Anyone who runs marathons will tell you that they generally hit their wall and feel like they’ve run out of juice between miles 18 and 20. After that point, it’s pure heart and adrenaline that will get the runner over the finish line. So it seems like cruel and unusual punishment for the planners of the BMW Dallas Marathon to place a backbreaking hill at the tail end of mile 20, leaving runners with jelly for legs for the last five-plus miles.
In their defense, the marathon creators didn’t put the hill there—it just happened to be strategically located along the edge of Tokalon Park. Nonetheless, there it was—a one-third mile hill with a good 6% to 7% pitch. Ouch!
I had a bird’s-eye view of it this past Sunday when my daughter Callie competed in the marathon.
It was fascinating to watch the variety of ways the competitors approached the hill. Based on my focus group of two (Callie’s and my experiences with hills during running and bike races), I’m going to go out on a ledge and say that their approaches are not far off from how they approach life.
Don’t believe me? Do you recognize yourself in any of the basic styles of hill climbers that I observed?
Charge up. Push harder…fight harder…nothing’s going to stop me, sucka. It’s Rocky on the stairs. This is the same group that sprints through the finish line just so they know they can always dig a little deeper. This would be my Callie through and through.
Slow and steady wins the race. Smart…thoughtful…planned…careful. Curiously, older people tended to fall into this category as though their experience on Earth (and with running) tells them that if they just keep going and stay the course, they will make it through. One foot, then the other, then the other. They may not set the world on fire, but these lieutenants will definitely get the job done.
Preserve energy. A lot like the slow-and-steady crowd but a little more thoughtful in their desire to not run out of steam. When challenges strike, they slow down a little and trudge through. They don’t want to quit, and they don’t want to walk…but they sure as heck need a moment to assess, regroup and dig deep to face this challenge. If they go down, it won’t be without a fight.
Walk it out. They are not ready to quit…not ready to fight. There is no dishonor in the walk, especially at mile 20 when you need to be sure you will make it to the homestretch. This is a careful bunch, always alert to the risks around the corner. The question for this group—what do you do at the top of the hill? Keep walking? Drag along? Decide enough is enough? Or rediscover your fight now that you’ve caught your breath?
I’ve had enough. The hill took many victims. Callie observed that there were fewer runners on the course after the hill (she is still looking for the stats on how many runners started versus how many finished.) Meanwhile, these brave racers made it for more than 20 miles and now faced the hardest point of the race. After the hill, the last five miles are downhill. Injuries aside, why would you quit now? It could have been the call of the beer truck…or inadequate preparation. For me, barring risk for serious injury, when you’ve made it this far and are looking at coasting home, why would you give up the opportunity to say, “I did it” and to know deep in your heart that you mastered that challenge, even if it meant walking the last few miles. Worse yet, what does the act of quitting do for future challenges? It’s always easy to quit, but it is surprisingly hard to live with the regrets of having made that choice.
There is one more behavior that cut across all hill-climbing styles…
Curse it out. This category crossed running styles, but I think it bears attention. I can’t tell you how many versions of “This hill sucks” we heard while standing at the top. People of all ages and all fitness levels muttered under their breath or blurted right out an “F*** you” to the mountain that a competitor had just beaten. Cursing the hill was cathartic for those who silently raged at the audacity of having to deal with that large hill at that point in the race. That’s very similar to how most of us feel when our energy is flagging and we are asked to dig deep for one more challenge. Once conquered, however, releasing that pent-up frustration from the fight clears the air and allows us to refocus our energy on the next task—in this case, completing the race.
Six miles later, I watched as Callie, legs on fire, rounded the final corner and sprinted the last 100 meters to the finish, a broad smile on her face showing how proud she was of her accomplishment. As they were on the hill, her fellow finishers were a mix of sprinters, steady-pacers and those who were just grateful they had made it to the end.
No matter the style, they were all warriors who conquered the hill!