Ups and Downs – Part 2 – Going Downhill, Quickly

Uphill running is tough.  It’s like… well… like running uphill. It’d be hard to get much argument there.

But downhill?

Some folks love it (put me in that camp – I’m happy to take gravity’s help any time I can), and some folks hate it; say it’s hard on the legs, busts up their toes, scary to go fast if it’s steep.

If you’re in that latter group, here are a few things that seem to work for me.

  • When things start going downhill, resist the impulse to stretch out your stride and bound along; that increases impact (read: potential pain and injury), which is already exacerbated by the fact that the ground is slanting down in front of you, so your foot (and your entire body mass) is going to travel farther (and therefore faster, since gravity is an accelerating force) on every footfall, just to reach the ground.
  • Stretching your stride can also lull you into reducing your level of effort and relying on gravity to maintain your normal pace.  Instead, lengthen your stride only moderately (if at all) from what it was on the preceding terrain.  Keep your footfalls under your body, not way out in front of you (a foot landing out ahead of you has a braking effect!) and take advantage of the downhill by increasing cadence as much as you can, keeping your breathing rate and level of exertion as high as they are on level ground.  This will   allow you to exceed your normal pace, maybe making up time lost on any uphills.
  • A good way to achieve this is to picture yourself as Road Runner (the one in the cartoon, not the real feathered one).  Imagine your feet whirling around in tight circles like wheels, beneath a body that is rolling downhill, pulled by the force of gravity which, for once, is on your side.

Oh yeah, about that ‘scary when it’s steep’ feeling, two suggestions: one, think of your upper body being just a little back of vertical, your hips out front a touch.  That way your mass doesn’t get ahead of your feet and make you more vulnerable to tripping.  And on rugged or really steep descents, turn your toes up, pressing their tips against the tops of your shoes, and let your feet strike more to the heel than usual – it’s no fun to catch a toe and trip on level ground, but on the downhill, when you’re going fast and the ground is falling away from you – meaning you have farther to fall – it’s even less desirable (voice of experience again…). Since the ground is angling down toward the front of your foot, heel striking is almost a necessity on downhill, which may be part of the reason many folks find downhill so painful if they haven’t trained for it, working gradually up to longer and steeper grades.

Chances are, you earned your downhill – most come with at least some amount of climbing – so take advantage of Mother Nature and father Newton’s laws:  tip back, spin your feet, maybe hook your toes, and enjoy the pull of gravity.

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