05 March 2014

Downhill trail and mountain running technique

For almost all long and steep ascents during a long mountain ultramarathons such as Tor des Géants (TDG) or Petite Trotte à Léon (PTL) most competitors walk rather than run. It is of course important to train how to walk/hike rapidly uphill and to in general improve the aerobic capacity in order to sustain the strain of these ascents at high altitudes.

Not fun to run on - Picture from Beat Jegerlehner's blog post about TDG

However, I clearly learned during last year’s TDG that what you really need to train in order to gain time is downhill running. Not having trained that properly before the race I was really slow in most descents, except perhaps for the very last one during the race as described in my race reports. It was really frustrating to be passed during most downhill descents, in particular the more technical one’s, despite feeling good in my legs and feet. It was therefore with interest I read today’s post “Your Ultra-TrainingBag Of Tricks: Don’t Let Downhills Be Your Downfall” at irunfar.com by IanTorrence. It is a great post with plenty of good advice I will try to follow in my practice. However, I will of course never even be near the best trail runners in downhill running technique and proficiency, just look at the inspiring videos below of some of the best downhill runners – indeed inspiring. I really have to work on my cadence, something which also appears to be supported by the recent study "Preferred step frequency during downhill running may be determined by muscle activity” by  Sheehan and Gottschall  published in J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2013; 23: 826-30. In summary I will quote the conclusion from the article "Energy cost of walking and running at extreme uphill and downhill slopes" by Minetti and colleagues published in J Appl Physiol 2002; 93: 1039-1046: "If athletes wish to improve their performances in competitions alternating ascent and descent phases, they should pay greatest attention to the training of movement coordination during downhill running."
Kilian Jornet showing his superior downhill running skills in a Kilian’s Quest movie

Kilian's downhill technique at really technical terrain during his FKT record run up and down Matterhorn
Anton Krupicka running downhill

Cameron Clayton giving a downhill running lesson

Sage Canaday running downhill

Emelie Forsberg showing great downhill cadence

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