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I am a Bicolano by birth and choice. By any standards, I am a slow runner but I like it that way. I look at running as a healthy and exciting way to make a difference. Together with my fellow runners from our family, school, office and the community, we use running to give back..

October 31, 2015

FEAR OF HILLS: A Mental Obstacle for Some At the Philippine Marine Corps Marathon

Looking at the elevation profile of its 42-km route leaves no doubt that participants of the Philippine Marine Corps Marathon PMCM will have hills for breakfast galore come the early morning hours of Nov 15, 2015.

Route map of PMCM

One of the hills inside the Mt Palay-Palay National Park.
An awesome downhill view upon exiting the Kaybiang Tunnel 
No doubt too that the runners who have registered already for the said Frontrunner-organized full marathon are busy,  as old leatherneck marines can be, in physically training for the hills.  No doubt, many runners would have been doing a lot of intervals, long runs and hill repeats to prepare for the Nov 15 event.
Training in the foothills of Mt Iriga
row5runners on a leisurely slow distance run in Naga
But sometimes, no matter how hard we have prepared physically, our minds can throw a hurdle come race day that can sabotage all the hard work we have been doing. In the words of the philosopher-king of running, the late Dr. George Sheehan, - "The flesh is willing; it is the spirit that is most often weak." 

One such mental hurdles that come to mind is the fear of hills. To many a runner, hills are the enemy. It is their kyptonite.  A burden to be endured. They are an obstacle standing in the way of a great finish. And most often the obstacle is mental, considering that so much time has been deployed to training for the hills. 

Good thing, there is a new book out there that deals with how to cope with the mental obstacles.  The book, entitled "The Runner's Brain", is by Dr. Jeff Brown. He is the head psychologist for the Boston Marathon for the past 14 years.  Considering that the most infamous hill in the world of marathon is the Heartbreak Hill between Miles 20 & 21 of the Boston Marathon, we better listen to what the good doctor has to say. I quote in verbatim portions of the article of the same title from the Runner's World Magazine (Nov 2015 issue):


What's Going On.
So many times a runner will come to a hill with a preconception of how horrible it will feel to run up it.  Those negative feelings form a feedback loop in the brain, stoking your hatred of hills even more. When you come to the base of a hill with thoughts like that in your head, you set yourself up for a miserable experience.

How to Cope
Love them. Instead of cursing a hill before you climb it, try convincing yourself how much you love it.  Really.  Tell yourself that hills are the greatest thing ever.  They make you stronger.  They make you tougher.  They give you amazing glutes.  Tell yourself you'e the little engine that could, that slow and steady wins the race, that what goes up must come down - whatever cliche helps you embrace the climb.  After a while, this new thought pattern - even if it seems far-fetched - will evolve into an actual belief. 
Ernie showing how to deal with an uphell.  Smiling it to death.
Use your imagination. Mental imagery can help you conquer climbs.  One runner told me she sights something along the edge of the road, such as a tree or a car, then throws a mental rope around it that she imagines she can use to pull herself upward. Another runner told me he pretends he is being carried up the hill by a winged horse.  As you approach a hill, picture yourself cresting it and gliding down it. Staying calm and positive in the face of a monster incline will help you conserve energy, energy that will help make the actual physical climb earlier. 

Tune in - or out.  Some runners dissociate by going to their happy place to try and forget they are working so hard.  Other runners take the exact opposite tack:  They own their pain with a sort of "hurts so good" attitude. Muscle aches and feelings of fatigue only make them push harder. Or they think about their bodies and coach themselves with mental comments like "Relax your shoulders,""Keep your body tall." Most runners don't exclusively use one thinking style all the time. Without realizing it, you may switch between several different mental strategies in different situations, depending on what works for you."

So, there you have it.  Some tips from Boston Marathon psychologist on how to conquer the mental obstacle that is fear of hills.  It will sure come handy to those not-so-elite runners and back-of-the-pack runners as they participate in this very worthwhile marathon that is the PMCM. Proceeds from this marathon are earmarked for projects and programs that will raise morale of the troops in the Kalayaan Island Groups.
PMCM finisher's dog tags 
It will indeed be an honor for the successful finishers of the PMCM to receive the hard-earned finisher's dog tag from uniformed men and women of the bravest fighting corps of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.





  1. BP tnx for the tips...this writeup would be a great help for us,Row5Runners..See u soon padi !

  2. Your welcome Allen. Will find ways to be of help to our fellow runners, especially to back-of-the-pack runners like ourselves. Por da lab.