Is it a hill or isn’t it?

I started running in middle school when I lived on Camp Pendleton in California. My dad was a career marine and both of my parents ran marathons, so I’m no stranger to the insanity of running. There I was, 12 years old, already 5′ 6″ and skinny as pole, side-by-side the with the rest of the fools on our first run up a hill the marine recruits called Agony Hill. It was like running a 300 foot sand dune. I was young, skinny, a good ocean breeze and I was flying up that hill, then swooshing down the sandy slope like I was skiing Mont Blanc.

Here’s a pic of it today. It’s also called Reconridge and the Grim Reaper. I remember it sandier, but you get the idea.


Now I’m much older, a couple inches taller, and most definitely not that skinny. I’m also not that naive. It’s called Agony Hill for a reason. I don’t need to revisit it.

Running wisdom says we should run hills once a week, but what constitutes a hill? When is it a rolling incline or a mother-lovin’ monster of a mountain? Today, I can’t run anywhere around my house without running up and down hills (thank you San Andreas fault). See the elevation change in this morning’s run below:

I’d consider the majority of this rolling hills. Short quick strides for 20 seconds and I’m up, but the last one is a challenge, a 206 ft elevation gain. It burns the thighs, but I’ve done it so many times I know I can make it so I keep telling myself, “suck it up, you’re not walking, you got this, your body is powerful, think how good you’ll feel.” Yet I can’t help but wonder, does this constitute a hill or am I just wimp? I’ve run much more challenging hills in races, the kind where most people are walking. So I ask my fellow runners, what constitutes a hill and how much time should I be ascending these hills to gain significant benefit? Thoughts?


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