I set a challenge of running one hundred hills in 2019. I had never kept a New Years resolution but this was only two hills a week, I live on a hill and I love ticking things off. Things were off to a positive, perhaps very-low-bar, start.
The rules were simple:
- 50 of the hills had to be new ones I’ve never been to
- Track must be 20 minutes or more uphill to count
- Take different tracks and paths if I run the same hill
- Run where safe and possible (not always with friends who don’t run)
I was already a keen jogger. This wasn’t about getting fit or gaining a love for running for me. It was about having a consistent goal to work towards that would carry me the whole year. And it was about discovery: find new paths and see where they lead (TLDR: usually somewhere wonderful).
Here’s some things I learned over the year of climbing hills. If you are thinking about doing a similar challenge, I’ve included some of favourite hills and tips at the end. I’d love to join you on some hills!
It will change the way you explore the world
I travel a lot for work and fun so this challenge changed the way I travelled. Where I would normally hug the edges of a city or find a pretty beachside bach, I started booking places close to a mountain or a hill I could climb. I’d research where the good tracks were and I asked for advice on the best runs from locals. It opened conversations with people I would never have connected with before. I started to see places in a completely different way, even in my own town of Wellington. I went up hills in Fiji, Japan and Hawaii. I visited old Maori pā sites with the perfect vantage points perched high on mountains. I ran the tracks that were carved out years ago and gained a new appreciation of what those who had gone before us had created.
It pushed me to get out of the spaces I had grown comfortable in. And slipping out of the comfortable onto new paths does wonderful things to the brain for a creative like me. By challenging brain patterns with new paths, you can create neural pathways (read: boost creativity). All sorts of good wins!
The hype people you meet will make your day
Without fail, I would bump into someone coming up or going down and they would always hype everyone up on the way.
“Not far to go!” “It’s worth it at the top!” “Look at you running up!”
Sweet angels of the hills, thank you.
I really loved bumping into people and having a chat on the more popular tracks. It was a social thing for a lot of people. Families conquering hills together, elderly couples just going for a stroll. Cute dogs searching for sticks, pats or both. If you need a smile or two, the hill hype people will deliver.
The hills are good for your (mental) health
I had a tough 2019 like a lot of people. I experienced happiness I hadn’t felt in years and new depths of the blues. Grief never really leaves you, it evolves and can seep into all other parts of life. I held myself together most days but I struggled a lot. So, while parts of my life felt tough, running hills was one consistent thing I had to keep me on track.
It felt nice to be ticking off something positive in amongst the haziness. My maunga/mountains became pretty good listeners. They absorbed my tears, embraced my heavy feet dragging up them and treated me to the most incredible things at the top.
The happy endorphins that come along with any exercise were great. If I wasn’t feeling good, I just had to get out the door and up a hill.
I remember reaching the top of one of my mountains and the wind was so strong that it blew any of the feelings of sadness out of me. I felt alive.
There is this beautiful whakatauki/proverb that fits so perfectly:
“Return to your mountain to be cleansed by the winds of Tāwhirimātea”
It pays to plan, be safe and bring a friend
While I had a bunch of people join me on my challenge along the way, a lot of the time I ran the hills alone. I preferred solo runs because it was as much my mental training as physical. But, I think this desire to run alone also shortened the scope for hills I could run.
It’s important to really know where you are going, particularly as a female running alone. I’d check things like how open the tracks were, if it was in mobile range, if anyone had gotten into trouble there in the past. In some cases I’d plan a trip to a good track and get a bad feeling when I arrived then end up running the road to be safe. I have dropped GPS locator pins and sent to loved ones to be extra safe sometimes. If it was too dark, I would find a busy, brightly lit road to run instead (hello Wainuiomata Hill). It’s better to be aware and prepared than blind to it.
So, if I was to do it again I would rope in someone about the same running pace as me and tackle the challenge together.
Every mountain has it’s own magic
Every mountain has it’s own stories and learning them made each climb more special. I learned that one of my ancestors was born on Mauao in Tauranga. I’d wonder if his parents stood in the same place as me all those years ago looking out at the beauty in front of them. I wondered what had the trees seen as they grew around the mountain.
Native birds would flit about as I ran up their mountains. They would dance and sing, hopping between the trees. I got used to their song and by the end of the year I could pick out who was singing what. There was always something exciting happening on the hills.
And no matter how many hills I climbed, the buzz of reaching the top and taking in the view never wore off. The breathtaking beauty a gift for the hard work.
The final word
I ended up running 105 hills by 30 December. I ran in 18 different towns and 5 different countries. And this was the first New Years resolution I kept!
I met some amazing people along the way, I saw cities and towns from a completely different perspective.
I like this new style of New Years resolution. It’s best to make big life changes like giving up booze, cigarettes or going vegan when you’re ready, rather than as a thing you do on the 1st of January.
But coming up with something you can slowly chip away at over the year? I can’t recommend it enough.
Keen to try the challenge?
Here’s my tips if you want to do a similar challenge:
- Plan ahead: check out track maps and if possible, chat to someone local who can tell you where to start. A lot of the time the maps online don’t have the latest information. Twitter was really helpful for me in finding good tracks and knowing where to start.
- Learn about your mountain: Learn the Maori name for it if in New Zealand – it’s almost always a more beautiful way of describing the mountain. And finding the history about your hill makes the climb even better. You’ll notice important spots and it will give you a completely different perspective.
- Find a buddy: so that you are safe and can do the more tricky tracks, find a few people who will walk or run at the same pace as you and can make time
- Pick a realistic goal: Perhaps one mountain a week is doable for you – pick something you can achieve so you will achieve it! And maybe you’ll push it further than you think.
- Take photos: do your future self a favour and document the lot. Going back through your photos is the nicest reminder of how far you have run!
So, thanks for reading this far! I’d love to hear from you if you do the challenge, want advice on some hills or if you just want a hill climb buddy. And if you’ve done some great mountains, let me know about them!