Trail runs are never flat. Interesting and challenging terrain is one of the reasons that we do it. Running uphill is hard, running downhill can be harder still. You may like the idea of running like a kid and just letting yourself go but it nearly always ends with the inevitable cartwheel to backside finish.
Mastering the art of descending is a critical skill in the trail runners arsenal. Good technique can accelerate you past other runners without expending too much energy. Here’s a quick guide on developing that technique- it’s not quite as straight-forward as it might first appear.
1. Don’t Lean Back
Common sense dictates that you should lean back into the hillside when descending. It is undoubtedly a safer technique, but won’t get you down in a hurry. Leaning back promotes a heel striking action which, in turn acts like a brake as you descend.
Instead lean forward or at least upright and try to remain running on the mid or forefoot. Use your arms to aid balance- a windmilling action may help.
2. Short steps
Shorter steps are much more effective. You will be able to pick your next couple of steps ahead and spot the best line down the hill. High knees will help clear obstacles and running in a slalom style S shape will help to get past some of the steeper/tricky bits.
As you may expect it’s not all about technique. You will need to practice. Find a local hill and spend time running down it. Over time your legs will gain strength and muscle memory that can be taken onto rougher ground and steeper and longer hills.
Here’s a quick video clip from Dave Taylor showing good downhill technique.