Tips for Running Downhill


….and My Story Runs On….

I can’t believe it’s been almost a month!  There have been so many opportunities to blog but not enough time to sit down and do it.  There has been a theme in my running life for the last few weeks though so I’m picking that as an opportunity to share some tips about it:  DOWNHILL RUNNING!

The best kind, right?!  So many people are afraid to let go or concerned about getting injured when running downhill but there are a few secrets to getting around it.  When I’m flying down a hill, I feel like a little kid, free as a bird, especially on a trail!  But trust me, it takes practice!

Here are a few ChiRunning tips for running downhill on road and trail (not a steep hill but an easy downhill):

  • Core must be engaged to hold you up.  Keep your upper body ahead of your foot strike.
  • Relax everything from the waist down, especially your quads and calves.  Let gravity pull you down the hill.
  • Let your pelvis rotate more. Feel the road bringing your leg back and feel your leg bringing your hip back.
  • Relax your ankles so you don’t land on your heel.  You may want to try pointing your toes as your leg swings forward to avoid heel striking.
  • Relax your mind. This is probably the hardest thing to do because most people tense up and are ‘afraid’ to let go in fear of falling. That tension is what causes more issues.  If you have control issues, this will require more work.  This is great practice in letting go physically (by relaxing as mentioned above) but more importantly, letting go mentally by not trying to control it but allowing the downhill to just take you. Trust it!

A few weeks ago I had the honor of doing at 10 mile trail run with Danny Dreyer (founder of ChiRunning) while he was teaching here in Phoenix.  He coached me a bit on my downhill technique (I basically need to learn to relax more!) but gave me one piece of advice that I love:

Be the water.  Think about next time you are going a trail.  If water were flowing down it, which way would gravity and energy take it?

Be the water flow

Be the water

And check out this 16 second video clip of Danny running down these boulders like they were not even there!

What are you tips for running downhill?  Please share below!

This is one of my favorite DVDs from ChiRunning 😉

From My Running Story to Yours….
(if you feel inspired to share your comments, do so below…I want to hear your story too!)

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7 thoughts on “Tips for Running Downhill

  1. I once ran in a race for a while with a young man pushing an adult paraplegic on a course with a long stretch of downhill. We talked a bit during this stretch and I commented, “you must find it great to be pushing downhill rather than struggling up the hill”. His answer was surprising. “Going uphill requires a little more effort overcoming inertia but once you get into a rhythm, you have great control and your run is smooth. Going downhill you have to work twice as hard to maintain control of the chair. Give my a little uphill anyday!”

    Your technique tips are all dead on but technique is only part of downhill running. The tendency in many runners is to overextend themselves in the downhill and then wonder why they are fading when they try to maintain normal stride. Consistency is the key to being a good runner. I’m always super impressed by how the elite trail runners glide effortlessly over technical trails, but what makes an elite runner? 1) agility and flexibility 2) balance, 3) experience, and 4) extreme natural talent and speed. Mr. Dreyer is a professional athlete who fits this pattern. For us rank and file weekend warriors dealing with vertigo, lack of balance, more ambition than talent, and the like, downhill should not be a “free fall” but a compliment to the overall program and a component that needs great respect and control.

    • As always great input from you Marty! Don’t disagree with what you are saying but the ChiRunning technique is mainly about injury prevention and energy efficiency. These downhill technique tips will work for all level of runners. Most runners make the mistake of going downhill by overstriding in front of them which is what causes a lot of knee pain and injury issues. I can speak from my experience at the Sedona Marathon where my strategy was to ChiWalk fast uphill (while most other runners are using their little calf muscles to propel them up and so tired at the top they walk downhill) and cruise the downhills and that’s how I PR’d by 15 minutes. Unless it’s a steep downhill trail (I walked down that trail in the video that Danny ran because I’m not experienced enough), downhill running done the correct way, can be a free fall if you relax enough. Of course much easier to apply these on a downhill road than trail!

  2. Lisa, Great to read these tips on the eve of the AZ Distance Classic HM. It includes a few extended downhills. Perfect to pique the memory of the clinic with Danny and the Sunday morning run with him. Thanks again for making that experience possible. Lots more soon. – Doug

    PS. The video clip did not work. It is marked “Private.”

    • Just realized I had another comment on my blog! thx for the heads up on the video not working…will have to check that out..modern technology! So, how was the half marathon? Glad it was good timing for the blog!

      • Hey, old Doug did pretty good at the distance classic, beat the heck out of me. I was dead tired during this race after surviving 13.3 miles of brutal technical trail racing Saturday but in mile 11 finding myself way behind the 2:45 pacer I told myself, old plodder or not, no way I was going to be out-paced by the slow pacer. Using some Chi technique I’ve been playing around with along with some “cat-stalk” I managed a 10:22 mile 12 and beat the pace by 3 minutes. Betcha I was faster than old Doug in my last 2.1 and I’ve got 15 years on him. Always some trivial battle in road racing and that’s what makes it fun!

        • Do you guys know each other? 😉
          Happy to know both of you personally…haven’t checked either of your stats but important thing for me is that you both enjoyed your race regardless of your time 😉

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