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I’m at the Top of the Hill…Should I Go On?

Hilly RoadI’ve been running consistently now for almost two years. In that time, I have learned that runners face many mental and physical challenges. From the everyday muscle aches and pains, to the mental exhaustion of a four-hour marathon, to getting yourself out of bed for that 30-degree winter morning run, there is much to overcome.

The obstacles we runners may despise the most are hills. I don’t mean gradual inclines in the road or the gentle rolling hills you can fairly manage. I’m talking about the long, steep, crush-your-pace kind of hills that make your heart feel like it’s going to pound out of your chest as you climb to the peak. These are brutal especially when multiple ones are strung together in a short distance. Up and down, up and down, peak then valley, peak then valley…ugh!

I’ve had a lot of experience running hills because they surround me where I live. I’m actually thankful because by running them, I have been better prepared on race day. During all my training though, I have found this to be true – it’s both exciting and intimidating at the top of a hill.

It makes sense that it is exciting at the top of a hill. For a brief moment, your body experiences a sense of calm as you glide over the peak, thankful that the hard work is behind you. However, that feeling is short-lived when you reach the top of a hill and see another steep hill coming up next. On race day, I’ve heard audible groans from runners on the course when this happens.

Why do we groan at the thought of another steep hill?

I think it is a perception problem. The next hill always looks bigger from the top of the hill you are standing on. The valley below plays with your mind. The visual combination of these two things back to back makes you think the next hill will actually be more challenging than the one you just climbed.

It’s also an emotional problem because, in life, valleys are associated with pain and suffering. When we are living in the valley, it’s because we have created a mess for ourselves and need to fix it. The fix normally requires a long, slow climb out of your mess. The climb will demand intense focus and emotional fortitude.

It’s also a physical problem. Climbing is a lot of work and sometimes we just don’t know if we will have the energy or the stamina for the task.

It’s also about dealing with the unknown. We believe we might be able to conquer the next hill but, in truth, we aren’t 100% sure. We think we have planned for the obstacles that lie ahead but we don’t know when a dog will unexpectedly jump out and chase us. We can’t clearly see all the potholes in the road. We are scared of the car that whizzes around the curve and pushes us off the road.

So the question is, if you could see the valley in front of you, and you knew that pain, challenge and many unknowns lie ahead, would you go after the next hill in life from the one you are currently standing on? Or would you say to yourself, “I don’t want to have to go through all that…I think I’ll just stay where I am”?

What hills in front of you look really tough right now? How are you building the courage to climb them? 

Next Post: Talking Ourselves Into Trouble: “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That”

Prior Post: My Goals for 2013

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  1. Thanks. I can absolutely relate to what you are saying. Life really doesn’t seem to turn out the way we imagine (or worry) that it will.

  2. Great post….the unknown scares simply because it’s unknown. I’ve had many times in my life where the buildup to the event was worse than the event itself only because I let my mind compound thoughts and make it out worse than it would be.

  3. 30-degree morning run? You have gone soft since moving south. 🙂

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