Hill training, for you non-runner types, is simply running uphill. Over and over again. Going uphill makes your legs and lungs and heart work harder, and the benefit is faster speeds and greater endurance on level runs.
I had my first official hill training day yesterday – though certainly not the first time I’ve run up a big hill. When I was in Pittsburgh on business about a month ago, I got all ambitious and decided to tackle Cardiac Hill in Oakland. See, for the four years I went to Pitt and the two months of my adult life that I moved back to Oakland, I was never a runner. I had plenty of memories of gasping for breath from just walking up that hill, but now I had something to prove – and what I proved is that I am not as tough as Cardiac Hill. I had to stop halfway up to catch my breath, which wasn’t exactly the triumphant conquering of the hill that I had in mind.
The first challenge I confronted yesterday was that Center City Philadelphia, where I live, is generally pretty flat. So my “hill” ended up being the access ramp from the Schuylkill Banks greenway (a favorite running destination) up to Chestnut Street. The ramp fit my requirements for hill training: it’s a little over 500 feet long from trail to street and features a near-10 percent grade. I ran the two miles from my home to the ramp, took a quick break, and then ran up the ramp five times, walking back down each time.
Surprisingly, it was pretty easy. After days of anticipation, the Chestnut Street ramp was nothing compared to Cardiac Hill (which, to be fair, is an average 15 percent grade) or even to the hills in the Norristown Farm Park, which have kicked my ass on several occasions. Each time I went up, I tried to push myself harder, going from an 8:20 pace on my first attempt to a 7:00 pace on my last, and still I didn’t feel defeated the way I had going up Cardiac Hill. Perhaps I should be pleased with my fitness level, but instead I was dismayed that I didn’t feel I’d had a more difficult workout. I’m not normally a masochist, but when it comes to running it’s a basic rule that the more it hurts, the more benefit a workout will bear.
In two weeks my training regimen has me scheduled to try long hills, which should be more difficult. I’ll have to travel to Manayunk or further just to find hills long enough. Next week, I do my first track workout, which should also be pretty challenging. Hopefully more than last night’s run.