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A guide to faster descending when fell running downhill

11:24 15th August 2013 By Dave Taylor

Have you ever seen fell runners coming downhill at speed?  Expecting them to fall over at any moment yet somehow they remain in control, focussed, covering the ground at remarkable speed.  Ever wondered just how do they do it?

Mam Tor

descending the steep flank of Mam Tor in the Peak District

One thing that people struggle with when starting out fell running is how to come downhill.  Even the fittest of road runners will probably not be as confident on a rough downhill as an experienced hill runner.  So what is the key to descending, is it simply a case of “letting yourself go” or is there more to it?

Don’t Lean Back

A common mistake that runners make when descending is to lean back and land on their heels, in effect putting the brakes on.  This feels secure because if you do fall it is likely to be backwards, landing on your bum.  However this is inefficient and puts a lot of stress on the quadriceps causing them to tire and leaving you with that jelly leg feeling.  A better approach is to be upright or leaning slightly forwards keeping your hips high and try to flow with the hill rather than braking.  You should use your arms for balance, a wind-milling action isn’t necessarily a sign of being out of control!

Short, considered steps

On rough or uneven terrain short, quick steps are better than big bounding strides.  You need to look a couple of steps ahead and pick out the best line and also to react more quickly than when running over more even ground.  High knees and side steps help to overcome obstacles and on very steep ground descending using S turns as in skiing is sometimes better than running straight down the hill.

Muscle Memory

However it is not just about technique; downhill running relies on different muscle groups with more reliance on the quadriceps and hip flexors and it will take time for you to develop strength in these.

To develop your descending technique find a short downhill off road section and practice running down it every week.  This will not only build your confidence it will help develop leg strength and improve your reactions.  You can gradually move on to rougher and steeper ground as you improve and get more confident.

As with learning to ride a bike you can’t expect to master it immediately, it takes time and practice to develop the strength, technique and confidence required.  Remember that some of those old fell running goats have been doing it for years!


Our fell running Guide, Dave Taylor descending Higger Tor in the Peak District.

Note short, quick steps, arms used for balance and NOT leaning back.


 Useful Links:

  • www.fellrunner.org.uk: The Fell Runners Association. Good for info on races, running clubs, results.
  • www.fellrunningguide.co.uk: Fell Running Guide. For Guided running, coaching & training, introductory courses, navigation skills.



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