Want to try trail running, but don't know where to start? Join the (totally free!) Trail Running Jumpstart eCourse

[ Running Hills Series Part 3 ] It’s all downhill from here, baby

 Welcome to part 3 of my 3-part series on hill running

Squeeeee! It’s time to soak up the view at the top, rest those calves a bit and talk about the downhill. But I have a little surprise for you; I learned the most about running downhill from a different sport.

Oh, but hang on…In case you missed it, here is part one where I talked about that love/hate relationship with hills and had to tackle a bit of the mental hurdle as well as key tips on approaching hill training.

Be sure to catch part two, where I got down and dirty on the practical side from several different expert sources as well as my personal twist on how to run trail hills.

In this last series edition, I want to focus on the downhill because it’s often overlooked. Most of us are focused on surviving the uphill and figure we’ll just wing it going down.

Whether you race or just run so you can eat more cheese, ahem, skills on the down side will help you…

  • improve on race day
  • aid in injury prevention
  • save energy
  • have fun!

The experts at running downhill are NOT runners. Whaaa?

I’ve run my fare share of downhills (Remember that first trail marathon I did with the giant uphill? You should have see the downhill!) I’ve also read and studied with some trail mentors about downhill form and technique too.

BUT, when I pulled in my past experience as a downhill skier, I got better at downhills immediately. Before running, I was a ski bum. No, for reals. I worked swing shift so I could get up and be on the first chair almost every day. I lived in a little house 30 minutes from a mountain and skied 100 days a year, dude.  Of course I was a homebrewer – that was all part of it. Duh.

5 things I learned about running downhill from my previous life

So back in the day, when skiing was my thang, I thought a lot about form then too. After all, the stakes were high if you didn’t (think ski equipment yard sale after big snowy tumbles). Here are some form tips that helped me stay upright and make the downhill smoother sailing.

Consistent cadence: The rhythmic and smooth motion of downhill skiing comes from consistency in the turns. When I run downhill I can picture myself on skiis, floating down with a consistent cadence. Of course, trail hills will have their fare share of bumps and rocks and I know you’re thinking where is the consistency in that? It’s more of a mental image you keep in your head, and your body will follow. Along with that mental image, set a little metronome and let the ticking help you keep your strides a little shorter and the cadence more consistent.

Quiet upper body: Having a “quite upper body” was essential in downhill skiing. The more flailing arm craziness happening, the more off-balance you are and the more your legs have to struggle to stay in control. In downhill running, our arms are still swinging, and on trails, they are more out from our sides so you can maintain that balance, but the more flappy you are, the harder it is to nail those footsteps confidently. Keep the focus in your lower body.

Look downhill: The quickest way to hit a tree on the slopes is to watch your feet. Same for trail running downhill. If you keep your eyes 5-10 feet in front of you and focus on the path you WANT your feet to go, not the rock you want them to MISS, you’ll stay upright. Upright is good.

Weight over your feet: Banana peel effect. Need I say more? Lean back on your skiis and you just made those sleds go faster. Same on the trails. Put your weight in the back seat and you’re slipping and sliding out of control.  It’s natural for us to want to lean back as we mentally feel like that’s helping with braking and slowing down, but really it’s just giving us less control. Keep your back straight, keep the bend in your knees and lean at the waist just a bit to keep your weight over your legs.

Weee factor with deep breathing: Skiiing downhill can really feel like flying. Getting in a groove with a good downhill run can feel just as fabulous. When you put all the skills together, you get a “weeeee factor” like nobody’s business! What I like to keep in mind though, is to breathe. Even though it feels like less energy going down, you’re still working, so breathe deeply on the downhill. It’s a great place to get recoup that energy and labored breathing you did on the uphill.

Ok, so are you in love with hills yet?

Do I hear a YES? Over the last few years, I’ve learned to deeply love hill running. I’m convinced that it was this Magical Combo of 3 strategies that won me over:

  1. Ditching the doubt and fear that I could be a good hill runner
  2. Gettin’ some skills for my up hills
  3. Nailing my downhill with good form

In case you want to review or you missed one of the pieces of the Magical Combo, here is part one and part two.

So, what do you think? I would LOVE your feedback on this series. Specifically, what skills will you work on to improve your hill running? Or what do you want to add to my list? Throw me a comment down below and thank you!

4 thoughts on “[ Running Hills Series Part 3 ] It’s all downhill from here, baby

  1. Very good series Laura. I have never skied and I could be much better on my downhill, your explanation made sense and I will have to give it a try this weekend.

  2. Hey thanks for chiming in, Jeff! I’m sure you’ve got some good tricks up your sleeve too. Let me know how your weekend run went. ~Laura

  3. My new running mantra:
    Ditching the doubt and fear that I could be a good hill runner
    Gettin’ some skills for my up hills
    Nailing my downhill with good form

    Your tips are gems and I might even start to call myself a hill runner… maybe.

  4. Hey, Sarah! I think you are TOTALLY a hill runner! There are no hill judges that determine whether you are or not. It’s all in the “go for it”. And you are going for it, girl! ~Laura

Whatcha think? Throw me a comment here - thanks!