I started running in Chattanooga, TN (altitude: 680 feet). After two years, I was up to 10 mile runs and sporadically flirting with my goal pace of 10 minute miles. Then I abruptly relocated.
I resumed running in Colorado Springs, CO (altitude: 6,035 feet). The altitude and hill-laden terrain, coupled with the summer heat, was like running into a fucking brick wall.
I felt like I was dying. I felt like I had never run before. I honestly felt like I had completely lost every stride of those two years of work.
It was so disheartening. I kept telling myself that fall would bring its usual avalanche of progress with the dropping temperatures as I heaved myself up hill after hill, drenched in sweat, chasing my sister. I did not believe it though. Internally, I was defeated.
But I just kept running. And running. Back up to 5 miles. Back up to three runs a week. Then four. Back up to 10 miles. Back up to racing once a month. Twice a month. Five races in four weeks.
I learned to steady my pace up the hills, lengthen my stride. I learned to adjust my pace expectations to accommodate for incline. I relearned to just accept the runner I am.
And then it came. Just as I should have known it would. I started to see progress. At last!
My pace leveled out. Hills became incidental. I was no longer a slobbering mess at the end of anything less than 10 miles.
Two distinct instances helped realign my perspective.
(1) When I returned to the South for the first time, my original running mate, Carmen, and I were finally able to run together again. I had always feared that she had continued down our path of progression while I was headbutting into my altitude road block. I thought she would dust me and leave me behind.
However, I didn’t find myself chasing her heels. We jogged through the camps of Alchemy, pseudo-trail running. There were some gentle hills and one descent one. I didn’t even notice them I was so oxygenated back on flat land.
Carmen kept apologizing, but I didn’t care. I thought she did awesome. I was euphoric at being able to run with her again and at seeing that all my work had propelled me forward rather than held me back.
(2) When I started running in Colorado, I desperately (and futilely) searched for flat. I thought I discovered a route by my work. It seemed temptingly flat.
Like all Colorado routes, hills. Then epic hills. When I attempted the route by one summer sunrise, I was greeted by the hardest hill I had yet to run. I barely wogged up it, and it killed me. I couldn’t even limp through the full 4.5 miles. And I always finish.
I abandoned the route. Until this week.
I decided running in the pitch black 5am on an unlit greenway, even with a dog, still felt unsafe. I opted to try going to work early and running after, though I have always preferred the early run. I figured might as well brave the route by work again.
I kicked its ass.
I ran that hill like it was no more than a handicap ramp. I aimed for 5 miles but hit 6.8 without noticing. And I could have kept running.
Progress. Undeniable fucking progress. And suddenly, it’s all worth it again.