Kara explains why hills were her greatest weakness–until she decided to conquer them once and for all.

Photo by August Teague.

Hills were Kara LaPoint’s biggest weakness—until she decided to conquer them.

This originally appeared on Kara LaPoint: Professional Triathlete and Mountain Biker.

Uphill running has long been one of my biggest weaknesses as a triathlete.

It used to be that every time I reached a hill in a race, I entered this massive struggle zone and all I felt was pain. So I’d slow down, slog my way up, count every last second until I reached the top and think, “Thank God that’s over.” I’d see other racers practically bouncing by and feel even more deflated. Each time this happened, it solidified my belief that I seriously sucked at uphill running.

Related: Try This 30-Minute Workout to Crush Uphill Running

I was baffled by how other women climbed hills as fast and seemingly effortlessly as they did. Of course, they trained hard to be able to do so. But I trained hard, too! They were in phenomenal shape. But as an elite triathlete, so was I. The more I pondered how these racers were able to run so amazingly up the hills while I was not, the more I realized there was absolutely no good reason why I couldn’t be good at it, too.

Suddenly, I understood that the main reason I wasn’t a good uphill runner was simply because I didn’t think I could be. What I needed most was a change in mindset.

After my last season, I made a decision: I was no longer going to be a bad uphill runner. I knew it would take specific changes and a particular focus in my training to see significant progress. Above all, it would take serious mental training. Before I could be a good uphill runner, I had to be able to see myself as one.

First and foremost, I needed to convince myself that I actually liked running uphill. So I practiced–constantly.

While I used to avoid hilly routes in training, I started seeking them out. I ran uphill as often as I could, working to find small progress each time. I didn’t allow myself to walk the big climbs, as I often used to. Initially, it took significant effort to push through those moments when I’d normally give in. Whenever I wanted to be negative, I put every ounce of energy toward convincing my mind it was actually happy to be running uphill. I was getting better at it every single time.

Eventually those negative moments came less frequently and I became more confident in my ability to push through them. I was able to run greater uphill distances without falling apart and my times gradually started to drop. Most importantly, I started to feel like I really was enjoying it–I wasn’t just pretending anymore.

It wasn’t long before I actually found myself excited by the climbs instead of dreading them. Those positive thoughts had a domino effect and led to more positive thoughts. The more my momentum grew, the more I believed in myself. In turn, the more I believed, the more momentum I gained.

Though I can’t claim to be any sort of superstar uphill runner these days, I can say with confidence that I’m no longer bad at running uphill. While racing this year, I’ve found myself thriving on each climb, carrying a pep I’ve never known before in my step and a grin instead of a grimace on my face (at least on the inside!). The transformation I’ve made in just a few months has been significant, and it happened mostly because I was able to change my mind.

I used to consider myself a “bad” uphill runner and counted myself out so many times. I didn’t know how to approach it differently. I’ve learned to re-think what “weakness” actually means and change the way I perceive it. I now see my weaknesses merely as opportunities to become stronger. Perhaps with a slight change in approach you too will find that, when it comes to your weaknesses, you’re a whole lot stronger than you think.

Related:

Why Hill Repeats Make You a Better Runner

The Hidden Benefits of Running Hills

Achilles Tendon Can Handle Hill Running