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home > community > viewpoint > the hills of atlanta

The Hills of Atlanta
Old or just lazy?

The Hills of Atlanta

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By Chris Russell
Posted Friday, 11 August, 2006

I’m sitting on top of a dryer, sweating. I’m in a Holiday Inn Express. It seems strange to me that for some reason they have put the washer and dryer on the smoking floor. The end result is that even though my running stuff will not have that acrid stink of old goat, it will have an acrid stink of old smoke. There’s nothing comparable to either of those fragrance bouquets.

I’m not just sweating because the dryer is hot. I’m still sweating from some hill charges I ran an hour ago. Plus I think I’m running a fever.

I came out of the weekend super-organized and energized. I had my goals and to-do lists. I was going to get so much work and quality training done this week. Superman may have the strength of ten men, but I can do the work of 3.5 bureaucrats with proper planning and the correct brand of coffee.

I was committed, or re-committed, (or maybe even should be committed), to reinvigorating my sagging training. My mileage has been low and my quality has been crappy. I’ve been missing workouts and not feeling all that guilty about it. Other than an end of summer sprint tri and a vague “run a bunch of marathons in the fall” ambition, my goals are uninspiring and loosey-goosey. I’ve got no real execution plan to get there.

I had to stop and walk in a 5K last week. I went out fast (duh) and couldn’t breathe in the heat. Of course I had bolted out with the leaders, but what else is new? In the old days I might have toughed it out, gritted my teeth, wheezed away and maybe barfed. But it just didn’t seem that important. It felt like I was giving up. Why do we set our internal self-standards so psychotically high?

The unhealthy question I asked myself was; are you just lazy or are you getting old? And if so, what’s the cure? (A healthier question might have been; what do you love about running? What do you have to do to love it?) Sometimes the right questions don’t come! Thus I continued down my unhealthy analytical tree. You’ve been running your whole life, I said to myself. Maybe this is just the running equivalent of the 7-year itch? “I’m sorry; I just don’t love you anymore.” Or, the ego retorted, maybe you’re just a mopey dumb-ass?

Last year when I was coming off my knee injury I had a fling with triathlons. I felt a brief lusty invigoration in my relationship with exercise. But, if staying fit by running is hard to work into our busy lives, staying fit for triathlons is a second career! Don’t get me started on all the expensive gadgets that need to be acquired and maintained!

Predictably, my irrational-rational analysis came up with the obvious solution; I’m just not working out enough. (dumb-ass) This week I resolved to knuckle down, seize myself by the lapels and get some quality workouts in!

Thus the week began. Sunday I had to settle for a soggy run in the rain with Buddy the Wonder Dog in the park. Monday a decent swim. This day, (the one that ends with me sitting on the dryer), I had decided to get up at 5:00 AM and charge these hills! A courageous plan. I couldn’t get up. I didn’t rack out until 1:00. I need at least 5 hours of sleep to function.

I’ve caught this gnarly cold that’s going around. Probably mold poisoning from the perpetual swamp that is New England this spring. It started as a stuffed up head and bloomed this morning into a bizarre auditory condition. I can’t hear out of my right ear. It feels like the world is talking to me through a plastic bottle – all muffled and echoes. My equilibrium is weird and I feel unbalanced. So, I slept in and blew off my workout.

I told myself I’d get out at lunch. A lunch meeting intervened. I told myself I’d head out right after work. At 7:00 I was still sitting staring stupidly at the laptop, still in the office.

I fought to buck the trend. I dug deep into my history of overcoming inertia. I thought of those times I sprang from bed at the crack of dawn, with very little sleep, and dashed about in athletic excess.

Psychologically victorious I went to the office gym and did some stationary bike and weights. This was nice, but not the acid test. I had created in my mind a rule that said in order to be successful this day; I had to run those hills. I couldn’t get the monkey off my back unless I ran those damn, awful hills.

I follow the following formula for hill charges. I look for the perfect hill. The perfect hill, in my mind, is similar to Heartbreak. The perfect hill is about .5 miles long, not too steep and not too shallow. It should have 3 sections or thirds. The first section should be shallow-ish allowing you to run easily at race pace. The second section should get steeper forcing you to struggle to maintain pace. The third section should be short and steep. You enter this final section close to maximum effort and this is where the fun begins. This final section should make you wish you never put on running shoes. This is an awesome quality workout and simulates race conditions.

You attack it strong, hold it and then spend yourself, leaving nothing. You end bent over double and gasping like a large sweaty fish at the top. This, my friends, is the ultimate penance for the lazy runner.

I found a hill with a reasonable profile right behind the hotel. I measured it off with the rental car to my .5 mile perfection. It was, by all appearances, a quiet side road, but there is no such thing in Atlanta where municipal ordinances require that all residents must, when not working, careen about at high speed in their SUV’s.

I'm sure I looked like a lunatic attacking my hill with my wobbly sinus condition, dodging cars, jumping in and out of the kudzu between gut-busting surges. But, I do feel less lazy and maybe less old sitting here, sweating on the dryer. (I took a cold shower, but it just won’t stop)

As a postscript I decided to wash my workout clothes because they’ll be traveling to a new city with me tomorrow. It is a distinct possibility that they would set off a Hazmat alert after being locked wet in the trunk of the car all day in the Birmingham sun.

Sleep is impossible anyway. Hill charges and sinus pills have pumped a unique adrenaline cocktail into my brain. I might as well de-stink the dank-stank.

I know I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but I hate to see my conditioning be less than it could be, even though it was never better than mid-pack mediocre. Why don’t we just decide to be happy we are alive and running? Why drive ourselves so mercilessly?

The clock strikes midnight and the clothes are dry. I don’t think I’ll be getting up at 5:00 AM to swim! I will feel stronger in next week’s 5K because today I conquered my hills and tomorrow my luggage won’t stink. I have invested 30 minutes to become stronger and $2.50 in quarters to become fresher too!

The answer to the correct question; “What do I love about running?” is that it provides a keel for my boat. I love, with a first-love-infatuation-euphoria the feeling I get flying down a ridge in the oak shaded New England summer with my four-legged pal in hot pursuit.

Have you seen the movie “St. Ralph”? In one scene he does his final long tempo workout at night in a park. He is in shape and throwing himself physically and mentally into the toughest run he has yet done. At one point in the final rep he feels his legs lift off the ground and he is flying; soaring through the air. He has transcended the physical. That’s what I love about running. That moment, call it the runner’s high if you want, where all is clarity and euphoria.

And that, my friends is why I train and race, so I can give myself the opportunity to soar.

Find your hills. Soar!




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