The Hills Are Alive

Meandering thoughts from the trail: The Hills Are Alive
By Sheila Dawe

In the 23 km mountain race, Kusam Klimb I truly have to face my fears.

In the 23 km mountain race, Kusam Klimb I truly have to face my fears.

I learned a long time ago when I was the president of a walking club and hosting many different walks that one never said, “This is the last hill”. It is very similar to “you are almost there”. Really these qualified statements depend on your perspective as to their validity. I find that unless you can see the finish, then these statements will feel true. Most people, no matter how tired and sore, can find the energy to get it done when they can see their final goal. Perspective also affects how different people see hills; be it whether they call a given stretch a hill, or whether they find the up or the down harder.

In 2002 when walking a 64 km ultra with my mom and a friend I heard both state conflicting comments about hills. This was their first time doing the Great Walk, while for me it was my 5th time. As we climbed the first very long hill (16 km), mom stated, “Hills are only tough in the going up, I love going down.”  Several hours later, after we started going down a fairly steep grade (10%) Maria groaned “No, the up is easy; it is the down that is really hard.” I smiled to myself as we were only on the first hill and I knew that there were many more difficult ones to come, something for both of them to love and hate.

My newest challenge this year to celebrate turning 50. I will race 50 miles on Saturday followed by 50 km on Sunday.

My newest challenge this year to celebrate turning 50. I will race 50 miles on Saturday followed by 50 km on Sunday.

For me going down hills is difficult. I will never forget the most difficult time I had which was at my first 100 km event in Lethbridge, Alberta. I participated in this only 7 months post my fall down stairs and torn tendon. Because of the condition I was in, I chose to walk the whole thing. Walking may seem easy, but when walking long distances, even walking can hurt. Lost Souls is a 53 km loop with nearly 40 hills and 3600 feet elevation loss/gain per each lap. Due to bad knees, poor shoe choice, and inexperience I found that I had such painful toenails that my second lap I had to do every downhill backwards. The majority of this was in the dark, which helped as I wasn’t aware of how scary some of these hills were with drop offs on one side of me. Backwards hills worked in that I was still able to get it done, just not as fast as I may have hoped for. But in the end, especially with your first in a given distance, it really is truly about completing the distance. I was proud of persevering and finding a way to get the hills done.

This year I discovered Galloway intervals and started to use them on my Sunday trail long run day. My weekend includes two long run days: Saturday on the road (marathon program) and Sunday on trails (10 to 18 miles). I used to approach Sunday, which is pretty much all hills, with the attitude of walk when I need to and run when I can; it is all about gaining endurance for my ultras. After trying out Galloway’s at a half marathon in Seattle I decided to give it a try on my Sunday’s runs. I started doing a 1 min run and 1 min walk. I decided that I will do this at all times despite if I am on a steep uphill, downhill or flat. The result of this is I have ended up running some very steep uphills and now my perspective has changed; some of the other hills now don’t seem so steep anymore. I am also shocked that my times are turning out to be much faster than when I ran longer intervals but walked the up hills.

One of many hills in Lethbridge Lost Souls, where I will complete a 100 miler in September.

One of many hills in Lethbridge Lost Souls, where I will complete a 100 miler in September.

Four of my races this year will be very hilly, well three of them are actually in the mountains and scare me quite a bit. I don’t expect to be able to run up the big hills in a long race, but I do expect to be able to run down. Now I agree with both mom and Maria…hills are both hard up and down. But the more one works at them, hopefully the better I will get on the hills. I have done a lot of studying on how to run downhill. I try to be as free and confident as possible, I try to think of Tom Petty’s song “Free falling”. My chiropractor suggested that tightening my gluteus muscles when I run downhill will delay fatiguing the quadriceps. To do this I use the visualization of doing the exercise bridges.

I was recently talking to a young runner who just moved to our town. She was asking if there were any flat areas in our town to run. Not really, it is pretty hilly where I live. I feel that this is a bit of a blessing as I know that it makes me stronger and uses a variety of muscles. I heard once that running a marathon on a pure flat course is actually very difficult due to not changing the stride resulting in quicker fatigue.  May you all be able to conquer your hills, be them up or down, and find the adventure in getting out and enjoying the foot miles.

Last year’s Kusam Klimb, I love when we get into the snow near the summit.

Last year’s Kusam Klimb, I love when we get into the snow near the summit.

Here are some of the hilly events that I must train for:

June 21, Kusam Klimb 23 km – 5000 feet loss/gain

August 16, Squamish 50 mile – 11000 feet loss/gain

August 17, Squamish 50 km – 9000 feet loss/gain

September 5, Lost Souls 100 mile – 10800 feet loss/gain

Better get back out there and hit the hills.

Biography:  Sheila being 49 years old, single, with no kids has the perfect lifestyle for becoming an obsessive runner. Her 77 year old mother, Catherine Campbell (another Moon Jogger) moved in next door to her in 2000. After cheering Sheila on at multiple marathons, Catherine finally caught the running bug. Sheila taught her to run in 2009 and this year is very significant as Sheila is training Catherine to complete her first ever half marathon. Sheila works for the Government of Canada as a fish health technician but longs for the day when she can retire and dedicate even more time to her passion…running.

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