There is a sliver of sunlight sneaking through the underside slit of my glasses and I focus on it as it creates a firefly glare on the lens, allowing it to distract me from the steady ache growing in my quads. It is windy out, but graciously not humid, a reprieve for the day; I am still sweating, though, and I can feel the salt drying to a fine film on my arms and legs. Hill number six of ten.
The course starts innocuously, a mild jaunt next to the Cape Fear River, for just over a mile before abruptly turning left and sending your legs into overdrive - there is no preparation for the incline change, you must just go up, and not just to the top of this street, but continue on, for another and then another until the hill ceases its climb, just over a quarter-mile each time. Then another turn left, a small reprieve for your legs, if not your lungs, as you traverse to the next street, down and then a u-turn back up for another quarter-mile. The distance of each hill grows as the blocks skew longer at the far end of the route and each repeat become over 600 yards, not counting the mileage in between the city blocks. The route is serpentine, wending through downtown, with traffic, denizens and tourists who gawk and offer the occasional thumbs-up and "you go, girl!"
I am grateful for Leslie C. to my front, she is smooth and steady and keeping me on pace. I push on the hills, churning upwards and scorching my lungs as they frantically seek the air I rhythmically gasp in. I know I have one block to regain my breath and prepare for the downhill. Ed Eyestone once told me, "You must also train to run downhill, just running up isn't enough." (He should know, being a two-time Olympian marathoner and all.) Another left turn to head down to the bottom of hill number six. Under his tutelage, I learned to safely absorb the down-grade and now I allowed it to carry me without using too much energy. Approaching a stop sign, a look for traffic - I call, "clear left, clear right," over my shoulder and proceed.
The sun is winking at me, or is it smirking? Nope, that's just sweat in my eye, since I did not wear my visor today. So maybe that is a smirk. Six up, seven down, seven up, eight down, eight up, my legs are in hysterics, laughing that I continue, and pretending they aren't coming along. For added fun, the wind picks up and adds resistance to each uphill pursuit.
At the crest of ten, the course is still incomplete - another left, cross the overpass, head back to the river and run the River Walk boardwalk. I stay in Leslie's wind trail, letting my legs roll on, and we make one last turn back to the start/finish.
Six and change (but I will call it six since I forgot my GPS watch). My first full hill session in over four years. Boom.