February 2017 - Downhill Running

The Question

February's question was from Farooq in Sussex. Farooq asked:

“Last summer I ran a very hilly half and I found it wasn't the uphill running that got to me (which I had actually trained for) but rather the downhill running. I found it very hard on the legs, which started to almost feel shaky later on in the race. A runner on a group said I should practise downhill running, but what exactly should I practice? Just do reps like I do uphill?”

- Farooq

Shaun Dixon
Shaun Dixon - Team GB Runner and head coach at Let's Get Running

“Running downhill is a real skill. You could argue it's almost more important than uphill technique - getting it wrong can cause significant muscle damage. Don't hold yourself back - this leads to heavy jarring and sore quads. Here's 3 areas to focus on:

  1. Posture. Stand tall, and lean forward from the toes! Fall into the hill - with each step catching you from falling over.
  2. Legs. Aim for a really fast turnover of feet. Focus on a fast heel lift with short, fast steps. Try and be soft and light on the floor. Top athletes actually practise short downhills to help them improve speed and leg turnover.
  3. Arms Keep them wide for balance! You might feel a little out of control so keep those arms ready.”
Simon Loughran
Simon - Middle-distance runner and athletics coach

“Yes, you can include downhill reps as part of your training. Shaun has given you some great technical tips above. In terms of an actual session something like 10 x 100 metres down a gentle incline with a walk/jog back recovery can work. Since you're more concerned with strengthening and conditioning the legs rather than aerobic conditioning you don't need to worry too much about being so strict with recovery times.

One important word of warning: make sure the hill you do reps on isn't too steep or you risk an injury or a fall. Even a moderate incline will bring benefits.

You can also practise downhill running on continuous runs. Aim for a consistent intensity rather than a pace. A heart rate monitor, if you have one, is a perfect way of ensuring you are working as hard going down as you are going up. Heart Rate Hills is a great session for this.

This applies to races too. Being a decent downhill runner can give you a significant advantage on hilly courses. Most runners work far too hard going uphill and then use the downhill section as a recovery. This is not an efficient way to race. It's more like interval training!”

Our Member's Answer

This month's member's answer is from Jane in London.

Jane - cross country lover

“If you're going to race hilly then you need to train hilly! Most runners hate hills but I love them, and that includes going up as well as going down. Cross country courses (OK, I am a bit biased) are great for this because of the softer surfaces. You'll find you can do a lot more downhill running - and do it a lot faster - than you would be able to manage on the roads.”

Thanks, Jane. Looks like getting muddy might be in order.