Walter “Sweetness” Payton (pictured on my shirt) famously ran hills in the heat, first on a sandbank of the Pearl River outside his hometown of Columbia, MS and later on the landfill in Arlington Heights, IL now known as “Payton’s Hill.” As part of the sports and fitness fantasies sustaining me for nearly 58 years, I draw inspiration from trying to replicate my heroes’ feats, albeit with age-and-ability-appropriate modifications.
So, on the hottest day of the year, I wear Walter to the local landfill at Seal Point Park to run my own version of his workout. Sweetness called his hill “The Widow-Maker.” I call mine “Motherfucker.”
On the dirt trails up from the parking lot and/or the stairs cut into the bay side of the hill, the workout is sprint up (about 30 seconds) walk down (about 90 seconds) x 10. On a good day, allowing for a few extra steps at the end of each lap, I finish that HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout in 23 minutes.
Spotify plays my Run list from the phone in my pocket. Other distractions from the pain include pelicans gliding low above the bay, the rare hare bounding along the trails, and even a snake slithering across my path.
Then there is the human wildlife, the regulars who inhabit the hill, all given secret nicknames for their attire, their physique, or their other bodily adornments. On any given day there’s Beanie, Lefty, Sideboob, Osama, Chihuahua, and Ab-Tats.
To keep myself going on those 10 laps, self-talk:
1. “Get one done.” 2. “That’s two for you.” 3. “Feeling it now.” 4. “Starting to sweat.” 5. “Halfway.” 6. “More than halfway.” 7. “Just three more.” 8. “There’s that one-mile buzz on my smartwatch.” 9. “I can’t breathe.” 10. “Come on, Motherfucker.”
In that last one, I address both the hill and myself as opponents. Throughout my “athletic” career, that 12-letter word has always issued challenge. It’s the gauntlet thrown by pick-up basketball foes and anyone ready to fight or at least find out if you’re ready to fight.
Like Sweetness, every day that I run hills in the heat, yes, I am ready to fight, at least against myself.