By Heidi Peoples
Running downhill takes a lot out of your body. Your foot strikes harder than it does on flat or uphill surfaces, which can cause IT Band Syndrome. The quadriceps work eccentrically, which becomes very strenuous while trying to keep you from going too fast. One must focus on taking shorter, quicker strides downhill to minimize braking and prevent overextension of the leg, which can lead to a strain of the hamstrings. Having the knee slightly bent during your foot strike will minimize some of the forces absorbed with impact. Lean forward slightly, but keep your arm swing slightly higher than usual to act as a counterbalance and prevent your body from leaning too far forward and thus losing control.
Most everyone preaches running uphill to add strength, but if your body is not prepared to run downhill or you run them too hard in a longer race, the effects will be felt. The best way for preparing for a race is to know the course, and simulate it in training runs. For example, the Boston Marathon has an elevation loss in the beginning, and everyone knows Heartbreak Hill comes in the later portion of the race. To train for this, you need to prepare yourself not only for the uphill late in the race, but also for the downhills at the beginning.
Whenever adding in a new type of workout to your routine, start small and slowly build in terms of duration, repetitions. Great results often occur in races with a net elevation loss, but you must understand and be well prepared for the strain that comes along with such a course.