I’m a huge fan of a 60-minute run: long enough to get out my mental ya-yas; soak a sports bra; exhaust my legs just enough so I feel them going up the stairs. But not so long that I risk injury, and not so short that I know I should to turn up the intensity to get in the most bang for my buck.
My sweet spot is an hour, and my sweetest route these days is one I used to avoid because it was covered with hills. Plural, meaning but plenty of them: hills as abundant as acne on a teenager. You’re either climbing or descending. Granted, some of the slopes are intense and others are more gradual, but there is very little flat ground. Up (huff, puff, huff, puff) or down (loosen up, quads!).
Even though the route—Holly Hills is my name for it—is within a mile of my house, I used to avoid it. Hill=hard=hell no. But one morning, my posse of running pals was headed that way and I couldn’t persuade them not to. So I tagged along. The route wasn’t any easier than I remembered, but I’d forgotten something important about hills. Yes, they kick my behind, but as I climb and descend, climb and descend, my sense of accomplishment grows accordingly. Not only did I get up before the roosters to run 6 miles, I ate hills for breakfast. And the miles, amazingly, tick by faster because I’m not concentrating on how far I’ve gone—or still have to go—but on just getting up the next hill.
So I’ve been eating the Holly Hills for breakfast pretty regularly as I prepare for the Philadelphia Marathon with Kelly Pollock, my cadet. Some mornings, I’m fired up and try to blaze up and over each hill (I run 10 strong steps after I reach the summit); other times, I concentrate on the downhill portion and keep my steps quick and light; and I occasionally throw in the “build” run: with each hill, I get a little more intense, effort-wise. (Truth be told, I’m not good at that: I’m pretty much either running my easy pace or going all out.) When I don’t want to change up my physical effort, I’ll run the route backwards. (I know: go crazy, right?)
And the days when any mental effort feels like just too much? I point my Sauconys towards Holly Hills and just go, knowing that in about 60 minutes I’ll have one breakfast down, and be ready for my real one.
For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.