Why Hills Are Actually Worth The Struggle


Thanks to the Historic Haunt 5K/10K we have quite a few new readers. Because of that I want to give some background info before I dig deep into this article about hills and working out.

This post isn’t being written by some elite runner that has been winning medals and wowing crowds. I love watching elite runners race and will never stop being amazed when I see someone run for mile after mile at paces that I couldn’t sustain for a lap around a track. I say this so that when I write that I know what it is like to struggle getting up a hill you will know that I mean it. When I started running seriously in 2015 it took me months before I really felt like I was making headway. I have been overweight for more than 20 years and most of that time I have been obese. Running helped me lose over 50 lbs and I still didn’t get to my so called healthy weight. So when I say I have been there looking up at a hill thinking there is no way I can get up this I know what I am talking about.

Now lets talk about why finding those hills and conquering them is worth the pain (and possibly tears). When a person gets started running or walking it doesn’t really matter what shape they are in physically. It is going to be difficult to run or walk non-stop hard for 30 minutes. To get the most benefit from any aerobic exercise you need to have your heart rate elevated for 30 minutes. Walking can do this if you are obese, as I was, or maybe you need to jog to do this if you are starting from a healthier spot. Either way the important thing is to push yourself hard enough to raise your heartrate, but not so hard that you hurt yourself or make it so miserable you promise yourself never to do it again.

As you keep at it your stamina will begin to improve and it will take more to get your heart rate elevated. That is a good thing, because it means you are getting healthier. When that happens you really have two choices, go faster or do something more challenging. There is nothing wrong with deciding its time to start pushing harder and running or walking faster to increase the benefits of your workout. I think that will naturally happen even if it isn’t a conscious decision. I want to encourage you to not rule out the idea of a more challenging course.

Running up and down hills works out different muscles than just running on flat ground. Your heart rate is elevated quicker and you are working muscles that haven’t been getting worked out. Why wouldn’t you do this??? Oh I remember, because it’s horrible! It’s defeating! It’s painful! OK so maybe running on hills isn’t my favorite thing to do. I used to completely believe those statements. Now I only believe them 50% of the time. Half way up a big hill I think this isn’t so bad, but the second half I usually still hate hills.

I still do them though. Because the benefits of running on hills is so great. Your flat runs will be easier and therefore faster because of hill training. Your weight loss will be quicker, which in turn will make your runs easier and faster. The confidence you will get by making it all the way to the top of a hill for the first time will stay with your for months if not years.

I started my training running on the road that goes out to White Hall State Historic site. There is a hill halfway back that road that I ran 2 or 3 times a week for the first 3 or 4 months I was running. Not once was I able to get up that hill without walking. Until that one day. That one glorious day when I decided this hill wasn’t going to stop me any longer and even though I was already 3 miles into my run today was the day I was conquering my nemesis. And I did! Not only did I make it to the top, but I kept running after getting to the top for another mile back to my car. That was the farthest I had ever ran without walking. I felt great physically and even more so mentally. I had done it. After months of fearing that one hill it was over and I had won. You want to know how important that day was to me? That would have been early spring 2015 and here I am writing about it to encourage you today.

I will never forget that day. That hill run was a turning point in my training. Avoiding hills may be OK in the beginning, but eventually you need to start looking at hills as a challenge and an opportunity to prove something to yourself. You will hate it for a while, but eventually you will laugh at the hill that used to make you cry. To help prove that point the photo at the top of this article is a picture I took in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. I did a hike there this summer that took me from the point the photo was taken all the way top of that mountain the sun is setting behind. That was actually a mountain not a hill and I hiked it up and back down for a total of about 9 miles. I loved every minute of that hike including the 4 miles that seemed straight up. No way I would have had the nerve to try that if I had never conquered my nemesis at White Hall. I encourage you to get out and conquer your hill. You won’t regret it.