Have you ever wondered which hill in Raleigh was the hardest to run? Of course you haven't. You're the type who always sees the forest past the trees. You don't waste your time with trivial, irrelevant questions. It's not as if knowing which 1,000 feet of Raleigh terrain is most challenging to ascend makes you jump in the car to find it. These aren't mountains we're talking about. It's rolling piedmont for pete's sake!
Disclaimer: I dislike elevation profiles. Their dramatic, pointy peaks and valleys make small hills look perilous. But, I concede that they are necessary.
Well, I find time for irrelevant thoughts during my runs. And, now that I've got you wondering — surely you had a certain hill in mind when you read the title of this post — I'm going to present you with my version of scientific research to determine which hill in Raleigh is hardest. (Apologies if I offend actual scientists with my methods)
Obviously, this whole examination was subjective. I could only consider the hills I've run here. And, I had to be the one to make up the definition of "hardest" as it would apply to a hill in this project.
So, I spent a few moments recalling the most memorable hills I've run in Raleigh. I came up with eight. Then I nixed two of them, because I arbitrarily determined that the hardest hill would have to be a single incline rather than a series of inclines punctuated by slight declines. Thus, the two I omitted were single-track trail hills.
So, my first requisite for hardest was that the hill could only consist of increasing elevation.
I also decided that the hill should fit within the space of one mile. But, I also wanted the hill to be longer than 1,000 feet, because there are a lot of short, steep inclines in Raleigh. And, I just don't think it's worth arguing about those short ones. If that were the case, my driveway would win.
Using RunningAhead.com's excellent mapping interface, I collected measurements of the hill within the span of a mile so that we could see its surrounding terrain.
Thus, each elevation profile below represents a one mile distance. And, the hill in question is marked by vertical magenta lines. (You can click the elevation image to see the profile in conjunction with its map)
I continued to rely on the mapping interface to measure the distance and calculate the elevation gain. With those two numbers, I figured out the grade (rise/run) of each hill to sort of account for the hill's degree of challengingness. Of course, a spread sheet made all of that a pleasure to analyze.
With all those numbers, I pretty much calculated myself into a corner, forcing the results to depend almost entirely on the grade of the hill. (I'll save the undeniable subjective variables for later in this post) So, without further ado, I present to you six of Raleigh's hardest hills to run.
in order of increasing grade and referenced by vague geographic location
Umstead N. Turkey Creek Trail to Graylyn Trail
Elevation Gain (ft): 148.8 | Distance (ft): 3,590.4 | Grade: 4.14%
Crabtree Creek Greenway off Milburnie Rd.
Elevation Gain (ft): 74.3 | Distance (ft): 1,108.8 | Grade: 6.70%
Okay, you probably would have guessed that one anyway. But, I have to say, the runner-up hill in this list served as the inspiration for this little project. And, if I'd allowed for an 800' hill in this study, that little climb to North Hills Park would have blown these others away. It's a steep one.
But, of course, the Turkey Creek Hill is the winner! I mean, the fact that there are so many surrounding hills on that same trail pretty much merit this particular hill's win for the sake of respect.
That element of the surrounding terrain had me perplexed, though. I mean, my question was singular in nature. And, if a scientist asks a singular question, he can't allow for weird variables to interfere with the experiment. That just wouldn't be scientific, would it? (Would it?)
So, after much internal debate, I decided not to factor in the surrounding terrain when figuring out which of these hills was hardest. Otherwise, I would have had to account for ease of access, exposure to sun, proximity to food and beverage establishments, etc.
And, that would have just been too difficult. Hills should be difficult, not my scientific method.
Of course, none of this matters. A hill is a hill, and it's grade is only important to you while you're running it. Some days that steepness might be murder on your calf muscles. Some days you'll feel like you're visiting from the Rockies and running on the beach.
Really, I was just aching to post something new for you.
Feel free to suggest other hills for consideration or berate me for a lack of scientific training. And, as always, thanks for reading!