Monday, September 29, 2008

Lifting up as you go down.

I've been thinking about downhill running lately. Probably because I do so much of it. Also, Kara had a post recently about foot strike and mentioned how landing heel first effectively means that you're putting on the breaks. I so agree.

Downhill running is tricky. It is easy to just pound down the hill, not worrying about form, just letting gravity pull you along. But, as I said, it is tricky and I learned this the hard way.

Let me go back in time to my glory days. 2004. The marathon. My (I hope this won't always be the case) one and only. The flat and fast course in the race description was code for enough downhill to shred your shins and macerate your toes if you are not careful and you enter the race without ample downhill training. Only, I apparently didn't have the appropriate decoder ring so I couldn't read the message. The downhills kicked my butt. Or, I should say, they kicked my legs and feet.

There was one downhill stretch where I thought for sure I would end the race with broken foot bones. The pain, in a word, sucked.

But the last miles of the race were actually flat and after I finished I was so happy that I forgot about those pesky downhills. Sure, my feet were tired and sore but, hey! I just ran 26.2 miles so they had every right to be tired and sore. It wasn't until I started adding hills and downhills back into my running that I realized that running down a hill involves some skill.

Now, I'm used to running downhill and I do it, mostly, injury-free. I was thinking about how I've been able to do this when I was out for my run on Saturday. The one thing that occurred to me and the tip that I wanted to share with you is this: I feel my body anticipating (does that seem weird?) lifting my foot up well before I land. It is tough to explain but I was listening to my body as I ran down one particularly long hill and I felt a lifting sensation in my legs as I was preparing to land each step. Each time I would land, it was as if I was already lifting my foot, so my landing was as light as possible.

For me, that's the key to running downhills effectively. I hope it works for you, too. If you have other ideas, please share. I'm always looking for good tips!

12 comments:

*aron* said...

i figured this out during SFM - there were HUGE downhills and they just killed me. now i have been practicing running downhill and letting loose... its a bit scary at first but once you figure it out its great!

J said...

This is definitely making me think - I am not sure how i run down hills! I am going to have to check this out.

Freedom Runner said...

I have also heard that you can "break up" the strain of a downhill on your legs by weaving your way down in an "S" pattern. This takes pressure off knees, toes, quads, etc., and helps you maintain control on the descent if you haven't mastered flying down the hill just yet. :-)

The Happy Runner said...

Hmmm...that weaving idea is interesting! It makes sense, though -- like what you do when skiing.

Steve Stenzel said...

Wow, that's good downhill advice! During my duathlon this past weekend, there was a quick, sharp downhill and I knew I was running it horribly. Now I know better!

The Laminator said...

I second aron's comment. SFM slapped me silly on the downhills. But I know what you mean about lifting your foot for the downhills, and it totally works. Another thing I've learned is to keep your center of gravity above your hips by leaning slightly forward instead of leaning back, which puts more strain on your achilles. One other thing is use your stride length to control your speed instead of slowing turnover or leaning backwards.

Marcy said...

Great, less than 2 weeks away and you tell me these things! I'm KIDDING! I've actually read some of the reviews on the HMM before training and was aware of some of the craziness. We shall see how I fare LOL

Mark Salinas said...

I just want to finish...that is it. Once I found out NO headphones I changed my plan! :)

Vava said...

What a great tip for running downhill! I am scared of this and have avoided it, but when I do start training hills the down will have to come after the up inevitably. I will try your trick since I tend to pound way too hard on even gentle downhills, almost as if I am trying to hold back and not succeeding in the least.

The Happy Runner said...

vava -- the holding back will eat up your quads and your knees. Good luck when you start on the hills!

Frayed Laces said...

I try to resist the urge to pound downhill. You definitely have to change your stride considerably.

*aron* said...

i had a couple downhills last night and TOTALLY understood what you said... it took me doing it for it to kick in. foot picks up just as it is coming down :)

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