How do you get better at downhill running? Are there any tweaks you can make to your form or things you can do in training to better prepare yourself for downhill races?
Coach Hayley shares her insight in today’s daily podcast
Coach Laura: Hello everyone. Welcome to the latest episode of Extra Kick, brought to you by Runners Connect. Thank you so much for joining me today.
If you have a question you’d like one of our expert coaches to answer in an upcoming episode, you can submit it at runnersconnect.net/daily. We’d love to help you train smarter and faster, so please don’t hesitate to ask whatever has you curious. Today’s question comes from Kerry.
Kerry: I would love to see your suggestions on how to get better at downhills. Also, some reassurance that this is something one can train for because I am awful at running downhills. Any tips? Thanks.
Coach Laura: Kerry, this is a fantastic question. As well as answering it for you, I’d like to dedicate this episode to all of our Runners Connect runners who are training for the Boston Marathon.
Running downhill is a skill, and like any skill, you need practice. So yes, it is something that one can train for.
On a very basic level, when you run downhill, you naturally lean backwards. You’re putting on the breaks; be aware of this, and work to correct it.
You want to work with gravity pulling you down the hill, so lean in and go. Increase your cadence to keep your feet beneath you, but be sure not to start running too fast. It is a tricky balance.
Relax, and go with the hill; you can always lean back to slow down if you start to go too fast. But the more comfortable on the hill you get, the faster and more efficient you’ll be.
When you start off on hills, you need to make sure you’re not going too fast. It is a delicate balance, but with practice you’ll get along a lot better at pacing.
What happens to your body when you’re running downhill? The hill causes your quads to contract to stabilize the knee and keep you upright, while your knee is simultaneously flexing, and your quad is stretching.
This means your quads are being pulled in two different directions, which can put significant stress on them.
It’s why, when people get to the later half of, say, the Boston Marathon, they say they really feel it in their quads because they hadn’t trained adequately for the downhill portion.
Having good form is essential for running downhill, and you need to practice eccentric loading, which you can do with wall sets and one-legged squats.
I’ve raced successfully on downhill courses – after practicing downhills – by doing point-to-point runs. We’ve taken transit, or been driven to the start location where we have the ability to do the majority of the run downhill with a flat, or slight uphill finish. Then we’ve been picked up, or taken transit back from the finish.
It takes work and coordination, but it can be extremely beneficial to practice this way. I would go as far as to say to practice some of your workouts on a downhill course. Mild repeats are really great to get you moving down the hill at an appropriate pace.
If you don’t have the ability to do a point-to-point course, or mile repeats on the downhill, just find a hill. Instead of doing generic, regular hill repeats, just run on an easy, comfortable pace and practice going down, relaxing, not leaning too far back, and just going with the hill.
If you’re lucky enough to have a treadmill that is able to decline, that’s another great way to work on hills.
If you have a treadmill at home, and it doesn’t have the ability to decline, you can prop up the back end of it. Just be sure to use something good and sturdy under the backend – some sort of block or big piece of wood.
It all comes down to practice, so you may need to be creative.
But if you can find hills to work on in your long run and workouts, and practice running downhill relaxed and not leaning too far backwards, working on stability and eccentric loading, and practicing good running form, you will improve at running downhill.
Fear not, the hill is your friend, and you can do it.
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