Standing at the bottom, staring up toward the top, I focus my glance back downward, aware that peering at the peak is too much to take on just yet.
Shuffling forward, toes hopping lightly in this moment before launch, I attempt to channel levity, to harness a second of springiness before I pop-off.
One final hop, and then, without a reason left to delay, my hand swipes down tapping my watch and,
Exploding uphill, with no one to witness, each hand hurl is an act of hope, each knee drive an insistence of ability. Propelling my body upward against the increasing incline that I’ve selected this AM, for these moments, this hill is mine.
The plan is to push upward for a set amount of time.
And then repeat.
And then repeat.
Half a dozen to a dozen times.
Aiming to match or exceed the endpoint I reach on each subsequent effort. The distance is arbitrary, the incline is unadorned, but the effort is precious. Because at this moment all that matters is my ability to throttle my exertion correctly. I’m testing my capacity to take stock of what I am able and then balance back and forth over that line. Revving, then releasing. Maximizing without overexerting. Pushing further without being reduced to a shuffle.
When driving up an incline each surge has consequences. Each impulse demands calculation since oxygen debts are collected immediately. It’s in these moments that it’s easiest to be present.
Minus the official markings of a track, my mind assigns meaning to stray features of the pavement unfolding in front of me. That crack past the intersection is about where it begins to hurt. That crease in the asphalt is where doubt starts to creep in. Then the carefully painted pedestrian crosswalk, that’s the point at which I’m forced to go all in.
The simple difficulty is the beauty.
Here, right now, it doesn’t matter how quickly anyone else could ascend this street. Not even how fast I’ve sprinted up here before matters much, as that’s not the same body I’m pushing today. No, the task is to assess and expend the ability I can find within myself right now. Any more is impossible, any less is dishonorable. It’s just this moment I must maximize.
Maybe that’s what I love most about the nauseating metallic taste of sprinting a hill repeatedly. In this moment it’s me vs me, and with each repetition, I force out the rest of the world further. My panting, filling my ears, creates a pocket within which I’m unable to consider much else.
On the track, I find that I’m always chasing. Solo intervals on the oval, with no one present to compare me to, places me right in the crosshairs of distance and time. It leaves me in pursuit, of past versions of myself, of the ghosts of better runners, and of the shadows of the runner I’ve always hoped I’d become.
Sadly, left alone on a track, I become an anxious, stressed, inferior shadow of myself. It strips me of the joy of simply being able. Each split is framed in opposition to how much quicker I wish it could be.
Like the twisted interest we have in “30 Under 30” lists, where highlighting others’ successes feels vaguely appealing but mostly leaves us thinking worse of ourselves, solo 400-meter repetitions lead me to focus on others even while I’m the only one there. Leave me scanning outward even as the only constructive action is to face myself.
So on the days when friends are busy, traveling, or unwilling to rise before the sun, I trot past the track toward the ridgeline, pick an incline and form it into my temporary foe.
There’s simplicity in finding the correct ascent to match an interval of time, one that provides the mix of speed and strength you’re seeking, then shuffling to its base, take a breath, and blasting off to make it your own.