Alone, Alone, Alone on “Throw Up Hill”

July 11, 2013 11:10 AM

puke Hill James Steel
I was back in my home state, Maryland, for a few days recently, and I revisited an old haunt of mine, affectionately dubbed by me in 1983, "Throw Up Hill", because I usually lost my lunch when I was running up this monstrosity after a few reps. It was either pay 20 dollars to go to a gym with one squat rack in the corner used by some guy with toothpick legs doing curls and people who I would like to throttle for talking, or go back into the woods to the Hill. I chose the woods.

I estimate the Hill to be about 80 yards long, with a small brook that must be leaped over at the start for the hill to really begin. The best part about this hill is that you cannot run it in a straight line because there are branches that have fallen over onto the path and a gully that runs down the middle of it, and big rocks and sand, and it is utterly perfect. It sits deep in a wooded area that is basically unused these days and the woods are full of deer and Pilated Woodpeckers, snakes and hawks and trout in the stream below the Hill.

We actually used to ice skate on a pond back in those woods when I was a kid, on a small pond called "Horseshoe Pond", before it dried up.... This place is an oasis, almost a mirage, if you will, nestled in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Teddy Roosevelt used to hunt back there, or so the story goes, and it remains relatively untouched since his time. The distant hum of cars and trucks on Interstate 95 is the only thing that breaks up the silence.

The first day when I tackled it, I did 6 reps and it took me a while to regain my senses afterwards, and then the next day, I went back and did 7 reps and this was a challenge. The weather in Maryland was hot, 98 degrees and smoking, just like when I was a kid, and the sweat poured off of me and my lungs fought to catch up and my legs were wobbly between sets and of course afterwards walking was difficult. And just like in 1983, I got home and my father was in the yard working and he turned on the garden hose and watered me down. This time, my two sons also came outside and hosed me down also. They loved doing that to me. They couldn't believe that I was letting them do it.
James Steel hill

When was 1983? A long time ago, and the feelings after a run like that are the same; spent to the nth degree, and happy to be so spent.

And when I was doing these sprints, I thought of how long I had been doing these types of workouts alone, without paying some guru (no gurus or Speed and Performance centers in 1983), or some self-proclaimed expert or even having a friend train with me. Nobody wanted to go out in that time of the day, and I liked it that way anyway.

Isn't there something about doing it alone? Getting off of your ass, getting out in the woods, and just getting it done? You mean that you wouldn't do it if somebody didn't tell you that you had to do it? Insanity. You HAVE to have somebody tell you that it is time to train? Who else in life, and that is what you are training for, life itself, can you really depend on? Better to depend on yourself that someone who just brings you down, shows up late, complains about their relationships or their jobs or has it so damn tough that they just cant go hard today because they have something that is bothering them physically. Enough, its time to start, this is important to me, so I am just going to start. Uh huh, no, I am starting now!

It may seem silly to some, but I don't care. Somebody told me today that I should be careful, being alone in the woods like that, what if you sprained you ankle, what if you broke your leg, what if... I said okay because I respected the guy, but to myself I am thinking, yeah, I really don't care, I have been banged up many times before, and its no big deal, in fact I accept that it will happen eventually, because its not running on a treadmill, it's TRAINING, and there is risk involved and I am alone because I want to be and I don't want to live like you think. I have fought against thinking and living like that my whole life and I figure that as soon as you let that type of thinking creep into your head that you are done, you might as well go to the mall and follow the herd.
Getting back in those woods rejuvinated me and brought me back to a time when life was much simpler and the worries were less. Important? Yes, its important to do things like that, at least to me, because it is the essence of what training is really about; being alone, self motivated and without relying on anybody at all, getting back to the way things should be done.

Jim Steel is the current Strength & Conditioning Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania and has been involved with the iron game for 30 years.

A former collegiate football player, competitive powerlifter, bodybuilder and Muay Thai fighter, Steel set the New Jersey APA records in powerlifting for the squat (820), deadlift (740) and total (2065) done at a body weight of 268 in 2002. In April 2011, he was inducted in the Montgomery College(MD) Hall of Fame. His website is