Sunday, April 8, 2012

Again with the Downhill

Good summary of uphill and downhill running!

I'm just sort of befuddled now. Seattle has wonderful hills to run on and I know there are some great hill runners out there. Why are so many very good hill runners missing out on the other half of the hill?

That's right. Downhill! It's the other hill.

Last week this came up as I took trail newbie JCB out for a spin.  She's great at powering up those hills but was hesitant on those downhills for no good reason I could see except she wasn't all that experienced at trails.  But what about all those downhills on roads we'd run if we go uphill?

Yesterday I had a fantastic hilly 11 miler.  It's one of my favorite in-city road courses through the L'Alps de Laurelhurst (see course profile to the left).  yes this is the neighborhood to the west of the UW campus.  MA showed up slightly late to the group run and much to my delight he took it as a challenge to keep up with me. He's a bit slower than I am but is tenacious if he gets it in his mind to do something.

I was just happy to have someone to run with and was looking forward to the hills.  "What hills?" asks MA?  Heh.  And I was feeling great. The weather was fantastically beautiful which only added to the enjoyment and MA is fun to chat with when he wasn't breathing really, really hard.

But what did I notice?  He powers up the hills just fine but then once to the top, I'd see that he got all floppy and really slow down on the crest.  And forget the downhills. I generally would surge past him even though I was just keeping it easy and recovering.  What gives?

I asked MA about those downhills.   "I lean back and end up landing more on my heels.  That bothers the little foot problem I have and then I brake more because I'm worried about it."  This is a similar story that JCB told last week.  "I'm worried about twisting an ankle and so I stay really cautious." 

Wow.  This really surprises me because done right, a downhill is a great place to use your momentum and recover and get ready for the next uphill or flat.  It gives me a chance to stretch out a bit after the tight, controlled technique needed to get up a hill.  So, how do you run downhill then?

I've been telling people to make sure to NOT lean back.  If you lean back you will automatically put more force onto your feet, legs, knees and back.  It's jarring!  If you walk downhill easily do you do this, I hope not. Lean a bit forward and that automatically keeps your stride a bit shorter and your feet neatly centered under your body.  I tend to use my arms more for balance so you'll sometimes see my elbows swinging out a bit. 

Runners going up Lord Hill - photo by Glenn Tachiyama
Very happy that we only went up this and not down!
This article summarized neatly the benefits of downhill running techniques and what you stand to gain (and lose) by not practicing your downhill running.

Happily, core/strength class started up again this week.  I was a bit sore post-workout but pleased that overall I felt strong as I've been consistent about maintaining my own strength and core workouts at home.  And since the weather is finally better, I've spent the weekend in the yard.  Sometimes that work feels much harder than running 11 hilly miles, but it doesn't if I've kept up my strength and core work.

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