OOFOS Great Descents - Using the Downhill to Your Advantage

What goes up, must come down! Luckily, the descents at XTERRA Beaver Creek provide an opportunity to make up lost time while managing energy output. 

Jul. 12, 2018

Brought to you by OOFOS, Official Recovery Footwear of XTERRA

What goes up, must come down! Luckily, the descents at XTERRA Beaver Creek provide an opportunity to make up lost time while managing energy output. 

In a prior post, we discussed how running uphill can make your heart and lungs scream. We all know what it's like to finally make it to the top of a big climb and feel that sweet pull of gravity as we catch our breath. But don't think that running downhill is easy.  In fact, it's the impact and eccentric loading of downhill running that leaves you sore and avoiding stairs for the days that follow. Eccentric muscle loading happens when a force - in this case, downhill running - stretches the muscle as the muscle is contracting. Think of your quad both lengthening as you run downhill while also simultaneously contracting as you try to brake or slow down. This can really beat up the muscles, resulting in greater strength but also increased soreness, especially the next day.

You can be sure that your quads are going to get a workout on both the uphills and downhills at XTERRA Beaver Creek. XTERRA events are known for their extreme terrain and challenging courses, and Beaver Creek is one of the toughest.

Defending XTERRA Beaver Creek Trail Run Champ, Darren Brown, said, “There are two different types of descents at Beaver Creek. One is a fast, sure-footed descent down the fire road on the first half of the 10K loop and the other is a winding, technical descent on the back-half.”

Both of these descents are found in the XTERRA triathlon and the XTERRA trail run at Beaver Creek. Triathletes will see each of these descents once, while the trail runners will tackle each rise and fall twice over the course of the race.

“Both descents provide a great opportunity to make up time lost while managing energy output on the preceding climbs”, Brown said. "While they may never equal out completely, the energy-cost of increasing your effort on a downhill is far less than that of increasing your effort running uphill, as long as you can use the proper form and technique required to protect your muscular system.”

On fast, open downhills like the fire road, defending triathlon champion Josiah Middaugh of Middaugh Coaching said he tries to let gravity do the work. To do this requires the proper posture.

"Without bending over, I lean forward so my torso is perpendicular to the slope of the hill," described Middaugh. "I focus on landing my foot underneath my center of gravity, to avoid any braking.  Braking not only slows down your pace, but it also increases the amount of eccentric loading and fatigue placed on the muscles, leading to faster late-race fatigue and a higher level of soreness in the days that follow."

Brown added, “It's key to avoid letting your stride get long and loping on downhills. Focus on an increased cadence and shorter strides to ensure that ground-contact takes place below the body and not out in front, where braking forces are greatest in downhills.”

For either type of descent on the Beaver Creek course, 2017 XTERRA Beaver Creek double-champion (triathlon and half marathon), Lesley Paterson, says that relaxing, but using quick steps and fast feet are the key.  “I imagine I have hot coals under my feet so that I have as little ground contact time as possible and am keeping things light.”

Paterson also believes that the upper body is as important in helping maneuver fast or technical descents. “I keep my arms out a little for balance and even windmill them a bit with my legs. If I find myself braking too much or getting tight, I shake them out as a way to relax.”

Brown added that for a technical descent like on the back-half of the 10K loop, keeping your eyes ahead is important in preventing any abrupt jolts, breaking or stops that accentuate the impact forces of downhill running. “If you can keep your eyes ahead and plan your path three to five steps in advance, you’ll find a better flow, with fewer sudden changes of direction, leading not only a smoother descent but a quicker one as well."

“Getting efficient at downhill running is not easy,” said Middaugh, “So during most of my hilly runs, I try to let it roll for just a couple minutes at a time during long downhills. Doing this just once a week will help you build the eccentric strength needed to minimize impact and maximize speed.”

Recap of form tips:

  1. Without bending at the waist, lean the body slightly forward so it is perpendicular to the slope of the ground
  2. Focus on making foot-ground contact under your center of gravity to avoid braking
  3. Stay light on your feet, minimizing contact time with the ground (increasing cadence or imagining you're running across hot coals can help with this)
  4. Hold your arms slightly out from your body for balance
  5. Keep your eyes a few steps ahead so you can plan your route down the trail
  6. Stay relaxed and let it roll (allow gravity to do the work)

Start practicing these form tips on your next hilly run. You’ll be amazed at how much more efficient they’ll make you on race day. And as always, have your OOFOS recovery footwear ready at the finish because let’s be honest, no matter good your form is, managing the stairs the day after XTERRA Beaver Creek will still be tough.

Learn more about Oofos at www.oofos.com. And join us July 21-22 at XTERRA Beaver Creek.