Tom Addison is one of the best downhill runners on the fells and here he gives his tips to help you go faster down the slopes
Tom Addison, who is a GB and England international in mountain, trail and fell running, says: “There is no greater adrenalin buzz in running than nailing a downhill. It’s a battle of you against the terrain, and to win that battle feels amazing. Being able to descend with confidence is crucial, especially when racing.”
He adds: “You can be the best in the world at running uphill, but if you can’t descend then it will seriously hamper your chances of winning races. I have had to work hard to improve my downhill skills, but that dedication finally paid off when I won last year’s English Fell Running Championships for the first time.”
10 TIPS TO IMPROVE DOWNHILL RUNNING SPEED
1. Switch off your brain
Runners worry about falling, slipping and hurting themselves, which is understandable. However, to think like this will only slow you down. It’s not easy, but what you have to do is, at the top of the hill, switch off your brain and let your legs take control.
The less your brain is working, the better. Empty it of fear and you will run downhill faster. Because it has less time to think about things, my brain switches to no-fear mode much easier when I’m racing. So, when training downhill I often pretend that I’m racing, tricking the mind!
2. Keep your strides long
The most common mistake runners make – and I’m guilty of doing so myself when tired – is shortening their stride. Longer strides equal faster downhill running.
I practise downhill running a lot and the focus is always on maintaining a longer stride. It takes time and a degree of bravery to improve your downhill running, but the benefits are huge.
3. Lean forwards
Whenever you can, especially on the gradual downhills, lean forwards. This will lengthen your stride and ensure your brakes remain switched off.
On steeper descents, I try to lean forward, but tiredness can mean I lean back slightly. This does in turn give you a little more control in your downhill running, but you won’t go as fast.
4. Look ahead and pick the best lines
Rather than looking directly at the terrain under your feet, look slightly ahead at what’s coming in two strides’ time. When racing, think more about your route choices and the lines you are going to take.
I am always looking for the best and fastest lines, though these may not always be the most direct.
Avoid wet rocks – a grassier, albeit slightly longer, alternative route can be quicker.
I try and recce race routes in advance so I know the fastest lines and various alternatives.
5. Do repetitions in training
Find a gradual off-road downhill gradient and do sprint repetitions down it, ensuring you use a long stride length. Each one should be about a minute to a minute and a half in effort. Jog back up the hill after each repetition to recover – I try to do 10.
Ensure you stretch well, especially your hamstrings, both before and afterwards.
6. Bend your legs
Try not to run downhill with straight legs, as this could potentially result in knee problems. Your legs should be slightly bent, which will in turn give you more spring in your step.
7. Squat for strength
Leg strength is crucial for fast downhill running. One exercise I use a lot is the squat.
Put your back against a wall with your knees at a 90-degree angle. Push off your toes and force your back hard against the wall. Keep your knees at 90-degrees and hold this for as long as possible. Yes, it hurts!
8. Pretend you’re a windmill
It’s important not to forget that your arms also have a key role to play if you want to run downhill faster. Push them out, as high and wide as you feel comfortable, and use them to aid your balance. You might think you look a bit silly doing so, but it definitely works.
Imagine you are on a tight rope, what would your arms do? Now replicate that when running downhill.
9. Trust your feet and footwear
If you don’t have trust in your own feet and your footwear then you are in trouble. I like shoes with a really aggressive tread and wear Inov-8’s X-Talon, Mudclaw and Oroc shoes when wanting the best grip.
10. Adapt your technique to the terrain
Be ready to adapt your technique to the different terrains that you encounter on a downhill.
Loose rock and scree can often work with you as it moves forward under your feet – just ride it! Wet rock is the most difficult to negotiate, so the less time your feet are in contact with wet rock the better. Therefore, stay light-footed and springy. When running downhill through mud, dig your heels in a bit more.
» Inov-8 footwear is designed to be lightweight, minimal and functional, giving runners the confidence and freedom to run hard through any environment and over any obstacle. The aim of their footwear is to keep the foot close to the ground so that runners can feel and adapt to the terrain beneath them. They offer a range of shoes with varying soles and levels of cushioning, each providing optimal grip for the terrain. Tom Addison is an Inov-8 athlete. Read more tips and stories from Inov-8 athletes at team.inov-8.com/running