I used to fear running hills. But I live in central Seattle, which means you can’t go anywhere further than half a mile–usually a lot less– without having to deal with a hill either going out or coming back. When I got to a hill, I’d be totally overwhelmed. I actually thought my heart might explode.
My triathlon coach Rocky got me over this by making me run repeats on a mile-long hill called Madrona Drive. Up for 30 seconds and back down. Up for 45 seconds and back down. Up for a minute and back down. Up for 90 seconds and back down. And so on, up to three minutes or more.
During this training I was using a heart rate monitor, and one thing I quickly learned was that my heart would not actually explode. It would increase, for sure, but then it would stabilize at the new higher rate. And as I incorporated hills in my training (once or twice weekly over a a month or two) my heart rate got relatively lower when I took them on. When it came to my first really hilly race (the Seattle Half Marathon), I turned the corner into the legendary Galer hill and found that I was one of the few running it–slowly, yes, but still running as nearly everyone else walked. (You rock, Rocky!)
I’ve actually become rather fond of hill running. It’s holistically strengthening–my mind and body are both very involved. Sakyong Mipham who wrote Running with the Mind of Meditation says that running hills requires surrender and determination. Rather than deny or resist, you acknowledge that the hill is there to be reckoned with (surrender), but you also keep bringing yourself to it (determination) knowing that you’ll get to the top. When you bring both those qualities, you can feel yourself building mental and physical strength. You get energy from the hill. You’re inspired. Topping the hill brings a feeling of release and triumph as you level off your efforts and feel the relative ease of running flat again.