Running hills, especially steep ones, puts a certain, undeniable spring in your step that makes playing all sports more fun. With that extra inch or two of jumping ability, you get more rebounds, run down more flies in the outfield and out-hustle an opponent to a loose soccer ball. In fact, if I could choose only exercise to help get me in shape and prepare for any sport, it would be running up hills.
Fortunately, we have our own version of Agony Hill in the Claraboya neighborhood of Claremont, Calif. From Foothill or Baseline, head north on Mountain Ave. until you can park your car under a shady oak just south of Thompson Creek Trail. Exit the car, check your shoelaces, tug at your shorts and start chugging.
The start of .8-mile hill is steeper than “Dropout” at Raging Waters. This is where you need to set your jaw, grit your teeth and grind away or simply lose yourself in a trance. If the pounding drumbeat of your heart doesn’t drive them away, listen to the birds chirping and the wind whipping through the tall pines that line the street. Pretend you’re running in the sparkling Sierras instead of the hazy San Gabriels. Or empathize with kids whose basketball rocket down the street like an avalanche after a wayward shot escapes from the driveway.
If your chin isn’t buried in your sternum at this point, steady your eye on a large American flag at a dogleg right bend in the road. Use the magnetic pull of the stars and bars to drag you forward. Seek any inspiration you can find amid the sunscreen-tinged sweat streaming into your eyes.
After the bend, the road levels out for a tolerable spell. Use it to notice all the old-model Mercedes cars in the driveways and the parade of pool guys, contractors and leaf-blowing operators who make their living along the hill.
Then you see them — streets more suited for mountain goats than humans — Via Los Andes, Via Montevideo and Via Espirito Santos, God’s country. At this point, you start staggering on wobbly legs and begin resenting everything in the world. A four-wheel drive Subaru whistles by, and you want to scream, Run, the hill, you coward, then we’ll see tough … ” The driver disappears before you can complete the thought.
When you reach the top, you almost can’t belief it. If you’re not dead or throwing up, you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt before. Just keep moving and fighting to regain control of your normal breathing. As you continue to cool down, a smile slowly spreads across your face as you realize you’re king of the hill.
Road Hazards: Make sure you have your doctor’s okay before you begin any training program, especially a rigorous one. Ease into it and gradually work your way to the top over a period of days, weeks or months. Just stay on track. Three days a week best worked for me.
On rainy or misty days, avoid the pine needles and Botts dots in the road, ,which can become quite slick and slippery with any moisture. Don’t charge down the hill on the way back unless your knees can stand the pounding.
Downhill, try walking or jogging backwards to help stretcch out your calves and Achilles tendons. Always keep your eyes on the road. Running backwards requires good balance, good eyesight and neck not too prone to arthritis. When you’re really feeling good, sprint 100 yards along one or two of the level side street. And disregard all the strange looks you get for subjecting yourself to so much personal torture. They’ll never know what it’s like to be king of the hill.
By Ryan Bennett
Bonita, Class of 2002
Former Varsity Football and Baseball
Graduate of UC Santa Barbara, 2006