Coaching: Downhill Running Techniques

My favourite part of trail runs are the long, continuous, steep descents and I can’t get enough of them! I run uphill so that I get to play on the way down. With practice I am sure you will learn to love the downs too!

What goes up must come down and it is a huge advantage to embrace the descent as a trail runner!  Improving your downhill running confidence will not only improve your speed but also decrease your risk of injury and increase your stoke factor in the trails.  There is nothing like being able to 'let go' and fly down a flowy descent with a big old smile on your face!  Our confidence on downhill terrain a product of our exposure, experience, agility and strength.  Practice your downhill techniques and ‘letting go’ when the terrain looks fun to you – do not push yourself to run fast down terrain that scares you and could risk injury.  Instead, expose yourself regularly to various types of downhill terrain, practicing your techniques at a controlled pace, and letting go once it looks FUN to you!  Over time, with exposure and practice, the hills will look less intimidating and your FUN zone will move to steeper and more technical pitches.  Take your time, practice, be safe and enjoy:)

Just as uphill running requires different techniques for different grades, running downhill changes with the terrain.  Here are a few types of downhill running:

1.  When it is crazy steep it is time to get dirty and use your hands!  When you are forced to slow to a walk because of drops, slippery slopes or extremely steep terrain don't be afraid to use your hands.  Get low by bending your knees and hips, grab rocks, roots, trees and shrubs to help you move quickly through technical sections.  Move like a monkey in the trees using your hands- and you will not only move quickly but safely through tough terrain.  Turn your feet sideways, to increase your braking surface area – never point your ‘rockets’ straight down a loose, slippery slope or you will go for a ride.

2. On moderate to steep technical grades you will need to run smarter in order to manage your descent safely.  You will need to check your speed by 'braking' before you get into trouble and out of control. Sit back on your heels and bend your knees and hips slightly to check your speed.  The more you want to break, the further you want to sit back.  Look ahead and plan your 'line' rather than looking directly in front of your feet.  Glancing ahead to see what is coming will allow you to anticipate the terrain and check your speed in advance.   Switchback on the trail if needed, or place your feet wide/on the outer edges of the trail to avoid the loose bits in the centre and to control your speed by pressing into the sides and banks of the trail.  Keep light on your feet as if dancing amongst the roots and rocks- never committing to full weight.  By staying light, you will move quickly and be able to react fast if the footing is not ideal. 

3. On easy grades that are not as technical the goal is to open it up and run!  When you are comfortable on a downhill grade (and it looks FUN!),  lean forward slightly to meet the angle of the terrain, land mid foot and keep a high turn over by focusing on picking your feet up off the ground as quickly as possible.  This will limit the braking forces required, decrease impact and increase your speed as you move forward faster with each next step.  Attack the downhills that you feel confident on!  Lean forward and let go because your heart rate is going to drop with the help of gravity and you can afford to push a bit harder. Open it up and let er rip once you feel safe to do so!

Happy Trails,