else.

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Yes Sarge, I will take that hill!

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.

Hill Repeats - Elevation Chart - 0.11 miles + 35 foot rise

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.

Hill Repeats - Grade, 6% average, 8% peak

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.

August Numbers:
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.

Just The Bad & The Ugly

Mostly here, you folks get to hear about the good runs. Or maybe the hard parts of the good runs. Or the good parts of the hard runs.

But every once in a while, you have a bad, ugly run. No good in it, but that you did it, and didn’t die.

I knew this, because other people tell me it, all the time. They tell me on their blogs, with their inspirational slogans, and with their helpful horror stories when I talk about a wet run, or a long run, or a tiring run.

However, as of last Thursday, I have my own story.

It all started innocently. Stephanie and I had been travelling all week, since driving from Michigan to Virginia on Saturday. We had slept in 4 beds over 5 nights, travelled by train, foot, and car all over the greater DC area. We had enjoyed two big parties, slept in or risen early, made up our schedule by responding to text messages and facebook posts. I had run a 5 mile run on Sunday, a race on Monday, and then coasted for two days. But by Thursday afternoon, feeling guilty about food, and feeling lost without a run scheduled, I announced I would go for a run before Steph’s father arrived home.

I’d run in the area before, and knew it was hilly. I had been outside in the area all week, and knew it was hot. I hadn’t planned much of a run, and didn’t feel like I had much energy for one. I resolved to get outside, exorcise those demons, and exercise my too-quick-to-adapt-to-vacation keister. If I did 2 or 3 miles I would be satisfied, and enjoy my dinner without guilt.

I got out the door, and everything felt fine, once my legs were under me and moving. I headed toward a route I had run before, a 3 mile loop, thinking I would run it backwards for some novelty. Then, in a fit of spontaneity, I decide to add a short loop to it, by staying out on the roads that I thought ringed the cluster of housing developments.

See, I had run my first mile through the developed land in the center, land that had been scoured clean by bulldozers and developed in lots, 10 and 20 at a time. The trees there, even the oldest ones, were in backyards, hiding behind the houses, shading the homes, and blocking cool breezes. The road was hot, exposed to the sun, sheltered from the breeze. When I hit  New Cut road, it was like an oasis. New Cut road was an old road, seemingly cut by hand and not razed by bulldozer. It ran by following the land, going around land people owned, trees the roadbuilders didn’t want to or couldn’t easily cut down, and traced along the path of a brook rather than bulling over it. Tall trees hovered along both sides of the road. The road itself disappeared around corner after corner as it wound its way down hill. Sure, I had to dodge cars with my heart in my throat, and more than once I hopped off the road onto the shoulder rather than risk getting run down, but it was cool, and lovely. And based on my previous runs on sections south and east of this spot, I should have only added a half mile to my 2-3 mile loop, depending on how much of the neighborhood I ran through afterwards.

Unfortunately:
You know what they say about assuming...
The two roads surrounding the developed area in between actually split in a Y, about 2 miles away.  By the time I met College Ave at the split, and started running south and east back toward home, I had already come 2.5 miles away. 2.5 miles downhill, basically. So I ran a hard 2+ miles back, with the sun glaring down on me for most of it. All the comfortable shade of the prior road was gone, and I hadn’t brought any water, so by 4 miles I was running out of energy.

I ended up walking and jogging the end of it, my heart pounding when I ran, my mouth dry. I was tired, muscles, body and soul, and I hobbled my way home. Still, for some reason I didn’t stop my watch, and call it a successful 4 mile run with a 0.5 mile walk home. I wanted to own my failure, to see what it looked like to be unable to push, but to keep trying.

I got back to the house, my whole body spent. I mumbled something about wanting gatorade at Stephanie, and laid down on the ground. Her father is a single man, and there was no Gatorade to be found, but some pouches of Capri Sun (no doubt the leftovers from his nephews visiting the prior weekend) were bouncing around the refrigerator. Stephanie leaned one on my cheek as I lay on the hard, thinly carpeted floor of the basement, and whined about my performance. I slurped the lemonade out of the foil container, and moaned for another. Once that was done I lay there, cursing the sun, and the roads, and my hubris to go out ‘exploring’ on a run with nothing but my clothes and garmin.

Still, I went for another run on Saturday, and Monday, and Wednesday. Each one a good run in their way. So I guess the bad ones come and go.