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Re: Tips for running downhill?

I love building hills into my training runs--firstly, because I got into running through a trail 5K with lots of hills, and secondly, because my next big race is Big Sur Marathon where there's a large amount of hills to conquer! Let's talk hills, specifically going back downhill after you complete the uphill slog. How do you balance good knee-and-back-saving technique with speed? (And what does that look like?) How does your stride compare to going uphill or running flat? Is it worth trying to make up your slower uphill pace with a fast downhill sprint? Other tips?

9 Replies

@RunningBirder I would say.....slow down?

REI Member Since 1979

@RunningBirder we'll tag one of our community running experts for suggestions - @REI-PearlD any ideas on this one?!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@RunningBirder I'll preface my remarks by saying I definitely need work on this skill. I went to a trail-running workshop once where this was addressed. They said you should just kinda go with gravity, lift up thy hands to the heavens, and let it rip. This seems to work well on short dips with an obvious run-out, but on sustained downhills I find myself accelerating too much. I throttle back, take shorter steps. 

I feel like I'm not doing it right. So I am keenly interested in this topic. I was hoping you'd get more replies by now.

By the way, I think I'd qualify as a "running birder" too! (Probably more like a constant birder.) 

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@TomIrvine Constant birder! Me too! 🙂

Hi @RunningBirder!

Running downhill seems easy's downhill. However, you have to have just as solid of a training plan for downhill running as you do uphill running, because it can be extremely taxing on your quads, hamstrings, and shoulders. 

I know this from experience! I ran the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon which has a fast, net-downhill course. While I was able to net a PR thanks to the fast course, I had an extremely long recovery compared to other races because my quads were not prepared to handle the extra load and force of downhill running. For the next week, rising from chairs, and (sadly) toilets, was excruciating. 

Don't do what I did! Have a training plan that includes downhill running. Ensure that some of your long runs include a downhill section to mimic race conditions. While running downhill, make sure that you lengthen your stride and arm swing to promote good running form. 

This article covers comprehensively how to train for downhill running. For trails, this article has more specific techniques, but many of those techniques, like "letting it flow" are plenty appropriate for road running, too. 

With time and practice, you'll be able to bomb downhill comfortably, ready to conserve your energy for the uphills. Happy running!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Well, running downhill definitely has a lot of risks. Slow down a bit and get a good footing, for starters.


Yeah @REI-PearlD , that is pretty consistent with what I have been hearing. Good article - and cool video of Emelie Forsberg at the end. 

I guess I just gotta go out and keep practicing.

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@RunningBirder thanks for this post, it's a great discussion topic!

I have a chronic issue with left kneecap dislocation, so anytime that running (or even hiking) downhill occurs, I have to be very meticulous about it.

Regardless, here are some of my recommendations based on what I have experienced and learned over the years:

-always keep your muscles semi-engaged, so that every time your feet land they are expecting to receive a load bearing

-avoid landing your feet on the ground with your knees straight (i.e. keep them slightly bent, with muscles engaged)- this can provide unnecessary stress on the joints that can lead to both short- and long-term injuries

-if it is a hill of low grade, you can sometimes "let it rip," as @TomIrvine said. However, be aware that the longer the hill, and the higher the grade of the hill, the easier it is to gain too much speed and lose control; sometimes taking a more cautionary approach, even if it means you're not running full throttle down the hill, is ideal... sadly, we aren't kids anymore with bodies and minds that seem to think they are indestructible! 

-That being said, if you actively focus on keeping your back straight, legs bent, and muscles engaged, your form will improve, bringing along with it cardiovascular efficiency, increased protection from injury, and overall long-term durability of your "runners body"

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Thank you everyone for your helpful comments, information, and references! I'm deeply appreciative and glad to contribute this topic to the community forum!