How To Improve Your Technical Downhill Running On Trails

Insights on improving your downhill running skills on technical trails

With Coach Kelvin, Online Running Coach for We Run and the We Run Virtual Running Club, and 1:1 Running Coach for Leeds and surrounding areas

Hi folks, Coach Kelvin here. In this video, I’d like to share some thoughts on how to progress your technical downhill running skills on trails.

Building Your Downhill Running Technique

In last week’s video, we talked about how the further out we are from an event, the more we’re likely to work on our weaknesses. And for many, the racing season is finishing or just coming to an end, and they might not be racing on trails until the springtime. So this is a good time to look at weaknesses.

If we look at trail runners in general, people’s relative ability to climb is very often better than their relative ability to descend. What I mean by that is if we look at elite-level runners, and examine their speed on climbs compared to their speed on descents, there’s a large proportion of runners that will be relatively much slower on the descent. One of the reasons for this is that it requires more technical skill. Even if you don’t live in a hilly area, most runners can improve their uphill running using incline treadmills, Stairmasters, or shorter hill reps. Downhill running has a strength element, but it also has a technical element as well.

Practical Steps to Improve Downhill Running Performance

Here are a few ideas on how to improve your downhill running on technical terrain:

  1. Choosing the Right Footwear: Make sure that you’ve got the footwear to cope with the terrain you’re going to be running on. The more technical the terrain, generally, the lower the shoe is going to be to ensure more stability. For less technical terrain you might have a shoe with a bit more stack height. The lower height will help protect your ankles on the more technical terrain; lower stack height means more stability.
  2. Frequent Practice: Practice on a fairly frequent basis, I’d say at least weekly and maybe twice a week. It’s a good idea to use the same section of trail so that you can consistently challenge yourself with a familiar setting. Ideally, try to find a section that mimics the kind of terrain you’ll be running in your target event, if you have one.
  3. Gradual Progression: Start by running at a slow speed and gradually increase. We often talk about the rate of perceived exertion, but here we’re almost looking at a rate of perceived speed, because the heart rate on descents is going to be fairly low. Find a downhill section, and start really slowly. Then continue repping this little section, which only has to be about a hundred meters long. It’s not about building endurance but developing technical skills.
  4. Tracking Progress: Use either a Strava segment or the lap feature on your watch. This is the easiest way to track a single workout over time. You can start the lap at the top and finish the lap at the bottom, and then use that section to track your progress over time. If you’re improving, you should be getting faster, but feel like you’re going at the same speed (if that makes sense!).

Encouraging Regular Downhill Training

Frequency is key. We often see people shying away from technical downhill running, because it’s an area they need to improve. It’s a great time of year to do this, so find yourself a section a hundred meters long and maybe run that section a couple of times a week or even go spend some time on that section where you do a few reps down it. Use either a Strava segment or the lap feature on your watch to track your progression, to ensure that you are getting faster for the same amount of perceived speed over time.

I hope that makes some sense. If you’ve got any questions, please do get in touch. And for now, happy running!

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