Many runners assume that running downhill will be an easier run. In some ways that may be true. But without proper training and preparation, a downhill race or running downhill for miles can be more taxing and challenging on the body. You might find yourself more sore after a lengthy downhill run than you do after a flat race! Many training plans will have hill repeats in them but that is mostly going uphill. Training for a downhill race can, and should include, downhill repeats as well. These tips for running downhill will help you during your next event where there are downhill portions.
Why is Running Downhill Hard on the Body?
When you run downhill, your muscles stretch and lengthen. During an extended downhill run, there is more pressure on the knees and legs because you are continuously braking. This causes you to land harder! After doing that for miles, such as a half-marathon, you might find your body sorer than ever. There is a natural tendency to lean back when running downhill, which can result in slamming your heel into the ground, which in turn puts more pressure all the way up the legs. It can also inhibit the range of motion in your hips!
What are Tips for Running Downhill?
Find Somewhere to Practice Running Downhill:
When training for a downhill race, it’s important to practice running long periods downhill. Consider a treadmill if you can’t find an appropriate outdoor downhill place to run. Many treadmills have the ability to set a downhill configuration. You might find yourself more sore when you start practicing running downhill. That’s actually a good thing! It means that you are working muscles that you might not have used before!
If you are training for a downhill half or marathon, consider doing most of your long runs downhill and occasionally weekly. You don’t need to run every training run downhill, but you need to get quality downhill runs in!
Leaning forward will probably feel unnatural at first, but it is the best posture for running downhill. Let gravity do the work! Leaning back, which is the natural tendency, does give you more control, but it will slow you down and create knee and leg pain.
We tend to look at our feet when running, whether we run downhill or uphill or on a flat surface. Get in the habit of focusing your eyes several feet in front of you so that your brain can process hazards, such as rocks or potholes, that might be coming up.
Practice Midfoot Landing:
Why midfoot? Landing on your heels creates a braking effect, which makes for hard landings and causes pain up your legs. By landing further up on your feet, you are creating a softer landing.
Another benefit of landing midfoot is less loss of toenails. You are more likely to lose toenails when running downhill because your feet are constantly being pushed to the shoe’s front. By landing more midfoot, you stay in control and lose fewer toenails. If your toe box is too small or too narrow, you may find yourself losing toenails on any terrain, so you should consider going up a half size in your shoes.
By focusing on landing on your midfoot or even more toward the front of your feet, you should be landing lighter than when you land on your heels. This will also decrease the strain on your legs, ankles, and knees.
Any runner can benefit from a strength training program. For downhill running, you want to focus on your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Without strengthening these, running downhill will never feel easy.
Don’t Forget About Your Arms:
Keep your arms at a 90-degree bend and swing them slightly faster. Your legs will follow the pace of your arms, and you will likely run more quickly than you think!
Your arms can help with balance, especially if you are running on a steep grade downhill.
Don’t forget that gravity will do the hard work. Your job is to relax and try and get into a smooth rhythm. Let gravity bring you downhill.
What About Shoes?
Running downhill can be hard on your body. If you find it’s harder than you are willing to endure, consider getting a more highly cushioned shoe. This extra cushion will make your legs and knees feel better. Also, consider getting a shoe with a wider toe box. Running downhill can cause your feet to jam up into the front of the shoe, which can in turn cause black toenails or even loss of toenails. Having extra room in the toe box can help. Visit your local run specialty store and speak with a fit expert. Tell them your event and get fitted for the proper shoe.
Running downhill can result in fast times, but it’s essential to adequately prepare, just as you would for a hilly or flat race. Without preparation, you may not run as fast as your potential would otherwise give you. These tips will help you run your fastest downhill race and feel good.