About 6 years ago, my family and I started running the Ragnar Running Series in Utah. We ran it about four times with each other. It is such a fun and challenging race! My second year running it, I had to run right after the “Ragnar” hill…it’s a beast running up, and what goes up has to come down, so it’s also a beast going down! I was really excited about this run and not too worried. I mean, how hard can a downhill run really be?! I finished my first and second runs and waited for my last run. As I watched my dad run up the crazy Ragnar hill, I could not help but be super glad that I got the downhill portion…whoo! I thought this was going to be a piece of cake. We made it to the top of the hill and it was my turn to get out of the van and start running. About five minutes into my run, I realized that steep downhill running was not as easy as I thought! About half way through the run, I was exhausted! My quads were tired and my body felt like it was taking a beating! After I finished my run, I felt like walking was going to be the death of me. My “easy”, downhill run ended up being one of the hardest for me! I have since learned that you actually do need to have proper technique when running downhill and that downhill training is a must.
When we run downhill, our muscles lengthen. This can cause tiny tears in our muscle fibers. Downhill running creates more force than when you are running uphill or on a flat surface. Many people have the tendency to run their fastest speed down hills. Unfortunately, the faster you run down these hills, the harder your feet strike the ground, and the more pounding your muscles are forced to endure.
Don’t let that scare you from running down hills though! If you properly run downhill, your body will learn to handle it well and also recover well. Downhill training can actually improve your pace. Consistent uphill and downhill training together can make you a faster and stronger runner (Source). Start out slow if you need to. Start training hills by choosing a small hill and slowly working up to the bigger and steeper hills.
Here is a little blurb about running downhill and also tips for running downhill from Runners World:
Most runners make one or two obvious mistakes when running downhill. They either sprint, which causes severe muscle soreness later on, or they’re so hesitant to surrender to gravity that they’re constantly braking, which fatigues the quadriceps muscles. The optimum pace is somewhere in between. Try not to let your feet slap on the ground when you are running downhill. Step lightly and don’t reach out with your feet. Slapping can be a sign of weak muscles in the shin area, in which case you need to strengthen them. To help your downhill technique, follow these simple tips:
Try to visualise gravity pulling you down the hill.
Try to maintain an upright body posture, keeping your torso perpendicular to the horizontal.
Keep your feet close to the ground for maximum control, and land lightly.
As you increase your pace, emphasise quicker turnover rather than longer strides, though your strides can be slightly longer than normal.
The key to efficient downhill running is to stay in control. When you start, keep your stride slightly shortened and let your turnover increase. When you feel in control, gradually lengthen your stride.
If you start to run out of control when descending, shorten your stride until you feel you are back in control again.
Have fun runnin those hills!