Steve Smith’s Blog

Downhill Racing, I’m Going To Kill It On This one! (Part 1 of 2)

Downhill Racing

Revel Canyon is on our race calendar and its time to start training. It’s a big downhill race, big for the altitude loss of nearly 5,000 feet. I don’t know of another race with that big of a loss anywhere else in the country.

It would seem that running downhill would give you a lot of help from gravity with an easy cruise into the finish line in record time. The reality is that downhill races often end with disappointment and very sore legs.

It’s a downhill race, and you just might run the race of your life and get that PR you have been chasing for the last several years. Chances are just as good that you will burn up your knees in the first 13 miles and end up limping to the finish line. Then it’s patellar tendonitis for the next 8 weeks, and a bunch of visits to the sports Doc, getting a lot of therapy.

Though your cardiovascular system will work a lot less on a downhill race, your shock absorbing mechanics will be working overtime to absorb all the impact forces.

Let’s go over three strategies to get you to the finish line with a P.R. and a smile on your face.

Mileage

Put miles under your feet. The more you run, the more adaptive stress you place on your gait muscles. They more your muscles adapt, the stronger you get. Simple concept, stress your muscles and they react by adding more myoglobin, more mitochondria (the little organelles that produce energy) and stronger cross linkages. Coach Edgar has had great results with his runners by getting a minimum of 30 miles per week and there is plenty of science to back up this magic number. There are other studies that indicate that more mileage is even better, with another big breakthrough at 70 miles per week. The famous Kenyan runners put in somewhere between 150 to 174 miles per week!

You will have to account for your age, general fitness level, natural ability, work schedule, family situation and stress levels in determining your optimum training mileage. But 30 miles is a minimum if you want to perform well in the Marathon. This doesn’t mean that you run 15 miles on Saturday and then 3 five milers during the week. Though you need long runs, consistent mileage in constant dosage is better than tearing down your muscles from a single long run. It is better to be consistent with shorter mileage, to avoid unnecessary muscle damage. It would be better to run 20 mid week miles and a 10 miler on the weekend if you are a training for a half. Twenty mid week miles plus your Saturday long run is a good rule of thumb even for a amateur marathoner, more if you want to run the race of your life.

Gait and Posture


Long strides end with big impact so keep your strides short. Short strides don’t get you very far so you’ll need more of them. This means that you will need a quicker turnover rate. Fast turnover and shorter strides will keep the impact forces from destroying your quads and lower back.

If you experience soreness in your lower back the day after a run then change your posture. A slight amount of pelvic tilt will help distribute the forces more evenly across your joints. Try flattening the curve in your lower back, just slightly when running downhill, but not by bending at the waist.

Strong heel strike should be avoided at all cost because of braking force, causing high impact on knees and lower back. Leaning back will cause more heel strike. A slight forward lean will allow more forefoot strike, but avoid bending forward at the waist. Attempt to strike on the forefoot, but expect to feel the greatest force through the mid foot.

Interval workouts are useful in training for high turnover and forward lean, as well as pace control, and should be incorporated into training programs to improve performance.

A Word about Warm-up


A Good warm up will allow your capillaries to dilate, diverting blood to your working muscles and turn your running energy systems. Downhill running requires a longer warmup, due to reduced strain on your cardiorespiratory system. Take the first two to three miles to warm up at a much slower pace and you will avoid injuries. Coach Edgar has had great success using longer warm up times with his program, with fewer injuries and runners feeling less tired and sore at the end of long runs.

Hope this helps,

Dr. Steve Smith

Read Part 2 on Running Downhill

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