femalestrength · fitness · running

Facing the enemy: Bettina tries run commuting… uphill!

I have talked here before about how badly I do running uphill. I could run downhill, I could run on a flat course, but uphill – no, no, and no. But since I was told that the only way to improve my uphill endurance was to… run uphill, I’ve been working on my hills, and while I still haven’t been enjoying them, things have been looking a bit better of late.

I had previously entertained the thought of running to work on several occasions. The problem was: I work up a very steep hill, and I never thought I could actually do it. It was the sort of idea that would float into my head only to be immediately dismissed as completely unrealistic. I had visions of myself arriving at the office completely exhausted (if at all) and being essentially useless for the rest of the day. Check out the elevation profile of my commute to get an idea of what I was up against:

Graph of the elevation profile of my run to work, showing an overall elevation of 285 metres with a very steep uphill slope at the beginning.

Then, a month ago, I tried trail running at a mountain sports festival and unexpectedly enjoyed it a lot more than I ever thought I would. I had been quite nervous about even attending the workshop because I was afraid I’d be “that person” holding back the entire group and making a sad spectacle out of herself. This was decidedly outside of my comfort zone, so I was very relieved when it turned out the others had similar concerns (and, I will admit, also because I realised that I wasn’t the slowest group member).

But I think what helped the most was the instructor’s explanation of trail running as “basically a mixture of running and walking – you run when you can and you walk when you can’t or the terrain gets too difficult”. It made me feel much better about slowing down for a particularly steep climbs. Part of my problem with hills before was that I would beat myself up about having to walk when the going got too tough. Walking was “not allowed” in my mind. But all of a sudden, walking was allowed, nay, encouraged. I felt more at ease about those hills immediately.

Trailrunning with gear
Bettina, looking a bit nervous in anticipation of her first run commute, equipped with a trail running backpack complete with a water bladder.

After that first positive experience with trail running, it was only a question of time until I attempted my first run commute – the time it took for my little trail running backpack to be delivered. When it finally arrived (I wanted a very particular one and it took a while to get here), I decided to try it out right away. The day before, I took an extra outfit to work and left it in the closet in my office for the next day, and the following morning I suited up in my running outfit and backpack. I carried some water, my glasses, keys, and a small makeup bag with the bare necessities to make myself look presentable for a day at the office. Luckily we have showers at work, so that wasn’t going to be a problem.

And the only thing I regret about it was not having run commuted before. It was fantastic! I’ve done it twice now, and the first time I only stopped for a few breaks when I had to check the map on my phone to make sure I was still on course. On the second run, I found a slightly less steep route (actually the one shown in the elevation chart above) and only stopped once to briefly check the map! Granted, the uphill bit is very slow going, but I actually found I could do it without walking. And I was rewarded for it all with a beautiful route along little paths through the woods and gorgeous sunrise views over the river valley.

Gorgeous sunrise view over the valley with Heidelberg castle in the foreground and the river Neckar in the back, framed by trees. 

I’m still optimising the route and my equipment (I ditched the water the second time because I found I didn’t need it), but it feels great to arrive at work with 5k already under my belt and the prospect of breakfast and a coffee while I do early morning emails. Unfortunately, because of the days getting shorter, I anticipate being able to do this maybe another two times this year before it gets too dark in the mornings to run in the woods. I won’t be doing it every day either, since I do other sports on other days, so at the moment once a week seems like a good routine.

I’m really pleased with my new adventure! Sometimes pushing one’s boundaries is just so worth it. I’m curious to hear from you how you’ve pushed your comfort zone when doing exercise. What was holding you back? How did you overcome that? And did you like it when you did?


2 thoughts on “Facing the enemy: Bettina tries run commuting… uphill!

  1. Wow– I love this post! Reminding us (that your coach reminded you) that we can and should walk when running is too difficult is sounds advice for any sort of trek. And the utility of running plus commuting is so satisfying. I cycle to lots of places for errands in summer, but less so when the weather turns cooler and the light dims. But I’m planning on keeping it up as everyday movement as much as I can this fall and winter. Thanks for the tips.

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