They don't call it Chapel Hill for nothing. While the hills here in North Carolina's Research Triangle are nothing compared to the steep slopes of Lausanne, which is built up the side of a small mountain, they certainly are a topographical change from flat Houston.
At no point has this fact been more readily apparent than when running. Even though I have strong legs relative to most runners, it is amazing how much I have to slow down on uphill slopes in order to maintain a constant effort level. This has been especially evident during the few races I have run here, all of which have been at least a minute slower than my PRs at 5k, 7k, and 8k distances. Clearly I have some work to do to improve my hill running economy and improve my hill running endurance.
During some downtime in December I went through a battery of physical assessments, including a maximal effort running test. It turns out that I have a pretty high VO2Max (63) and a pretty high lactate threshold as a percentage of VO2Max heart rate (92%). I can probably increase my VO2Max a little, and I may be able to push my lactate threshold up to 95% or so of VO2Max, but the best opportunity for me to be faster in anything longer than sprint distances is to improve my running economy/efficiency - especially on varied terrain and trails, which I find much more interesting than flat roads and tracks.
Fortunately, Chapel Hill is replete with hill running opportunities, both paved and unpaved. Today, I ran my first longer-than-a-sprint hill running workout along E Franklin St, one of the major drags in Chapel Hill. My three-minute intervals were intended to stimulate both physiological and psychological adaptation to moderate hills - about 5% grade in this case.
About halfway through my workout I found an unexpected spectator - Katie at the bus stop on her way to campus! While it may be more difficult to focus on running form with the love of your life across the street, it also provides extra motivation. It reminded me of the times when she would visit me in Switzerland. At the end of each trip she would take the train to the airport and I would run alongside it until the platform ran out. Those were sad occasions, but this time I only have to wait until this evening to see her again - much better!
I was also honked at by several cars driving by. I'm not sure if that was because I was looking awesome or if I was looking so exhausted that they feared I might fall into their lane on the road. One of the drivers slowed down to ask if I would train him, though, so I think they were friendly honks. Still, I may need to find somewhere more private for future hill workouts.
In other news, the SuperBowl was quite a dud. I was really pulling for Peyton Manning, my second favorite QB of all time (after Joe Montana, of course), but neither he nor anyone else on the Broncos gave me much to cheer about. Now it's Day 1 of the next season, which means that all teams, including my Redskins and Texans, are undefeated. More immediately, the start of the college baseball season is upon us so it will soon be time to cheer on the Rice Owls. In the meantime, I'll see if I can figure out how to run hills well - hopefully by this weekend for my next 5k race!