Downhills - make up for lost time!

If you can run strongly uphill then you are a step ahead of the game, but if you find you are losing a lot of time going uphill then use the downhill to your advantage and continue working on your uphill training.  Bottom line is aim to get your base mileage in, where your fitness will help carry you uphill and through little undulating hills. However, for longer grinding hills, this takes lots and lots of long tempo runs & long runs including long hills plus some hill sprints for added speed and strength. For Sydney's City to Surf training and other hilly road, trail or mountain races we include a lot of hill work.

In the meantime here are some uphill and downhill running technique tips to hasten the time you'll be out on the road or trail. We find in particular that the downhills are the ideal time to lift your speed to make up for the lost time going uphill. This takes practice and for technical trail downhill it takes a bit of a no fear, be a little bit crazy approach, being as nimble as a mountain goat! Really concentrate hard on every step! 

In training choose off road hills ideally, which will work your muscles harder and have less impact especially on the downhill so you will recover quicker. Start on smooth hills and transition to rougher hills if your event warrants these. On road hills are important practice too for your on road events. For the most part, choose a hill approximately up to 10% gradient i.e. not too steep so you can still get a decent speed going and maintain good form.

Uphill technique tips

  • If it is a short hill then drive your legs strongly especially through the glutes, pump your arms back and forth to get over it quickly, however if it is a longer hill then settle the arms, relax the shoulders, deep belly breathe and get into a good efficient rhythm.
  • For a long hill, run with short, light steps, almost like a rhythmic little shuffle, or if it is really steep and if you feel it would be quicker then do a power walk with your hands pushing down on your thighs.
  • Keep your posture up tall to avoid hunching over. 
  • Breathe deeply and don't panic - break the hill up into sections, focusing on getting to one point, then the next and reassure yourself to keep going, all good.
  • Remember that your core work and strength sessions will help you hold good form and minimise the risk of injury for uphill and downhill running. If you have any weak or tight areas i.e. the calves or hammies you could cramp so make sure you are well ironed out and have adequate nutrition i.e. magnesium  
  • Prepare yourself mentally by focusing on the benefits of hills (even for those long slow ones) such as burning & firming, greater overall strength and tone (i.e. for the bum) and running faster when you get on the flat.  

Downhill running tips

  • Watch every step like a hawk to avoid rolling your ankles on the trails 
  • In between the hills, use the flat and downhill especially to actively recover whilst pushing the pace to make up time. Adjust your stride length, between long and fluent for smooth sections and light, quick and agile for tricky, technical trail sections. 
  • Generally take it easier running on "steep" downhill sections, as the forces going through your feet, legs and back are all significantly higher when running at a fast pace on a steep downhill. Lean back a little, 'sit' into your stride and aim to brake slightly with each stride on steep hills. Use this time to get your breath back so that you can work harder when you reach the flat, less steep downhill or the uphill sections.
  • During your tempo or long runs if you have a nice rolling downhill section, you can increase your pace to practice a quicker leg turn over.
  • As you gain strength and fitness, transition to a more forward lean, and a controlled free-fall approach to downhill running. This can be reserved for your speed sessions, some surges during your long runs and for race day.

Happy hill running. What hill training and racing stories or tips can you share with us?

Thanks Galston Gutbuster for having us and for your generous prizes to Chris (1st) and Greta (2nd) at the trail half marathon on 29/3/15, what a brilliant and popular event. The camelbaks, thermal gear and sports drinks will come in very handy. The trail had everything with very technical sections, long hills, climbing rocks & stairs and swinging round trees. The GG's donations to the local Hornsby Women's Shelter made it an extra special day for everyone.