Get the edge – Run downhill
You would think that downhill running comes naturally but running downhill efficiently and repetitively is not as easy as it sounds. Good downhill runners – like uphill runners – seemingly do it effortlessly but as is the case with most disciplines, it takes practice and a gradual approach.
Because your body absorbs more impact with each foot strike down a hill, you can get injured quite quickly if you are not conditioned for it. It’s easy to overstride when running downhill, which makes you land harder, tires you out sooner and puts you more at risk of getting an injury. For downhill technique, it is better to shorten your stride and focus on a faster foot turnover. As in general good running form, aim to keep your shoulders, hips and feet aligned – the feeling is like controlled falling, so you’re over your centre of gravity – this gives you forward momentum and better foot placement.
Although it’s tempting to take large steps to reduce the pounding on your legs, over-striding down hills pounds your quads even more, and puts more stress on your ankles and hips too. Aim to keep your feet lower to the ground and try to stay light on your feet – get those feet off the ground as quickly as you can. Don’t lean back and try to put the brakes on yourself. Allow gravity to pull you as you go down the hill.
When running downhill, you don’t need the arm movement for power like you do on flats and up hills. So, for more stability try positioning your arms out to the side for better balance. It can help give your body the control on steeper or technical sections if some turning is involved.
Like when you descend on the bike, aim to look ahead of yourself – further down the hill, not down where your feet are.
Add downhill running to your training gradually. Start with a short, gradual slope, and move on to steeper and longer descents as you get more accustomed. Off-road trails for downhills or grassy slopes are better to start with, then progress to harder surfaces. Remember: repeated downhill runs are hard sessions so need to be treated as such – a few days of easy running or swim/bike will allow your legs to absorb the stress. Like anything, it is a gradual adaption over time so don’t expect the results to flow until you do this consistently, initially over four to six weeks.
Keep in mind that no serious downhills should be attempted leading up to important events. Give yourself seven to 10 days, even up to two weeks of complete rest from intensive/repetitive downhills before an important event.