MASTER THE DOWNHILL
Oh the downhill..... people love it or they absolutely despise it. Downhill is a dance that simply takes practice. Once you've gotten down the basic principles, you'll be looking forward to those fast, fun downhills. Here's 3 main guidelines to follow:
On downhills, runners tend to use gravity and open up their stride, bounding over the trail with heavy footfalls. That is a bad approach for two reasons.
First, a longer stride gives you fewer opportunities to course-correct as you go. Each footfall that lands in front of your body is a risk, because a larger percentage of your weight is supported by that footfall. Step wrong with a loping stride, and you’ll probably taste dirt before you have a chance to say, “Oh fudge.”
With a higher cadence, each step involves less impact force and thus gives you a chance to adjust on the fly. Step badly, and you might already be on to the next step. Sometimes, the best downhillers are really just the best controlled stumblers, able to misstep and recover constantly without any issues.
Second, long downhill strides increase eccentric muscle contractions, which can lead to soreness later. Eccentric contractions are the controlled lengthening of muscle under tension. Imagine your leg extended in front of you. As you land, your knee will bend, causing eccentric contractions and associated muscle damage.
Shorter, or more frequent, strides will still cause some eccentric contractions, but since the muscles aren’t under as much load with each stride, the next-day soreness will be less pronounced.
PRACTICE PROPER RUNNING FORM
Essentially, you want to keep your feet under your center of gravity, rather than leaning too far forward or backward. Lean forward excessively and your momentum will increase, limiting your ability to adjust to the terrain as it comes. Lean back, and your leg will land in front of your mass, causing eccentric muscle contractions and problems from over-striding.
Instead, try to keep your shoulders, hips and ankles aligned at impact, using the hips and knees as key indicators of proper form. Run tall through the hips, and avoid “sitting down” in your stride. Because of forward momentum, maintaining upright posture through the hips may actually feel like leaning forward a few degrees.
At the same time, focus on a relaxed knee drive, lifting your feet from the knee, rather than kicking back. That will help you avoid kicking rocks and will contribute to a quick, soft stride.
RELAX AND LET IT FLOW
People often tense up on the downhill, thoughts of falling run through your head, feeling like your going too fast or are out of control. Learning to relax is key in order to flow with the obstacles that the trail throws at you. Downhill running is like skiing or downhill mountain biking, pick a line and flow with it. Be sure to be scanning the trail just ahead of you and visualize the line you'll take, then commit to it. The more you practice this, the easier and more natural it becomes.
If you consider yourself a bad downhill runner, let that thought slip away. Anyone can become an expert downhill runner if you work at it and avoid self-judgment. After all, gravity is a constant for all of us. Make it a constant companion, rather than a constant enemy.
Here's some motivation to go out and nail those downhills!