Downhill Running: Weakness Revealed

Strengths and Weaknesses, we all have them.  However, which is more important, to improve your strength or work on your weakness?  When I trained for the Boston Marathon seven years ago in 2009, I remember the coach who worked with the San Diego Track Club Boston group asked us what type of speed workouts we preferred.  If we had to choose between a 400m or 1000m repeats, which one would we pick?  He wanted us to focus on our strengths, the workouts we liked so that we can improve on developing our speed.  Made sense to me.  If I spent too much time honing my weaknesses, I may never reach my utmost level of performance.

Face Your Weaknesses

But we still have to face our weaknesses.  Knowing them empowers us to examine ways of how we can turn disadvantages to advantages, maybe even in the long run turn them into strengths.  I’ve always known my downhill running needed work.  And it became more evident during this past Tuesday’s hill workout with the San Diego Track Club.

It was a double hill workout called ‘Powder/Zigzags’ where we ran up and down the Powder and Zigzag hills with a recovery in between.  Running on the hills, you’d be able to tell why one is called Powder and the other Zigzag.  As you ascent Powder hill, your feet slightly sink into the very soft dirt path while a smoke of powdery dust is left in the air with every stride.  Zigzag simply follows a path that zigs and zags!

Groups were divided according to pace – starting with the fastest I think around a 6-min pace.  I lined up with the 8 to  9-min pace group.  I admit, I don’t mind running uphill.  In fact, I feel it’s one of my forte.  Although, my heart was pumping hard and legs were burning, I passed a few runners and ran a strong finish to the top. Unfortunately, on the way down, the runners I passed and even some who were behind would blow right by me as I try to hold on to a pace with the least risk of falling to the ground.  And the cycle repeated when I ran a quick pace uphill but lost it on the downhill.  Clearly I need to work on my downhill running technique.

Video of SDTC running up ZigZag Hill

The Downhill Technique

I signed up for my first ever Trail Race – the Del Dios Trail Half Marathon in December.  The course profile shows several 100ft descents (as well as significant ascents).  Yikes!  I plan to start training for it in mid-September which means I need to learn how to improve my downhill stride.  And to add to the challenge, I have to practice it on a trail instead of the road.

Del Dios Half Marathon Course and Elevation Profile

A quick search on Google lead me to several articles with advice on downhill running techniques.  One article by Doug Hay of Rock Creek Runner identified the following five components of proper downhill technique:
1. Quick Foot and Leg Turnover – high stride rate so your feet stays light on the ground

2. Lean Forward – Body stays perpendicular to the ground. From a TrailRunnerMag.com article, Max King, a world-class downhill runner advises to lean into the hill from your ankles and land mid-stride instead of your heels to prevent braking.

3. Look Ahead instead of your feet – Another advise from a downhill master, Dave Mackey, I read in the same article from TrailRunnerMag.com is to look 10-15feet ahead to pick your line on the technical trails to maintain momentum.

4.  Use Upper Body for Balance – Allow the arms to flail in the air instead of swinging them forward and back

5.  Descend with Confidence – I think this one is what I need to work on which is really more of a mental hurdle since running FAST downhill to me is synonymous with FALLING so I definitely need to be more confident and trust myself.

Practice and Improve

Practice, practice, practice!  This will be the first time I dedicate a block of period in my training plan to improve my downhill running technique.  I know with practice, I will become more confident and possibly turn this weakness into one of my strengths.

Weekly Workout

Besides the hill workout on Tuesday, I had a full week’s worth of activities!
Mon – hip mobility, cable core, HIIT interval on the elliptical
Tues – powder/zigzag repeats 3x
Wed – YMCA TRX
Thurs – Off
Fri – Walked/Jogged to school, Ran back and did 2.5 on treadmill with hip mobility exercises
Sat – 10mi Lake Miramar
Sun – Afternoon SUP

Given the choice – would you rather Run Up or Down?  Any additional advice to improve my downhill running?

I am linking up with Holly and Tricia for their Weekly Wrap.  Thanks for the support!
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