Hills in the heat: Why you have to do the hard stuff to run and lead well

Weekly 2 Mileage: 24 miles (with 6 on the elliptical for cross training)

Long run distance: 9 miles

“Tell me why again y’all are running hills in August? The marathon is in Philadelphia (in other words, flat) in November (in other words, cold),” asked my training partner’s husband.

My first thought was, good question, smart man that he is, why are we putting ourselves through this?  Why did we pick the training plan that involves hills in the heat?  There are many more to choose from that don’t involve this weekly ritual for the first half of the training calendar.

My second thought was, well because that is the way we did it last time (New York Marathon training in 2009). Which I then followed-up in my thought process as- and it worked. The hills in New York- and you haven’t seen a hill until you realize what hell, I mean hill, it is running over two long bridges and taking a jog on the “rolling hills” in Central Park after already running 23 miles.  The conditioning we did on hills in August paid off on these hills the first Sunday in November.

But even with Philly having a very minuscule elevation change throughout the course, running hills in the heat builds strength.

It strengthens your legs better than running a flat route, which gives you stamina when you ask your legs to go much further than they are used to going.

The heat (it was 78 when we ran our last set of 6 miles hills at 5:15 in the morning) gives you stamina to go the distance cardiovascularly, and when it lessens, gives you a new found energy of running through the first days of crisp, fall air.  Which, by the way, probably won’t hit until October here.

Hills in the heat are the hard stuff that makes all the other work 1. Easier and 2. More enjoyable.

There are hills in the heat in leadership too.  They come in the form of things like:

  • Giving honest feedback
  • Coaching someone through a performance issue
  • Coaching someone up for a challenging assignment
  • Firing someone because it is best for your team, your organization, and ultimately the one you are letting go
  • Asking for honest feedback for yourself
  • Changing your behavior based on feedback you receive on yourself

It really isn’t leadership if you are avoiding these hard things, and a lot less rewarding in the long run if you aren’t.  Just like skipping the hills in August is tempting in the short run, but invaluable come November 20th.   My dad would tell you, it isn’t marathon training if you aren’t doing hills in the heat.


What hills are you running today to build strength for tomorrow?


Mary Ila Ward

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