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What Goes Up, Must Come Down

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How to perfect your downhill running

Running downhill can sometimes feel like a real relief after the effort exerted on the uphill, however, unless your technique is on point, you risk putting masses of stress on your body.  Mark Hoban, Wolf Run’s Health & Fitness expert, explains: “I find that many people will either speed up and sprint downhill, which can really put undue stress on the knees and cause soreness later on. Either that or they fight gravity and become hesitant and constantly using their quadriceps to break, which really fatigues the muscles. Hesitancy can also cause you to fall or twist an ankle.”

So, what is the optimum speed for downhill running? Well, it’s pretty much middle of the road – not too fast and not holding back. What is important is to not to be flat footed when running downhill. Stay on light on your toes and don’t stretch forward with your feet.

As with last week’s focus on uphill running, we have looked at some of the best techniques to get you downhill.   Here’s Mark’s Top Tips:

  1. Free your mind and just run. Fear of falling is the biggest enemy of downhill running. Downhill trails are fast and gravity can feel like it is pulling you downhill faster than you want to.  However, if you don’t just let yourself go and switch your brains off from wanting you to slow down you may get yourself into all sorts of trouble. Your body will go stiff and that’s when accidents can happen. Try to trust in your legs and your trainers (making sure they are extra grippy to cope with wet and muddy conditions. Try to visualise gravity pulling you down the hill.
  2. Train on the downhill. The energy you exert on the uphill can lead many people wanting to focus their training here, but you really do need to train downhills too. Practice does make perfect and the more running downhill you do – the better you will be. Training will also help you strengthen your ankles too.
  3. Keep your eyes to the ground. Terrain can be uneven and it takes one rogue stone or some slippy scree to send you tumbling. Keep your eyes forward (about 3-5 steps infront of you) and map out your path in your head. You feet will automatically feel confident as to where they are going.
  4. Map your body! Remember from Uphill training to be aware of what your body is doing from top to toe? Well, the same stands for downhill running:
    1. Avoid leaning too far back as it slows you down
    2. Avoid leaning too far forward as you will feel as though you are about to tumble and you will automatically slow down and alter your stride.
    3. Put your arms out to give you additional balance.
    4. Use long strides on easier terrains.
    5. Use shorter strides for trickier terrains.
    6. Keep your feet close to the ground for maximum control, and land lightly.

Let’s look at some common hill problems and what causes them:

Uphill Problems

Cause

Tired or sore shoulders and arms

Too much arm swing, or arms extended too far forward

Tight or sore lower back

Leaning too far forward

Tight leg muscles

Over- striding

Breathing too rapidly

Over-striding or bounding too high

Downhill Problems

Causes

Tight hamstrings or sore shins

Over Striding

Sore lower back

Leaning too far forward

Arms flailing; loss of rhythm

Going too fast

Sore quadriceps muscles

Probably over-striding, thus forcing your quads to work too hard; or too much braking

So, why not incorporate hill training into your running regime. Just once a week will do as it is hard on your body and injury is no bodies friend when training for an OCR.

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