Distance Running Tips: How To Tackle Downhill Running

We were probably all there once – 5 years old, flying down a grassy hill, not an ounce of pain to our name. All we knew was that it felt a lot easier to run down the hill than it did up it. As adult runners, we know it’s not that simple anymore. Read on for some awesome distance running tips, guaranteed to help you tackle downhill running, pain-free!

Distance Running Tips: Downhill Doesn’t Mean Autopilot

Elevation change on your run course can be a blessing and a curse.

Sure, the uphills are harder to breathe on…but for many of us, the downhills are WAY more painful.

Downhills require us to run faster and pick up our cadence, all at the mercy of gravity.

Often times, these downhills can be over a mile long, at least.

The result? A brutal pounding on your quads and knees.

So let’s figure out how to best tackle these guys, with the least amount of wear and tear on your body.

Distance Running Tips: There Are Two Ways To Approach The Downhill

There’s “getting” down the hill, and there’s running down the hill.

We’ve all done it…we lean on the downhills (quite literally) as our rest periods. A place to catch our breath.

Downhills are NOT your rest periods! In fact, you’ll want to be even more turned on here than you are on the flats!

Getting down the hill:

distance running tips

  • We call this the “skip hop” method.
  • Short little steps, perhaps, skips.
  • Arms tend to flail out to the side, almost like wings.
  • You’re essentially gliding down the hill, to the best of your abilities.
  • Every step is your attempt at fighting gravity, obstacles, slick surfaces, etc.

 

Running down the hill:

distance running tips

  • Drive your hips forward.
  • Drive each step with a high, quick heel pull.
  • Turnover should be VERY high.
  • As soon as your foot hits the ground, it’s coming off of it again.
  • Running should feel light and quick, but full and “complete” in form.

So how do you determine your approach?

Distance Running Tips: There Are Two Types of Downhills

For the purpose of easier explanation, we’ll use the terms “runnable” and “unrunnable”.

Bear with us and our made-up words 🙂

Runnable Downhills: 

  • Not dauntingly steep
  • Requiring a pace not more than 1 min/mile faster than your flat pace
  • Fairly clear of obstacles
  • Fairly dry (little to no mud, snow, ice, etc)

How To Approach These: 

Run down them! Use that high heel pull and a strong hip drive to run fast with great form.

Unrunnable Downhills:

  • Very steep
  • Requiring a pace that’s 1-2+ mins/mile faster than your flat pace
  • Maybe cluttered with obstacles: tree roots, rocks, gaps, puddles
  • Maybe wet, muddy, snowy or icy

How To Approach These:

Our good old “skip hop” method. Feel controlled in your footing as you get down this dicier type of hill.

The beauty of running outdoors is that more often than not, the terrain is ever-changing.

Incorporating these distance running tips will help you to consciously approach these changes with great form…all resulting in LESS INJURY!

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