“I have a route for us,” my friend Rohan said to me a couple weeks ago. He had an ominous tone in his voice that indicated this route was for pain, not for pleasure. “It’s definitely a two-person job.”
Once calendars cleared, we lined up last Saturday morning as the day we would make our assault on Defense Highway. Not many trails put that twinge of nervousness in my stomach, but there was something about the way Rohan described the hills on this seven mile stretch that left me a touch uneasy. His wife only confirmed it for me when I arrived at their house. We pulled our gear together and she said, “Call me when you’re done. I want to know that you’re alive.”
My face fell. “What have you gotten me into?”
We piled into our cars and I followed Rohan to what would become the finish, where we would leave my car. I surveyed the road wondering if in fact I’d be chuffing up these monstrous hills that my car groaned on. We pulled into a parking lot. I grabbed my gear and locked the car.
“We’re not climbing that hill back there, are we?” I asked. He laughed.
“No,” he paused. “Worse.”
Rohan pulled out of the parking lot and his Honda Pilot began to descend. In fact, we joked that he could have put the car in neutral and ridden the brake the entire way down. I made mental notes along the way, spying landmarks to check off. The road made wide curves and sharp descents. The two lane road winding through budding woods and dividing marshy ponds reminded me of running along the shoulders of New Hampshire roads.
We arrived at the parking lot and began stretching. I went to trade my sandals for Asics only to realize that I’d left my shoes in my car back at the top. So, we made the trek one more time and got to glimpse the route from bottom to top.
Fifteen minutes later, we both got quiet, resigned to the task ahead of us. The lights changed, we clicked our watches, and began.
We moved at an easy pace as the wind kicked up in our face and the cars zoomed by our shoulders. Rohan had zipped on a reflective vest to help stand out. I ran just off his left shoulder. The road began a gentle climb that made our breathing just audible enough to hear and let you know you were indeed working. Just when we’d become comfortable, the road disappeared behind a curve. As we approached it, it pitched steeply upward and the conversation halted while we minced our steps and fought off the strain in our quads.
For the first two miles, we alternated those steep climbs with what felt like plateaus but in reality were steady inclines. We came through a stoplight and gas station that I noted would be a brief reprieve.
We overtook a man speed walking with urgency along the trail.
“Looking good,” we tossed to him.
He waved and put his head back down.
Then as we neared mile 3, something strange happened. We hit that glorious moment where you suddenly feel as though you can run forever. That no matter how hard or fast you push, you won’t be able to do any damage.
It was clear that we were working but the conversation flowed as easily as our strides. The sun warmed us as the trees disappeared for a spell and opened up to a lily-pad-covered pond.
Rohan glanced at his wrist, then over at me. “What does your watch say?”
I looked down and did a double take.
“6:36. Whoa! You?”
“Same. When did that happen?”
At six miles, we could feel the finish. There was a dull ache in my quads as we forged ahead. The road rose steadily in front of us and didn’t quit. Some of that early confidence faded and we both made note aloud that we had two more bends to make it around before the finish. Our breathing grew louder but the apex came into a view.
“To. The light.” I said.
We pushed on to the stoplight and came to a halt. Hands on our heads, we made the slow walk back to the car exchanging fist bumps and sucking down on our water bottles.
Satisfied with the effort of having conquered "the hill," we did the one thing left to do, we went for breakfast.