I love to explore, and a large part of how I was able to orient myself in Austin quickly was all the running I did back then. I learned lots of the side roads and short cuts through 20-mile runs leading up to the 2011 Austin Marathon. Unfortunately for me, my explorations did not take me to the hills of miles 11-18, and I never saw them coming. That was painful.
Learning new things is great, but when you're really challenging yourself physically, it's better to be more familiar with your path. Today, going for 13 miles, my distance plateau for a little while, I did a simple out-and-back course. No surprises.
The only trouble with this course is that the far point is substantially downhill, meaning that my second half is mostly up. In the first few miles, I felt a little tight and worried about whether I'd get the full distance, especially given the increased difficulty of the second half. I was only a mile in at this point, and I realized that I had a small uphill ahead of me. Nothing too challenging, but I thought, why does it always seem like I'm running uphill?
And I thought about that for a little bit. I tried to think of the last time I ran in the other direction on this road and did not remember running down a hill at all, but here it was, going up the other way. It occurred to me that perhaps all those "flat" sections in my mind were actually dropping, and that I could use them to store energy and speed. The simple knowledge that they're downhill makes them easier.
So I took note of every time I found myself going up on the way out, and paid special attention on the way back. Sure enough, each of those ups felt only flat on the way back. Now, however, knowing that they were actually downs, they felt easier than I remembered. What's more, the long, drudging uphill of the way back didn't seem quite so intimidating knowing that there were little breaks all the way home. I felt significantly better than I did last week at this time. No problems in my hip, no issues with hamstring or calf. Looking at my course as a series of small challenges rather than one long one, the whole experience was far more pleasant.
And that has made all the difference.