I was “running” up a particularly nasty hill yesterday on my long run. And yes, the word running is in quotes because, oh my goodness, I was not running at all. I was barely walking. One might more accurately use the word “trudging” in that sentence. It was a serious monster of a hill.
Now that I’ve returned to the trails while training for this summer’s 100K race, I’m making an effort to tackle the most difficult hills I can find, which thankfully includes the actual hills that I’ll be “running” (okay, trudging) during the race. So I had just done this exact hill during last week’s long run.
Last week the hill felt endless and uncompromising. My calves burned, my lungs screamed, my heart felt like it was pounding out of my chest.
Well, my calves still burned, my lungs still screamed and my heart definitely felt like it was pounding out of my chest. And yet… It also wasn’t as bad as it was just a week prior. Some of that was mental, of course – I had survived this hill before, so I knew I could do it again. But some of it was actual physical adaptation, too. My body had spent the last six days preparing itself to do this task again.
While I was tackling one of the steepest sections near the bottom of this mile-long hill, I came up behind another woman who was trudging her way up. She was stopping every 20 or 30 feet to catch her breath and stretch her calves. I greeted her as I was approaching and she looked back at me with a mix of surprise, defeat, exhaustion and dread on her face. She asked me if this was Training Hill, and I said yes. She seemed hugely relieved to hear that. (She didn’t explain, but my guess was that whoever sent her out here had told her that Training Hill – also known as K2 if you’re local to the Sacramento/Auburn area – was the hardest part of her day, so she was super glad that she was already on it. Because dear lord, if there was something harder than this, she wouldn’t want to have anything to do with it!)
As I passed her, I said in what I hope was an encouraging tone, “It gets easier!”
I continued climbing, but my head was stuck on those words. There were a lot of layers to that sentence.
I had meant it in its most literal and immediate sense.
Training Hill has four steep sections that are broken up with false tops. (Seriously, this hill is cruel! You think you’re done, but no, there’s more climbing.) It’s hard to notice the first time you’re climbing it, but the third section is slightly less steep than the others. It’s “easier.”
But dang if that sentence didn’t absolutely apply to the bigger picture, too. I mean, here I was on only my second attempt and this hill already felt less agonizing than last week.
I ran on, and – as often happens during long, difficult runs – I ruminated on that topic for many miles.
Pretty much everything in life gets easier, if you’ll just keep moving forward.
There were plenty of moments last week on my first trek up the hill that I wanted to quit. I mean, it seemed beyond my skill set and it was definitely harder than anything I actually wanted to be doing. But my options were extremely limited: keep going forward or turn around and go back down, which would only leave me at the bottom of a hill that I quite literally had to climb to get where I was going.
Obviously, the only thing I could really do was continue on.
Losing weight and getting fit and learning to eat healthier is a lot like climbing Training Hill.
It starts off so freaking hard you can’t think about anything else, you can hardly breathe from the difficulty and you’d give your left arm to not be doing this anymore. Every single morsel of food feels like it needs to be analyzed, examined, weighed, measured and accounted for. It’s exhausting! And, unfortunately, that’s where a lot of people sit down on their butts and slide right back down to the bottom of the hill, convinced that they can’t possibly climb it.
But if you keep going, past that ridiculously steep part, there’s a false top, where you start thinking, “Oh, hey, this isn’t so bad.” Certain decisions are starting to feel second nature. Workouts are becoming routine and maybe even a little bit enjoyable.
Of course, after that it gets steep again. Life starts to get in the way, schedules make demands on your time and energy and you’d really like a break from focusing every. single. day. on losing weight. This part of the hill seems endless and filled with uncertainty. How far away is the top? Do I really have to climb the whole thing? Many people look for side trails right around this point, opting to do “just enough” exercise or extending cheat meals into cheat days. Some grasp on to the next “easy” fad, cutting out food groups or punishing themselves with brutal workouts they can only complete once a week. They’re thinking about losing weight all the time, but not making any progress because they’re not on the main hill anymore. Some get lost on those side trails for a long time.
If you press on with the steep climb, though, there’s another plateau (the good kind, where you can catch your breath and pick up a little speed), waiting to remind you that it’s not all hard work. With consistency, you’ll start to see results and changes in your body, your stamina and your mind. You’re getting stronger.
Which makes the next steep section feel a little easier. It’s shorter, and you’re more determined. You’ve been at this hill for a fair amount of time, and you’re closer to the top than the bottom. The challenges seem less daunting, the work is more enjoyable. You’re breathing hard, but you’re still breathing. You’re refining your eating habits, you’ve found workouts you can stick with. This climb is tough, but you’re tougher. You’ve learned how to put your head down and just grind it out, one foot in front of the other.
The next plateau is a cruel one, unfortunately. Short. Rocky. Not much of a break from the climbing at all. It’s a respite, but it’s brief.
And then you’re back to climbing. And it’s still hard and it still seems to stretch on beyond your line of sight. You wonder if it’s worth it, if you’ll ever feel like you’ve reached the top or if you’re destined to be climbing this hill for the rest of your life. Will it just always be this hard? But as you look around, you notice there’s something different about the landscape. It’s less muddy, less unforgiving. The footing seems more secure. There are still some questions in your head about whether or not you’re doing the right thing, eating the right foods or making the right choices, but you’re also starting to feel more confident. Starting to tune out the noise of the “quick fix” fitness gurus and tune in to your own body and your own hard-fought wisdom. On this last stretch of climbing, you realize that your thoughts have gone from, “I don’t think I can go on,” to “I’ve totally got this.”
That’s when the hill starts to level out. It’s gradual, though. You might not even notice that you’ve reached the top because there was no pinnacle, no single moment when you suddenly arrived. But you are, indeed, there, and soon there are glorious views and easy trails in front of you.
Which is not to say that life will be nothing but comfort and ease once you’ve lost weight. Far from it! It’s still life, after all. 🙂
But you’ll be a different person after you’ve conquered that hill. Stronger both mentally and physically and ready in a different way for the challenges that you’ll inevitably come across. Because next time you’ll know:
It gets easier.
To perseverance and climbing the hills in front of you,
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