A blog by runners. For runners.

Running downhill: why you should practice


I spend a lot of time in my training focusing on hills. I live in a relatively rolling area with some impressively steep inclines on my regular running routes. As I chase my half marathon PR dreams this spring, I’ll be spending more time doing hill repeats and all sorts of other hill exercises to make sure I can conquer even the toughest mountains on race day.

There’s this one particular part of my goal race’s course where a nice climb is followed by a steadier downhill stretch. I pride myself on my ability to speed down hills in a flash, but having run in this race twice before, I have noticed a trend: When I get to the flats after this challenging race feature, my legs are, well, done. They feel, for lack of better words, dead — and all my energy is gone.

It seems I need to practice running down those hills just as much as I need to going up. And it’s quite possible you could benefit from focuses on this often forgotten aspect of training, too!

Here are some methods I’m going to try out:

  • Drills: Anything from “mild lunges [to] negative or reverse squats [to] light plyometric work” can help prepare the legs for downhill success. Here are some other ways to avoid downhill disasters for races of all distances, even of marathon length. Yeah. A marathon race with a loss of elevation may seem fast and tempting, but if you’re considering signing up for one, be sure to prepare yourself!
  • Form re-focus: I tend to do the lean back and brace myself technique. As described in this article, it’s much better to approach those downhills by taking short, quick strides. Taking gigantic strides to race ahead will only tire out quad muscles and make them fail later on.
  • Practice: Obviously one of the best things I can do to prepare my body for certain race features is to run them over and over again. A mistake I’ve made in my previous training is laying off on downhills and using them to recover. Though I don’t want to go all-out every time I train, practicing — on the race course itself — how I might approach hills/downhills will hopefully show me the best way to actually approach them.
  • Pace work: For shorter downhills, speeding can be OK. For longer ones, watching pace might be the key to a faster time overall. Though there aren’t particularly long stretches of elevation loss in my upcoming race, I have run on courses with them in the past. Sprinting down can get the legs (and pace) moving too aggressively. To the point where it’s difficult to maintain and even requires slowing down to recover. Here are some more notes on running both uphill and downhill, and how to best approach both with vigor.

Do you practice downhills? Or do you let them surprise you on race day?

Written by  Ashley Marcin.

Related The art of running hills