A view worth the climb

At the bottom: Lots of shade and greenery.

AT THE BOTTOM: Lots of shade and greenery, along with famous names nearly everywhere you look. (Scroll down to see the view from the top.)

At the risk of sounding morbid, one of my favorite places to run is a cemetery.

But not just any generic cemetery. I love historic cemeteries, filled with carved monuments, 100-year-old trees, and lots of famous names.

These places are fascinating to visit, especially if you like history and nature. And, for some reason, they often have lots of hills and scenic overlooks. Even Trail Boy doesn’t mind pounding the pavement in such beautiful surroundings.

Luckily, Indianapolis has one of the largest such cemeteries in the nation, Crown Hill.

It is the resting place of such big shots as President Benjamin Harrison, gangster John Dillinger, poet James Whitcomb Riley and pharmaceutical maven Eli Lilly. The 555-acre cemetery has 25 miles of roads and tens of thousands of graves.

And for runners, here’s another bonus. Crown Hill features the highest point in Marion County, a region that is not blessed with lots of hills.

At the top of the cemetery, you have a great view of the downtown skyline, three miles to the south.

So that is where I decided to go today, to get reacquainted with every runner’s favorite workout, hill repeats.

OK, that’s a sick joke. 

The truth is, hills hurt. Especially if you haven’t run them in a while.

I haven’t done hill repeats in nearly two years. But that was my own stupid fault.

Hills are a great workout, once you get past the pain. They build strength, efficiency and allow you to increase your tolerance of lactic acid. So all the experts say.

Every time I’ve incorporated hill repeats into my training, I have been wildly surprised by my strength and speed on race day.

So I drove to Crown Hill at lunchtime, parked my Jeep and did a 15-minute warmup on flat ground. Then I started the ugly business:  climbing to the peak.

The hill is only about a quarter-mile long, but one of the steepest rises I’ve seen in Central Indiana — especially the south face of the hill.

I decided to run four repeats. My goal: run each one faster than the previous one.

During each long climb, I kept thinking of the magic formula for running steep hills: Head up! Little steps! Use your arms!

And I made it to the top without dying. Once there, I rested for 15 seconds, taking in the view, while listening to my heart hammer in my ears. It was loud enough to wake the dead. So was my gasping for air.

Another cool thing about the very top — the most prestigious plot of ground in the whole place — is who is buried there. No, it isn’t a general or a president or a governor. It’s a poet and children’s author, James Whitcomb Riley. As a writer, I just love that.

Then I chugged down to the bottom, took a deep breath, and ran back to the top.

My times, on the four trips up, were 1:51, 1:53, 1:58 and 1:56.

So I didn’t meet my “run them faster” goal.  But I brushed away the temptation to quit after three.

crown-skyline17

AT THE TOP: A clear view of the downtown Indy skyline.

Next week, I will run five repeats, then the following week, six, and so on.

And if I croak halfway up the hill, at least Mrs. Trail Boy won’t have to drag my sweaty corpse very far.

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