This can be a tough time of year. The lightness and simplicity of summer hill running is stolen away by falling temperatures and rising winds. Out goes the dashing tan of summer, in comes the head torch bindi. Split shorts become long shorts become 3/4s become tights become thermal tights become a sleeping bag on the sofa because it’s fucking awful out there and running is dreadful. Racing season grinds to a halt and autumnal listlessness descends.
The leaves haven’t the energy to cling to the trees, how can I be expected to summon the strength to run?
But the show must go on. While some insufferable bastards are counting sleeps till Christmas, runners are counting training blocks til the first races of 2019. Somewhere in the lackadaisical fug is a glimmer of excitement at the prospect of going back to the start and laying a new foundation for next year’s inevitable glorious success. And that brings with it something awful; the appearance on my training plan of the worst 4 words in the English language.
Sixty second hill reps.
Forget the ultrarunners are craaazy trope. Running long is easy. These things are the devil.
The first one is the worst.
It’s been 10 months since I ran this fast and I’m not sure I remember how. I just remember that it sucks. Setting off up Hill Rep Hill, it all comes flooding back, that heady mix of apprehension and self loathing. The Ally that runs hill reps has two personalities. One is focussed on controlling the legs. The other is focussed on hating the first.
It’s not too late, if you stop now it won’t get any worse. . .WHY ARE YOU STILL RUNNING?
Eventually, the lactate takes over and all that is forgotten.
But the second one is worse.
Four and a half minutes ago I had muscles full of glycogen, oxygen rich blood. Not now. Each tortuous minute robs you of a little more of what you hold in reserve. As the recovery interval ticks down, I stand with my hand on my chest, feeling my pulse, monitoring my breath. The plan says I should be fully recovered before starting the next rep. Should I go home, have a snack and a nap? Sorry, no.
Time’s up, run.
The third, fourth and fifth are the worst.
Riding the downward curve, each time digging a little deeper, I look for comfort in routine.
Remembering how well I know this 300m of forestry track, between The Starting Stone and The Stopping Stick, I break it down, reacquainting myself with the markers which coincide with changes in my breathing. Six strides per breath to the gravelly bit, 4 strides per breath to the junction on the right, then 3, then 2 and Oh Christ send help! These divisions make it managable. They break the minute down, drawing attention away from the insufferable whole, each section shorter than the last but feeling much, much longer.
Jesus was alone in the desert for 40 days. Henri Charrière served years in solitary confinement in a French penal colony. Buddhist monks spend decades meditating in isolated caves in the mountains. None of them knows the passage of time as it is revealed to a runner in the final 15 seconds of a 60 second effort.
Flogging myself today in the mild, gummy maw of Storm Ali, hellish training and cruddy weather combine. My persecution complex kicks into high gear and every little handicap becomes a terrible, unjust burden; my wet shorts have a death grip on my quads; the hood of my jacket billows out behind me like a parachute; the shifing wind whips through the trees and funnels down the hill, slowing me, holding me back. Every gust in the treetops sounds like the storm’s mocking laughter, ridicuing my contorted face.
Jesus wept, and so did Ally.
But then. . .
The sixth is the best.
The last one. After this, no more. Go as hard as you like, in 62 seconds you’ll be collapsed in the heather, staring at the sky.
Lying there today, there is a momentary break in the weather. The south westerly gale carries the clouds off towards the North Sea and as the wretching subsides I find myself gazing up at nothing but blue.
Though we suffer and strive, with perseverance we may come through our hardships and arrive at the other side, in a place of peace and contentment. If we weather the storm our hard work shall be rewarded. And even as we are buffeted by fortune’s cruel gusts, we may learn to look beyond the tempest and realise that the blue sky is always there, waiting to be revealed to us once more.
That sort of thing.
Spiritually uplifted, I start jogging home.
It pisses down.
My foot hurts.