"The goal is to become the unique, awesome, never to be repeated human being that we were called to be." -Patricia Deegan

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Improving Your Downhills: Five Little Things They Never Mention

There have been some awesome write-ups on how to improve your downhill techniques, written by better downhill runners than me, including this recent one by Joe Uhan. It's common to read things about quick feet and maintaining a forward lean to let gravity help.

Recently, whilst solo running in a lovely Swiss forest, on a downhill rep session of my own, I was all focus. It was a focus on the big things, just like the articles always say - leaning just the right amount, using quick light steps, looking ahead to pick my line.... My face was tight, brows furrowed. But I didn't realise that part UNTIL... another runner approached me coming uphill. I automatically smiled. To be polite, of course.

Selfie confirms it - I'm smiling!
And my smile changed everything. I realised that with my uber-focus on the big details, I certainly wasn't having fun. I immediately started pretending I had a mate with me and we were on any one of a million training runs, having a blast. I pretended I was really awesome at downhill running and really loved it (those are relative statements with more or less veracity depending on the day.) I "yippeed" and "yahood" in my head. I kept smiling. I pretended I was in a race and there were cameras around every corner, ready to capture me not looking stressed!

I got to the bottom of the hill faster than the last two reps and feeling much more relaxed about the whole thing. "Fake it til you make it" had provided me yet another life example!

On the way back up the hill for rep #4, I thought, "What other little things do I do that might help someone who is struggling with downhill skill improvement?" It wasn't hard to think of four more things I do to set myself up for success. So, here they are.... Start with these 5 little things and use them along with all the big things you get from the other posts on downhill technique. These aren't tips for the pros. These are tips for people who aren't comfortable with descents, who find themselves approaching a descent nervously, who lean back and brake.

1. As above, SMILE. Yippee and Yahoo. Pretend you're with a friend, you're being filmed, whatever it takes to help you smile. Smiling relaxes your face more than frowning or furrowing your brows and sends signals to your brain that everything's good in the world. It will change your mental attitude and your body will follow.

2. Before you start your descent/downhill rep, TIGHTEN YOUR LACES. It's worth the 15 seconds. Wobbly feet moving around in your shoes won't improve your confidence. Consider using a lace lock, if you don't (don't tighten as hard as the bloke in that video, though, that's silly and will hurt over time, especially if you have a lot of uphill later.)

3. Before you start your descent, TIGHTEN YOUR PACK. Cinch up the straps so it doesn't bounce around - that throws off your balance. AND REMOVE ANY EXCESS AIR in your hydration pack bladder. Not only is the "mixing margaritas" noise annoying, the moving water/air mixture will also throw off your balance. Tip your pack upside down (putting the air at the top, where the tube now is). Suck through the bite valve until you get past the water in the tube to the air. Keep sucking all the air out until you have water again. Turn your pack back up. Now the air is gone forever! (Unless you have a leaking bite valve that lets air back through.)

4. TAKE THE SWITCHBACKS, not the direct line. If there's a choice, where someone has short-cutted a direct line along a switchback, stick with the switchback. It's much easier on your body to keep a flowing movement on a gentler grade. I've run many times with others in mountains where they chose the direct line down, feeling it should be faster, but the extra braking required to negotiate a steeper decline negated any "win" in time.
One deserves to enjoy a great descent after the climb to get there!

5. DO REPEATS to build confidence. Go back to the same hill and do it again and again - something in the range of a 3 minute descent is good (thus, maybe 6 minutes to climb). Three minutes is a fairly long time to stay focussed, but not so long your brain will overload and fry! :) Getting some of the rocks and roots and holes memorized on a descent will allow you to start taking it a bit faster, instilling confidence. Do at least 3 reps of the same hill, power walking back up at a pretty easy pace, so you aren't starting your down all puffed out.

See you at the bottom!

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