One of the most exhilarating parts of trail running is the rush of the downhill sections, especially the technical single-track. Being able to tackle them with confidence is a trick that takes a bit of practice and some testing of your boundaries. Use these simple tips and you’ll be smashing the downhills in no-time.
Go faster than you think you should
You can actually go faster than your brain wants to let you. Start by increasing your speed and then stopping after 10 seconds or so. Getting comfortable with pulling up quickly will allow you to go faster with more confidence.
Lean forward from the hips, rather than the shoulders. Gravity will pull you downhill. Avoid leaning back and try to focus on keeping your body perpendicular to the ground. As you increase your speed, move your centre of gravity forward. Find your balance. Too far back and you’ll feel like each step is like putting the brakes on. Too far forward and you’ll feel like you’re about to land on your face.
Use your arms for balance
Since gravity is taking care of your general motion (roughly downward), it’s the sideways control you need to worry about. Professional trail runners fail their arms all over the place in order to maintain precise control on fast descents. You can start by lifting your arms out to the side. Once your arms are up, the balancing will come naturally. As you run faster, you’ll flail with greater confidence.
Reduce your stride length
You don’t need as much power on the downhills, but you need control. Reducing your stride length gives you the ability to react faster to changing conditions. Start by cutting your normal stride length in half, and see how it feels.
Despite what your brain keeps telling you, don’t look at your feet. It will take a bit of practice getting comfortable with this. Depending on the terrain, aim to focus about 5m (about 15 feet) in front of you. You’ll see all the same obstacles but you’ll have more time to plan your line.
Reduce ground contact time
Keep ground contact time as short as possible and make the contact as light as possible. As one foot comes down you should already be thinking about the next step. I find this particularly useful on technical descents when you may need to recalculate things at a moment’s notice.
Putting it all together
You can layer all of these steps together to incrementally improve your downhill running technique. Start by going faster, then add the forward lean, for example. Get confident with each layer before moving on to the next. Once you’ve layered all the steps together you’ll find yourself belting down those technical sections like a pro.
Let my know in the comments if you find these tips useful. If you run at night, do you have any advice that I haven’t mentioned here? Let me know in the comments.