If you’re a runner and you check things out online, I guess there’s a chance you’ve seen the wonderful Inov8 video showing runners hammering a downhill section of a fell race. I find it exciting to watch, and a little dangerous. It takes confidence and practice to run freely downhill without feeling like you’re going to fall over and break your neck. There’s a natural tendency to put the brakes on but you don’t have to. In fact, learning how to run downhill effectively can help you gain some time on race day, even when tackling technical trails and hills.
There’s certainly a knack to downhill running. If you gauge it right, you can optimise your performance, and speed, without risking injury. Here’s the low down:
The general rule here is don’t lean back. When we run downhill, it’s natural to lean back as it slows us down. This is actually counterproductive for your running and by doing so, you’re working against gravity. Similarly leaning forward too much into the downhill can lead to disaster. There is a balance though, as leaning into the hill a bit makes all the other biomechanics of downhill running possible. The key is to get it right and hold in your core. As my yoga teacher says, if you hold your core in, you won’t go anywhere.
Having the right posture is one thing, but you may still be inclined to heel strike when running downhill. The best foot placement is land with your foot almost level to the ground, directly under your body. Heel strikes are correlated with shin splints, and you don’t want that. They also put pressure on other areas of your body, like your knees. Talking of your knees, they should be kept slightly bent to help absorb the shock.
Running downhill equals running at a faster pace. The aim is to keep moving at momentum and stay in control. Increasing your cadence will shorten your stride and your feet will spend as little time as possible connecting with the ground. There’s a need to take the brakes off and go with the flow. Shortening your stride will make heel striking harder, which is good. Obviously try and keep your landing light and springy, you don’t want to be like an elephant bounding downhill.
If you’re going to feel confident tackling downhill running you need to practice in all conditions, especially in those expected on race day. Start small and build up gradually. Remember, it’s about technique and confidence. There’s a need to be in a different space mentally too as our usual response is to lean back and slow down, and you’re wanting to do the opposite. Over time you’ll be able to tackle bigger downhills and replicate your race pace.
Do you like running downhill? It’s taken time to master the technique but it’s such good fun. Running downhill is great for propelling you forward too. Let’s face it, if you’re running downhill you’ll be running uphill at some point. It takes time and practice to run downhill with confidence. Hold your core, smile and let gravity take you forward.