Running Downhill

My first half-marathon is this Saturday. I did my last long workout on February 12th. The workout schedule listed an 11-mile, endurance pace run. I opted to run the route of the race I’m doing, minus a loop. I also made a few changes in strategy, and it really paid off: I felt better at mile ten than I did at mile two. Given that success, I decided my next long workout, a six-mile run, would be Badger.

I hadn’t run Badger in a few months. It got cold and snowy here, and the steepest trails on Badger Mountain are almost always in the shade. That would make for a treacherous run, and I was unwilling to risk injury while training for this upcoming race. Because I hadn’t run Badger while training, I hadn’t done any downhill running.

If you’re thinking running downhill is “easy,” I strongly suggest you reframe that thought. You’re likely contrasting running downhill with the exertion of running uphill, where you’re trying to overcome both inertia and gravity. Running uphill is an excellent cardio-vascular workout. Running downhill will not cause your heart rate to peak (probably); that does not make it “easy.”

Running downhill requires your body to control, rather than overcome, gravity and momentum. Reading Jeff Gaudette’s blog convinced me to reframe my impression of downhill running. He’s right. It’s an excellent workout and it will make me a stronger runner.

It is now Monday afternoon. After Friday’s run, I immediately consumed food with a 3:1 carb/protein ratio. When I got home, I did a long stretch session in which I held stretches for about four minutes each. The next day, we went on a leisurely, short, flat Nordic ski trail. We went on a leisurely walk on Sunday. Right now, sitting down and standing up still cause my thighs to ache. At least it’s down to aching just a bit: you should have seen me trying to lower myself to a kneeling position at the altar rail for communion yesterday. An 80-year old man who was standing near by almost had to help me back up.

I was not sore the day after my 11-mile endurance run, and I didn’t do anywhere near as much recovery work.

If you’re going to incorporate downhill running, you need to keep a few things in mind. One, your cadence should increase notably when running downhill. My stride is much shorter running downhill. This is not the time to try a long, loping stride unless you really do want to feel like you’re engaged in controlled falling. Second, watch your body position. I try to think of keeping my butt “low and back.” It helps me to keep my weight slightly uphill of my feet. Hikers refer to this as a “duck walk”; it’s essentially the same thing. Your knees should always have a slight bend in them.

Badger is unpaved, and it’s covered in loose gravel in spots. As with any trail running, keep your gaze moving about. Even on a paved trail, running downhill will require you to be a little more alert as to where your feel are landing.

I plan to run Badger more regularly, now that the snow & ice is gone. Not only do I expect to see improvements in my run, but this will aid in cycling, too. (I haven’t ridden my bike up the Webber Canyon Road in a few years … perhaps this is a good summer to resume that quest!)


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