Here are my 5 top downhill running techniques. After helping you climb with last week’s blog post on uphilll running techniques I thought it would be only fair to help you come back down.
You can apply these tips to your own relaxed hill runs or to the most competitive and aggressive of mountain races. The key principles guiding these top tips are, first and foremost, safety, enjoyment and also speed. So, as always, take your time to consider these techniques and how they can help you in your downhill running.
On a slight downward slope you can maintain a relatively forward leaning posture that keeps you perpendicular to the ground. This will allow you to gain free speed with the help of gravity. When you are confident with this technique you will find that you can use the descents to pass more timid runners. With more severe and steep downhills however, you may need to lean back to control your acceleration. As with my uphilll running techniques tip regarding posture, I liken this to the technique of leaning back when descending on horseback. If you are running with a pack this is even more relevant.
2. Stride Length
Be prepared to vary your stride length as you place your feet on the best ground, especially on uneven or rocky mountain routes. As a rule however, shortening your stride gives you greater control and reduces the energy sapping braking effect that come from long, lunge like strides. Focus on quickening your steps or cadence to achieve this. Heavy, pounding steps are a sure sign that you are over striding and if unchecked, you may regret the waste of energy when your quads start to burn prematurely on the next climb.
3. Check Stepping or Skipping
For technical descents when fell running where the surface can be undulating, rocky and loose, I like to occasionally keep the same lead leg for a stride or two almost like I am skipping along or riding an invisible snowboard. This makes for lighter foot contact and comes in especially handy on loose, wet, slippery terrain that may also wind left and right as you descend. This technique helps to maintain control and the lighter steps reduce the fatigue in the legs.
4. Use the Terrain
Natural Steps – Look for natural flat, stable formations to check your speed, balance and direction. When it is wet I like to look for roots and tufts that will offer some resistance and may even act as a light brake as I change direction. Even medium sized, loose rocks can be used in this way by stepping on the uphill edge so that the rock cuts into the ground giving you grip and stability on an otherwise lose surface.
Deep scree or shingle patches can be used to take some of the harsh impact out of your downhill strides, whilst allowing you to descend at speed. You will naturally make contact with the whole sole and sink a little into the scree. Be aware of people above and below you as you will naturally cause some disruption to the rocks.
5. Zig Zag
On a wider trail you can weave or zig zag to take some of the severity out of the gradient. Much as you do when skiing, spot ahead and aim to glide sweeping curves that take the sting out of the descent whilst maintaining your speed.
Finally, learn to relax and let your natural instincts kick in. Like the way you throw your arms up when dropping off a step or the way you raise one arm spontaneously to hit the balance point as you change direction or to correct a minor slip. Now that I have mentioned it I have to urge you to put this one to the back of your mind and just let it happen.
Take care and enjoy the downhills. Feel free to let me know how you found these tips by using the comment section below. Until next time. LG