Hills, hills, they’re good for your heart

Yes, hills are good for your heart — if they don’t kill you first.
It’s been weeks since I’ve run hill repeats. And today I paid the price for my neglect.
After a few blasts up the hill, I was wheezing and gasping and praying that I would reach the top before I blacked out. It wasn’t pretty.

Sign at the top of the long hill at Fort Ben.


It’s my own fault. I should have been running hills religiously all spring. I’m sure that’s what Master Denny has been doing, which is why he is so fast. But I haven’t been, which is why my race times this year are so, um, somewhat below average.    

To tell the truth, I don’t even mind running hills, once I’m conditioned for them. But if you put them off for too many weeks, the re-entry is a bitch.    

Yes, that would be a good word to describe today’s workout. The Hill Repeats. They’re a Bitch. Rated PG-13.    

I ran the repeats at Fort Ben, about 20 minutes from my house, where I normally go to run trails.    

Trails were not an option today. We’ve been deluged with rain for two of the past three days. As much as I was tempted to run a few short loops on dirt, Mother Nature had her own ideas.    

Here is what the trails looked like:    

You could run around this puddle with no problem...


...but then you would run into this small lake...


...and finally the trail disappeared entirely.


Nope, a trail run wasn’t in the cards today. So I trotted back to the pavement and got down to business.    

I started off with an easy warmup, a 2 1/2 mile run on a paved, rolling bike path called Harrison Trace.    

You have to be somewhat creative to find a good hill workout at Fort Ben — or anywhere else in flat, flat Central Indiana. In all my visits to the park, I haven’t found the perfect hill — one steep enough and long enough to get your heart going.    

So what I’ve done in the past is run several back-to-back hills on the bike path. It  requires me to make a few tight turns and even run one brief downhill section (for maybe 50 feet) before I hit the last long uphill. End to end, it’s probably one-third of a mile.    

It’s not ideal, but it’s worked pretty well for me in the past. Plus the surroundings are very green and shady, which helps on hot days. And this bike trail is closed to cars.    

This is one of the turny-twisty uphills that I use for the repeats.


This is the last uphill straightaway. At the top is a park bench for weaklings.


At the very top of the last hill, there are two things that I’ve always found amusing. The first is a park bench, where you can collapse if you’ve found the hill too strenuous.    

Also at the top is a warning sign (for people heading down the hill) that says Steep Grade Ahead. Use Extreme Caution. Every time I run past that sign (hundreds of times, over the years), I always laugh. OK, it’s a hill, but I wouldn’t consider it a steep grade. It’s a medium grade, if that. Sure, if you ride a skateboard down it, your hair will blow a little in the wind. But it’s not like a mountain road. I’ve always thought the sign was a bit over the top.    

But after today, I had to concede that the hill was tougher than I was today.    

I ran up it six times, including a slow, untimed warm-up. I had a goal of running the hill a little faster each time. Sadly, my goal was beyond my grasp. Here are my times: 2:04, 2:03, 2:11, 2:11 and 2:06.    

The last time I got to the top, I flung myself down on the park bench to catch my breath for a few seconds. Then I did the 2 1/2-mile loop again as a cool-down. It was funny how easy that loop was this time, after those hills. Momma-mia!    

Oh, this bench felt good after the sixth trip up the hill.

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