Question – Double et al – Downhill trail running

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    • #12073

      I need to become a fast and effecient uphill / downhill trail runner in the next 14 months.

      My question:  Since I only get to run hills 1-2 time a week during a 2-3 hour run … What effort level should the downs be run.

      Last night I went all out on the downs which is truly a balance of in / out of control not to fall at a high rate of speed.  Now I would never run the hills this fast in a race, but is there benefit to get the quads nice and beat up to get their tolerance to hills higher?

    • #30310

      I'll be interested to hear how the ultra runners answer this but, while I think there is benefit to running the downhills fast sometimes, there's also risk so I would urge some caution. A former forum member here (I believe he just went by the username “Doc” and he probably predated the current member list) was training for Boston and doing a lot of downhill work such as you describe and developed a stress fracture as a result. Two things he had going against him that may not be factors for you would be that he was doing this daily and he was doing it on paved surfaces.

    • #30311

      Many people have broken or turned ankles running too aggressively downhill on trails.  If the trail is in good shape…probably no big deal.  I would assume you can pound your quads on roads pretty good and do it safer.

    • #30312
      Andrew A.

      I would assume you can pound your quads on roads pretty good and do it safer.

      And do it no more than once or twice per week.  When I include a weekly hill climb, in addition to running hard uphill I key on running a long downhill section hard plus run strides on a gentle downhill section.  Doing coordination drills and workouts (like the speed development article/video I posted recently) to train the CNS will help a lot in that regard, too, as a more efficient stride and turnover rate will help to mitigate the 'pounding.'

    • #30313

      Here's some thoughts on downhill training / adaptations, which I've found to be fairly reasonable based on my experience:

      And tips on form from Matt Carpenter:
      Yes, hitting the downhills hard provides better adaptation. It's also what doesn't kill me first makes me stronger.

      I don't go by effort, but rather just do whatever's consistent with my run that day. If I'm looking for downhill adaptation, then I may run it relatively hard (for a 1000-2000ft descent on road at 8-10% slope, that might be 75-80% HRmax). If it's part of a long run (usually part road, part trail) when I'll be doing multiple ups and downs, I try to do the downs at a self-preservation effort so I can get back up. If I'm coming down one of our local mtns (3000ft in 2.2mi the usual way or 3000ft in about 3 mi the longer way, I think), it's self-preservation on single track trails that may have loose gravel (think marbles on top firm dirt) or barely visible tread underneath the veggies or greasy soil if it's been the least bit wet. I run rolling hills a lot, but there's a moderate sized hill I used to like for hard downhill training, since it was gravel and wider than most of the trails so I could run it harder. Gravity is doing so much of the work on trail downhills, that I hesitate to worry about effort levels. Braver, younger, more agile souls than I may do them faster – almost literally a controlled fall.

      If I can hike the lower parts of some of the mtns in winter (the faster guys will run them even then in prep for winter ultras elsewhere), I'll try jogging downhill just to maintain some winter downhill strength. If the snow conditions are poor, then I may use one-legged balance squats or lunges or whatever to maintain some semblance of strength. Just because of our different trail conditions in summer and winter, a lot of winter running may be on our frozen swamps or rolling hills.

      For trail downhills, agility and finding the right line is really helpful – and, as you might guess, the only way to do that is to practice. The greater similarity to your race trail, the better you will be. And with more experience, you just learn to handle more things.

      When I was first starting, I kept the big downhills about 3 wks apart, partly because of my field work schedule and partly for recovery. I'm more likely to do them about 2 wks apart now just because I use a 2-wk microcycle or something close to that. I don't feel I lose anything in 2-3 wks, and it gives me time to diversify my workouts. In a 2-wk period, I usually have a long run (3-4 hr now, but should be 6-8 hr normally this time of year); flat, fast; medium hills (about 1.5-2hr with uphill parts near subLT, if I can handle that intensity); and rolling hills (again, hitting subLT as I can). Other runs are easy.  I run 2 days on, 1 off to allow room for shuffling schedule and volunteer work. I'm 63f and more toward beginner end of experience spectrum than most of you so I suspect your recovery times would be faster.

      But if you do quality downhill work, I wouldn't expect to have to do them more frequently than every 2 wks. If you're running hills all the time, then just pick a day when you decide to run the downhills harder. I don't go longer than 3 wks between significant downhill work.

    • #30314

      I think the once every 2-3 weeks hard sounds reasonable.  I am doing these hilly trail runs 2x a week, but keeping the pace easy to moderate on the downs most the time.

      This is my 1st time since starting (7 years) that I am trail running and hill running, so the change in training is nice.  I am going for 2x hilly trail workouts and only 1x speed workout (flat – road) each week.  I am trying to build one of the hilly trail workouts to 6+ hours every other week.  This week was only 3 hours 40 minutes.

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