What is so tough about running a downhill marathon? Running downhill causes muscles to lengthen or make eccentric contractions, which can cause microscopic tears and generate more force than when running uphill or on flat surfaces. It also causes your feet to hit the ground harder, which in turn causes the muscles, bones, and joints to endure more pounding.
Adding downhill running to your training has many benefits, not the least of which is preparing your body for a downhill marathon or other race. Here are specific tips you can incorporate into your training plan if you will be running a downhill marathon.
1. Downhill Running
As you begin your marathon training, incorporate downhill running into most of your long runs, building up gradually over the course of your training. Rolling hills are great. They will balance your workout as well as your body. Most downhill marathons have uphills worked in too!
Starting with a downhill that has about a 3-4% grade will keep you from overdoing it. Downhill running is hard on your body, which may require additional recovery time, so increase both the grade and running distance slowly. Ideally, find a route that has an elevation profile similar to your upcoming race, especially toward the end of your training.
You can also incorporate downhill running into some of your tempo and race pace runs. Maintain or slightly increase your pace on the downhills, focusing on form, control, and on running lightly. This simply means to avoid the heavy-footed stride that can happen on downhills. Instead, visualize your foot springing off the ground.
2. Uphill Running
Hill workouts are great for any type of training, whether or not you are running an uphill or downhill marathon. They strengthen your entire lower body, particularly glutes, hamstrings, and calves, and as Frank Shorter once said, are basically speedwork in disguise. Running uphill build power and will help balance out the downhill training.
3. Strength Training
An overall strength training program is important for any runner, but especially important when you’re training for a downhill marathon. In particular, you should focus on your leg strength, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
4. Mobility Training
It has become clear in recent years that mobility training is the secret sauce of running success. Mobility encompasses not only muscle flexibility but the ability to move through an increased range of motion. Improve your mobility through strength training, foam rolling, stretching, and other movement exercises.
Rebound-type exercises, where you jump down, then immediately spring up again can be helpful when training for a downhill marathon. They train you to absorb eccentric shock, so adding exercises like split squat jumps, box jumps or jump squats once a week or so can be beneficial for your downhill marathon.
6. Core Training
Again, a strong core is essential for all runners, so whether or not you’re training for a downhill marathon you should be adding core strength exercises into your fitness program. Good form is essential when running downhill, and a strong core will help you maintain your form and posture.
7. Check Your Shoes
Downhill running puts extra stress on your forefoot, so trying a shoe that has more cushioning than you usually wear may be helpful.
8. Watch Your Form
When gravity pulls you downhill it can be easy to lose form, increase your stride length unnaturally, and possibly even lose control down the hill. As you train for your downhill marathon, these are all things to watch for.
9. Don’t Forget Recovery
As I mentioned, downhill running is hard on your body, so be sure to take the time to recover after a hard workout. As with any other type of training, alternating a hard day with an easier, recovery workout or a day off is ideal.
10. Taper Off
Downhill training is quite intense, so give yourself extra time before your goal race to recover. A three-week taper will make sure that your body is rested, recovered, and fresh for race day.