Take A Hill Pill

At some point before the end of the year, I'll log my 4000th mile on Fetch. And although I'll never top the training league, that's still quite a long way. More to the point, it represents a big chunk of my life.

So I've been wondering: what have I learned? If I could go back and share one piece of advice with myself as a beginner, what would I be?

Well, Fat Dave (2006), pull up a chair: we need to talk about that hill. You know the one. The hill that frightens you. The hill that's your nemesis. The hill you try to avoid, but somehow always seems to put itself in the middle of your running routes anyway.

THAT hill.

It's OK to have a hill like that. I'm sure everyone does. But since you keep bumping into it anyway, I'll give you a few home truths that might make you feel a bit better next time that particular hill looms into view. Here's the first one...

Hills are like spiders.

You know that thing about a spider being more afraid of you, than you are of it*? Hills are exactly like that.

That clench you get when you're nearby is the hill's first – and best – defence. If you let it, that sense of impending doom can really start to overshadow your run, and end up being much worse than the climb itself. Then, because your confidence is undermined, you don't give it 100%. It's self-fulfilling.

And the dumb thing is, there's no need.

You, and not the hill, have the power. The fear you get when the hill is close is nothing compared to the tremor it ought to feel when it hears your footsteps approaching.

Why? Well, listen. I'll let you in to another secret...

No hill lasts forever.

The hill has not been invented that will not – eventually – be beaten by lots of small steps and a good dash of bloody-mindedness. Keep moving onward and upward, and sooner or later the hill will go away.

(I'm no guru on running technique but since you asked: try short, quick strides, like changing down a couple of gears in a car. Use your elbows and KEEP GOING.)

People tend to say: keep your head up, and fix your gaze on the top of the hill. But the hill's not going anywhere, why focus on how big it is? I take care of my part – keeping going – and, even if I need to walk, I'll get to the top eventually. It's just a matter of time (and being a bit stubborn).

No, that hill isn't so scary.

And I'll tell you what, when you understand that, you'll go and seek it out from time to time. Really, it's true! Here's why...

The hill doesn't lie.

"Be kind to yourself; you won't lose fitness that quickly."

"You haven't put on weight – you look great!"

"You're running so well lately."

Wondering whether your friends really mean it, or if they're just being nice? Go run up that hill.

The hill doesn't care if you've had a lot on your plate. It's not going to go easy because you're coming back from injury. It will simply give you a fair, unbiased account of exactly where your fitness is at. No argument; no debate.

And that's a good thing, because it works both ways. A lot of the time, the hill is the place you'll first notice your progress.

Sometimes, the hill says you're fitter than you thought you were. And because it doesn't lie, you have no option but to accept the compliment.

Can't run it in one? There's no shame in that. But notice where you are when you stop running, and lock it in your mind. If you can, actually touch a tree or a lamppost. That's your marker. Next time, you'll know how much better you're getting.

Everyone knows hill training makes you stronger. Some say it's speed training in disguise. But that hill – THAT hill – will improve your running in a different, and more important way.

It will help you believe in yourself.

Deep down, that hill is your friend.

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Leave a comment...

  • Love it Dave. That's a great piece of writing and it rings very true. Well done mate.
  • Loving it. I *knew* I was a runner when I could run up the slope from the river to the park - it's not really I hill but it still makes me grin whenever I do it. Thank you.
  • Great piece. Great advice. Great writing. Great Christmas gift. Cheers Dave!
  • Fantastic reading thanks Dave :)
  • Awesome nice article. 4000 miles is a hell of an achievement as well. I was excited just getting past the 1000 mark. And I still work in km! :-)
  • Well said Sir
  • Fantastic wee article really struck a chord with me thanks Dave! When are you writing your next one And where's that hill you are mine!!!
  • There is a hill in Berkhamsted that was once my nemesis... I still remember my astonishment the first time I got to the top. Lots of truth in this article.
  • :-)
  • I remember the first time I got to the top of 'my' hill too... awesome
  • Great article Dave just like the post box everyone has a hill mine I run up every Saturday on a good day the view is fantastic on a bad day I'm in the clouds sometimes its easy some times it's very difficult but its always worth the effort.
  • I get a big grin on my face when I breeze up *my* hill because a year ago I would always have to stop for a breather :) I'm trying to convince my running buddies about the merits of hills (I use the same low gear analogy) but I guess they just have to find out for themselves! When I was a beginner I used to chant 'I think I can I think I can I think I can...'. Great article :)
  • Yes love the article and Hills are my friend now :-) more than a few to cope with during 10 in 10 :-)
  • LOVE this - thanks for the reminder. Off to find a hill and thump it :-)
  • Hills are just flat ground with imagination.
  • Lovely article I can still remember my first post box - I used to live in a flat area and it was the mark of how far I could run without stopping! :-)
  • Gotta love a hill :)
  • Great article. I'm now confident that I will finally conquer the long long hill that is currently my nemesis.....
  • My old boss used to say (as he got fitter) 'There used to be a hill there'
  • That makes me feel better that a did a hill session on Tuesday and it was slower than usual. At least I did it.
  • Fantastic article - I 3 hills! (Good job we have one or two of them here in the Valleys!) :)
  • That should say I love hills! ;)
  • Brilliant Dave. Captured it perfectly. I'm going to link this one again on FB. :-)G
  • Brilliant :) :)
  • I'm from the Flat Lands but I still love hills (even the metaphorical ones). My colleagues think I'm nuts!
  • Brilliant! I have a LOve-Hate-Love realtionship with hills...especially on my bike...for all the reasons you wrote about. Gotta Love (hate!) them Hills :)
  • AND! There's always the other side of the hill. A downhill is as good as a rest.
  • It's all hills where I live.
    My chant is: 'Yes I do do hills; yes I do do hills...'
  • Thanks for this Dave will share it along with my mantra 'I'm from Yorkshire and I eat hills for breakfast :)
  • Great article come to the firth & we can do some hills ;-)
  • I am going to find me a hill this weekend thanks for the tip hills are the future
  • I remembered this in my race this morning - two laps I tamed the nasty hill on the first lap and then knew I could do it on the second one - thanks!
  • Great article Dave. My hill (or nemesis) is in Cirencester Park .. our running club nickname for it is 'Big Bertha'. It's not as steep and long as some but it's there. I remember the first time I managed to get to the top without stopping. Now all I have to try and do is emulate my running friend. She ran up it last month and decided she could probably manage it again. She ended up doing it 5 times in succession. Now there's a challenge for me! :)
  • Excellent stuff Dave.

    Now where is my biggest hill cause i'm off to give it a good hiding.
  • I Love the hills :-) Great article Dave
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Dave's hill wasn't available for comment, so we're using this stunt hill to provide the necessary drama. Thanks for the pic Mikuro.

When he's not plodding round the wilds of Cornwall, Discovery Dave (formerly known as Fat Dave) runs Lungfish, a marketing copywriting agency. He also has a mildly entertaining blog about writing, marketing and PR.
* Ironically, and contrary to conventional wisdom spiders are NOT afraid of you. They are cold, soulless killing machines that would eat you and everyone you hold dear in two seconds flat if they could. The fact they haven't done so already is only because they haven't worked out how. But hills are not like that. Trust me.

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