Bad Angel Rule #179

Running Downhill Requires Work Too.

Hills. They’re an essential part of almost every training plan. They help you build strength, gain speed and learn to deal with the literal and figurative ups and down of race day. And once you learn to run hills, they’re really not so bad. In fact, my high school track coach always used to say, “Hills are your friend.” (In my youth, I didn’t always agree.)

Now, here’s the thing. When you think about hills, you generally just think about (dread) going UP them. But that’s only half the battle. The down portion of the hill requires a special skill set and effort level, just like its uphill counterpart.

The elite women (including Rita Jeptoo and Shalane Flanagan) demonstrate proper downhill running technique at the Boston Marathon.

When you run downhill, your body automatically wants to put on the brakes. And, that’s how most people go down hills; that’s how I did it for years. Plus, when you’re wearing a more traditional running shoe, and you put on the brakes and heel strike down a hill, it’s only after the fact that you’ll notice your quads are on fire and you could feel some knee pain too.

Now, I’m not saying that a more minimal shoe is for everyone (it’s not), but it does make you more aware of how your foot strikes the ground — especially when you’re pounding down a hill. Pay attention next time you’re on a hill. Naturally, you’ll mid- and toe-strike on the way up because that’s how gravity pulls your body. And naturally, on the way down, you’ll slam your heels into the ground. Knock it off!

So what’s a runner to do?

One year before the Flying Pig (a race with MANY notorious hills), the great Bob Roncker gave me some great advice, and I think about it every single time I’m running down a hill. He told me, “You’ve got to lean into the hill and get your feet really turning over fast. It should feel like you’re about to fall on your face.”

This makes such a difference. I suggest trying it first on a gentle hill because it really does feel like you might fall on your face (and given my propensity for accidents, I’m kind of surprised I haven’t eaten pavement doing this). Your gait will change drastically, and if you’re doing it right, so will your pace. And that’s the beauty of a downhill, right? It should speed you up, not slow you down.

Running down hills the right way requires more effort than leaning back and letting the hill do the work. But in the end, you’ll protect your knees and joints and muscles while improving your overall pace.

So get out there, take off the breaks, and start running down hills the right way. Wheeeeee! — Aidz

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4 thoughts on “Bad Angel Rule #179

  1. Pingback: Bad Angel Rules for Running | Flying Pig Half Marathon Course Guide

  2. I wish I’d known about this LAST week! Had my first race with a major hill, and was NOT prepared! But, now I’ll know for the future, so THANKS! I’m sure my knees will love you forever 😀

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  3. Downhills are definitely the payoff for uphill running to me! Biking down hills, however, scares me to no end.

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  4. I had that feeling once, that I was going to fall down a hill. I was chasing this guy and were on a steep down hill. He pushed and I pushed as hard as I could.
    I thought my legs were going to fly off in different directions. I had to keep reminding myself to maintain good form so I wouldn’t fall down.
    I generally do heel strike on the down hill, but have been trying to land like i’m walking on egg shells.
    Cheers – Andy

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