Adventures in Urban Training: Hills

I live in the middle of a concrete jungle. Picture downtown Chicago, and insert me right there. I live on the 15th floor of a 24-story condo building, and I walk a mile to work to my office on the 32nd floor of a 46-story building.

I am, by definition, a city girl.

Which totally and utterly sucks for training for these types of races.

I became painfully aware of this in my preparations to compete at World’s Toughest Mudder. While other racers were sharing their workouts of jumping into local rivers or lakes to test out their wetsuits, or running sprints up the nearby mountain, I tried to figure out how to run through downtown Chicago in a wetsuit without getting mistaken for an escaped mental patient, and how to jump into Lake Michigan in said wetsuit without getting arrested for “Unauthorized Activity in Water” (Chicago Municipal Code 10-36-185 and Chicago Park District Code Ch.VII B.4 B.1-2).

It wasn’t always this way. I’m a born and raised Oregonian (GO DUCKS), and grew up with the mountains an hour away and the beach an hour away. While I’ve been in Chicago for the past year and a half, I spent the previous four years in Seattle. City living, yes. But with stellar hikes and backpacking ventures within an hour or two drive. Weekends consisted of hiking or trail running, and lots and lots of dirt. And the mountains–I love running hills.

I miss the mountains. So I have to improvise. Part of my training and blogging experience is going to be an experiment in urban adventure/obstacle race training, and all the idiosyncrasies that go with it.

Part I: Hills

The closest thing I have to a hill in Chicago is: (a) the incline on a treadmill; (b) overpasses and parking garage ramps; or (c) stairs. Let it be known that I HATE the treadmill. I think the treadmill is the world’s worst torture device (and it seems to aggravate injuries). And overpasses and parking garage ramps can be, well, a death wish given the drivers in Chicago. But I do love stairs.*

I’ve learned that you do get funny looks on the giant stepmill at the gym with a 50lb pack on. Whatever. They just can’t handle my awesomeness. (Yeah, that’s right Mr. “I can’t touch my elbows” arms and chicken legs. I see you over there doing your bicep curls and flexing in the mirror, checking me out. Don’t hate me ’cause your undeveloped legs can’t handle this).

But even the stepmill bores me after awhile. So I’ve taken to running the stairs up to my 15th floor apartment. And carrying my groceries up from the parking garage. And doing sets of the 24-floors with my pack on. Walk to the top. Take the elevator down. Repeat. My doorman thinks I’m certifiably insane. I tell them I’m training for Everest. Next up, assuming I can get past security, the Sears Tower.

Dear Chicago: Can’t you have a hill? Just one hill that doesn’t consist of an overpass or a parking garage. I understand that I voluntarily moved to urban wasteland, but you’re killing me, smalls.

Part II will likely consist of adventures in urban wood chopping. I imagine carrying an axe around downtown Chicago chopping down park trees isn’t going to to go over too well.

*NB: I have been informed by my dear buddy Joel that stairs are not exactly the best substitute for hills because you aren’t working your calves consistently like you would on a hill. That’s why you see me go all ballerina and shit on those stepmills. Adapt and overcome.


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