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by Nate Blouin

Downhill running is an unavoidable aspect for Utahns entering many of the half and full marathons in the area. Prepare all you’d like, but if your legs aren’t trained for downhill running (that you’re likely to encounter in many of the area’s races), all your hard work could go right down the drain. Just like with any aspect of running, the more you train with a specific goal in mind, the better adapted your body will be to cope with the stresses of that facet of running (to a point… moderation is key).

Most people’s tendency is to “slam on the brakes” while headed downhill. In this case, the brakes are the runner’s quadriceps. Strong and flexible quads are a key aspect if you’re trying to improve your downhill running.

Check out these four strength training exercises highlighted in Competitor Magazine.

With a strong foundation being laid in the gym, here are some tips on how to best prepare for the tough nature of downhill running:

  1. First thing’s first: warm up. Start with some strengthening exercises, get into a little stretching, then take a mile or two to get your body into the rhythm of running. Stressing cold muscles while flying down hill should be avoided!
  2. Start small. If you started your training program early enough, you have plenty of time to build up to running longer, steeper hills, just like you build mileage throughout your training program.
  3. Decrease your stride length. The tendency is to let gravity totally take over and open up your stride, but this will cause the sore quadriceps.
  4. Keep your stride as low to the ground as possible. Bouncing up and down magnifies gravity’s effect even more! Check out Garmin’s Forerunner 620 GPS watch – the heart rate monitor has a built in sensor to detect how far off the ground you move with each step!
  5. Stay upright! Your natural tendency while flying down is to lean back. This activates those “brakes” (quadriceps) we talked about earlier.
  6. Try it on the trails. The varied terrain will encourage a bit quicker and more measured stride, which will come in handy on the long downhills. Added bonus: dirt is softer than pavement, so you won’t tire as quickly.
  7. Vary your workout. Whether you’re training for a long downhill race or just looking to improve your technique, make sure you’re still incorporating normal training into your program. Running hills all the time is a recipe for disaster.
  8. Stay in your comfort zone. Running downhill is all about finding the style that works best for you. Incorporate these tips into your training, and take your time finding a style that’s comfortable for you.

Running downhill can be a blast. If you’re properly trained, you can safely charge down hills at a quicker-than-average pace and be no worse for the wear. Start with some strengthening, find a small hill, and experiment with the style that feels most fluid. Regardless of your goals, incorporate downhill work into your weekly regimen, you never know when you might need it!

For some additional information on the mechanics of downhill running, check out the article “Tips for Excelling on Declines” from Runner’s World.

Want to learn more about race training? Salt Lake Running Company has tons of resources on how to train for a race, increase your distance, or just get started.

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