Running The Steep Hill After The Valley


As runners we are always talking about the ups and downs of running.  We may talk about how hilly a course was, how bad “that hill” was, or how much the hill repeats we did last night took out of us.  Some of us talk about loving hills, while others talk about how much they hate them, but unless you never leave the track, the truth is we will all run them.

Hills are just one example of the ups and downs we go through as runners, and in fact are not the ones I am writing about today.  The other all too familiar ups and downs we experience as runners are the roller coaster rides our training, running ability, and overall fitness seem to take us on as our running career builds over the months and years.  If runners were completely honest about it, every one of them would tell you they experience varying degrees of these ups and downs for more reasons than we can even begin to touch on in a short article.

roller_coasterThese ups and downs in our training and fitness can be explained many times just as if we were recalling a recent race or one of our favorite training courses.  There are times when we feel like we are on the mountain top having just completed a long steady upward climb that makes that mountain top feel all that much more glorious, while at other times we are headed downhill trying to keep everything under control. We know all too well we will be in that valley very soon looking at that next long steep hill as we find ourselves climbing once again to the top of the next mountain.

There are as many reasons for these cycles as there are runners experiencing them.  You could be plagued with injuries while others may have trouble due to work and life schedules.  Some runners experience the roller coaster ride because of poor eating habits, while others may find themselves with a lack of motivation and in some cases just plain laziness.  Some runners find themselves in situations where a life emergency has stopped them in their tracks, leaving them in the valley with no choice other than to start the slow and steady climb.  The reasons are countless, but they all fall into one of two categories – reasons we can control, and reasons out of our control.  I would venture to say that most of the times we find ourselves in the valley the reasons are ones that we control either directly or indirectly.

rollinghillsThese past six months I have been in the deepest and widest valley since starting to run in early 2007.  The downhill trek started as I made the decision to build my mileage too quickly while trying to cram for the Publix Georgia Marathon in March.  This decision, which resulted in injury, was one of the worst decisions I have ever made regarding training and I have paid for it dearly ever since.  I wish I could say that once I recovered from injury I started the climb on the other side of this valley, but other “reasons” tripped me up as I started my long ascent. 

My return was much like a course with small rolling hills, just as I thought I was making it to the top I would see the next hill awaiting me ready with all it’s own struggles and discouragements to pile onto my already weakened determination and confidence.  Through this ascent I have found myself continually defeated by many of the “reasons” I mentioned earlier. As I analyze these past few months I feel I need to refer to most of the “reasons” as “excuses” since they have been choices I have made due to laziness and lack of discipline.  I have repeatedly skipped runs while making sure I never missed any meals.  This destructive behavior has taken it’s toll on my motivation as well as giving gravity a stronger hold on me. :)

Steep Hill, LincolnThere does seem to be an encouraging glow on the horizon, a glow that I have not been able to see until recently.  I still have some of the steepest climbs in my path, but I am starting to see the rim of the canyon I have been wandering in these past six months.  Work has been very busy recently and does not appear to be slowing down any time soon which means I will need solid motivation and determination to achieve this final ascent. 

Motivation, determination, and discipline are strengthened with goals.  I have the benefit of upcoming races which will require strict training schedules to complete successfully, something I was lacking throughout the past six month valley.  I am not naïve enough to believe that this final climb will be easy, but I do know it will be possible.  I am tired of the depression and discouragement that comes from making poor training and eating choices and I look forward to being on the other side once again.

Do you ever find yourself in valleys that don’t seem to end with seemingly unachievable climbs in your path?  How do you break the destructive cycle and get back on track when you find yourself in these training ruts?


