Today I ran Wildwood Park’s inaugural RunWild 5K. It was a great point to point course with some small rolling hills that somehow managed to end with almost a half mile of downhill. It got me thinking about my high school cross country coach, Loyal Kaeding, who taught me how to run hills. At the time, the lesson was strictly about running, but I’ve heard the words of his lessons play through my head many times over the past 18 years.
Coach Kaeding’s methods for running uphill were simple: Pump your arms, bend your knees, dig in with your toes. If you are running on a trail and the hill is steep enough, use your hands to pull yourself up the hill. Living in Central Arkansas, I still run up literal hills quite often, but I also have faced many a figurative hill in my life. Even for the figurative kind of hill, Coach’s advice still rings true.
As a freshman, I remember hating to run/crawl up and down the hills through the woods behind our high school, or slip-sliding up the gravel on Woolsey Road during practice. But, as the racing season started and I heard runners from other schools curse and whine about the hills on our cross-country course, I became proud of my ability to dash up those hills. Running up hills is hard work, and sometimes it’s an unwelcome challenge, but like many things in life, it’s 50% mental. And just as I was proud that I knew how to run those hills, I’m proud that my life experiences have left me well equipped to face challenges, both good and bad.
Coach K’s method for running downhill made pretty good sense too: Drop your arms, relax, and let gravity and momentum help you. Today in the 5K, when we got to that huge last downhill stretch, I did exactly that. I was half way down and had already passed three people when I realized that no one else was using this downhill attack method. The runners around me still held their arms tight, kept their gait the same, and some of them were even leaning back to prevent themselves from going faster down the hill. The only other person who was making the same progress as me was a dad running behind a double jog stroller. He had a little extra weight and momentum to help his downhill speed!
The figurative downhill lesson that I’ve learned from Coach Kaeding’s advice is to use the tools you have available to you. When the situation changes, whether it gets easier or harder, don’t just keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing. You’ve gotta look around, take stock, and use your resources. When you’re in a race, don’t be afraid to let gravity and momentum help you. You might end up with results that are your personal best, like I did today.
Post Note: I can’t write a “life lessons” post with Coach Kaeding in it without mentioning the Six P’s: “Proper Prior Preparedness Prevents Poor Performance.” Start with the small hills (literal and figurative) and work your way up.