That One Hill

How that one hill becomes a training staple and a measuring stick.

By on March 7, 2014 | 27 comments

AJWs TaproomOver the past several years, trail runners around the world have been inspired and awed by the mountain running exploits of Anton Krupicka, Anna Frost, Kilian Jornet, Krissy Moehl and many others. Many of these exploits have been documented in photos, videos, and words and have motivated thousands of new trail runners to take up the sport. Indeed, the visual world of the mountain trail runner is stunning.

That said, the vast majority of us do not live in close proximity to stunning mountain vistas and empty trailheads. Rather, most of us toil quietly in or near cities and find our mountain bliss wherever it is most convenient. While we find profound inspiration in these mountain gods and goddesses, we take our daily dose of running reality in much more mundane circumstances.

It was this realization that brought me back to a conversation I had almost 10 years ago. I was on a bus in the pre-dawn hours on my way to the starting line of the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run. I found myself sitting next to Jim Huffman, a Utah runner who, at the time, was doing quite well on the ultra circuit. We made small talk about running and racing and the topic turned to winter training. Particularly, how to maintain mountain fitness in the winter when many local trails were impassable due to snow. Jim said something that sticks with me to this day, “You know, AJW, what I try to do, wherever I am, is find That One Hill. Then, I learn to love that hill, climbing it and descending it over and over and over again.”

In my wanderings through this life, I have found That One Hill in each place I have lived. In Phoenix, Arizona it was Palo Cristi Road, a steep, semi-paved road that led from the front driveway of my school to the entrance of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. In the San Francisco Bay Area of California, it was Mount Diablo in the East Bay. This massif that rises above the towns of Walnut Creek and Lafayette has long been a regular test piece for East Bay runners. While in Ketchum, Idaho, the locals descended on Carbonate Mountain outside of Hailey for early-season, lung-searing repeats. And, in my current home here in Central Virginia, That One Hill is Jarmans Gap Road outside Crozet. A 1,500-foot, dirt-road climb in 2.7 miles.

What these hills have in common, aside from 1,500 to 2,000 feet of vertical elevation spread over three to four miles, is their sheer ordinariness. These hills are, simply put, just hills. However, inspired by Jim Huffman’s words all those years ago, I have made a habit, wherever I am, of seeking out That One Hill. For these hills are the places that make us fit, keep us honest, and give us just that little glimpse, in the midst of our very regular lives, of all that is extraordinary about running in the mountains. While the gods and goddesses of trail running will continue to inspire me, no video or photo essay will ever replace the feeling I get when I find the extraordinary in the ordinary of That One Hill.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Boneyard Hop Venom IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from a Taproom favorite, Boneyard Beer in Bend, Oregon. Touted as the Northwest’s Pliny, Boneyard’s Hop Venom DIPA takes the classic West Coast style and throws it at the wall. The result is true hop magic!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Where is That One Hill for you? And, why has it become your go-to proving grounds?
  • Who in the trail and ultrarunning communities do you look to for inspiration when you are out on That One Hill?
Andy Jones-Wilkins
Andy Jones-Wilkins finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.