I believe it was Dwight L. Moody who said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”
I’m not sure that he was thinking about a marathoner running hill repeats alone on a dark street in Austin TX at 5:00 a.m. when he uttered those words, but they definitely spoke to me quite loudly early on Thursday morning.
Over the last three months we have taken to “the hill” each Thursday for our workout. Skipping only twice over the past 14 weeks during the weeks leading up to The Texas Half Marathon and the Livestrong Austin Half Marathon, we have put ourselves through some grueling workouts.
This is the same workout that we incorporated into our New York City Marathon training plan as well as our ramp up to the Austin Marathon in 2011.
We leave the house for a 3-mile warm-up depositing us at the top of the hill at the entrance to the neighborhood adjacent to ours aptly called, “Waters Edge”.
For Boston instead of only running “ups”, we have alternated each week running “downhill repeats” one week, followed by our uphill repeats the next. This was designed to help our speed, strength and climbing ability to tackle the famous Newton Hills from miles 16-21 in Boston, but also to prepare for the grinding downhill start over miles 1-14 of the course from Hopkinton to Newton.
The part of the course where quads go to die.
We run each repeat at 5K effort – very close to our Lactate Threshold along the 3/10 of a mile hill which has 65 feet of elevation change. We hit our watch at the end of that repeat, glance at the split under the street lamp, and then make a slow recovery jog back to the start.
At the end of the tenth and final repeat, we gather ourselves and run a final mile at/near marathon race pace back to the house.
This workout which comes after two runs on Tuesday, followed by a mid-week long run of 11-12 miles on Wednesday is on tired legs.
Each repeat gets harder and harder to maintain our form and our speed. It is grueling. It gets painful. At the end it becomes a mental test as much as a physical one.
Remind you of anything? That’s right – the marathon.
The funny thing about this workout is the only one who knows that I am out there is me, my wife Dawn and the small dog in the yard that barks at me every Thursday morning each time I pass his fence.
20 times every single week. His owners must love Hill repeat Thursday as much as I do.
But on this particular Thursday things were a little bit tougher out there than usual.
The temperature was up to 68 degrees and the humidity was 91%.
There was a SSE wind blowing 16 miles per hour with gusts 20-25.
SSE means that the wind is blowing directly down the face of the hill. That would have been welcomed had we been running “downs” this week, but alas, we were running “ups”. Right into the teeth of the wind.
I typically break the workout into “subsets” of repeats as thinking about running 7 more or 8 more can be very discouraging as you wrap up your first couple of efforts.
I instead run three sets of repeats, then tack on a final repeat at the end.
First, Middle, Last.
First, Middle, Last.
First, Middle, Last.
That brings us to our goal of 10X or 3 miles of hills at 5K effort.
On Thursday, after slugging it out with the hill for the better part of 30 minutes I made the turn at the bottom of the hill for repeat number 8. It had been getting noticeably warmer on my recovery jogs to the bottom of the hill – my USA Singlet that I wore at the NYC Marathon was sticking to my chest soaked with sweat.
I glanced up the hill and felt the first drops of rain hit my face.
100% humidity hung in the air.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself or debating what in the world I was doing out there – I smiled quickly to myself and hit the watch. Go time.
My last three repeats were as fast as my first three. All I could think of as I slugged it out on Thursday was how much I would be able to draw on this workout, this particular nondescript Thursday in early March when things get tough on April 16th.
When the hills in Newton seem steeper than I remember from 2010 and I cling tightly to my time goal as I lose valuable seconds to the race clock. At the bottom of Heartbreak Hill only 6 miles will remain to Boylston Street and our second Boston Finisher’s Medal.
First, Middle, Last …. First, Middle, Last.