  1. Karen @ working it out...Jul 23, 2011, 6:04:00 PM

    Glad the mojo is coming back!  I think we all have "falling off the wagon" moments.  It is easy to fall off, not always as easy to crawl back on.  Sometimes all it takes is to catch a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel :) 

  2. Thanks Karen!  This one has been the most difficult for me given all the "reasons" I kept letting get in the way.

  3. Hi Tim,

    I know your place. I've hit a few valleys myself, some deeper than others. Sometimes I can't explain how I snap out of it. It's this long internal struggle & then one day, for some reason, it snaps & I break free and have a clear path. I've recently returned to that state & it seems you are there as well. I'm happy for you. Push on.

  4. Great posting Tim as I know many runners can relate to this.  Sometimes I think this is one of the greatest challenges but yet one of the best things about running and life.  No one said it (running, life, etc) was going to be easy.  You will always get knocked down and it doesn't matter how many times it happens, it is just important how many times you are ready to get back up and keep fighting.  I run because I like to run.  I don't make it my life, but at the same time I have been guilty to use it as a crush to still not deal with my bad eating habits.  Luckily I have forced myself to face those weaknesses and to keep trying to become stronger during food temptations and during running.  Lately I tell myself "I am a Runner", when I want to "overeat".  I say this because I know a "good" runner would not "overeat", so this has helped me control my eating.  Either way Tim, best of luck with your next adventure and let me know if you need any assistance. 

  5. Wow, what a blog article. I, too, have been through periods of low motivation, where I skipped training runs and other workouts and made poor decisions and was discouraged with my poor performance. 2009 had a long period of several months where I just didn't "feel" it. My marathons in 2010 were mediocre as a result. Not what I had envisioned. And then I had a hard time motivating myself to train after the mediocre marathons. You will come out of this. You will find something that compels you to train, that makes you want to work hard. For me, starting triathlon was a big key. Picking exciting races to train for that motivate me. Joining a Masters Swim team. These have really helped me to stay on track. I wish you the best as you find your way back.

  6. Thanks for sharing Jeff, even though I know I am not the only one that goes through this it is good to hear to confirm that.

  7. Thanks Fred!  You have always been a great encouragement even back to those early days in 2007 when we were both near the beginning of this early lifestyle.  I thought I would have it all figured out at some point but life keeps teaching me :)

    Thanks for the constant encouragement!

  8. Thanks for the comment and kind words Sheila - You sound like you are telling a very close paralleled to my story.  Thanks for sharing!

  9. Very well written post Tim plus graphics! . Thanks for sharing - I know it is tough to admit as a  runner when we have gotten off course. Good luck getting back into the swing of things. I have fallen into little lulls of the past 18 months, but always remember the old me and look at pictures to get back on track. Also, I pretty much have at least one marathon on my schedule at all times with a few more in the planning stages to make sure I do not slip just because I am not on a structured plan. Setting goals for shorter distances (10k for me) also helps fill the void between fall and spring marathons.  One last thing I do is set a minimum weekly mileage that only gets missed in case of serious injury.Knock on wood, that has only happened once.

    Good luck on your journey back. Look forward to reading about the progress. Have you decided on a fall marathon? Savannah seems to be the hot ticket right now.

  10. Tad - Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your experience and method for staying on course.  

    I have a half planned in October and then will be pacing a friend for 20 miles of the Pinhoti in November.  With these plans I have been hesitant to plan a marathon as I am not sure I will be able to pull off a marathon and the 20 mile pacing both in November.  Most of the marathons seem to be in November which would make this difficult.  I am not ruling it out yet and will know more in the coming weeks since I really need to be in that training schedule already.

    Thanks again!

  11. I love this!  I'm just now coming out of the valley I entered during my first half marathon.  The problem is the hill is kind of scary with the current temperature.  I'm not sure how to avoid this, though, because my injuries ended up from a bad fall and just snowballed from running too much too soon with a changed gait.

  12. Thanks Sarah!  I understand the fear with this weather - that has caused me some issues as well.  Good luck with your climb!

  13. Nice!  By far the best post I've read in a while.  Keep the great work.  Also I love the hill on the picture, I wish I lived near that hill,  no doubt in my mind I would of ran it once or twice...  Cheers!!!