Inclines were like stop signs.
When I first moved to the heights of the Mile-High City (Denver, Colorado) from my home’s sea level altitude, I was running in the city. After stopping every block for stoplights and doing endless laps around parks, I knew I either had to start trail running or allow myself to slip into insanity.
I chose the former, and headed to Denver’s foothills. The runs were fine until the trails steepened, then I would walk because I assumed I couldn’t propel myself up the incline with any kind of speed. After all, wasn’t running up mountains for people like Dean Karnazes and Rory Bosio? It certainly wasn’t for a normal runner like me.
|The flatlands were fine, but there were peaks calling. Could my two feet take me up there with any kind of speed?|
Without meaning to, we can become our own obstacles. We throw limits on ourselves when none are needed, and reach all sorts of wild conclusions based on subjective statements that have nothing to do with our true abilities.
We assume we can’t and so we don’t.
Running uphill is hard — no question about it. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It simply means we should move forward a few more paces and see how it feels.
Reaching this understanding first required curiosity to get the best of me. After so many runs where I halted my own pace at the foot of a hill, the began questions arising: What if I could run up this? What if this isn’t a barrier after all, but a challenge?
I felt my perspective shifting. Running uphill was hard, but “hard” doesn’t equate into “impossible.” Shortening and slowing my pace — but not stopping — I moved upward. It didn’t feel great. I wasn’t setting any land-speed records. But I was moving, little by little, up the mountain.
Gaining the summit is immensely difficult, both physically and mentally. When you’re starting out, you have no proof that you can carry out the plan. Your brain is apt to weaken with the void of unknowing. But as you continue working through your running days and adding steps to your miles, it gets incrementally easier.
In the moment of reaching my first summit without slackening my pace, I was burning with the lack of oxygen — but also with the joy of achievement. The foothills looked grander, the light more golden. I could now stand at the top, looking down at all the feet between me and the base, and know that I had gotten myself all the way up there with my own two legs — running.
After that, there were no excuses. The accountability of having already accomplished something difficult weighed on my mind, pressing me whenever I told myself I could go no further. My achievement wouldn’t allow me to believe my self-imposed limitations any longer.
For a while, the motivation was in knowing the feeling of strength and satisfaction that awaited if I could gain the few hundred feet of elevation. But after a few weeks of running the hills, I started to look forward to them.
Hills were kind of fun, actually, in this kind of crazy, masochistic way. Burning muscles and shortened breaths forced me to dial into something more elemental, to dig deeper than just my physical abilities. It was like tapping into some sort of building rhythm; as I climbed higher, I forced myself to pick up my legs faster.
The six-month anniversary of my living in Colorado was celebrated with a trail run up L