Amazing scenic views, clean air, glimpses of wildlife, and a sense of freedom—the gifts of trail running are unparalleled. But like all rewards, these fruits come at a price: hills.
For the beginning trail runner, the aches and pains associated with downhill running often make this a high price to pay. Experienced trail runners know, however, that hill success is all about preparation and approach.
Running coach and ultramarathoner Tim Neckar provides his best tips below for tackling descents. (After all, even beginners should enjoy the best that trail running has to offer.)
Tip No.1: Go Big or Go Home
The biggest mistake beginners make in their approach to hills lies in how they handle the descent, and that's usually timidly.
"Beginners tend to tippy-toe down the hill," says Neckar, "This slows them down." It's important to maintain a tall posture and to bend forward slightly from the hips, not the waist. Beginners often try to fight gravity, which uses more energy, instead of allowing gravity to be their friend.
Tip No.2: Destroy Your Quads
It's always a good idea for trail runners to get to know the incline button on the treadmill. This will help increase leg strength, and allow the runner to control the level of difficulty.
If a gym is not accessible, Neckar suggests using, "strength exercises, such as walking lunges," to strengthen quad and hamstring muscles.
He also advises runners to perform elevated calf raises.
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Performing lunges is an excellent way to build the leg strength that is needed to withstand the pounding of downhill running. Before heading out on the trails, beginners should practice running on paved inclines, like freeway overpasses. "In other words, practice trashing the quads," says Neckar.
Tip No.3: Don't Look Back
Aside from strengthening leg muscles, it is important for a runner to understand how to execute proper form on the downhill. According to Neckar, "Most beginners tend to lean back to avoid falling, when they should be leaning slightly forward."
The chest should remain tall, and bending should originate at the hips, not the waist. When launching into the downhill, a runner should slowly lengthen his/her stride and allow gravity to do the work.
It's very important for the runner to avoid stomping, according to Neckar, as this will put undue pressure on joints. The feet should strike the ground lightly.
Tip No.4: Walk (or Run) the Line
Neckar claims, "It's best to just go for it." Lean slightly forward and maintain a smooth cadence. "Find an imaginary line leading down the hill and use it to determine where to plant the feet." If you start to feel out of control, decrease your stride slightly.
Like most skills in life, the most effective way to improve is through practice. By slowly incorporating rolling hills into a workout, and increasing their difficulty gradually, you'll soon be prepared for even the most rugged trail terrain.event to add to your calendar.