Trail Running Tips: Downhill Running

Trail Running Tips: Downhill Running

Sarah Seads BA Kinesiology

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What goes up must come down and it is a huge advantage to embrace the descent!  Improving your downhill running confidence will not only improve your speed but also your stoke factor in the trails. There is nothing like being able to 'let go' and fly down a flowy descent with a big old smile on your face!  Just as uphill running requires different techniques for different grades, running downhill techniqe changes with the terrain.  Here are a few techniques for navigating the downhills during your next trail run.
1. On easy to moderate grades that are not very technical the goal is to open it up and run fast.  When you are comfortable on a downhill grade,  lean forward slightly to meet the angle of the terrain, land mid foot and keep a high turn over.  This will limit the braking forces required, decrease impact and increase your speed as you move forward faster with each next step.  Attack the downhills that you feel confident on!  Lean forward and let go because your heart rate is going to drop with the help of gravity and you can afford to push a bit harder.
2. On moderately steep grades and those that are more technical you will need to run smarter in order to be faster.  You will need to check your speed by 'braking' and sitting back more onto your heels so that you are always in control.  Look ahead and plan your 'line' rather than looking directly under your feet.  Glancing ahead to see what is coming will allow you to anticipate the terrain and check your speed when necessary.  Keep light on your feet as if dancing amongst the roots and rocks- never committing to landing with your full weight.  By staying light, you will move quickly and be able to react fast if the footing is not ideal. 
3. And finally, when it is crazy steep it is time to use your hands and maybe even your seat! When you are forced to slow to a walk because of drops, slippery slopes or extremely steep terrain don't be afraid to use your hands.  Get low, grab rocks, roots, trees and shrubs to help you move quickly through technical sections.  Move like a monkey in the trees using your hands- and you will not only move quickly but safely through tough terrain.

Cheers and Happy Trails,

Sarah Seads is the owner of Equilibrium Lifestyle Management (ELM), a fitness and rehabilitation business based in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. For more information on training ideas and programs go to or call ELM at 338-8998.