YOU NEED TO TRAIN DOWNHILLS TO RUN A GREAT UTA22
Are you running the UTA22? Are you worried about all that hill climbing and the final 1km grind up the Furber Stairs? DON’T. It is actually the downhill that you need to worry about. This is no ordinary race. The first 8km is downhill, steep downhill, and because of this, it is a race which requires some very specific training sessions.
Most runners would look at the UTA22 course profile and freak out about the last 10km of running being almost exclusively uphill. Because of this, the focus of their training would be on running up as many hills as possible.
BUT, it is actually more important that you can run downhill well, and that you prepare your quadricep muscles (front of thighs) to be strong enough to cope with the first 8km of steep downhill running.
All the uphill training in the world won’t help you on race day if your legs are “cooked” before you even reach the first climb!
Running downhill efficiently requires:
Confidence Technique Strength
A lot of people get nervous when they run downhills. Nervous that it will make their knees sore, nervous that they might roll an ankle, and nervous because they are outside their comfort zone due to running at a much faster pace than normal.
Uphill reps are a great way to make any runner stronger and faster. When you are training for the UTA22, uphill reps will help to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles and, over time, will turn you into a stronger, more efficient runner.
Doing Downhill reps is so rare that is actually sounds a bit stupid. Why waste your time running fast downhill when you could be making yourself stronger by running more uphills?
Why? – because if you can’t run downhills confidently, you’ll never reach your true UTA22 potential.
The best way to gain more confidence running downhills is to practice running downhills. But, make sure you start with an easy session and gradually build up over a number of weeks.
An example of a downhill training session to start with is to run some “UpDown Reps”
Warm up with 10 minutes of easy aerobic running Find a 1km section of road or fire trail which is consistently undulating. Ideally on relatively gentle inclines of 5 to 8 degrees. Aim to run this 1km section 2 -3 times at a “steady” effort. By “steady” I mean the sort of effort you would put in if you were trying to get a 10km PB. But definitely not sprinting. Between reps you can jog slowly or walk for 2 -3 minutes, then do the next rep in the opposite direction. After the reps cool down again with another 10-15 minutes of easy running. Don’t worry about your pace during these reps, just focus on the level of effort. Your pace will be vary significantly depending on whether you are running uphill or down.
Expect to pull up a bit sore from your first 2 or 3 of these sessions. Especially in your quad muscles, but possibly also with slightly niggly knees. When you run downhills you use your quad muscles as a brake, which causes micro tears in the muscle cells, which in turn, causes DOMs (delayed onset of muscle soreness). After two or three downhill rep sessions, you’ll find that your legs will feel fine, and that you can gradually step the sessions up a notch.
The way to progress these UpDown rep sessions would be either to do more reps, or to do them at a slightly faster pace. But be careful not to increase both of these things at the same time or you might end up injured.
If you practice these updown reps once a week, over several weeks your legs will get stronger and your confidence will improve.
One of the easiest and fastest ways to improve your downhill running is to improve your technique. Just like running on the flat, when you run downhill you should be taking small steps and keeping your cadence high.
When you run downhill gravity is doing a lot of the work for you, so it doesn’t put much stress on your heart and lungs. Because of this, it is easy to inadvertently overstride when you speed up. If you keep your strides short and increase your cadence it will help to save your quads and knees from injury. (If you are already struggling with an injury, we recommend following this Return To Running Guide. Once your injury has been properly diagnosed by a healthcare professional)
I am a firm believer that we should all run with a cadence of between 175 – 185 steps/minute. A cadence of less than 175 puts more stress on your calf muscles and achilles tendons. A cadence of higher than 185 puts more stress on your heart and lungs without there being any additional benefit in terms of reducing your stride length or improving your calf muscle efficiency.
When you run downhills and gravity is working with you, your heart and lungs don’t have to work very hard, so it is ok to let your cadence increase (even up to 200 steps/minute) if it helps to keep your stride short. It all comes down to how fast you want to be running.
If you are happy “cruising” down a hill at a comfortable pace, then a cadence of 180 and a short stride is perfect.
If you are racing down a hill at the edge of your comfort zone, then a cadence of 200 and a short stride, is preferable to a cadence of 180 and a long stride.
The final piece in the puzzle of becoming a fast downhill runner is to have strong quads. As I said earlier, your quads work like brakes when you run downhills, to stop you from going too fast and falling over. Running downhill is the best way to make your quads stronger, but there are some exercises you can do which will also help to strengthen your quads.
For Strength Training we recommend the 10 min Essential Core Workout for Runners and the 10 minute Kettlebell workout.
Watch this video for some strength training ideas:
Good luck with your training. Better yet, try out our training plans for 14 days free
Email us if you have any specific training questions on email@example.com
Mark is a highly qualified physiotherapist and an accomplished athlete having competed at the top level in trail running for a number of years. He's the founder of The Locker Room, an outstanding resource to help runners perform at their best.
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