Whilst trail running may appear to be the calmer cousin of alpine skiing and mountain biking, don’t be fooled. Once you start running downhill the consequences can come crashing into focus.
The rhythm of running in the city or on flat trails can create a meditative state from the repetitiveness of the action of each step, allowing your mind to drift off. But running downhill forces the rest of the world to completely disappear by requiring your absolute focus for every step. The speed and risk of each step sends the adrenaline into the blood and heightens the senses.
Trail running is not a walk in the national park. Track surface aside, it’s often quite steep, both on the up and the down. Running hills in the city is the comparison of running undulating mounds on a trail. When you run up a steep mountain trail it feels more like a 1km long set of stairs, but without the solid treads underfoot. Who’s ready for that? So, unless you run up and down stairs for an hour or two during your lunch break, you’re going to feel the differences pretty quick.
Running downhill on alpine trails is challenging, but extremely fun. It is the time where most acute injuries occur and when any previous knee and ankle issues will most likely bubble to the surface with more of a geyser-like speed than a gentle evaporation.
The aim when tackling technical descents is to have regular, but short, contact with the ground. This means really fast, short strides. Not stomping like a toddler on floorboards, keep it light like the neighbours are sleeping. Some people recommend aiming for a cadence upwards of 180 steps/minute – this is a crazy-fast cadence in normal running – but downhill trail running is not normal.
Each step matters. Focus on where you’re going to place each foot. It’s important to plan and look ahead a few metres. Each foot placement needs to be intentional. Aim for ground that looks most stable and is not a snake. Surface type, angle and size are all important because a slip will have you going downhill much faster than intended and with much less style.
Aim for obvious foot placements that have been packed firm by those before you. Look where you want to go – don’t focus on where you DON’T want to go.
If you have been putting in the miles running in the city, but not finding they’re translating well to trail running, there are many reasons why that might be. Here at Ortho Ski Mountain Sports Podiatry we help people transition through these differences to get the most out of their trail running and learn to love the ups and downs of the mountains.
We vary treatments for the individual’s needs, whether it be improving technique, muscle strengthening or helping with footwear choice.
Once you’ve got your head around all this, then you also need to consider your equipment. We’ll talk more about this next time.