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Hills? What Hills?

A review of the San Diego Hot Chocolate 15k ... and a change of heart.

I know what you are thinking. Why is she writing a blog post about a 15k? It's not a half marathon, marathon or anything "Special". Well, here Is thing thing. I am trying to be more consistent with my blog content and to keep you guys coming back. ;). Also - this particular race does have some feelings attached so I think many might be able to relate to it.

First I want to preface this with that I lived in Indianapolis, Indiana for 37 years. For those of you who are not familiar with Indiana - it is the flattest place on earth. Okay, maybe that is an exaggeration, but it is generally a very flat place. There are some hilly areas, but the hills in California make the hills in Indiana look like a joke. When I lived in Indy, my "hilly" routes would be about 300 feet of elevation gain over the course of 10-15 miles. My flat route I would run was 30-50 feet. Here in San Diego, the flattest area I have found to run is the Mission Bay loop which is about 100-200 feet of elevation gain all the way around 12 miles. My 5 mile loop around my neighborhood? 400 feet of gain. The route of the Hot Chocolate 15k? About 700 feet of elevation gain over the 9.3 miles.

Needless to say, moving here was an adjustment for me as a runner and cyclist. I used to avoid the hills like a the plague and complain when we had any sort of elevation. When I moved here, I was dealing with hills no matter where I went and of course you see this slow you down in your overall paces..... but more importantly for me, my mindset shifted. I remember clearly running the San Diego Half Marathon last summer (the first race back here in San Diego after the Covid lockdown) -- and feeling horribly defeated when I had to WALK up Washington Street hill - the first time I have walked during a run race in years. It was my second slowest half marathon ever. I would go out to run around here and really struggle to the entire planned time because I would be in my head.

As I came out of Ironman training after last fall, I knew I wanted to do a run focused training block this spring with a marathon for time as the goal. On top of that I have shifted my mindset. Instead of avoiding the hills and dreading them, I am embracing them. OF course I run faster on flat and downhill sections, but I know that running uphill efficiently makes me a stronger runner overall. So throughout this training block, I'm doing the speed work, the tempo work, the hill repeats. I believe in myself.

I signed up for the Hot Chocolate 15k when I saw the cute jacket and saw some friends were signed up. A 15k is a rare event but it fit nicely into my training schedule with a half marathon planned a few weeks after this race. I didn't know at the time that the course is historically very hilly. I found out after the fact. My first reaction was "oh no!"... but then I thought about it and realized that I had two choices -- I could stay in the mindset I had been in ... complain about the hills, imagine myself failing, and decide that I wasn't going to have a good race. OR I could embrace them. Strategize my plan and be ready for them. Bank the fitness I would gain from having a good solid effort on a challenging course and embrace the fact that I would get some downhill training as well which is important for me going into my net downhill marathon in May.

I woke up race morning and the ground was wet - it had rained the night before. I was a little concerned the descents on the downhills would be harder because of this but didn't worry too much. I got downtown early and met up with friends. Warmed up a mile with a friend and met some people I had not been able to meet before. Then my way to the start line. I decided to run with the 8:30 pacer and see how I felt. I started with him for the first Mile which was uphill) -- and felt strong. As we started to go downhill, I noticed he pulled back a little and figured maybe he was trying to keep the same pace the whole time. I decided that for ME, I needed to take advantage of the downhill sections so. I did just that. I let my body lead and ran controlled but fast downhill. When we climbed again, I kept my effort steady but I know my pace slowed. However, I did not look at my pace the whole race. My watch would beep every mile and I knew where I was then but I was focused on my breathing, form and controlled effort. There was the first mile that was uphill steady; a steady long climb at mile 4, a really steep (10.5%) hill at mile 5.5ish; then another long steady climb at mile 7. A short climb again at mile 8, and just when you thought you were done climbing you had a couple other short climbs before the finish. So basically, you get the point - a very hilly race. I was THRILLED when my last two miles were faster AND I beat the 8:30 pacer into the finish line. I exceeded my expectations on this course. Overall, it is a challenging course but it is well organized. The crowd was great, the before/after setup was nice. The jacket is super cute. I highly recommend this race for the mental fitness you will gain from doing it and realizing you are stronger than you think.

If we always do things the same way, we will never see the changes we want to see in ourselves.

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