Fall gracefully. That’s about it really, but hard to achieve when you fear you might fall flat on your face at any moment. Firstly, before you do any significant amounts of downhill running, you need to prepare your body for running downhill.
Downhills are often preceded by uphills, so first thing to remember is to leave something in the tank for what’s coming after the uphill part of your run. If you get to the top of the hill so spent you can hardly stand up, your downhill form will be somewhat less than perfect, and you won’t be able to reap the benefits to be gained from running downhill well. See our article for more on uphill running technique.
And now for the downhills.
Gently lean your body into the hill. Relax and it’ll gently pull you down. Don’t lean back and try to brake yourself. Fight it and you’ll end up with sore quads and frustration when you see people powering past you on the downhill-those very same people you just overtook on the uphill!
It’s tempting to take huge leaps when running downhill, but do try not to overstride. Keep your feet low to the ground, and stay light on your feet. Your leg turnover should pick up. Keep your steps quick. Your stride will naturally lengthen a little as the ground drops away beneath you, so to keep your steps quick, you may have to try to shorten your strides up a little. Each footstrike should be very light and very short. With shorter, more frequent steps you absorb less shock per stride.
Lean forward into the hill. The lean should come from the ankles, not the hips. Shoulders should be slightly in front of you. Land with your foot just a little bit behind your hips, not directly underneath you.
Practice makes perfect.
The more you practice running down hill, the more confident you will get, the more relaxed you will get, the better you will get at it, the more confident you will get……Take every opportunity to focus on your downhill form when you are out running, and include some specific downhill sessions each week. Start out with a short gradual slope perform 30 second downhill intervals at race pace. Gradually build up the length of your intervals and your speed down the hill, to about 20 secs faster than your goal race pace.
The most important aspect, as with any training plan, is to avoid overdoing it. It’s normal to be sore as you adapt to downhill training, but too much downhill running can be detrimental, leaving you overly fatigued and prone to injury.
Lastly, don’t expect to get the hang of downhill running on your first attempt. Like most thing, it’ll take a bit of practice before you have that light bulb moment. When you get it right, you’ll know.
View this video for more on hill running.