No, not those Hills.
I’m talking about real hills – steep hills. Long hills. Unscripted hills.
Lately, hills have ruled my life. I think about them all day long, envision them while I’m lying in bed at night, and generally fret about them 24/7.
Why this sudden obsession with hills, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. I’m currently training for the Asheville Citizen Times Half Marathon – to be held on September 17, 2011. It is notoriously hilly — check out the elevation map.
When I moved here, I thought running was hard. And I was right – running in Asheville is hard. It’s hilly, no matter where you go. There are sidewalks – sometimes, and sometimes not. Sometimes the sidewalk just stops and picks up on the other side of the street. Why? I don’t know. But as time passed, I got used to it. The difference in air quality worked its magic. Running on trails and through cool old neighborhoods is delightful. I noticed more power and stamina in my runs – from the ever-present hills. I can’t get away from them. I dread them until they sprout up in my path. And yet, I want to run them. I need to run them. I might even be starting to like them.
Some of them even have names:
The Wall – in the heart of downtown is a beastly hill that looks like one of those fake cartoon backdrops of a city street. Straight up. This hill happens to dwell in the last 1/2 mile of the race. It’s short, but it’s really steep.
The Bitch – the longest, steepest, most root-covered hill known to man, this hill resides on a trail at Warren Wilson college. I’ve never been able to run the whole thing, or even half of it for that matter. I once flailed through the air and belly-flopped while running down it. I have given it this name not because it is a bitch (which it is), but because one day it will be my bitch.
Sucker Hill – this bad boy leads into downtown from the South. It occurs on a busy, ugly street with zero shoulder and 4 lanes of cars – so even though there is a continuous sidewalk on the same side of the street (for like a mile!), the cars are so close you could touch them as they zoom past. This hill is also a liar – just when you gratefully reach what appears to be the summit, the rest of it comes into view. It’s steep, long, full of pavement and car exhaust. And about halfway up is a traffic light, which is never green for you. So, once you cross the street and start running the (steeper) second half, you realize that this sucker has sucked the wind right out of you. Hence the name.
There are others, of course. Infinitely more. They may be nameless today, but what they lack in nicknames, they make up for in length (some are miles long), steepness and sheer quantity. Running up them is, in a word, hard.
But I do it nonetheless. Not out of fear or a sense of duty – no one is making me run this race, and if I don’t feel ready for it, or change my mind, I can just not run it. Nor is it a George Mallory-esque mission. The mere existence of a hill is not an implicit challenge to me; I am quite happy to let them just be there.
I run these hills because I have to. Because conquering my weaknesses is the order of the day. Because when my legs are churning and burning underneath me, and my heart threatens to bust out of my rib cage like the Kool-Aid man, I can look up and say, “f@#k you, Hill,” and keep going anyway. And when I’ve made it to the top, and my heart beats even faster as oxygen floods my brain, I feel like Rocky at the end of a montage.
Do I sense a clichéd, running/life metaphor coming on?
Oh snap! I guess I do. You see – my dear, loyal, patient readers who are still reading this blog despite my months-long absence – I conquer weakness and rise to meet challenges every day, even when I’m wearing my fancy pants at some business networking lunch. As a burgeoning entrepreneur, I struggle daily with discouragement, lack of faith and potential financial ruin.
In the face of all this, I could stop and give up. I could suck air into my oxygen-deprived lungs and stare up at the rest of the hill, doubled over and wheezing. I could turn around and head back down, find a boss and a steady paycheck.
Or I could look up and say, “f@#k you, Hill,” and just keep right on going.