Downhill Running is one of the most important parts of training, and sadly, one of the most ignored. To understand the importance of Downhill Running, read Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Downhill Running is so beneficial because of the particular stresses it puts on the body. This also means that Downhill Running should be introduced in stages to reduce the risk of injury.
1 Stage 1 – Run Hill Courses
The first stage is to start running on a hilly course. Ideally, find a route that includes hills of varying steepness and length. This stage should get you used to running downhill.
2 Stage 2 – Run Near Constant Pace Repeats
At this stage you will need a specific hill. Ideally it will be at least a quarter of a mile long and 6-8% gradient. Run up and down the hill with a fairly even pace. You are likely to be slightly slower uphill than downhill, but try to minimize the difference. Obviously the uphill will feel much harder than the downhill. Start with repeats totaling about 2 miles, and build up over time.
3 Stage 3 – Run Constant Effort Hills
Running with the same effort up and down the hill will mean that you will be going much faster downhill than uphill. Compared with stage 2, your uphill running will be a little slower, and your Downhill Running quite a bit faster. Again, start with repeats totaling about 2 miles, and build up over time. You can use some stage 2 repeats to warm up.
4 Stage 4 – QU4DBUSTER
For the QU4DBUSTER, you are pushing your pace downhill hard, and recovering on the uphill run. Your downhill pace will be very fast, and you will need to have built up good leg strength and downhill form. Your pace should be a similar effort to your aerobic intervals (see Practical Aerobic Intervals and Aerobic Interval Training 101). You can use repeats from earlier stages to warm up.
5 Stage 5 – Anaerobic QU4DBUSTER
Running downhill fast enough to become anaerobic will build a lot of strength and speed, but these intervals should be used with caution. The speed you are running at will put a lot of stress on your body. You must have a good foundation in the earlier stages and ease into these intervals slowly.
6 Bonus Stage – The long hill
This is not a true stage at all, but a modification of the other stages. The uphill sections in each of the stages above allow your legs to recover significantly. The longer the hill, the longer you are running downhill before the recovery. If you have access to a long hill, running downhill for a protracted time has some extra benefits. You can run stages 1-4 using a very long hill if it is available.
7 Bonus Stage – Walk Up
Again, this is a modification of the other stages. The idea is that instead of running up the hills, you walk up to practice your walking. In a run/walk pattern, the speed and efficiency of walking important and needs practice. The walk should not be a stroll, but pushing the pace.
8 Using a heart rate monitor
A Heart Rate Monitor (HRM), can be a useful tool for many aspects of running. A HRM is especially useful in the higher stages of Downhill Running. In stage 3, you can use the HRM to check that your effort on the uphill and downhill sections is similar (don’t expect it to be identical). For stage 4 (and stage 5 if you choose to go that far), you can compare your heart rate with that of your flat intervals to check your pace/effort.
9 Downhill technique
Cadence is always important in running, and especially in Downhill Running. Your Cadence should be faster downhill than on the flat, to help reduce the impact on your body. You must remain in control when running downhill; if you feel out of control or that you are flailing, you should slow up. You should try to combine the high Cadence with being relaxed – you must not tighten up. I find it important to keep my hips and back relaxed, otherwise a slight misstep will jar my back badly.