Sunday, July 31, 2005

Short Legs Conquer Steep Hills

Our coach was sneaky and waited until after our recommitment deadline to introduce us to Shawnee Mission Park. We ran twice around the 4.4 mile treeless and hilly loop. These are not just like the rolling hills of most Kansas City streets. Oh no, this loop contains around 6 steep grade hills that mimick the trolley hills of San Francisco. But we all signed our recommitment papers before, as our coach says,"the REAL marathon training begins" and now we cannot back down.

I actually did really well on the hills this week. I showed up around 10 minutes late and started the first loop behind the rest of the team. Most of my teammates are 10 minute mile or less runners. There are a few 11 minute milers and then the run/walkers start, followed by the one lone walker (Go Minnie! - walking on behalf of her daughter-in-law who fought and barely won the battle against Hodgkins Lymphoma). Usually I walk a bit so I finish just behind the 11 minute milers and before the walkers. So I showed up late expecting to catch up with some of the walkers after the first loop and maybe a few run/walkers by the end.

But I did WAY better than that!!!!

I was able to jog up most of the hills without stopping (as long as I slowed way down). By the the time I made it around the loop once I found most of the 11 minute milers and a few 10 minute milers still at the water stop. My competitive juices started flowing. I had started 10 minutes behind these folks and usually see only their behinds after we start running on a day when I show up on time. I had caught up with them!! Most of them were sucking down Gatorade talking about the brutal hills. But the hills weren't that hard for me.

Needless to say I swallowed a cup of Gatorade in one gulp and rushed back out to the loop to actually pass these folks by! I kept up my pace (telling myself I still had to go over those 6 hills once again) and quickly caught up with two 10 minute mile runners who today were struggling with the hills and knee pain. I ran with them for awhile but got bored when they kept stopping to walk the downhills to save their knees. I just wanted to fly down the hills to gain momentum on my way back up. So I bid them farewall and for once they actually saw my gloriously broad behind for a change.

Then I caught up with my run and walk partner Becky (who also has a bit of a stockier build) . She also looked at ease with the hills. Like me, she was way ahead of runners that are usually faster than her and was looking strong. Near the backend of our final loop she said to me, "Boy this has gone by fast." Tell that to the folks walking the hills behind us Becky! I finished around 9 miles in 1 hr and 50 minutes. There was still a large crowd of runners arriving to the Gatorade stop when I got there and for the first time in awhile I felt like a winner and a part of a team of athletes. Like I was good at something. And I had discovered I was better at something than a lot of the fast girls who have passed me all this time.

A new theory was also growing in my brain: that stort and stout legs are better on hills than long and skinny legs! I think this can be proven by my experience and Becky's, but for more objective reasons I asked my high school cross country trained husband.

He said that: "Long legs are better on downhills because your gait is taking you forward thereby letting gravity due most of the work. But when they teach you to run hills they tell you to take a shorter stride uphill and longer strides down hill. This is a more efficient use of your energy, perhaps because you are closer to the hill, not bounding up and down." Perhaps this is why I pass so many long-legged runners on my way up hills, my gait is already short due to my short legs. I am close to the earth and just scrambling up it one short step at a time (while they are fight gravity by bounding up hills with their long legs).

This theory was also proven when we hiked to the Mount St. Helens summit with a church group, without any prior training. Even though we hiked with a bunch of fit athletes, my husband and I were the second up the mountain, beaten only by his brother, (beating the rest of the hikers by over 20 minutes). I remember one especially skinny and beautiful young lady looking at me with surprise and saying, "Wow, Sarah, you must work out every day." But I didn't. I just had good legs for scrambling up hills.

I guess all this is just a resounding encouragement for all of us women and guys who feel a bit fatter and slower than the rest of the runners. We have a resilence and stamina that others can't even fathom. They might beat us in a sprint, but we may outlast them when the marathon actually comes. Also, throw in a few steep hills and the "big bones" that make us good at birthing babies, but not good at wearing mini-skirts, will propel us past them to summit. Thank you God for my legs, my body, and my heart. They are just where they need to be: big, strong, and healthy! I think of my burly female Scottish ancestors who hiked the Ochel Hills of Scotland to fetch water and I'm proud of my legs and how far they can carry me. Argh!


Erin said...

Ya know, I think you may have something there! During our training, the hills weren't that bad for me. My teammates would comment on how I tackled the hills, saying it was as if they were flat for me. Then, on the day of the marathon, mile 25 (aka "Insult Hill") was straight up at a fairly steep incline. Everyone talked about how hard it was but I loved it! So I guess my big body is good for something. ;)

a.maria said...

ha, sarah, love it... i ran in st. louis this weekend on some monster hills, and although they were tough, i finished my 8 miles in 1:42... respectable when considering the hills (i think..although i had nobody to compare to!!)... for some reason i've been looking forward to hills. but i'm short too, so maybe its just me getting back at all the tall chicks!

any idea if we're running at shawnee mission this saturday?!

16 miles. gulp.