The Hill

By Mary Jennings

Mary has been running in Cambridge and East Anglia for some years now and also coaches others.

I’m thinking about that hill again. Yes, I knew it was there but the sharp turn out of the village car-park out onto the main road is at a 90 degree angle and obscures the view. The sight of that long slow hill is always a shock.

A narrow ridge high about the roadway on the left-hand side , runners trying to pass or be passed with little room to do so and anxious about slipping and sliding down into the traffic . It’s always a dull grey morning at this stage, this section overshadowed by trees with the long branches hanging above us and hedgerows threatening to push us away into the road.

Now the hill is beginning to get to me, 200 meters in, the slow steady rise results in torturedbreathing, grunts and grimaces of those around me, my breathing is ok, it’s the muscle just above my knees that’s feeling it.

Count. And so I begin.  After counting up to a hundred, I close off one finger on my left hand, a count of one hundred is approximately 100 meters, nine more to go, the hill is  about a mile long.  Another 100 plods of my right foot, another finger closed off. Hard-going. Must do more hill-training, I remind myself yet again.  But difficult to find hills in the flatlands of Cambridge. Left-hand is now a fist, 500 meters, half-way there. Start again with the fingers on the right hand.

Pace dropping but I will not walk. Head down. Don’t stop. Pass that runner just ahead, he’s having difficulty, more than me it seems. Watch out for the narrow ledge. Will he move to let me pass? Probably too much in his own head of painedbody, to hear me behind him.  I’ll need to speed up to pass him. Can I do it? Push on.

I’ve lost count. Drat.  Was that 49 or 59? Start again at 40.  Why does running prevent my brain doing something simple like counting? Paula says she counts – does her brain go to mush too. Keep on going on. The sky opens up a little above the horizon through the tree canopy. Brightens me up.  The hill begins to level out.

A yellow-coated marshal shouts ‘well-done’. It feels like she means it just for me yet there are 300 runners ahead of me and she has congratulated us all. The course turns left, the road opens up, the sun widens, three miles still to go. But the hill is behind me.  Hurrah.  Til this year’s Saffron Walden 10K in September. 

Hills in the flatland of Cambridge City wanted desperately by middle-aged runner – Google only gives Hills Road which has not even one hill never mind hills plural. But I will find them.