I’ve never made much use of the hill in our backyard because even though it’s steep, there’s not much to it. An abandoned railroad berm that got pushed up an extra 5 feet or so when we brought in an earth mover to improve property drainage, it’s maybe 30 feet from base to summit with a rise of 15 feet or so.
Still, running up something that steep is tough. (Heck, I’m surprised our lawn tractor can make it up that thing.) But it’s so boring that it’s never engaged my imagination enough to make its way into my regular workout routine.
Then last week I decided I wanted to add hill-training to my weekly routine. The appointed day came, and I had so many writing projects to do that I didn’t really want to take time to leave the house. That meant I could either crank up the incline on the treadmill or hit the backyard hill. In the end I did both, spreading out my workout over 2-3 hours interspersed with writing sessions. And in the process I finally came up with a framework for tackling the backyard hill that seems obvious now but had basically eluded me in the six years I’ve been running.
Running up the hill on one end of the yard, jogging across it to the other end, then down and back over to the starting point is a lot like running bleachers. I never liked running bleachers back in high school sports. But I do remember that by the time you were done you sure felt like you’d accomplished something. Not surprisingly, this proved to be the case with my “backyard bleachers” as well.
For this workout, I wasn’t too worried about anything other than putting down a first-draft effort to start building a habit I could keep improving on/adding to each week. I started with a 10-minute treadmill warmup jog, then headed out and did one set of 10 “bleacher laps.”
Then I went back in and worked on a writing project until I hit a snag. Rather than waste time feeling “stuck,” I decided to hop on the treadmill. I did 5 minutes at a 5 mph jog, then did five sets of 1 minute at 6 mph/4% incline followed by 1 minute recovery at 5 mph/0% incline. Then I did a 10-minute cooldown at 5 mph and went back to my writing project.
Guess what? I was no longer stuck. Big surprise there. And yet how many times have I wasted 25 minutes (the time it took to do that mini-workout) trying to work my way out of a mental mud bog?
Once again I worked until I got stuck. At this point, I decided to switch out of running mode because A) I’d already gotten in 3+ miles and what seemed to be a reasonable first draft/habit-launching effort, and B) I wanted to get in some upper body work and some house work before I had to hit the shower and head out to an afternoon interview, followed by our 25th wedding anniversary dinner with the kids. So this time I interspersed five sets of 15 kettlebell swings with five “sets” of strategic vacuuming.
I’m not suggesting this was a fantastic workout worthy of emulation (nor am I suggesting you break out the Bobcat to build yourself a ridiculously inconvenient backyard hill). But it was a satisfying way to incorporate some fitness into a busy day, and I’m looking forward to building on to my new stay-at-home hill-training workout.