By Ted Spiker
Because of some of the work I do with Runner’s World magazine, I had the opportunity to run the Big Sur International Marathon along the California coast about a year and a half ago. Though I trained steadily, my mashed-potatoes body was not prepared for the rolling constant massive will-they-ever-end hills on the course. One of them stretched two miles between miles eight and 10. I ended up with a DNF (Did Not Finish) that day, and while I was disappointed in my performance, I knew that my legs, lungs and lard were no match for the elevation changes.
My friends told me, “It’s so tough to be able to train for those hills in Gainesville,” which was a nice sentiment until I learned that the fourth-place male finisher was from Gainesville.
The reality was that I avoided training on hills, probably for the same reason I avoid burpees and dressing room mirrors. It just does not feel that great on a bigger body.
Early last summer, with a different (but still hilly) race on the calendar, I decided to stop being an avoider and start being a confronter.
I would make hills parts of my training runs. I would slog up them even if I looked like I was moving at the speed of an anchored tugboat. I would finally do what every dang Instagram motivational mantra tells you to do — get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Slowly, I morphed from hating hills to looking forward to them. Slowly, I avoided flat training runs and began scouting out loops that had some rolls in them. Slowly, I made it up them faster and fitter.
My race weekend this fall was packed with four races in three days. I did all of them, and the courses featured plenty of climbing. Instead of dreading them, I was prepared for them. I did not fly up with gazelle-like elegance, in fact I am sure I still looked like a wounded bear seeking shelter as I trudged upward, but I attacked them as hard as I could.
At one point, a woman I was running with said, “You’re strong on the hills,” which is odd, because the only time I had ever imagined hearing a phrase like that would be if “hills” was substituted for “buffet.” But I accepted the compliment — and I used it to reinforce something I wish I had embraced a long time ago.
Little by little, you can get better, stronger, fitter and healthier if you can make a small switch in your mind to make a bigger switch in your actions.
Burpees may be up next, but it will take a little while longer to confront the dressing room mirrors.
Ted Spiker (@ProfSpiker) is the chair of the University of Florida department of journalism, as well as a health and fitness writer. He is the author of DOWN SIZE, a book about the science an