Taking on the Hills

Oct 06, 2017 1 Min Read


The life lessons I learnt training for long-distance “running”

In my years of taking on marathons and wheelchair “runs”, there have been many literal ups and downs. Aside from the distance, one of the biggest challenges I would face in a marathon was the hills.

The slightest slope that is usually negligible for a normal runner would immediately become noticeable when you’re on wheels, be it a bicycle or a wheelchair.

Being in a wheelchair however, means that I would need to power through the hills purely on endurance and strength.

Through those experiences, I’ve drawn some lessons that I’m still applying in my everyday life.

Be prepared for the hills

Organisers of marathons and runs usually choose routes that are as flat as can be to make it easier for the runners, but when you’re doing a full marathon of 42.195km, hills are pretty much unavoidable.

Very similarly to life, the uphill battles are a guarantee, especially if we are living a life that is worth running for.

I’ve seen many runners who train on treadmills caught off guard when faced with hills in a marathon.

That’s because they’ve been training for the distance but not the inclination and, when they see that hill for the first time, they’re neither physically nor mentally ready for the challenge.

I, too, used to think that the distance was all that I had to worry about until I went for my first 10km “run”.

Ever since then, I knew that I need to put in the training to prepare for the hills. I believe that in order to excel in life, we need to be prepared for challenges in life, and preferably prepare well.

A very well-known saying widely attributed to Abraham Lincoln says, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening my axe.”

Going slow is fine as long as we keep on pushing

One of the toughest hills I encountered was when I was doing my Standard Chartered KL Marathon. I was feeling rather prepared for the marathon since I had been training for it for a few months.

It went quite smoothly and my pacing was consistent throughout the whole run. However, at roughly the 36-kilometre mark, there was a stretch of steep hill.

With slightly over 6 km more to go, the hill was very discouraging as it felt like the biggest challenge came only after I’ve depleted most of my energy.

Things got worse when I suddenly felt slight cramps in my arms, back and shoulders.

It was at that point that I thought to myself: “Hey, maybe you should stop. You wouldn’t want a major cramp, do you? Why are you trying so hard? You’ve already achieved more than most people.”

The nagging voice at the back of my head telling me to quit because the hill was hard was almost too real.

However, I was reminded that no matter how slow I go, I’ll make it through if I keep on pushing. Moving slowly forward was better than staying in one spot.

Look forward to the horizon

I believe that we should live life looking forward to something all the time.

Having something to look forward to gives us a sense of purpose and hope.

Every hill I’ve encountered in all my marathons have one thing in common – they all end. Whenever there is an uphill road, it will eventually go down.

The pain of going through the uphill road may sometimes stop us from looking forward towards an outcome and instead looking down at the challenge in front of us.

When I was pushing through the final 6km of my marathon and I faced a steep hill, the first thing I did was to visualise the moment when I would overcome the hill and enjoy a ride down the hill.

With that motivation I kept on pushing one step at a time and, despite cramps, I was able to persevere, simply because there was something to look forward to.

When we face challenges in life, always remember to look forward to a goal that you would like to achieve and visualise it as done!

Focus on overcoming the challenge but always look forward to the outcome that you want.

When things get easier, go faster

One thing that I have noticed over the years is that people usually turn it down a notch in terms of effort when things get easier.

In fact, it seems like every time I have a breakthrough over a big challenge, I immediately “reward” myself by saying “It’s okay to take it easy now. You’ve gone through a lot after all. Just take this chance to relax and slow down.”

Although I truly believe in the power of celebrating success and rewarding yourself, I also believe that the most successful people find ways to celebrate their own successes and still push themselves more when things get easier.

I have met people who lose momentum when things got easier and when they didn’t need to struggle because with their celebration of success came complacency.

Every time I overcome a hill in a marathon, I take that opportunity to celebrate and rest by allowing momentum and gravity to drive me forward downhill.

While I do turn it down a notch to allow myself to rest, I always keep in mind to put in consistent pushes to drive me forward even faster.

In fact, the pushes I put in during the downhill parts of the marathon are usually the ones that help me cut my completion time shorter most significantly.

So the next time we overcome a big challenge and find that things get easier, realise that it is an opportunity for us to progress even further with the same effort or less.

Recognising the need to rest and reward ourselves for our achievement should also be contributing back to our motivation to move forward stronger.

Taking on the hills in life can sometimes be challenging. However a wonderful mentor of mine once told me,

Find out the ‘why’ in what you do because the stronger your ‘why’ is, the more likely you are to succeed.


Daniel is a former Leaderonomer who is currently embarking on a journey to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in the sport of wheelchair racing. A small contribution goes a long way. Go to bit.ly/helpDaniel to help him realise his dream for the games in Tokyo 2020. To get in touch Daniel, e-mail editor@leaderonomics.com


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This article is published by the editors of Leaderonomics.com with the consent of the guest author. 

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