The Everyman: The Hills Are Alive

A daily sight in Positano, Italy. Photo: Jason Devaney |

Running in a foreign country brings a whole new perspective of running for Jason Devaney.

Positano, Italy is a village on a hill. Or perhaps a cliff.

Think of it this way: When you book a room in this seaside town on the Amalfi Coast, often the hotel will tell you how many steps it is from the main road and the beach.

When my wife and I told our cab driver which hotel we were staying at last week, he said he was familiar with it. As we pulled to a stop on the side of a road along a hairpin left turn in Positano after a four-hour drive from Rome, he told us where to go.

“Down that way, and then up.”

Little did we know that the 60 or so winding steps were nothing compared to what we were about to face for the next eight days. (Sidenote: Kudos to the hotel porter who carried our three giant suitcases up and down those steep stone steps. Poor kid.)

Most couples on their honeymoon like to chill out, sit on the beach and sip on mixed drinks with fruit and several straws sticking out of them. Not us. We chose to run, hike and walk all around Positano and a few surrounding villages for eight days.

And that wouldn’t have been all that bad, except for the fact that when I say we walked everywhere, I mean we climbed everywhere. There are two beaches in Positano; the one directly below our hotel was exactly 569 steps down. That means the return trip, after a day of sitting in the sun, drinking wine and eating panini and figs (hey, it’s Italy), was 569 steps up.

Talk about burning calves.

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Getting to the other beach, and also the town center, required taking one of a few different routes. They all featured either a winding road that was barely wide enough for a car and two pedestrians, and/or several flights of steep, narrow and very old stairs.

As if walking and climbing wasn’t enough, we ventured out for a few runs. Here’s all you need to know: Burning quads on the way down, burning calves on the way up.

If nothing else, I got really good at running downhill. Going uphill was tolerable on the road, but bringing steps into the equation brought on a new kind of hurt.

If your running coach or your training plan calls for hill work at some point in the next few weeks and you have some extra cash lying around, buy a plane ticket to Italy and head to Positano. Your muscles will hurt but your competitors at your next race will scowl at you when you cruise past them on the downhill and float up that punishing hill in the second half of the race.

But seriously, Positano made me realize how important hillwork is for a runner. It hurts, but it pays off in the end. We’re now in Rome for the rest of the summer. If only there was a race coming up here.

Preferably one with a lot of hills.

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