DOWNHILL RUNNING SERIES: PREPARING FOR THE DOWNHILLS ON RACE DAY
~ By Annie Bothma, February 2023
In the previous two posts of the downhill running series, I explained why running downhill hurt so much; and then I gave you some tips on how to become a more efficient downhill runner, so you can more faster downhill with less strain or pain.
In this last post in the series, I will equip you with the knowledge on how to prepare and train effectively for the downhills you may encounter on race day.
Your muscles need to be able to absorb the impact of the increased forces associated with running quickly downhill. Therefore, if you want to be able to run fast downhill it is crucial to strengthen those legs, so they can withstand the high-impact that comes with running downhill. Try add some core and leg strength exercises to your training.
Here are a few of my favorite leg exercise that works wonders for downhill running:
1. Bulgarian Split-Squats
2. Single-leg get-ups
4. Reverse Nordic Curls
KENYAN-STYLE HILL SESSIONS
In Kenya, when we do hill repeats both the up and down portions are hard! The idea is to keep a consistent effort on the up and the down. This is similar to hill circuits, which I explained in a previous post: CONQUERING THE CLIMB SERIES: 10 OF THE BEST HILL-WORKOUTS FOR RUNNERS.
Hill circuits are a challenging and more advance type of hill workout, because the recovery jog is done at a faster pace. This reduces the amount that you’re able to recover between repetitions which makes the workout more aerobically demanding.These sessions are similar to track workouts with “cruise recoveries” where the rest period is run at a more challenging pace. This is my personal favorite type of hill workout!
10 x 90-sec hills at 5k race effort, jog down recovery at marathon effort
10 x 60-sec hills at 10k race effort, jog down at marathon/half marathon effort
10 x 45-sec hills at 3k race effort, jog down recovery at 10k/half marathon effort
You do hill repeats, right? Downhill running is no different and needs to be practiced. Find a gradual off-road downhill gradient and do fast repetitions down it, ensuring you use a long stride length. Each repetition should be about a 60-seconds to 90-seconds in effort. Jog slowly back up the hill after each repetition to recover. Depending on your level of downhill fitness, start with 4-6 repeats and build it up to 10.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE...
You need to be agile with fast reactions and be able to read the terrain ahead. This will allow you to choose where you plant your feet. These skills are gained by repeated practice, so make time during your training runs to include some downhill sections and repeat them several times.
LOSE CONTROL - a little bit!
When you running downhill, try to switch off your brain a little bit. A lot of runners worry about falling, slipping and hurting themselves, which is understandable. However, to think like this will only slow you down more and you are actually more likely to make a mistake! Fear can paralyze you! When you get a little out of control, your brain is forced to think in overdrive-mode, which actually speeds up your ability to make decisions on where to step next. It’s not easy, but what you have to do is, at the top of the hill, switch off your brain and let your legs take control!
DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE GEAR...
ARE YOUR RUNNING SHOES UP FOR THE TASK?
Shoes can make a big difference when you are running downhill. If you haven’t got decent tread on your shoes you’re going to struggle – no matter how good you are! If you are running trials, invest in running shoes for soft and muddy ground and/or harder paths and trails. Choose shoes that you can trust will get you safely to the bottom!
Apply these strategies training and mindset strategies when you are preparing for your next race. Callus those legs for the increased impact by doing some strength work in the gym or or by doing some hill-circuits or downhill repeats in training. Make sure you are wearing shoes with good tread so you have a good grip. Lastly, switch off your brain a bit and let your legs take control as you cruise downhill.
Remember, confidence comes from knowing you are prepared for the task at hand, no matter what race day may throw at you!