The Love/Hate of Hill Intervals

What would make a person run up a steep hill as hard as she can? I’ve had time to think about this as I run up steep hills as hard as I can. My list includes:


A tsunami

A marathon in 12 weeks

I do a handful of hill running workouts in my marathon training plan. I dread them, but oddly, I also welcome them. While intense (almost nauseatingly), they’re relatively short. And the pay-off is a feeling of invincibility. I usually do 4-6 sets of 400-600m sprints, which takes me 2:30-3:30. I easy jog back down the hill after each one. I often run on Madrona Drive. It’s one mile from my house, an excellent warm-up distance. But after having run a few of these workouts on Madrona Drive, the sight of it kind of hurts my feelings, so I seek out other hills. Alder Drive, is a twisty woodsy alternative. Lake Park Drive, coming up from Mt Baker Beach to the playground and Mio Posto, is almost as long and a little less steep.


This workout requires psyching up. Dog-walkers, FedEx drivers and contractors along Madrona Drive probably note the woman talking to herself. But it works. I start out hard (3K effort) and inevitably slow down with each successive :30. But I keep pushing and especially put the pedal down for the last :30. Then it’s a wave of profound fatigue and relief as I easy jog back down, saying “Just three more!” And do it again. “Halfway done!” then do it again. “Just one more!” It’s horrendous, but it’s manageable.

Though I’d sooner categorize myself as someone who loves to lounge, there’s a part of me I met as a child that aspires to being tested. The week I turned 12, I created a rite of passage that involved sitting (doing nothing) in the oppressive July heat in the desert for an hour each day. Since I grew up in Memphis, the desert was actually a humid, unshaded suburban development site. I remember feeling so much power in holding to that discipline. Well, that same little weirdo embraces hill sprints. I get to push beyond the comfort I long for and discover that I’ll survive it just fine. It’s a good daily supplement of power.

As I was trotting slowly down the hill after my last repeat, I also flashed on the truism that, while we can never completely control what happens on marathon race day (or any event day), we CAN know that we trained well, we prepared. We are changed by the journey to the event, as much as by the event itself.