Hills…Speedwork in Disguise

hillsOn Tuesday, nothing about my run felt good. At all. My workout was to warm up for 25 minutes at a 7:30 pace, complete 5×2 minute hill sprints, and then cool down for 25 minutes at a 7:30 pace. I had a good hill to climb that takes exactly 25 minutes to run to. It was a relatively flat/gently rolling terrain to get there. Perfect. I like hills. Being able to power up a hill makes you physically and mentally strong. I was excited for the workout…until I actually DID said workout. So, brace yourself for some whining and complaining. I promise to end with something motivating, about overcoming struggle or whatever. But first, I need to whine.

Here in the northeast, we’ve been having some less than optimal weather. We were supposed to get some snow and ice, but it ended it up raining on Tuesday instead. Temps were hovering around 40, so no freezing precipitation by the time I got out running after work. Just cold, steady December rain. Yuck. I wasn’t thrilled about running in a chilly rain, but I wasn’t about to bail on the workout either. I already didn’t feel like doing the run and started with a bad attitude. I just wanted to go home, cook dinner for my husband, and cuddle with my new little kitten while binge watching Netflix (currently, I’m stuck on The Walking Dead. Disturbing, but now I feel like I have to see it through).

I know of about three lengthy hill climbs that I can use for hill sprints, and chose Tuesday’s course based on several factors. The two super steep hills are on busy, narrow roads. I knew I would be running in the rain/wintery mix and it would get dark out, so that ruled out those two. This left me with a long, gradual hill as my playground for the day. Additionally, I haven’t done formal hill sprints in about a year and a half because when I trained myself, I used Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning book as a guide. Pfitzinger doesn’t have specific workouts set aside for hill sprints because his theory is that all of your runs should be done on the type of terrain you are training for. While I buy into that school of thought (trying to mimic race conditions for optimal race day performance), I believe hill repeats have a place in training. It’s a speed workout, but also a strength workout. To get faster, you need to get stronger. The hill I chose had rolling terrain to get to the hill, and the hill itself wasn’t super steep. That was appealing to my rusty hill sprinting legs. Here’s my pretty little elevation chart. I like how the little peaks look in the middle:


The whole 7:30 pace thing was the least of my concerns before the workout. 7:30 is my usual general aerobic pace for runs. I wouldn’t call it effortless, but it isn’t crazy aggressive either. But when I began running on Tuesday, it just felt HARD. I found that the 7:30s weren’t happening and my legs felt completely dead. On a side note, I’ve also been dealing with this dumb piraformis/glute pain thing lately. I literally have a pain in my ass. I didn’t notice the pain when running on Tuesday, but to remedy the problem I’ve been doing some additional hip/glute strength work. I did squats with weights for the first time in a long time on Monday. I’m wondering if my heavy/dead leg feeling had anything to do with that.

I was able to average in the 7:40s for the warm up. It wasn’t that far off, but it just FELT off. I felt like it was too much effort expended to get my legs moving faster and I knew I had the hill sprints to complete. I didn’t want to burn out before the workout even began. I chose to back off on the way out and try to get them moving again on the cool down. As I neared the hill, I wondered how the heck I was going to manage five uphill sprints. It was only 2 minutes at a clip for a total of 10 minutes, but it just seemed endless.

Surprisingly, the repeats ended up being the highlight of the workout. I was able to pick up the pace and averaged much faster than I anticipated. It didn’t feel good at all, but I got it done. I also practiced keeping my effort hard on the way back down. When I ran with my coach recently, he noticed I would push up hills, but relax at the top to recover. He wants me to keep pushing and let gravity do it’s thing on the downhill, so I gave that a shot.

The whole workout ended up being just over nine miles, and the last two miles were ugly. I hit a 7:39 for one of the miles on the way back, but then ended up averaging 7:50s for the last two miles. I actually kind of felt a little dizzy towards the end, but it also could have been the light playing tricks on my eyes. As I headed back, the sun started to set and it was dark by the end of my run. I probably only even held a sub-8 minute mile because, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been watching Walking Dead. Since I was running in an isolated area, I was scared that a herd of zombies would come out of nowhere (yes, I realize exactly how ridiculous I sound). Pretty good motivation to finish a workout.

I’m basically whining because it didn’t feel good. I know, they can’t all feel good. It was a successful workout, all things considering. Even without really hitting those 7:30s (of course, the next day, on a “recovery” run with J, we did a hilly 5 miler at a 7:36 pace, no problem. Go figure). As for Tuesday, I just wasn’t feeling it and neither were my legs…but those are the workouts that are the most important. The workouts where you have to force yourself to start and push yourself even harder to finish. Those are the workouts that make you strong, both physically AND mentally. I’m not suggesting pushing through pain and injury – but to achieve a goal, sometimes you have to make yourself comfortable with being uncomfortable.  In a marathon (or any distance race), no matter how good you feel at the start and how well you’ve prepared, there is a good chance you will feel pretty beat up at some point in the race if you are pushing your limits. You need to know that you are physically and mentally prepared to handle that. I’m chasing a sub-3 hour marathon finish, and that’s absolutely a goal that is pushing my limits to the max. So while I felt like I was riding the struggle bus on Tuesday, I consider the run a success because I finished it.

Have you ever struggled to finish a workout? What was the outcome? How do you push through a workout when it just doesn’t feel good?


14 Replies to “Hills…Speedwork in Disguise”

  1. Oh I have had my share of those days Allison and considering that picture I think you handled it beastly and like a total boss! When I’m struggling with a workout I like to break it down into segments even if the segments are short as 100 meter segments

    1. That’s exactly what I do! On Tuesday, I told myself to just get through the warmup. Once I got through that, I took each hill sprint one at a time, and then I took the cool down one mile at a time. I felt ROUGH, though!

  2. HILLS!! Good for you for sticking it out! I think these are the workouts that probably help us the most even though we don’t see it at the time through the struggle. Being a numbers nerd, it bothers me too when some days, a certain pace can feel comfortable and then other days that same pace feels like death. The most recent time I can think of that I felt this was when I did 4×1600 repeats on the track a few weeks ago. The first one I did felt HORRIBLE!! I did it in the time I wanted to, but hated to think about having to do 3 more. Thank god, as I did each one, I felt a little better mentally. It wasn’t that they got easier but I think my body (and my mind!) got used to that horrible feeling. I used to be notorious (in my own mind of course; I don’t think anyone else cared LOL) for giving up when my workouts got hard, but I’ve been getting better at it! It helps to hear that I’m not the only one who struggles. Good luck with your 5-miler…and hitting that sub-3 marathon soon! 😀

    1. Thanks!! I feel like I give up mentally too easily. I often finish a hard workout feeling the way I felt last week because I feel like I could have given it more. I just need to suck it up and be uncomfortable for the time it takes to complete the workout. I struggle with this more than most other aspects in training. It really bothers me when I do a workout like that and wake up the next morning and I’m not sore – to me, that means I had more left to give. It’s so hard! We will figure this crazy sport out…eventually!

  3. First–you are mighty speedy! Your avg 7:30 isy tempo pace currently. 🙂 but ooooh yes I’ve had several hard training runs. Rain makes it no easier. But like you said, it makes us stronger. I’ve found the difficult workouts often prove to be the best for me. Glad I came across your blog! Looking forward to following you.

  4. Ughh I know the feeling when it’s just not your day. I like what you said at the end though about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable – I think that’s a huge part of running, and partly why so many non-runners just don’t get why we do what we do. We runners are crazy for embracing the pain 🙂
    One of my favorite quotes that I’ll remind myself of on particularly hard runs is “nothing worth having comes easy”

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