By: Josh Hunsucker | firstname.lastname@example.org
In 1985, aspiring Macy’s underwear model and 49er running back Roger Craig invited a rookie wide receiver named Jerry Rice to Edgewood Park in Redwood City for a morning run. After struggling to finish the 2.5 mile run a young Jerry Rice learned two things: (1) Roger Craig was no joke and (2) he had go back and conquer what is now famously known as “The Hill.” Over 30-years later, you can still find Rice at Edgewood Park as he not only made the run a part of his NFL training plan but a lifelong part of his physical fitness regimen.
Jerry Rice’s maniacal work ethic has always been one of the most intriguing parts of his legacy. For the uninitiated, here’s a quick recap: he caught bricks thrown by his father off of the roofs of homes in the same town Johnny Cash got arrested in for picking daisies, he showed up at the Niners’ training facility two weeks after winning the Super Bowl to workout while his teammates were still waking up from hangovers, he went to special teams meetings even though he wasn’t on special teams, he routinely caught balls for an hour before practice and ran extra sprints for an hour after practice, and he famously ran The Hill every day in the offseason. For years I thought about running The Hill, and although I lived less than an hour away, I inexplicably never made the trip, until recently.
The Lead Up
As I bombed across the San Mateo Bridge, between the Foo Fighters reverberating in my eardrums and the caffeine surging through my veins, it felt like a cross between a race day and meeting up with a good looking girl in a foreign city. I was excited, nervous, and couldn't wait to get to the trailhead. That and the extra coffee gave me an added incentive to find a bathroom before conquering the legendary run.
Cruising into Edgewood Park I first noticed how well kept San Mateo County maintains the park. There is a nice garden area, small nature museum open to public, and most importantly available bathrooms. If you are going to The Hill you have to do a little research in order to ensure you are running in the same footsteps as the GOAT (this article is probably the best place to find directions, although it is not entirely accurate, more on that later). Because there are multiple trails a little map reconnaissance and watching the Jerry Rice “Catching History” video are a must.
Driving into the park, my initial plan was to run The Hill once leisurely to ensure that I knew the route. I would do this with no music, take in the scenery, and strategize where I would push hard and where I would conserve energy in an effort to compete against Rice’s unofficial course record of sub-16:00 for the 2.5 mile course.
After my warm-up run to the bathroom and feeling the unusually hot 90 degree Bay Area summer heat that plan changed to a more realistic plan of one time up The Hill, all out, no music because Jerry had none, and take my phone in case I start to die from heat stroke.
The trail starts gradually and maybe it was a rookie move, no it definitely was a rookie move, to think I was going to go sub-16:00 on my maiden voyage. Rice famously said that first time he ran The Hill he merely suffered and survived. Only repetition allows you to attack The Hill.
I hit start on my watch and go. I like to think that in my excitement to get up the trail that I would have led Jerry for the first 30 second because when my lungs started searing and I started slowing significantly, my watch read 00:30.1.
Everything about the run sucked (in the best way possible), except the view. The switchbacks at the start of the run were deceivingly brutal. As I got out of the switchbacks the trail opens up a little and the elevation rises as the sun beat down on my poor soul. As I followed the signs to the “scenic view” I could see The Hill rising to my left as I hit the next set of switchbacks.
As I did my research for The Hill run, the finish, or at least the part that everyone referred to as “the Summit” showed a picturesque view of rolling hills. After following the directions to “the Summit,” as described from my online research, confirmed by reviewing the end of the “Catching History,” and confirming certain landmarks I was puzzled. To be fair, tired and puzzled. First, I had only run two miles, not two and a half. Second, and most troubling, as I peered to my right I could still see more elevation on The Hill, which I had not yet climbed.
Why would Jerry Rice, the man who is legendary for outworking everyone, not run to the top of The Hill? That cannot be right. So I did the only thing that any rational Jerry Rice fan and adventure junkie would do, I set off for the top.
When I got to the top everything added up. The distance to the top was just about a half mile from the alleged “summit.” The incline to the true summit spiked skyward up until the last few feet, as described by Rice. Maybe it was the lack of oxygen to my brain but as I took deep breaths with my hands over my head and looked around, the true top of The Hill had no view. The importance of this fact cannot be understated.
Think about who Jerry Rice is. He is an intense competitor. The guy showed up to train days after winning the Super Bowl for God’s sake. This is a guy who convinced himself that he was not going to make the team so that he would work like he was fighting for the 53rd spot on the roster when he was the best player in the game.
This may just be a conspiracy theory but hear me out. When NFL Films came calling and wanted to do a feature on The Hill Rice knew he couldn’t turn down the NFL because, you know, the NFL gets what it wants. Although he couldn’t completely hide his training secret, he balanced that by only giving the rest of the world a taste of The Hill. Why not finish the NFL Films puff piece at a location with a great vista? It makes for great TV and doesn’t disclose Rice’s proprietary route.
It was that last brutal half-mile that enabled Rice to blow past defensive backs in the fourth quarter when everything hurt. That last half-mile that he refused to disclose was Rice keeping his edge on the competition, his trade secret. That last half mile forged him into the greatest football player of all time.
None of those early morning suffer sessions ended with Rice at the top of a vista arms raised in victory. Those runs ended with Rice alone on the top of a narrow path surrounded by shrubs, trees, and silence. Sweat dripping, tugging on his shorts (or tights), breathing hard, and with the fear that someone may be out there training harder than him. There is something beautiful about that. Jerry alone at the top suffering, so that he may make others suffer.
If you ever have a chance, especially if you love the Niners or Jerry Rice. Go out to Redwood City for an afternoon, better yet a morning, and suffer up The Hill. You will be glad you did, and if your anything like me you will come back for more.