Going Downhill Fast

“How do I get better at running downhill?”

This is the question I get asked more than any other by trail and fell runners seeking to improve their running technique.

running downhill

running downhill

 

“I overtake people on the uphill only to have them fly past me again on the downhill”, “I feel out of control”, “I’m scared I’m going to fall”.  Do any of those statements sound familiar?  You’re certainly not alone if you feel that your descending skills are something that need to be worked on in order to make you a better fell or trail runner.  So what can you do in order to improve?

Some people will tell you that it’s simply a matter of disengaging the brain and letting go.  Unfortunately it isn’t quite as simple as that; if you haven’t got the core or leg strength to cope with the added impact forces or don’t have the neuromuscular development that allows rapid reactions and quick movements, then no amount of bravado is going to get you to the bottom of a steep, technical descent still upright and in one piece!

So is there any way of improving your descending skills?  Just like getting faster on the flat or stronger on the uphills, descending at pace and in control is something that needs to be trained.  And like most aspects of running, whilst a few people seem naturally gifted, the majority get better by hard work and regular practice.  Lots of runners make the mistake of only trying to run fast descents in races, to make improvements you should work on it in training too.  Developing an efficient technique is important so try to focus on the following:

Downhill Running Tips:

  • Don’t lean back.  Whilst it feels safer to lean back and land heel first this is inefficient.  Try to keep an upright posture or even a slight forward lean.
  • Fast, short strides – particularly on steep, technical ground.  If the angle decreases or the ground gets less technical then you can open your stride.
  • Midfoot landing.  This gives more stud to ground contact and prevents you overstriding.
  • Relaxed upper body.  Let the arms go!  They act as a counterbalance.
  • Practise on a variety of terrain.  Start on a gentle, smooth slope and work up to steeper, more technical terrain as your technique and confidence improves.

Practising downhill running

There are also other types of training that you can do to supplement the downhill run training.  Doing drills such as fast feet or ladder exercises will help develop your balance and coordination and activate those fast twitch muscles needed for a rapid stride rate. Good descenders rely on a strong core so work on this too.  Exercises such as planks, bridges, and lunges will all help, it’s not just about running.

The key to improvement is practice; you didn’t learn to ride a bike in one go and likewise it takes time to develop the various skills to improve your downhill running.  Try to incorporate downhill training into your regular runs.  This video shows how you might practise running down a short, steep hill:

So, work on your technique and you never know, it might be you flying down past others as they tentatively make their way downhill.

Fell Running Guide

Blue Skies and Skylarks

Summer is here; blue skies with high clouds, long days fade to warm evenings and trail running in the Peak District is a pleasure.

No longer is there a need to don my windproof or carry a waterproof, hat and gloves are left behind and I relish the chance to run unencumbered by rucksack or bumbag.

summer evening trail running

The ground is dryer now, the wet, peaty trails turning dusty and it’s good to finish a run with dry feet for a change.  Skipping across the dry, gritstone boulders the dry rock gives excellent traction.

trail running fun

But the thing that gives me most pleasure is running with the sights and sounds of nature. Running below Burbage rocks I hear the high pitched cheep of the Ring Ouzel whilst on open moorland I am often circled by Curlews, distinctive with their long curved bill and mournful, whistling cry.  Of all the little, brown, ground nesting birds I am fascinated by the Skylark.  I hear it long before I see it, singing away melodiously.  Today I noticed its song was particularly loud, yet it was a tiny speck, high in the sky.

So the joy of summer running; dry trails, blue skies and the sound of the Skylark, singing away high on the wing.

Fell Running Guide

Baby Food for Distance Runners?

Do you use energy gels for your long distances runs and races?

I do but I tend to find them a little too sweet and sickly.  I use Science in Sport gels and like the fact that they can be taken without a drink making them easy to swallow; particularly important when racing as I don’t like chewing things when I’m breathing hard.  However, sometimes I would prefer something that gave me the energy but with a less sugary taste. Also some people find that gels have a tendency to upset their stomach – ever seen people disappearing into the bushes or diving behind a wall on a long race? Not ideal is it!

So, is there an alternative to energy gels?

One thing that I have found to work quite well is baby food!  Yes those little pouches of mushed up food that I always thought must taste disgusting.  Well a little bit of trial and error with the flavours has led me to one that is actually quite pleasant!

baby food for runners

baby food for runners!

I have tried several brands and prefer Ella’s Kitchen; I particularly like the mango, yoghurt and rice baby brekkie. The mix of fruit and yoghurt gives a tangy rather than sweet taste and the rice means that is slightly thicker than a SiS gel (which is designed to be taken without water) although they are still easy to swallow. It has no added sugar and the 100g pouch contains 112 kcal compared to 87 kcal in a 60ml gel.  They cost around £1, the same as a gel and the twist top means that you can reseal the pouch if you don’t want to swallow it all in one go.  This also prevents the remnants leaking out into your bag when you’ve finished it.

baby food for runners

baby food: 112 calories and 20g of carbohydrate

SiS gel

Gel: 87 calories and 22g of carbohydrate

I use baby food as fuel on long training runs and also on very long races such as the High Peak Marathon whilst on both the Paddy Buckley and Ramsay rounds I carried baby food pouches as an essential part of my nutrition strategy. There are other flavours and other brands, I suggest you check which has the most calories per 100g.

High Peak Marathon equipment

essentials for the High Peak Marathon include baby food pouches

I put the baby food to the test on a long run, you can see what I found in the video.  Before you go though, a quick word of warning – give the fish pie and mashed potato pouches a miss – YUK!!

 

Click the logo to see what else I do:

fell running guide

Hill Reps Hurt

“I reach the crest of the steep hill oblivious to everything except the pounding in my temples and the battle between body and mind; one screaming “stop” the other willing a few more moments of effort.  Relief, when it comes is temporary; I grasp my knees, bent double and suck in great lungfuls of air waiting for the drum in my head to quieten.  A few moments later I begin jogging downhill, losing the hard won ascent, all the way down to where I began.  I glance at my watch – 15 seconds left.  All too soon it is time to turn and repeat the climb and I am once more enveloped in my own little bubble of pain.”

Hill Reps

Working hard during hill reps

I am half way through a hill rep session (In order to get good at running up hills you need to do some training which involves…. running up hills) playing mind games trying to block out the thought of another 10 minutes of hurt.

My favourite (can you have a favourite type of pain?) session involves four repetitions up an increasingly steep 750 metre hill with jog down recovery.  The aim is to be consistent, i.e. all reps should take the same time give or take a few seconds.

Details:

4 x 750m with 4 min 30 sec jog down recovery.
Splits: 4.55, 4.59, 4.59, 4.48 (I mustn’t have been working hard enough in the first three!)

Graph shows heart rate during each rep. Heart rate at the end of each climb is 97 – 99% max.  (Data collected with Garmin 910XT and uploaded onto SportTracks software.)

heart rate during hill reps

heart rate during hill reps

The bottom line? Hill reps hurt!

To join me for an off road training session please email me on;

info@fellrunningguide.co.uk

 fell running guide logo