The first hill is the hardest

first hill is the hardest

At the age of 67, after returning from a meditation retreat, I started running daily for the first time in my life. And I soon learned that the first hill is the hardest.


It was summer, and I had no idea what I could do. So I began by exploring without expectations. I dressed in my regular sneakers, some shorts, and a tee shirt. I live in a rural town with 60 miles of dirt roads, so I ran out of my home and down the 600′ driveway. Wanting exercise, I turned left on the town road and started up the hill. Way before the top I was out of breath, so I slowed to a walk until I got to the top. I ran down some of the other side, decided that was enough for the first day, and turned around and retraced my path. I had to walk up most of my driveway.

The total run and walk was a mere mile.

I wondered if I’d ever be able to do better than that.

What happened

Each day I tried to run a little more, always slowing to a walk when needed. I began to go a little further, and eventually settled on a pretty route, all on dirt roads, with three hills to climb on the way. The distance is a little over two miles, with a 340 feet elevation change.

first hill is the hardest I still remember the day, several months after I started, when I ran the whole route.

I’ve been running it ever since.

It gets easier

As I write this, I have been running for five months. I continue to be surprised how my daily run slowly continues to become easier. I’m not trying to run my route faster, but occasionally I notice I’m taking a little less time on average. We’re approaching winter now, and I’ve purchased the usual runner’s accessories: nanospikes for running safely on ice, an orange vest for hunting season, running tights, a cycling jacket, and a balaclava and warm mittens for those single digit days. I’m concerned about injuring myself. So I work to notice how my joints and muscles are feeling, not hesitating to slow down or even cut the run short if I have any concerns.

Apart from a handful of times when I’ve needed to get up early for a long plane flight and had no opportunity to run during the day, my run has become a daily practice wherever I am.

I feel great about that.

The first hill is the hardest

I haven’t experienced “runner’s high” and I’m not addicted to running. There are still some days when I’m reluctant to start out, because, after an easy lope down the driveway, the first hill is the hardest! When I start climbing it my body isn’t fully warmed up, and there are moments when I look up and realize there’s still a long trek (from my novice runner’s perspective) to the top.

And then I’m at the top, and I have a long descent to my turnaround point. Even though the first leg of the return is long and steep, it seems easier. I’m warmed up. I’ve run over half my route.

There’s no need to hurry.

Overcoming fear and improving with practice

How my running practice has developed remind me of my changed attitude to public speaking. Decades ago, when I started addressing groups of people, I felt terrified. Just like my running, my first appearances were the worst.

Today, I regularly speak in front of hundreds or thousands of people, and feel, at most, nervous excitement. As with my running practice, hundreds of speaking gigs have changed my attitude and ability to put myself out in front of many people without worrying about what “mistakes” I might make or what might happen.

And, just like my running, I feel that excitement as I begin. The first hill is still the hardest. But once I start, I’m into the flow of the event and the worst is over.

Photo attribution: Jenny Hill jennyhill [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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