There is an old maxim of athletic training: “Training should always be sports specific.” So, if you want to be a runner, then run. If you want to race downhill, train downhill. Simple as that.
Your quadriceps are the main shock absorbing muscles and downhill training runs will cause them to engage like nothing else. But, there is a particular problem with quad activation when running downhill. While the quads are being shock contracted, they are at the same time being stretched as the knee bends, exerting tremendous loading on the Patellar tendons. When you run downhill, high impact forces cause muscle damage to the quads.
Your body will repair the damage with stronger tissue, resulting stronger muscles and better shock absorption. What is important to know here is the healing time required to repair that muscle damage. That number is two to three weeks. Knowing the muscle healing time should set your training agenda for about 14 days between downhill training runs. There isn’t any guess work here, the numbers were determined by muscle biopsies on runners who did downhill training runs.
There are wide variations for appropriate training mileages and speeds, so how much mileage, at what exertion level should you train depends on your current level of conditioning. Here are some simple guidelines you can use to as a gage that will keep you from risking injury while applying enough training stress to accomplish your goals.
If you are running the Revel marathon, the grade on the upper course is very steep, so use the race course itself as a training route. You need two weeks recovery for each downhill run and at least 10 days of taper, so that allows time for two downhill training runs in your plan.
Start with a 45 minute run and keep your pace to about 60 or 70 percent of your maximum effort. At 60 percent effort you will be running at conversation pace, but you will be going significantly faster and with less cardiovascular exertion than your pace on a flat road. This will exert an adaptive strain on your quads that may leave you sore over the next couple of days. If you are not sore, or tired then the training stress is too low and you can run again in a week. If you are very sore, then you will need a couple of weeks to recover. Your next run should be adjusted accordingly. If you were very sore after your run, it will take a couple of weeks to recover. If this is the case then use the same time and effort on your next run. If you feel that the strain was too much, back off a bit.
If you had little reaction to the first run then increase the time and pace accordingly. Even though you didn’t feel much from the previous run, the training stress is present and you will have gained strength. Don’t let the confidence gained from the first run affect your pace. Hubris has killed many training programs, so be patient, accept the fact that you are getting stronger with grace and hold back on your pace. You will be glad you did on race day. You don’t need to run downhill for hours at a time to gain strength in your legs, a 45 to 90 minute run is more than enough to get the job done.
You can continue to incorporate the north route in your regular training runs and if you are not sore from it, then you can go on to steeper grades such as the Sacred Heart Academy run, Rose Bowl hill route.
Hope this helps,
Dr. Steve Smith