Tayte Pollmann’s Tuesday Trail Tip – Running Downhill on Technical Terrain

Tayte Pollmann’s Tuesday Trail Tips series of articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running.

Running fast and safe on a steep and rocky downhill can be tricky. Your leg muscles can tense up and your mind might tell you “slow down!” when you’re doing your best to be speedy. Improving your downhill running form will help you be fast and safe on difficult downhills. Here are three questions to ask yourself the next time you run down steep slopes.

Am I leaning slightly forwards?

Your center of mass should be beneath you when you’re running downhill, which means your torso should be leaning slightly forward. This position of your torso allows you to have added stability and efficiency when running downhill. You will feel like you’re moving fast without much effort because gravity is doing all the work. By contrast, leaning too far back expends more effort and you encourage heel striking. Your heels act as brakes when they strike the ground, which wastes energy by forcing your quads and knees to work harder. Additionally, leaning back on loose rock or snow can easily lead to slipping on your caboose.

2011 World Mountain Running Champion Kasie Enman.

How fast is my cadence?

Your running cadence is determined by how many steps you take per minute while running. Your cadence should be fast when running downhill. This allows you to make quick adjustments with your feet to avoid rocks, roots and other obstacles. Try using a metronome or a watch that counts your cadence and practice running at 180-200 steps per minute.

Anthony Costales at the 2018 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. Photo by BikeLife.

How far down the trail do I look?

You should find the right balance between looking at where your foot lands and looking down the trail where your next step will be. As a general rule, I suggest looking at your feet when the trail is very technical and foot placement is critical to avoid tripping on rocks. However, when the downhill is less technical, I no longer look at my feet and look further down the trail. Looking further down the trail allows you to move faster and scan for the most direct route. I find myself alternating between looking at my feet and looking down the trail depending on how the terrain changes.

Andy Wacker at the 2018 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. Photo by Robert Urbaniak.