Working the Downhill

By: Dan Arnett
Head Coach – Endurance Concepts

Think of the last time you raced a hilly course.  After you worked the uphill and crested did you keep pushing down the other side or let gravity ‘help’ you to recover?  For most people the latter is the choice they make.   Almost everyone’s heart rate and rated perceived effort drops on the downhill.  A lot of time is lost when one does this.  Gravity wants to help you go down the hill just as much as it limits your pace going up it.  Using gravity on the back side of the hill will allow you to keep a constant effort and separate yourself from your competition.

You adjust your stride length and body position when you are climbing, so why not when you descend?  Each time your foot hits the ground, you are applying the brakes.  Due to physics, it requires more energy to stop a mass going downhill.  So to keep your pace constant or relax going downhill actually provides more stress on your joints and muscles.  Keeping your effort constant on the downhill will increase your pace with little cost on your body.  Don’t just increase your stride and be out of control, but rather shift your hips underneath you and let those huge quad muscles absorb some of the work.  It will allow you to be under control descending and you’ll create separation from those that are taking the downhill as a rest period.  Now you don’t have to raise your heart rate back up from a low point, which requires more effort.

So next time you push that hill with another runner on your hip, crest and keep pushing.  This will cause you to increase your pace and give you an overall faster time.  It will also separate you from the person that worked the hill with you and now decided to rest on the downhill.  Stay in control and keep your heart rate in your race zone, regardless of terrain.  Practice this during training and you’ll be able to utilize it during a race to your advantage.

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