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Real Runners: I Became A Strong Uphill Runner

Photo by August Teague.

Hills were Kara LaPoint’s biggest weakness—until she decided to conquer them.

This originally appeared on Kara LaPoint: Professional Triathlete and Mountain Biker.

Uphill running has long been one of my biggest weaknesses as a triathlete.

It used to be that every time I reached a hill in a race, I entered this massive struggle zone and all I felt was pain. So I’d slow down, slog my way up, count every last second until I reached the top and think, “Thank God that’s over.” I’d see other racers practically bouncing by and feel even more deflated. Each time this happened, it solidified my belief that I seriously sucked at uphill running.

Related: Try This 30-Minute Workout to Crush Uphill Running

I was baffled by how other women climbed hills as fast and seemingly effortlessly as they did. Of course, they trained hard to be able to do so. But I trained hard, too! They were in phenomenal shape. But as an elite triathlete, so was I. The more I pondered how these racers were able to run so amazingly up the hills while I was not, the more I realized there was absolutely no good reason why I couldn’t be good at it, too.

Suddenly, I understood that the main reason I wasn’t a good uphill runner was simply because I didn’t think I could be. What I needed most was a change in mindset.

After my last season, I made a decision: I was no longer going to be a bad uphill runner. I knew it would take specific changes and a particular focus in my training to see significant progress. Above all, it would take serious mental training. Before I could be a good uphill runner, I had to be able to see myself as one.

First and foremost, I needed to convince myself that I actually liked running uphill. So I practiced–constantly.

While I used to avoid hilly routes in training, I started seeking them out. I ran uphill as often as I could, working to find small progress each time. I didn’t allow myself to walk the big climbs, as I often used to. Initially, it took significant effort to push through those moments when I’d normally give in. Whenever I wanted to be negative, I put every ounce of energy toward convincing my mind it was actually happy to be running uphill. I was getting better at it every single time.

Eventually those negative moments came less frequently and I became more confident in my ability to push through them. I was able to run greater uphill distances without falling apart and my times gradually started to drop. Most importantly, I started to feel like I really was enjoying it–I wasn’t just pretending anymore.

It wasn’t long before I actually found myself excited by the climbs instead of dreading them. Those positive thoughts had a domino effect and led to more positive thoughts. The more my momentum grew, the more I believed in myself. In turn, the more I believed, the more momentum I gained.

Though I can’t claim to be any sort of superstar uphill runner these days, I can say with confidence that I’m no longer bad at running uphill. While racing this year, I’ve found myself thriving on each climb, carrying a pep I’ve never known before in my step and a grin instead of a grimace on my face (at least on the inside!). The transformation I’ve made in just a few months has been significant, and it happened mostly because I was able to change my mind.

I used to consider myself a “bad” uphill runner and counted myself out so many times. I didn’t know how to approach it differently. I’ve learned to re-think what “weakness” actually means and change the way I perceive it. I now see my weaknesses merely as opportunities to become stronger. Perhaps with a slight change in approach you too will find that, when it comes to your weaknesses, you’re a whole lot stronger than you think.

Related:

Why Hill Repeats Make You a Better Runner

The Hidden Benefits of Running Hills

Achilles Tendon Can Handle Hill Running