Many of the major races in Okinawa are staged on courses that take runners up and over some respectable sized hills! While hill routes and repeats are often factored into training plans, it’s mostly uphill running that gets all the attention. Training to run downhill is either an after-thought, or not thought of at all.
Runners typically don’t think about downhill running as something that needs to be practiced, simply because, well, it’s easy. Gravity takes over, allowing a runner to glide downhill and easily regain control of pace and breathing. It’s not until a runner experiences the shock of running steeper, longer, or more downhills than they’re used to, that they’ll wish someone had told them about downhill training. And they’ll wish it even more when they wake up the next day with burning quads that continue to burn for several days after.
That “quad burn” is the result of inflammation. Downhill running forces a wider stride, causing the affected muscles to lengthen. When the muscles are stretched beyond what they can tolerate, small microscopic tears result. If speed was also involved, as it would be in a race, the impact and damage to the muscles will be greater still.
The good news is that you can minimize muscle trauma by training your bodies (quads especially) to adapt to progressive overloads in downhill running. Just as you can train yourself to become a faster and more efficient runner, you can also train yourself to become a stronger (and more resilient) downhill runner.
From the May 2009 issue of Runners World Magazine – Jason Karp
- Start small – add downhills to your routine a little at a time…..Start with a short, gradual slope, with a two-to three-percent grade, and move on to steeper and longer descents as you get more comfortable. Treat downhill workouts as hard sessions, and follow them with two or three days of easy running. And be sure to back off of downhills in the two weeks or so before a target race, he adds.
From the September 2009 issue of Running Times Magazine – Brian Metzler
- Bobby McGee, a Boulder, Colorado, coach who has trained numerous world-class athletes, recommends developing good core strength, as well as specific training to strengthen the quads, hamstrings and lower leg muscles. He suggests doing a variety of drills such as mild lunges, negative or reverse squats, light plyometric work (in which you absorb eccentric shock), hopping and bounding, so your muscles get used to the eccentric (downhill, muscle-lengthening) contractions.
- Work on your form – as a surface slopes downward, you need to adjust your body position with a forward lean to keep you from hard heel striking, McGee says. “Think about trying to quickly cycle your legs under your pelvis…..the duration of each footstrike should be very short and very light. With higher turnover and shorter, more frequent steps, you’re absorbing less shock per footstrike.”
- For downhill marathons (or half marathons), consider running in a shoe that has ample forefoot cushioning, more padding than your normal marathon flats and definitely not a minimalist racing flat.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this training video that gives a great visual on what good downhill running form looks like in action: