Hill repeats and panic attacks

The workout plan called for a hill run. Specifically it said “run up and over a hill nine times.” That’s it. So, gee, thanks generic Nike plan I downloaded for free from the Internet for those specific details. (American society really needs a sarcasm font.) After consultation with my running buddy Nate, I decided to do about a two-mile warmup then tackle a hill for nine repeats.

My plan was to do the repeats at Artpark in Lewiston. It was familiar and challenging but wouldn’t completely break me. Only one problem. As I ran to the hill I discovered there was repair work being done on the brick. Good for the long run but bad for me right now. I could not safely do hill repeats here.

So instead I recalled a hill nearby on Center Street — one that during The Mighty Fitz 5K in September I said, “we’re not going up that hill are we?” I decided to run there, up and down from the base of Center Street by the Niagara River up to the intersection with Fourth Street and back down. Up and down. Up and down. Nine times.

I actually got some encouragement from people I passed — a nice change of pace from people who usually watch my workouts and shake their heads in confusion. I wasn’t fast but that wasn’t the goal. I heard my strength coach in my head saying “drive your knees!” as I made my way up the steepest part of the hill.

The rest of the day I felt a little bit bad ass. I was happy with my effort, happy with pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I was certain I was making progress.

And then I panicked.

I looked up the Pittsburgh Half Marathon course and the elevation profile. The climb in the final mile does not look inviting. I started to search the internet for race reports and found a few which bemoaned the hills — specifically the five bridges the course takes runners over. These were written by women who are younger and faster than me. This … did not bode well.

Then I checked the weather forecast.

To my reasonable mind, I know that there’s very little chance for The Weather Channel to accurately give a forecast that’s more than a week away. Still, I looked. Warm temperatures, moderate wind and, wait for it, thunderstorms.

My mind wanted to go into a tailspin.

I had not trained much for hills, especially since Grandma’s Marathon in June appears to be a rather flat course. The hills in Pittsburgh might kill me. I won’t run a decent time. I will disappoint people. And then there’s the weather. How will that impact my run? I haven’t run in temperatures above 50 yet. And what about Scott? My boyfriend will be experiencing his first race as a spectator and what if it’s raining with thunderstorms? Won’t he be miserable waiting around for me to finish?


Someone remind me to breath.

So here’s the good news: I stopped my mental tailspin pretty quickly. There are a whole bunch of facts I used on myself: Pittsburgh was always a training race, not a goal race. Scott is uber chill and will be happy to support me even in a rain jacket. People will not be disappointed in my performance and those who do judge me based on my performance are (a) not athletes or (b) mean people.

But more importantly, I knew my thoughts were my choice. I could choose to focus on all my reasons to panic or I could see this as an excellent training race — one which will challenge me as I prepare for Grandma’s Marathon in June and Niagara Falls in October.

In fact, the more I think about the challenges I will face at Pittsburgh, the more excited I am. Not because I’m thrilled about running hills (when I didn’t train to really run hills) or my first race in warm weather or the possibility of thunderstorms (which also means high humidity which is NOT one of my running buddies). But because the race itself, heck right now the concept of the race, is forcing me out of my comfort zone.

Facing difficult things and letting go of any concern for the outcome — any desire to compare myself to others or judge my performance based on external measurements — holds immense potential for me. I’m not quite sure exactly why or what or how. I know there is something important for me on the other side of this race but only if I give myself the freedom to let it rip and not worry about “performance.”

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